JAMISON: Hello, friends.
CHUCK: Joe Eames.
JOE: Hey, everybody.
CHUCK: Aimee Knight.
CHUCK: AJ O’Neal.
AJ: Yo, yo, yo, coming at you live from the wilderness of north Provo, just outside of [Kneaders].
CHUCK: Ah, that is wilderness. I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv. This week we have a special guest. That’s John Sonmez.
JOHN: Hey, everyone.
CHUCK: So Jamison, you have an announcement for this show. Do you want to share with us really quickly?
JAMISON: Yeah, I do. I’m really excited about this. So, Matt Zabriskie and I are putting on a React conference in Salt Lake City. It’s called React Rally. It’s going to be at the end of August, August 24th and 25th. And we’re just starting it, so there aren’t a ton of details available yet. But if you go to ReactRally.com you can put in your email address and then we’ll keep you posted by email. There’s a Twitter account, and I’ll spam every week on this podcast. So, if you forget to sign up now, you can sign up later, too. But check it out. It’ll be really great.
CHUCK: We should tell people that Brendan Ike, President George W. Bush, and President Obama are all speaking at that conference.
JOE: I think you should [inaudible] Bush and say Reagan.
CHUCK: Oh, Reagan too, yeah.
JOE: There you go.
JOHN: It’ll be Reagan roasting Bush.
JOHN: All speakers and timelines are subject to change without notice.
JAMISON: Reagan’s schedule is finicky. He might cancel at the last minute.
JOHN: Yeah, he might.
CHUCK: Do you want to introduce yourself really quick, John?
JOHN: Sure. So, my name is John Sonmez. I run Simple Programmer at SimpleProgrammer.com. And I am a life coach for software developers, which is kind of a strange term. But what that means is that I help software developers and other tech people to basically live better lives through a holistic approach in all the different areas from improving their career to improving their fitness to even improving their finances and mental game. And so, I do all that at SimpleProgrammer.com through doing blogposts and YouTube videos and a couple of courses that I sell and books that I put out and speaking at conferences and things like that. But yeah, that’s what I do.
CHUCK: Alright. Well, I never get to talk to John, so I’m excited.
JAMISON: I don’t know what that means.
CHUCK: So, I get to talk to John every week. We have a mastermind group that we record as a podcast. It’s called Entreprogrammers.
JOE: You got to explain that because the only kind of mastermind I know is on cartoons.
JOE: And James Bond movies.
AJ: Same thing.
CHUCK: So, we get together every week, and we talk about our businesses, he and I and a couple of other developers. So, we talk about our businesses. We talk about marketing. We talk about all kinds of stuff, personal stuff. We’re pretty much just dedicated to helping each other make each other’s lives better.
JOHN: Yeah, it’s kind of, it came from this book by Napoleon Hill called ‘Think and Grow Rich,’ the idea of the mastermind group. But basically it’s this idea of you find a few people that have similar motivations and interests that are in business, that might have different perspectives. And then you come together. And he says whether there’s two people, there’s more than two, you’ve created a mastermind because you can kind of… it’s like having the diversity of having different viewpoints and different people to bounce ideas off of that. If they’re in the same company, if you’re in business together, if your partners, it wouldn’t quite work out because you have… you’d be diluted, drinking the same Kool-Aid. But you’ve got different people that you’re meeting with. And so, you get to know them, and you get to know their business. And so over time you’re getting real good advice and feedback, and you have a sounding board.
CHUCK: So, John actually has a book called ‘Soft Skills’. It was published by Manning Press. And he’s got a course called ‘Marketing Yourself as a Software Developer’. And that’s what we brought you on to talk about today, John, is those soft skills and how to market yourself. So, do you want to give us an overview of what those mean and why they’re important?
And so, what is all the experience and knowledge that I’ve gained from my own experience. And then also from, I’ve had the pleasure and the opportunity with speaking with a lot of successful people in both business and software development, real estate, all kinds of different fields. And so, could I summarize all that knowledge and put it together into one guidebook that would help a software developer from the software developer’s viewpoint? And that’s really what ‘Soft Skills’ is.
JAMISON: Can I ask a dumb question?
JAMISON: Why do you need to care about soft skills? I think there are probably some people who are in software development who got into software development because they felt like they could deal with computers instead of people. That’s not everybody for sure. But, does everyone need to practice and work on these things? Or yeah, how do you talk to people who don’t like that kind of stuff? Does that make sense?
JOHN: Yeah, oh yeah, totally. I get that all the time. In fact, I used to be that. I have this, I did this talk on soft skills and I have this little slide where it shows, what’s his name, from Jurassic Park. I forget his name, the programmer. You know, the [inaudible]…
JOHN: There we go, Nedry. And it says under there, it says, “Leave me alone. I just want to write code.” And that used to be me. I used to be in the… I used to have this idea that, okay look. All this is nice and stuff but I don’t like political games. I don’t like all this stuff. If I’m good at writing code, that is what should determine my career and I should be promoted based on that. And I held to that for a long time until I realized that the world didn’t actually work that way. That’s how I wanted the world to work. And the reality of the situation is, when you look at this, I always ask this question and say, “Okay, when you get into work, what’s the very first thing that you do when you get into work in the morning?” Most people just check email. And who sends email? Does the computer send you email or do people send you email? Right, so it’s…
CHUCK: Only mean people.
JOE: Well, that depends. Some apps send me email.
JOHN: [Chuckles] Well, when the build breaks, email that you care about it.
JOHN: Right, but mostly people send you email, right? And then what do you do all day? You spend a lot of time in meetings. All of us usually spend some time in meetings. And we spend a lot of time talking…
JOHN: Yeah, exactly. Talking to coworkers, right? We spend a lot of time writing code. So, when we write code though, do we write code for the computer primarily or for people? The way that we write code, we don’t write 0s and 1s. We write code, someone who’s considered a good, someone who’s good at writing code is usually, usually the primary thing that we think of as a developer like if I look at someone’s code is how readable that code is. So, usually, assuming it’s correct, that the next thing is how readable. So really, what it comes down to is our work as a software developer is actually… our primary job is not writing code. It’s dealing with people and in various forms. Some of them indirect, granted. But in reality, to be successful as a software developer you have to know how to… and that’s just one soft skill, right? That’s just dealing with people. But I think that’s where a lot of people think of soft skills. And that’s a really important piece.
JOE: I concur.
CHUCK: Right, so basically what you’re saying is even the most hardcore isolated programmer is going to have to deal with other people.
JOHN: Right, exactly.
AJ: What about me?
JOHN: That’s one side of the soft skills, too. That’s the people skills side of it. So that’s definitely, and that’s what I think a lot of people equate soft skills to be, which granted a lot of it is the people skills. But there are also other pieces of it, too. Software developers, we’re in an industry where we typically make a lot of money compared to, it’s a pretty lucrative industry. So then, you got finances. There are a lot of really successful software developers that I know that did not manage their finances very well. And you would expect that someone that had that level of fame would probably be well off. But they’re not well off. They’re in big trouble. So, there’s the financial aspect. And then the fitness aspect, too. That’s a soft skill that’s really important as well. Especially, we sit around all day usually in chairs hunched over computer monitors coding. So, taking care of your health is really important as well.
So, I think there’s a bunch of different things that are really important besides just the technical ability to write code that greatly affect your life, from the ability to manage your career, to dealing with people, to the fitness and the finance side, that if you have at least some aptitude in these other areas it could really determine how far you can go. Whereas a lot of times we just seem to think that coding skill is the thing that’s important.
JAMISON: So, a related question is how much of that is learned versus innate? I feel like I interact with lots of people. And it seems like to some degree their level of interest in the soft skills determines their skill in it. And I feel like it could be easy to look at that and say, “That’s just how people are.” They either care about them and so they practice them or they don’t care about them so they don’t.
JOHN: Yeah, I think there is… I’m not a big person who believes so much in focusing on natural strengths. I know that most of my greatest strengths today are what my greatest natural weaknesses were growing up. And I think that there’s a reason for that. I think that the things that you actually have the strengths tend to be taken for granted. And so, they don’t always get developed to the same degree as the things that you have to work hard to build. So yeah, so I think that there’s some truth to that.
So, it kind of gives me… it also, I think if you believe what you believe, if you believe that you lack social skills or that you’re shy or these things, those beliefs can be limiting beliefs which will keep you exactly how you believe that you are. So, a lot of actually what I do, even in the book, is I talk about this idea of lifting those limiting beliefs and really stepping into the role that you want to be. And not allowing what other people have defined you to be to set your limits. You set your own limits and you can choose your destiny and your path. And so, I think while yes, we can look at people and say, “Yeah, this person is socially awkward or doesn’t quite have the poise or the social skills,” I don’t think that’s… I think that could be overcome for most people.
AIMEE: I’m definitely with you on all that. I think you have to step outside your comfort zone and practice that kind of stuff. Some people would just be good by nature, but you need to practice it.
JOHN: I used to be an extremely shy child growing up. My dad used to joke and say that I wouldn’t even make a doctor’s appointment. I wouldn’t talk to someone on the phone because I was too shy to talk to someone on the phone. And now I have no problem cold calling someone and [laughs], right? It’s like my whole job is to be vocal and in the public now. And so, it was something that I had to overcome. But if you looked at me you would have never… as a child you would have said, “Oh yeah, John would never make YouTube videos or be on a podcast or do anything like that or speak in front of a crowd.”
AIMEE: I have a question. I’d be curious to know. How many people seek you out for promotions? I feel like to become a manager, there are a lot of people… that’s just the next step. I don’t know how many people actually want to be promoted to that kind of role. But for that kind of role, a developer, most of them just don’t have any kind of training on that. So, the stuff that you teach would be really valuable in that regard, I think.
JOHN: Right. So, you’re saying if you want to go down the management road?
AIMEE: Yeah. It just seems like you really need those social skills for that kind of role.
JOHN: Yeah, I think that’s definitely true. In the manager role, you’re dealing with more people and you’re dealing more at the higher level. And I think there are multiple paths. Developers can go down a technical road but they can also go down the management road. But certainly if you’re going to go down the management road you have to have these outside skills besides just the coding. What’s that, is that the Peter Principle where someone gets hired up to their level of incompetence?
JAMISON: Yeah, you’re promoted to the level of your incompetence, yeah.
JOHN: Yeah. And part of the reason of that is…
JAMISON: So here I am on this podcast.
JAMISON: I made it.
JOE: I was going to say, I’ve had lots of managers who had no social skills.
AIMEE: Yeah. That seems… So, like in the bootcamp that I was at, there were a couple of guys who we did so many pairing projects and group projects. And there were just some who would go off in the corner and not want to interact at all. And that just did not work well with what we were trying to do. In fact, I think one person was asked to leave because of it.
JAMISON: Oh, wow.
CHUCK: Yeah. I think we all have different backgrounds too. And so, some people, some of this stuff is just going to come more naturally than others.
CHUCK: I also believe that certain areas of soft skills, not all by any means, but certain areas of soft skills, just being aware is all it really takes. And then you understand how to deal with certain situations. So, John talked about lifestyle decisions or money decisions. Just knowing that certain things are an option a lot of times will help you with those. But then the others, the persuasion skills and the interpersonal skills yeah, a lot of those have to be developed by practicing and by doing things that are sometimes painful in dealing with other people and getting to know them.
JOHN: Yeah. And I don’t want to make it seem like the pursuit of soft skills is this painful process where it’s like, “Oh yeah, get this book and then it’ll just be a bunch of pain and make you feel bad about yourself.”
JOHN: Because it’s not. I think there are a lot of things like just managing your career, just ideas around thinking about your career actively. This isn’t necessarily dealing with people. But it’s like, what is your goal? What are you trying to achieve? And what type of developer do you want to be? Do you want to be a career developer working for someone else? Or maybe you want to go and become a freelancer. Or maybe you want to become an entrepreneur. These are different paths and how do you get to these paths? Because no one really answers these questions, right? I think a lot of people, this is where a lot of the content for the book came from, these other types of soft skills type of things where, how do you write a resume? Should you have someone write your resume? Things like that. If you wanted to create a product, how would you do that? How do you get through an interview process?
And then get into the whole marketing yourself as a software developer, why that’s valuable and why it’s important, why building a name and a reputation and a personal brand can actually make it so that employers come to you and offer you jobs. Or you can become a freelancer and not have to go out and put your ad on Craigslist because you’ll have clients coming to you that will be asking you to do the jobs.
CHUCK: So, you segued into marketing yourself. I know, I know. I know a few of your just threw up in your mouth. It’s okay. We’re not talking about marketing the way you’re thinking it.
CHUCK: Do you want to explain that, John?
JOHN: Sure, yeah. So, I know marketing has a bad name, a bad rap, in the software development community. You think of Viagra pills being advertised to you by spam email.
JOHN: But that’s not necessarily what marketing has to be. Marketing at its core is really just connecting someone who has a need with a product that fulfills that need. That’s the goal of marketing. Successful marketing is, if you didn’t have marketing I wouldn’t know what to do when I have a headache. I wouldn’t know to take an aspirin or Tylenol. I need to be informed of this, of the solution to my problem. So, at its core good marketing is good. It’s a beneficial thing. The way that I define marketing for software developers and the way that I mean marketing is this golden rule that I use which is, “Give away 90% of what you do for free and charge for 10% of it.” You create marketing by creating value for others.
And this is really where I emphasize the marketing for software developers. It’s this idea that you go out and you create blogposts or you produce videos. Or you go and you speak at conferences or you create podcasts or be on podcasts where you’re giving people free value. And that is what you’re using to build a reputation and name for yourself. And almost all that you’re doing is free. And that value is what spreads your name and spreads your message so that now you can earn from that value. But yeah, that’s really the core at the [inaudible]. How do you do that? How do you go out and create a name and a brand that’s going to give you some kind of benefit in your career?
JAMISON: So, this is something that I really go back and forth on because I feel really bad about seeming spammy. And I have this weird feeling that I can’t ever promote myself or you’re kind of being prideful and bragging. And that people hate it and get annoyed at it. So, usually I just tweet…
AJ: See, and that’s the kind of attitude…
JAMISON: Puppies and stuff, because everybody likes those and you’re not promoting yourself. You’re just sharing joy.
JOHN: I think there is a lot of resistance to that. When I first got into this kind of thing, I was very resistant to it. You’re kind of resistant to sell, especially, like I sell my product on how to market yourself. And at first I was like, “Oh, I don’t want to write a long-form sales page. Those things look scammy and [whatever].” But I get back emails just about every day now from someone saying, “Wow. The money I spent on your course was such a huge value to me. I got such good benefits from this thing.” And so, what I came to realize is that you have to do this if you want to… if you have a good product, if you have something to offer someone, and if you’re giving that offer in a strong way, if you’re being somewhat aggressive in that offer, you’re trying to help someone and as long as you’re providing value… Now, if you’re doing something that’s shady, if you’re trying to sell some vaporware or something that is not what’s on the label, it’s other than what you’re advertising, then yeah, then I totally agree with you.
But if you’re selling something, and the way that I try to gauge my products and the things that I sell is, I want to provide at least 10x value to you. I want you to buy a thing from me and say, “Wow. I would have paid 10 times the price. The value I got from this is 10 times what I paid for it.” And when I have that in mind, I don’t have any problem being aggressive with trying to sell what I am selling, especially when I am giving away 90% of what I do for free. It’s like for me personally, to overcome that objection, I have my blog at SimpleProgrammer.com and I put out a blogpost every week. And I put out three YouTube videos every week. And I put out two podcasts every week. And I put out a newsletter that I write out with a lot of valuable information. Every single week I produce all this stuff for free. And so, to ask for something back, or to promote that, the free value that I’m giving, I have no qualms with doing that because I know that I’m giving something of value to someone.
CHUCK: Yeah. The way that I think about it too is that if you’re writing articles just because you want to throw out as many buzzwords as you can, you’re not adding value.
CHUCK: And John explained that fairly well, that you’re out there to provide value. But the other thing is that if you really think about it, the things that you’re going to find value on, they don’t have to be these big, long, awesome blogposts that explain the state of the universe. All they really have to do, I’ve written blogposts that were, “I got this error and here’s how I fixed it.” And it’s like, maybe 50 words total. And those get a ton of traffic because people were hitting those blogposts and finding those answers. Or if I found a novel way of organizing a particular bit of code, then I’d write a blogpost on it because I think that other people can find that valuable if they’re facing some of the same issues that I’m facing in my application. And so, if you look at all of these different options, you shouldn’t be writing blogposts that are going to get you into Hacker News. You should be writing blogposts that have a lot of value. And then when they get to Hacker News then the people who find that stuff valuable are the people who are going to upvote it.
AIMEE: I love the thing that so many people have about, you write the blogpost for your future self, which I’ve done countless times.
JOHN: Yeah. Yeah, I think there’s also, there’s this idea that the value that you… well, I guess I could put it this way. Do you have a particular author maybe that you follow or maybe something that you subscribe to or something that you just can’t wait to get the next series in the book or the next whatever it is? Or video game or movie, whatever it is. I’ve had several of these. I have several of them now where it’s like, I would love, if my inbox shows up and I’m producing a new version of this book, the next episode or whatever, I would love to get that advertisement because I’m excited about it. Or even blogs that I follow. One in particular, Neil Patel, he has a really good series of blogposts and articles that he puts out. And whenever his email shows up in my inbox I’m excited. It’s an ad. It’s an advertisement for him, but I love it because I’m sold on the thing.
AIMEE: Heck yeah, I love this stuff.
CHUCK: Well, and how many times do we do a pick for a book that somebody’s written or things like that, a course? I think I’ve picked some of John’s stuff on this show before. And it’s not necessarily because I’m trying to shill for John. It’s because I think that it’s particularly relevant and applicable to people who are listening to the show.
AJ: I have an article on how to post to Twitter in Node. And I, a couple of times a month, get a tweet from that demo. Because when people run the demo, it tweets to me. And that’s been really validating because that’s one article that I have on how to do one thing. And I have probably a hundred articles on how to do technical stuff. And I only get notified when one person finds that one particular article helpful. But every time that tweet comes in, I’ll go through my list of blogposts and find something that I think is relevant this week and retweet it again, because that other tweet reminds me to do it.
AIMEE: People like me are very thankful for all that stuff. So, thank you guys.
AIMEE: As we’re learning and googling and we come across things, very, very helpful. So, being humble enough to post things that you think might be silly, extremely grateful for that. [Chuckles]
CHUCK: Well this is the thing, is people are like, “Well, I don’t have time to write blogposts,” or, “The idea of sitting down and writing something just, ugh.” Well then, record a YouTube video. Do a screencast. Do a podcast. Go on Stack Overflow and answer a bunch of questions. There are so many ways to help out and give to the community. And at the same time, you’re also essentially building your reputation. So then, you can go speak at conferences and things like that. And I think a lot of people get it into their heads that it’s self-serving to go and promote themselves so to speak by speaking in conferences. But if you’ve got something worthwhile to say, how many speakers are you grateful to that showed up and gave a talk? So, was it them being self-focused? Or did they put out money to go out and share their knowledge with you? So, if you really look at it, a lot of these things could be construed as marketing. But what it really boils down to is yes, you get some benefit from it. But so does everybody else.
AJ: And I like what you said earlier about, it’s documentation for you, too. A lot of times when I write my blog articles I’m actually not writing them to other people. I’m breaking it down step by step because I know in six months when I have to do this again and it’s the only other time I have to do this thing, I am not going to remember at all how to do it. And a little quick jot won’t inform me how to get that done.
AIMEE: I’ve done that so many times. I think I’ve gone back to the same post I’ve written four or five times, because even if it’s just something like a technical command or something that I would never remember.
JOHN: One way I think about it too is there’s this mindset shift I think between, I like to tell developers to think of themselves as a business. Because in reality we all are, we’re running businesses. Even if we just have one customer which is our employer, you can still think of yourself as a business. And I think it’s an important mindset shift that really changes things around. Imagine if you’re a business and you said, “Well, I really don’t want to advertise or promote myself in any way because I would just feel bad about doing that.” Well, you’re going to go out of business really quick. But as software developers we tend to do that. We shy away from it because we’re not really thinking of ourselves as a business. A business has to provide a value. And what is the value that you can provide to the world? We all have different sets of skills. We all have different perspectives on life and on what we do. And we all have some value to provide.
And so, if you think about the things that a business needs to do and think of yourself that way then I think it becomes a little bit easier. Because it’s not really that you’re bragging. It’s not that you’re trying to say, “Look how great I am,” or you’re trying to build fame for the purpose of building fame. The reality of the situation is that as you market yourself, as you are able to promote the product, the service that you’re offering, it opens up the doors and it expands your opportunities. And if you really, a lot of developers I think hit this glass ceiling in their career where they can’t make any more money and they can’t grow beyond this point. And this is the way out.
So, you can quickly become a senior software developer or senior software engineer, whatever it is, probably within five to ten years, I think. And then you hit this pay cap. You can’t make any more money because you’re already at the top of the pay scale. So then, how do you make more? How do you get beyond that? And this is really the only answer, is you have to then step into this. So, if you do this from the beginning, if you learn how to market yourself in a tasteful way, like I said, where you’re providing value to others, then you get past that. Then by the time that you hit that glass ceiling you’ve got other opportunities. You’ve got other ways to make money. You’ve got incredible opportunities that you wouldn’t be able to get just by advancing your career.
AIMEE: So, if now is a good time, can we talk about the Get Up and Code stuff, the fitness stuff, the lifestyle stuff?
AIMEE: I’m not sure if everyone else is familiar about that. I know I am because I’m super excited about working out. But maybe you can talk a little bit about what you do there.
JOHN: Aimee was actually just on Get Up and Code. I think the episode will probably come out around the same time this one does. But yeah, I created a podcast for developers called Get Up and Code that’s fitness and nutrition. And that podcast is basically just around the idea of helping developers, just encouraging healthy lifestyle and being active and losing weight if that’s what you need to do. And so, I think that’s an important aspect to remember as well that’s really important, because it affects a lot of your life. If you think about it, being healthy really affects a lot of the way not only that you are able to, the energy levels that you have, but also just the way that you think about yourself and relate to others.
One of the major surprising things, the emails that I get about the show a lot of times is emails about confidence that’s increased. And how getting in shape to some degree has resulted in increased confidence and how much that’s affected career-wise, because it makes a huge difference on what you perceive of yourself and how you view yourself. It really influences how others perceive you. And that makes the difference between promotions and not getting promotions or going to a job interview and doing well at it.
CHUCK: Yeah, I have to say that when I was on Get Up and Code, I basically just whined about how I wanted to get into shape. And there was a lot of advice that John gave about that. And we’re all at a different place, right? Aimee was a competitive athlete. John is in pretty good shape. Just watch one of the videos from Entreprogrammers and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Because he always comes on after his workout and so he’s wearing a tank top and he’s all muscled up and stuff. And so, and I’m perpetually starting to get into shape.
CHUCK: But I think we’re all at a different place. And we need those kinds of encouragement where we hear how important it is and how good it makes people feel and things like that. And we all get encouraged in different ways, too. So, if that doesn’t get you encouraged, then find something that does. But our work life and the rest of our life are connected no matter how we look at it. And so, if you’re not healthy or if you don’t feel good about yourself, that’s going to carry over into work. If you have a bad work day, it’s going to carry over back home. And so, whatever we can do to make our lives overall better is going to pass through to the other areas of our lives and will benefit all around by doing it. And I think that’s what Get Up and Code at least when I listen to it, that’s mostly what I hear from it. And I think it’s an important message.
JOHN: Yeah, yeah. It all comes back to that holistic, like I said, I’ve got a very holistic view. I think that if you want to really help someone you’ve got to help them in all the areas. You’ve got to have this balance. I hate to use the word balance. But it’s more like it’s just having focus on these other things besides just having the technical skills. It’s also your health. It’s also your finances. It’s also the people skills. It’s also these other things. And even your mental state of how you think about things and your confidence level and what you believe. Do you have confidence in your beliefs? And do you see yourself empowered as someone who can accomplish great things?
So yeah, so I think there’s a whole other area and a world to… we’re all humans, right? We all have the same kind of problems. And we have a common thread that we look through the world through the same lens as a software developer or someone who’s in technology. So, we see things… we have maybe some similar type of problems. And we see a problem from a similar perspective. And some of the solutions are similar as well.
AIMEE: I’d like to think that this stuff is also pretty important in preventing burnout. I know personally I try to think that I’m immune to that, that it’s never going to hit me. [Laughs] But I’ve been warned many times. So, I try to keep on track with all this kind of stuff.
JAMISON: I think I have experienced some burnout. It hasn’t been crazy bad. But physical activity helped a lot with it. I wonder if the solution is different for different people. But for me at least, I just feel a lot better about life and it’s a really good way to turn off my brain. So, I’m not always worried about some function that is broken or I don’t know. I feel like downtime can just be worry time if I’m not exercising well, if that makes sense.
AJ: So, what I do chronically isn’t healthy. And I think I should probably take Jamison’s approach. But with burnout I tend to just work a lot for a long period of time. And then I won’t do anything for a month except for read books and play video games and take walks.
JOHN: That’s not a bad idea. [Laughs] I should adopt that. It’s funny. I actually have a whole chapter in ‘Soft Skills’ where I talk about burnout. And my solution is not popular. Well, don’t get me wrong. I think there’s a medical burnout. I think that it is possible to be really burnt out. But I think a lot of times when we experience burnout it’s not really burnout, especially in software development.
I equate it to the idea, like if you want to become good at playing guitar. There are a lot of people, you hit a wall eventually. I’ve picked up a guitar multiple times and your fingers hurt. You get to this point where it’s no longer fun. You’re super psyched when you got that new guitar and you’re going to learn how to play like Jimi Hendrix. And then you realize that it was actually… at first you’re having fun playing around with it but your motivation starts to go down. And then the results are [inaudible]. At first you make huge gains and then pretty soon that’s just trailing off. And so, you come to this decision where you hit this wall. And you could say, at this point you could say you’re burned out at guitar. But most people stop there. But people who get good at guitar and people who become great at guitar, they push through the wall. And they get through the other side. They find it in themselves. They can go without motivation.
And I think that’s one of the key things to be successful in anything. And I think a lot of, again I’m not saying medically burn out. I’m not saying never take a break or vacation. But I think a lot of developers, especially beginning developers that never reach that level where they want to reach, they don’t realize that they’re going to hit a wall. And that they’re going to have to push through that wall, because that’s where there’s less competition. Fewer people make it through the wall. And so, you have to develop some skills in life to be able to productive and to keep going when motivation is zero. And a lot of that comes around the idea of building routines and habits and having this bigger picture in mind and understanding that we all go through this. We all have these mental blocks and we all hit these points in life in whatever we’re trying to do. Any greatness requires some sacrifice and commitment.
And so, I think there’s, not to say again that no one ever should take breaks or that sometimes there’s a medical burnout. But in a lot of cases, a lot of developers I talk to that I do coaching for, the answer is really just push. Just push a little harder and get through it. Because we actually, on the other side of the wall as well there’s new motivation returns. Like, just taking the guitar example, when I finally did push through and go through and practice my scales and just put myself on a routine of practicing guitar, I started to have fun again, once I got good. And if you’ve mastered anything, you’ve experienced this where you’ve pushed through the wall, you make it through, and then all of a sudden results start to climb again. Motivation levels start to climb again, until you hit that next wall, the next level. But a lot of people don’t realize that there is something on the other end of that wall. They feel like life is just, it’s just despair. And they no longer want to write code ever again. And they just want to go live in the woods in a cabin and never see a compiler [inaudible].
JAMISON: And be a lumberjack.
JOHN: Exactly. [Chuckles]
JAMISON: Yeah. I’ve actually talked about this a lot with Merrick. And it’s a really interesting idea because few careers have the flexibility to just not do your job [chuckles] like software developers do. You can just come in, at some places. Some places don’t allow this much flexibility. But the flexible hours, the flexible vacation policies. If you don’t feel like working, oftentimes it’s a lot easier to not work than if you had an hourly wage job or a manufacturing job or any other kinds of jobs. So, I think that idea is really interesting that you propose that the solution isn’t take advantage of that to rest up, but just find new ways to motivate yourself.
JOHN: Yeah, yeah. And in my career I’ve seen it just personally myself too multiple times where it’s like I’ve hit these walls and then… luckily I’ve had a good routine. Heck, writing a book, that’s the perfect example. When I was writing ‘Soft Skills’, when the publisher is like, “Oh, we’re going to commission you to write this book,” I was like, “Yes! I get to write my book. This is awesome!” And so, I sat down for the first three days and I just pounded out words. And I got the first three chapters done, fourth chapter. And then all of a sudden I’m like, “Wow. Writing sucks.”
JOHN: I hate writing this book. This book is now the new thing that I hate in my life. But I had to push myself through it. I had to get… and then as I started to wrap it up and get to the end of it, that’s what it takes. You end up having… if you don’t develop that skill in life, you end up with this closet full of half-finished products or projects. You have the yellow belt in there for when you did karate and you never mastered that. And you got the guitar and you got whatever else, all those other projects. Or you got those half-created apps that you never finished. So, you never made any money. You wanted to put it in the app store. You had this dream of creating a software as a service app. And so, getting that grit to push through and realizing that everyone hits this and everyone has these same exact problems, I think that’s an important thing just to in general to learn. I wish I would have learned it earlier in my career. I wish someone would have slapped me across the forehead and said, “Hey.”
JOHN: You got to work really, really hard and push past the point of breaking if you really want to be successful at things and see them through to completion, sometimes.
CHUCK: This so much reminds me of the book ‘Do the Work’ by Steven Pressfield.
JOHN: Yeah, yeah.
CHUCK: Where you hit the resistance.
JOHN: Exactly, yeah. Yeah, that’s a great book. That book and ‘The War of Art’.
AIMEE: I picture Nick Saban, the football coach, screaming “Discipline!”
AIMEE: At those football players.
JOHN: And that’s another parallel from the athletic side. When we were talking to Aimee when we were on Get Up and Code, just the idea that a lot of athletes are familiar with this, right? Because in order to become great you have to push through even when you don’t feel like getting up for practice.
AIMEE: I can remember [chuckles] my parents now. I always wanted to skate, but they would tell me, “We don’t care what your coach tells you to do. You do it. If your coach tells you to stand on your head on the ice, you’re going to stand on your head on the ice.” [Chuckles]
CHUCK: I’d like to see that.
AIMEE: [Laughs] Yeah. Luckily they never asked me to do that.
JAMISON: In the absence of Nick Saban yelling “Discipline!” at you…
JAMISON: What do you do in these situations where you know what you should be doing or what to do and you just don’t do it? Is there anything besides ‘suck it up and do it’ to help people in that situation?
JAMISON: Because to me, I’ve never read ‘Do the Work’. And I imagine the book ‘Do the Work’ is just one page that has one sentence that says ‘Do the work.’
JAMISON: Because you know that already, right? But maybe just reading it helps. I don’t know.
JOHN: Well, I think yeah. I think you’re right on. I think the first thing is understanding that this is a problem that all humans face. That anytime that you want to go from a lower plane of existence to a higher plane, that you want to do the higher calling, the better thing, the thing that makes you grow as a person or as a human being, resistance comes in the way. And that there’s going to be, it’s going to be hard. And you’re going to feel like not doing it. And motivation is not your guiding light. A lot of people follow this philosophy of, “I need to find my passion and do what I’m passionate about.” And the thing is, do the work and the passion will come from the work. Pick a thing and you’ll become passionate when you become good at that thing or when you follow through and complete the thing.
So, I think the first point is just to have the perspective. If you understand that everyone faces this problem, if you understand that this is a common thing, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that if you break through the wall, if you get past the wall, then you’re going to have rewards. There’s a pot of gold on the other side of the wall. If you understand that it’s good to run up a really rocky terrain to climb the highest mountain because there’s less competition at the top because it’s sparse there, then that’s a good thing, if and when you understand that.
The second thing I would say is, once you have that perspective, is then to have a system in place, a routine, to be able to build habits and to be able to go without motivation. Because one you understand the purpose, that yes there is a reason why I’m doing this, there’s a reason why I’m practicing every day, there’s a reason why I’m going through this pain, then you need some way to do that. And that’s, for me I found that the best way to do that is to build systems and habits.
So, I have a routine. I have a very… I work for myself and I don’t have to have a routine. But I do. Because I know that by having a routine and by building habits and having quotas that I need to accomplish, I don’t have to make decisions all the time. If I know exactly what I’m going to eat, if I know exactly what I’m going to work on and what my schedule is, then I don’t have to make judgement calls where I have a chance of making the bad decision or going with my lack of motivation. So, even though I don’t feel like writing a blogpost every week, I do it. I just say, “Okay. Today is the day I have to get this done. This work must be done.” I have it in a system. I have a routine. It’s become a habit and I have a picture of this bigger goal. I know that writing 52, writing one blogpost a week doesn’t matter. But writing 52 a year makes a big difference. That makes a huge difference on my career.
And so, it’s just having that perspective and then having some method of executing so that you don’t have to rely on… if every day… just to take it back to the fitness side, I get up and I go to the gym three days a week, every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and I run for 10k every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. It’s my routine. I don’t miss it. I do not miss it, unless it’s completely unavoidable. But if every morning I got up in the morning and I had to ask myself, “Hey, do I feel like going to the gym today?” I would quickly [chuckles] I wouldn’t be motivated every day. Some days I’d be motivated to go to the gym or go for a run. But a lot of days I wouldn’t. And especially if I was going through a difficult period or I had a lot of work. I would make the bad decision and so I wouldn’t gain the benefit. But by making a routine, by making it a habit, I’ve taken away the choice. So now, there’s not a choice. When I wake up in the morning and it’s Tuesday I’m going to go for a run. I don’t have to make that choice so I don’t have the chance of making a mistake. It doesn’t require motivation at that point.
AIMEE: There’s another trick to getting up and working out in the morning. If you get out of bed and you get to the gym or start running before you actually wake up, you won’t realize you’re exercising.
CHUCK: Yeah. Well, I know that some of us have a hard stop so I’m going to call the show here and we can do some picks. Before we do though, John, do you want to run people down where they can find you and what some of your offerings are for people who are interested in this stuff?
JOHN: Sure, yeah. So, we went down interesting conversations today. But I want to still offer a couple of things to your audience. One is if you’re interested in learning how to market yourself, we didn’t talk too much about it, but if you want to really learn how to build a personal brand for yourself and how to get out there and get on podcasts and write books or magazine [inaudible] and get out there and build a name and reputation and the value of that, you can go to DevCareerBoost.com. And I’ll give a $100 off coupon to everyone who’s listening to this podcast. You can use JSJABBER as the code there. JSJABBER and you get $100 off at DevCareerBoost.com.
And then also I’ll give away for anyone who comments on this episode, if you comment on the episode, I was trying to think of some kind of action. I’m an action-oriented guy. So, what is the action that you’re going to take after listening to this episode? What has this motivated you to do perhaps in your life or in your career to better yourself? If you write a comment, we’ll randomly pick, I don’t know, how about two copies of ‘Soft Skills’ book. I’ll sign it. I will ship it to you personally.
CHUCK: Sounds great.
CHUCK: I’m also going to personally recommend your blogging course, which is pretty awesome. How do you get to that?
JOHN: If you go to, actually if you just go to SimpleProgrammer.com, a bunch of [popup links] will come out of nowhere and then it’ll ask for your email address. [Laughs] That’s probably the easiest way.
CHUCK: Oh, there you go. Just slides up from the bottom or the side or something?
JOHN: Yeah, yeah. I’ve got a bunch of opt-ins on the page.
CHUCK: Alright, cool. Well, let’s go ahead and do picks. Jamison, do you want to start us off with picks?
JAMISON: I surely do. So, I have a bunch saved up because I wasn’t on the show last week. The first is the Hacker School, hacker retreat. I don’t know. They changed their name to The Recurse Center. It’s a three-month, I think it’s three months, retreat for programmers of all skill levels. It’s not a bootcamp. It’s just a place to go to build things that you’re interested in. Kind of like the academic lifestyle without going to a university, where you just live the life of the mind. They have this blog or this newsletter called Code Words. It’s so good. Oh wow. They’ve had two issues come out, not episodes. And they’re both really awesome. The people that go to The Recurse Center are generally very smart. And they usually write while they’re there. So, they collect their writings into these newsletters. So, that’s my first pick.
My second pick, there’s a game called DayZ which is terrifying and entertaining at the same time. It’s a multiplayer game where there are just 50 or so people on this persistent shared world that zombies inhabit too. And there are not a lot of limits on the interactions players can have with each other. So, people being people on the internet do horrible things. They’ll kidnap people in the game and stuff. And in this incident that’s recorded on video, they kidnap this guy, they steal all his stuff, and then they forced him to perform a song or they’re going to kill him. And he’s just like, “Okay.” And he reaches over and pulls out his guitar and just busts out this amazing performance of a beautiful song. And they all start dancing and singing along in the game. It’s pretty great. It’s a moment of brightness in the dark awfulness of the internet.
My third pick is a web comic called Demon. It’s kind of dark. But it’s also really fascinating. It’s about a guy who when he dies his soul gets transferred to the body of the person nearest to him. And that’s about all the plot I’ll give away. But it’s really involved and it’s pretty well-written.
And my last pick is an album called ‘Leviathan’ by a band called Mastodon. This is the opposite of mellow electronic music. This is screaming Viking metal. I’ve been doing a lot of DevOps lately. And when I tweak Jenkins it just harms my soul. I get so sad. I hate that stuff so much. And ‘Leviathan’ by Mastodon is the album I play to get through the pain. [Chuckles] Those are my picks.
CHUCK: Alright. Joe, do you want to give us some picks?
JOE: You betcha. So, lately I’ve gotten into a jigsaw puzzle craze. I’ve been doing a lot of puzzles with my wife while we watch TV shows. And I’ve discovered this one particular artist that has a lot of jigsaw puzzles made out of his artwork that’s really fun to put together. His name is, I’m hoping I’m pronouncing this right, Jan Van Haasteren. And so, I’ll put his name. It’s J-A-N Van Haasteren. You can pick up his puzzles on Amazon for a pretty reasonable price. They’re funny. They’re drawn with a really funny art style about lots of different people doing crazy things, with crazy things going on and these crazy scenes. And they’re just fun to put together. So, that’ll be my first pick, is Jan Van Haasteren, his puzzles.
And then my second and final pick is a new game I played for the first time this last week, which is called Hobbit Tales, which is a story-telling game, which was super fun. I’ve played it a couple of times already. I had fun every time. It’s like a board game but you have a whole bunch of cards in your hand. And each card you have to lay it down and then tell a story. You’re a hobbit that’s sitting with your friends drinking at the local tavern telling stories about your adventures as a hobbit, as similar to the books that we all know and love. Or movies, if you’re not much of a reader. And so, you’re telling stories and then you have these cards that have to be the elements of the stories. You have to organize these cards and lay them down as you tell your story. Meanwhile, the other people that are playing with you each have cards that are hazards they can throw in at various times to try to get you off track and mess up your story. So, they might throw a cave troll into your story or an orc into your story, et cetera, et cetera. And it’s really fun, a fun game to play, a fun way to be social. Even if you don’t have much creativity, the cards help you be creative. So, that’ll be my last pick, is the game Hobbit Tales.
CHUCK: Cool. Aimee, do you have some picks for us?
AIMEE: I do. So, the first one I’m going to pick is a GitHub repo with just a ton of different resources for learning Angular. I have a lot of friends who, because they know that I work on that, have asked me what I use to learn. And so, this repo has just every kind of tutorial, video, blogpost imaginable. So, it’s really good.
And then the other one, because we talked about Get Up and Code, I wanted to pick something for fitness, not programming related. They’re these inserts for your shoes. They’re called Superfeet. And they are absolutely amazing. So, I guess even if you don’t run, if you do any sort of walking, these insoles I swear are amazing. They’re $50. I think you can order them on Amazon. But I recommend them for anyone. They’re awesome. So, that’s it.
CHUCK: Alright. AJ, do you have some picks for us?
AJ: Yes, I do. I have a good one this week. Good Mythical Morning. I don’t think I’ve picked that before. So, there are these comedians, Rhett and Link. They have done stuff together with other YouTube personalities like Julian Smith. They’re very clean. And they have a show that they put on every morning. So, there are hundreds of them and you could never watch them all. It’s called Good Mythical Morning. And it’s just fun. It’s just, if you are having your coffee or whatever it is that gets you up in the morning and just need something to listen to, to help start your day, I’d recommend Good Mythical Morning.
CHUCK: Alright. I’ve got a couple of picks. The first one is ‘The Magic of Thinking Big’. It’s by, I think his name’s Michael Schwartz. I don’t have it in front of me right at the moment. David Schwartz. I do have it in front of me now. And I’ve been enjoying that. It’s just a really good encouragement on picking bigger, more important, more audacious goals. And then all of the different things that you can use to either get yourself to the point where you are more likely to achieve those things. And some of the obstacles that are going to come up that you can… and then some techniques for getting around them. And it’s terrific. I’m listening to it on Audible. It’s about, I think it’s about four hours long. And it’s one of those motivational speaker-on-tape things that you’d get from the 90s. And so, it has all the chimes and weird funny sounds. But it is awesome. And I really have been enjoying it. The content is terrific.
The other pick I have, I think I picked Steelheart before. I’m now in the middle of reading Firefight or listening to Firefight, which is the sequel to that. And it’s a terrific book. So, Firefight by Brandon Sanderson and the Reckoner series, terrific books.
And I’ll probably have a whole bunch more. I’m not going to be on the next two episodes because I’m going to MicroConf. I’ll actually see John there. And then I’m going to be going to RailsConf. So, when this comes out I will still be in Las Vegas because it’ll be Wednesday. So, you’ll have to tweet me and just if you’re in Vegas, just let me know that you want to grab lunch or something. I’ll probably stay and hang out through lunch. And then I’m going to come home. So, just so you know. It’s not a hard and fast thing since I’m driving. So, it’s not like I have to be at the airport. So, I do have some flexibility there. But if you want to meet up with me, tweet me and let me know. And for RailsConf, if you’re going to be there, then same thing. Just tweet me and let me know that you want to meet up and we’ll make it happen. I also have stickers for all the shows. So, if you want some of those, you got to find me in person. And I’ll be happy to give you one, two, or five, or however many you want. So, one for each show I mean. But yeah, anyway. So, those are my picks.
John, what are your picks?
JOHN: Let’s see. So, I think my first pick will be Streak. I’ve been using this software for Gmail, a plugin called Boomerang. And I finally paid for it and then a buddy of mine Josh Earl told me about Streak. And it’s basically free and better.
JOHN: So, what it does is it’s like CRM inside Gmail. But it’s, at a very basic level you can just have messages come back to you if no one replies in one week or two weeks, or whatever. So, for that feature alone, it’s well worth it. Plus you can put all kinds of pipelines in there and stuff. But just having that is extremely valuable if you… I’m an incessant follow-upper. So, I just follow up on everything. So, as soon as I email someone, I instantly will have that email come back to me in a week if I haven’t heard a reply from them. So, this makes it automated. So, I used to put this all on my calendar and that was just a pain in the butt. So, this is really valuable.
Let’s see. And then so, the other picks I have is a book that I am listening to, or actually a book I read this last week called ‘The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Fail’. That’s by Michael Gerber. I thought this was a really, really good book. So, if you have any interest in the small business or building your own business, on how to do it the right way, it had a lot of valuable information in there that I’m implementing in my business.
Another really good book that I read this week was ‘Influence’. And this is a book by a professor from ASU, a psychology professor, Robert Cialdini. And it is about basically like it says, influence. But it’s specifically about a lot of the things, the automatic influence mechanisms that we don’t even realize that we respond to. Some really interesting concepts in there, like the fact that if you ask someone to do something and then they make a small commitment, they’re much more likely to make a bigger commitment to be in line with what they had originally done. So, there’s just a lot of psychology in there that if you’re just, for both if you’re trying to sell things to understand how psychology works, but also to protect yourself from unscrupulous salespeople as well who might try to use some of these con tactics that you might not even realize. So yeah, it’s definitely, definitely a good book. I highly recommend.
And then I’ll throw one last one in there, since Chuck you mentioned ‘Do the Work’. I think ‘Do the Work’ is great. I think that ‘The Ware of Art’ is probably Steven Pressfield’s, at least the book he wrote, that’s my favorite book that really, really addresses this idea of resistance and how to overcome it. And I think it’s also just a fun read as well.
CHUCK: Awesome. Well, I don’t know that we have any other announcements or any other business. So, thanks for coming, John.
JOHN: Yeah, no problem. Glad to be here.
CHUCK: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. We’ll wrap up the show and we’ll catch you all next week.
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