February 27, 2002 spout

How Did You Get Your Start?

Standing in the rain, with his head hung low, couldn’t get a ticket, it was a sold out show, heard the roar of the crowd, he could picture the scene, put his ear to the wall and like a distant scream, he heard one guitar, just blew him away, saw stars in his eyes and the very next day, bought a beat-up six string in a second hand store, didn’t know how to play it, but he knew for sure that one guitar felt good in his hands, didn’t take long to understand, just one guitar, slunk way down low, was a one-way ticket, only one way to go, so he started rocking, ain’t never gonna stop, gotta keep on rockin’, someday gonna make it to the top and be a Jukebox Hero….

Jukebox Hero, Foreigner

It’s my understanding that once a musician reaches a certain level of notoriety, they are often asked how they got their start, so that the fan can obtain the level of success that the musician has obtained. Over the years, I’ve received quite a few of these kinds of emails, all of which flatter and surprise me, since I don’t feel like I’ve obtained the level of success that I’d like to. Still, I’m happy to offer, if not advice, than a list of what I did to obtain a level of recognition in our little circle.

It all started in early 1994, when I went to work for DevelopMentor. Don’s strategy, which remains in place to this day, was to give every instructor the opportunity for stardom.” He had just started to obtain his own notoriety in the industry with his flamboyant personality, teaching and answering every other question on the DCOM mailing list. From there, he used his political acumen to make friends with conference organizers and book publishers, working to add the same level of rigor to Windows development as he was accustomed to applying in the pursuit of his PhD.

Since Don is a fellow that gains happiness in togetherness (or, put another way, misery loves company”), he dragged the rest of us into his world of course authorship, 24x7 mailing lists, speaker anxiety, article deadlines and demanding book editors. To find my place in this world, I did the following, leveraging the success I had in the early work to make the later work happen:

  • Answered every other question on the DCOM and ATL mailing lists and continue to be very active on the .NET mailing list.
  • Wrote and gave numerous courses and conference talks.
  • Wrote a number of books and articles.
  • Put up a web site dedicated, initially, to the various bits and pieces of code I’d built and then expanded it as I had more to say (which turned out to be quite a lot, apparently : ).
  • Took as much consulting as I could to gain real-world experience, which I put into my other work.
  • Asked fans and happy clients to post their comments on Amazon or allow me to post to my own web site.
  • Crazy things just for fun, e.g. pose naked or misinterpret an email on purpose in order to post a humorous response.
  • Made friends with the owners and producers of the technology in which I was interested.
  • Threw a couple of conferences.
  • Started (and stopped) a department to build software developer tools.
  • Launched my own (budding) software development tools.
  • Launched a couple of source available projects with folks from the community.
  • Launched my own mailing list.

It seems like a lot, but practically everything I’ve done since 1994 has been published with my name on it, making me as much an agent for myself as an actual musician” (I believe the phrase is shameless self-promotion” : ). Based on this experience, here are the guiding principles that I try to follow:

  • Do the right thing. My father always used to say that anything worth doing was worth doing right and that the right thing was easy to spot — its was the hardest.
  • You can’t win if you don’t bet.
  • Be very thorough so that I can be sure of myself, leading to…
  • Take a stand. Have an opinion. Defend my opinion until I have been convinced of my mistake, then admit my mistake and take up the opposite stand with equal vigor.
  • Try a lot of things and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
  • Be quick to give credit and admit mistakes, both in public and in private.
  • Recognize opportunity and follow up.
  • Get down to the real why” of something, whether it’s computer technology or another kind of technical discipline.
  • Recognize the people, on the other hand, don’t always have a why,” and learn to deal with it (I still work on that!).
  • Always strive for quality over the quick and dirty.
  • Concentrate on the things that I really want to do. I like to say Only do those things that you can’t *not* do,” but in a down economy, I’ve learned to temper that with fiscal reality.
  • Finish what I start.
  • Make sure people are happy with my work and don’t stop til they are.
  • Have balance in my life. I have a wife and children that I love and spend as much time with as possible.
  • Horse trade. I am always willing to offer what I have, e.g. experience, time, contacts, etc, for what I want, e.g. work, money, content, etc.
  • Help other people find their own places. I’m constantly concerned with my friends and their happiness and will do whatever I can to help them get to do whatever it is that they can’t not do.” This is a lesson I learned from Don. He helped me to become all that I could be and, in turn, I do my best to help others.

Actually, most of this I learned from Don, either directly or indirectly. I guess my only real piece of advise is to try to find someone you admire and to do what they do. Don was my main mentor, but I’ve had many over the years and they’re invaluable, even if all I had was a beat-up six string…