A Stereotypical Day

It was a nice sunny day, maybe 70 degrees here in AZ. A perfect early spring morning.

I decided to go work at my favorite local coffee shop. I walked in and saw a guy in his mid 30’s covered in tattoos. Not just arms, but legs, hands, fingers … the whole nine – he was covered in them – some good some bad – that doesn’t matter though. He had a beard, he was sort of skinny, yet not a rail. He kind of looked like a hipster but also had some other type of other aire about him. Not sure what it was. He looked nice, but he also looked lost. That was my initial impression of him.

He was working behind the counter at the coffee shop; I thought he was the new guy – I’d never seen him before.

He was kind of awkward when replying to a couple of professional guys at the coffee bar and I dismissed him as some tattooed guy who is just trying to find his way in life. Just another guy who probably made a bunch of mistakes during his time on earth and is now working at a coffee shop, taking it day by day. I see it almost everyday in every city I visit. It is what it is. Secretely, I wished the best for him.
Everyone deserves a chance, right?

I get in line and a few minutes pass.

The tattooed guy starts talking to a customer. I’m in line behind the guy he’s talking to. Another gentleman approaches the two and interjects.

“He’s the owner of this place.”, says the newcomer.

He’s referring to the tattooed guy. That lost guy I was talking about above.

The tattooed guy admits he is the owner and that business is going quite well. The professional gentleman states that he wishes one of these shops were up in the northern part of the city because he loves this coffee shop. The tatooed guy states that hes looking to expand, reaches under the counter and grabs some business paperwork and starts thumbing through them – looking at numbers and charts, I presume.

The location of this coffee shop is in Scottsdale. Old town to be exact. The thing about Old Town Scottsdale – it is quite expensive here. It’s not a place I’d want to rent a commercial space. It’s very pricey. This place is nice, real nice. It’s defintely an expensive venture, and it is successful. Impressive.

What’s not impressive though?

That guy, the one I stereotyped a minute ago and dismissed as some nobody who is just trying to find his way …well … he is the owner of this place that I call my favorite coffee shop in all of Arizona. He’s not lost. He’s on his way, he has direction. I was wrong to stereotype him. I’m sorry tattooed guy – you have all of my respect and then some. I was wrong.

I order my coffee and step back and wait for it.

No more than 10 seconds later a man in black medical scrubs approaches the counter and puts down a recently emptied pint glass. This coffee shop also serves excellent micro brew beer and he just finished one.

I immediatly think to myself “its 8:10am on a Thursday, and that guy has already had a beer, what the hell?”

I take a longer look at him. He’s in his late 40’s or early 50’s. He looks tired. It’s obvious that he’s in the medical profession. Is he a surgeon or physician? Maybe. Probably. Is he a nurse or a staff member of a surgical team? Maybe. Probably.

I start thinking about why he might be drinking a beer this early in the morning.

I then remember that there is a hospital with a very active surgery center across the street. I can see it from where I’m typing this. My wife actually had a couple of surgeries at that exact location.

I also notice another woman in scrubs drinking coffee at the other end of the shop. I then realize that I see medical professionals in here a lot – I just had not really thought about it before. It makes sense – its a nice relaxing place and its close to the hospital. Its an excellent place to unwind.

Rewind a couple years.

I remember being in that exact same surgery center waiting room with my kids, terrified. I was in there hoping that my wife’s surgery would be a success and without a hitch (it did go well, both times – thankfully). I also remember seeing the others in the waiting room wearing exhausted looks of worry and fear.

I began thinking to myself – the waiting room at a surgery center/ hospital is not a place we go when we want to enjoy ourselves. We’re there because we have to be there, we’re there because we’re hoping women and men like the one who just put down an empty pint glass on the bar a second ago can help fix whats wrong with our loved ones.

Back to the man in the black scrubs …

It’s also obvious that this gentleman is off work – he looks wornout and has a stack of papers near his chair. I’m sure he had a long and late night (and/or early morning).

Back to the counter – He orders another beer.

He returns to his chair and starts reviewing some paper work, taking a moment every few minutes to lean over a bit, rounding his back and then he grasps his head like a basketball player palms a basketball.

Its apparent he’s under some level of duress.

I’m not sure why he’s here, but I have a suspicion that its because what he just went through at work this morning called for a beer, or two … or more.

I can only imagine the things that he sees and deals with. Its very possible someone died in front of him this morning. Its very possible he did everything he could to save this persons life. I can only imagine the level of stress that can bring.

So … who am I to judge him for drinking a beer at 8:10am? I should’nt be worried about it and I won’t be worried about it anymore.

Its also very possible he’s an alcoholic who is feeding his addiction, but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. It looks like he was at work and looks like he had a long night.

What’s the moral of this story?

Its quite simple … both of these guys are having a stereotypical day and I just stereotyped them both within the first minute of seeing them. It wasn’t right.

We need to all act more compassionate towards each other and realize why we feel the way we do, even during our first impressions. Perhaps they’re wrong, most likely our first impressions are wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

The Single Best Thing You Can Do For Your Career

If you’re looking to break out in your industry and looking to take yourself to the next level there is one thing that can help propel you into opportunites you never imagined. What is it?

Public Speaking

It’s true. No doubt about it. I attest most of my success to a fateful day in 2008 (May 31st to be exact) when I spoke at Desert Code Camp in Phoenix. That was my first public speaking event in a professional setting, ever. The topic?

Intro to Dependency Injection and Inversion of Control
You can find the slides for that talk right here on slideshare.

I’m serious, that’s my first foraye into speaking. The slides are terrible and embarassing, but everyone loved the talk at the time. In fact, the people liked it so much that when I signed up to speak there I was able to see how many people were going to be at my talk in advance. The web app that code camp was using at the time had that feature (it was a different one than Desert Code Camp uses now, but similar). Long story short, my talk went from the “small classroom” to the medium room, to the large room to the auditorium at a tech college I was speaking at. Fun fact – the presentation was at UAT to be exact and thats actually where I went to college.  I was very familiar with the auditorium and knew how many people it could fit. At the time I went it was 172 people.

How many people were there when I presented? Well over 172, there was standing room only and it was one of the most popular talks of the day. This is not a humble brag, but I am actually saying this for the exact opposite reason. I’m saying this because when I got on stage, I was scared shitless. To this day I remember walking on stage and then walking off, going outside, calling my wife and telling her how I did, going home and falling asleep from the sheer exhaustion of stress and terror that I just experienced. I do not remember any of the talk whatsoever. Kind of crazy how the mind will do that to traumatizing events.

Terror? Stress? What? Why? You may ask. You had a popular talk. You might think. You’re right, I did. People loved it and I got a lot of professional attention because of it, and it helped my career. The important thing to note here is that this was my first professional talk, ever. The most people I’d ever spoken in front of prior to that event was maybe 10-12 people, and that was during a work lunch when you go around the table and talk about something (such as a team building event). 172+ people? ABSOLUTE TERROR, PANIC & FEAR.

The thing is, public speaking has often been rated in many publications as the one thing people fear far more than death itself. Thats a pretty bold statement. More than death itself? I don’t know about you, but I love life. Sure, its full of stressors and other things that are out of my hands at time, but I love being alive. I’d much rather get in front of people and talk than die. But … thats the reality of the situation – people are scared to get in front of crowds and speak. So scared that they’d rather die. Think about how many people you know that say “OMG, there is now way I could do that, I’d die”. Yeah. Exactly.

That one day led to many job offers eventually. Not just full time offers but consulting offers and offers to do bigger and better things. From speaking I ventured deeper into blogging and then into more writing in general. I kept speaking and eventually got noticed by some consutlingn firms. I worked for them for awhile and kept speaking as well. Companies usually love when you speak in public. You’re a public face of their company (in this case, part of the engineering deparment). Eventually I got enough offers for external contract jobs that I decided to jump and go work for myself as a consultant. I did that six years ago in 2009. I went full time independent consulting. How? All from speaking.

If I had never got in front of people and spoke about what I knew I’d never be in the situation I’m in now. I’m foreever grateful to those who gave me the opporutnity to speak, to hire me and to bring me on to help their team. Thank you.

Fast forward many years later from my initial speaking engagement and I’ve now spoken to crowds of 400-500 people at times with no fear. As with anything – the more you do it, the better you get at it and eventually you actually kind of get used to it.

I challenge you to go out and speak. Find a local user group, a code camp, a meet-up of some sort. Just go out and share your knowledge. Don’t be scared. Will you know everything? No. Will there be someone in the crowd who knows more than you? Yes. Regardless, you need to get out there and do it. You’ll be glad you did. It will open doors you never knew existed.

Learning To Program Sucks

I bumped into an article that reads like an article that I would have written back in the late nineties when I was learning to program. Heck, to this day I’m still learning how to program. In software, the day you stop learning is the day you become obsolete.
It was late 1998 and I was in the same boat as the author. The feeling was one of inferiority when compared to the accolades of accomplishments that the tech folks who were my age were already sporting. Programming homework assignments took me 6-12 hours, it took them 20 minutes. I think I even failed my first programming course if I remember correctly. Well, maybe not failed, but I got a “W” for withdrawing so it did now show up on my academic report as a fail.
Here’s something most people in the industry don’t know about me … I did not touch a computer until I was nearly 21. The internet was already in full swing. To put some perspective on it – A year later Mark Cuban sold Broadcast.com for $5.7 Billion. It was the tech bubble. I had not even learned how to type yet. I was a keyboard pecking chicken hawk who was way out of his league. I saw others (though did not know them personally) that seemed “gifted” in the area of computers and I wanted to try like them. I tried to emulate them. Hah. I failed, hard. Unfortunately (and fortunately for them) they started much earlier than I. I could not keep up. You see, I was raised in a small town in northern California (Shingletown, CA to be exact). The population was only around 1000 people. In Shingletown our days consisted of  playing outdoors, building forts, climbing waterfalls, camping etc. I eventually got into racing motocross and that got me out of the hills and into different cities to experience more of the state of California. I got to see people, I got to taste what life was like outside of the hills. I liked it. The funny thing is that I actually encountered computers because of Motorcycles. I moved to Phoenix in 97’ to go to to MMI (Motorcycle Mechanics Institute) after hanging up my boots in pursuit of a motocross career (I just didn’t have it). I stumbled upon the internet one day while waiting for a girlfriend to get ready to go out. She said “Here, sit down, search for something while I get ready.” She showed me how to use Alta Vista and a few minutes later I got hooked. The first search I ever did on the internet? A search for AFI, the band, in 1998  – I was REALLY into music and motorcycles back then. Two weeks later I bought my first computer. To be 100% honest, I didn’t have much money. Heck, I didn’t have the money at all. I was providing for myself at that age with no parental support. Buying a computer was a humongous expenditure. Therefore, it put me in the poor house for awhile. So, I didn’t buy real food, I bought Ramen (not joking here, not at all). I ate it for 3 weeks straight and got sick as a dog (lesson learned), but I did have a computer. It was one of the best investments I ever did now that I look back on it.
I finally had a computer and I was stoked. I had a problem though … a very big problem … no one I knew had a computer. I was alone in this venture. Remember, I was going to a Motorcycle Mechanic school. I had to figure it out all by myself. I can’t tell you how many times I re-formated my computer. I reformatted because I got my computer into a state in which I had no idea how to recover from. Safe mode scared the crap out of me. A year or so after getting a computer I installed an early version of Java over 8 times which resulted in numerous evenings spent reformatting my computer. The only thing I knew how to do was put in the re-format disc that came with my computer and reset it. Even learning to do that took many hours if not a day or two, it’s hard to remember. That took me back to step one. After that, I’d try again. Later I’d learn that what I was doing was called “Debugging”. It wasn’t the code’s problem – it was me. I was debugging myself and how I understood computers. That took hours, days, months of time. Each time I reformatted and tried something new, I got farther, but by god was I frustrated. There were many times I’d get pissed as hell and walk away for a day and say “Forget it, I’m not smart enough for this”. Fortunately I’ve always been one to never give up. I came back. I always came back.
I eventually stopped doing that Java stuff in school (I hated it … funny now that I’m an accomplished Android *cough*Java*cough* author and consultant).
I originally started doing web dev because I thought the internet was amazing. So much info, so much at my fingertips that I never had access to. I had no idea how to do build a web page though. So I went and bought the first version of this book in 1998 at Barnes in Nobel at the Metrocenter Mall location in Phoenix. This was my first computer/tech book that I had ever bought. I spent hours in the computer section at various stores from that point forward. Learning more and more on my days and nights off. I may have learned a lot,  but I ran into a lot of problems. Crashes. Borking my machine. MANY Reformatting sessions. Etc. I’d screw up,  and then have to reformat my computer. I’d then start over again and with each new accomplishment came a hit of dopamine. The excitement was unreal. I was figuring it out! Each new script I wrote (alert(“In here”); Seriously, who remembers that! I still bump int that all over the web. Ha!) Anyway, I felt like I was part of the machine. I knew I was getting a step further. I felt like I was walking on the edge of the universe at times. Barely being able to cling onto the safety net of a working computer only to end in another reformat was frustrating as hell. It as like a demented video game where re-spawning took 2-3 hours. It sucked. I hated it at times, but I kept coming back because I loved it and I knew I didn’t want to do what I was doing the rest of my life – working on motorcycles or being a rep at a call center. I knew that this computer stuff was something special. But still, all these problems made it difficult to learn and progress and I realized one thing early on during this process …
Learning to program sucks. 
Your machine has to be set up perfectly, your environment has to be set up correctly and you have to be using the right tools. Otherwise … it won’t work. I spent days trying to figure out a system configuration issue just so I could get back to programming (we still all run into that on occasion). So yeah… learning to program sucks.
It does.
The thing is … I wish I had a solution to that problem, but I don’t have one. However, upon further review and after a few edits to this article I’m beginning to think that the answer hidden in plain sight. It is the advice I always give everyone. The best advice I can give is is the same advice I give to my kids when they’re working on a difficult math problem or doing programming exercises with me – “Don’t give up. Keep going. Don’t EVER give up. It will get easier.
Furthermore I’d have to say that in order to truly learn how to program and get things done you need to stop reading books and start building something. Keep the books, you may need them. But what you need to do is build something, build anything! Then add to it and get people to use it, even if its only for your friends. Yes, what you build  will break and then you’ll learn more fixing it. You will learn a ton. Then do it again. Make something new and publish it/ship it again. You’ll learn so much in the process its ridiculous. Eventually your confidence will grow (albeit sometimes a bit too much) and when you get good enough you can apply for a junior developer role.
When I finally got a DevOps position (back then it was just called “Tech Support” for the servers) at Target Financial Services (Target’s credit card) in 2000 I was beyond grateful. I didn’t care if it was networking or programming or whatever. It was in tech! I was stoked. It was my first tech job I had. I went to work and I loved it. I felt alive. I was not in a mundane job anymore. I still feel this way. I’m very grateful for what I’m able to do. Prior to that I did tech stuff, but it was for small businesses and friends and such – aka: learning. I was making websites and helping friends (and a couple small businesses) set up networks. Getting a job at Target Financial was a huge win and a great confidence booster. However, I did bring down the server on my very first day and cost the company 30K in under 2 hours, oops. That’s a story for another time. I’m just glad I didn’t get fired. Thanks Jason! :)
Just know this … whatever you’re doing, trust in yourself. Trust in what you can do. Even if you suck at it now. If a nobody (such as myself) can come from small town america and write a best selling programming book and become relatively well known in the industry all while knowing nothing when I started … well … guess what – you can too.
Keep going and don’t give up because the one sure fire way to fail is to give up. Remind yourself daily if you have to: Don’t EVER give up. Keep going. Persevere. Try again. Keep going. It WILL get easier.