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Stop waiting for the montage

Dear Reader,

I love 80’s movies.

Probably one of my favorite movies of the era is “The Secret of My Success”. That movie was all kinds of awesome. Like so many of the movies out there from that timeframe, it had a montage showing the protagonist working hard to succeed…for about a minute.

The concept of a montage was so overused in the era that it became a trope in films, the 80’s Work Montages.

An 80s work montage is great because it takes all the hard and boring parts of the real work that has to be done and edits them out. What is left is a few cute cut-scenes of what needs to be done sets it to a fast paced – and short – song. By the end of the song, the job is done and the viewers are left smiling because they saw the easy parts, the fun parts, but not all the hard work behind it.

Too many people I see trying to get into software development want an 80s Work Montage to teach them how to code. Ok, honestly, you probably could learn to code in a 80s Work Montage because coding isn’t the hard part. Coding is the equivalent to taking a basic grammar class. Yes, you’ve got the basic tools to write when you are done, but that doesn’t make you Tolkien.

Begin a software developer is not the same as being a coder. Software developer use the tool of code to solve problems. Being able to think critically about a problem and being to see the solution is a discipline.

Like all serious disciplines, you have to invest time to really learn how to do it. You have to start small, you have to fail a lot, and eventually you start to succeed. The more you do it, the more you succeed. How long it takes to master the discipline of software development depends on the person. All of us have different strengths. Some strengths don’t lend themselves to being able to think like a software developer. Even those that are wired for it don’t master it quickly. The best software developers I know took the time to learn the craft. They logged the long hours. They sacrificed other parts of their life so that they could focus on this.

Stop looking for that 80s Work Montage that you think will make you into a software developer. Sit down in front of a computer and start solving a problem – notice I didn’t say writing code? Start solving a problem. When you are done, solve another one. Keep solving problems until you can start to see the answer in your head.

Solving problems as a software developer isn’t a skill you can pick up in a short montage in your life. Put in the hours, master the craft, then you can reap the rewards.

Until next time,

I <3 |<
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p.s. In the movie, the secret to his success was that he actually did all the work that was summed up in a simple montage.

Passion !== Purpose

Dear Reader,Cal Evans underwater selfie

The biggest disservice my generation did to the future was telling them to pursue their passion. Yes, passion may make you happy for a while. However unless you have a purpose, you will never experience real joy.

Passion

For instance, my passion is scuba diving. Those that know me understand this statement. Those of you who don’t know me, may not understand that when I say “my passion is scuba diving” I mean I love every aspect of scuba diving. Even those things I don’t like about scuba diving (e.g. cave diving) is still fascinating to me. Even those days when I am out on my favorite dive boat in rough seas and I am “hugging the bucket” I still love scuba diving. Scuba diving makes me happy, at least for 40-50 minutes at a time.

If I followed my passion however, the lovely and talented Kathy and I would be living out of my Jeep by now. Don’t get me wrong, I like my Jeep, but I want to make enough money so that the lovely and talented Kathy can have a roof over her head and a bed to sleep in at night.

The old joke in the diving industry is

Q: What’s the difference between a scuba instructor and a large pizza?

A: A large pizza can feed a family of 4.

Still, even though it can never provide for the lovely and talented Kathy in the way that she deserves, scuba diving is something I am passionate about.

Purpose

Teaching on the other hand, is my purpose. I’ve been teaching in one way or another most of my adult life. I think my first real teaching gig was as a private tutor for BASIC programming. It was fun but again, it wasn’t lucrative enough to pay the bills.

Since those days I’ve started user groups, run conferences, and developed and presented classes to programmers who wanted to learn something new. Along the way I discovered that I get more than happiness when I see someone learn, I get a sense of fulfilment. A sense of joy that is not possible with something that I am simply passionate about. I like teaching but I don’t love it the way I love scuba diving. I’m ok with that. I don’t have to love my purpose, I just have to understand it and then fulfil it. It is the fulfilling of my purpose that gives me the joy.

Yes, being underwater makes me happy for 40-50 minutes at a time, I don’t ever want to change that. Teaching someone ELSE how to be happy underwater, that brings me joy.

Point

Find your purpose, then you’ll find real joy.

Until next time,
I <3 |<
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There is nothing wrong with being driven.

Dear Reader,

I am blessed by God that I currently have time to spend just learning new things. This hasn’t always been the case though. When I was a younger man I had family to take up my time, a full time job, and usually a side hustle to bring in a little extra because kids are expensive.

Still, even when I was younger, I would burn the midnight oil if necessary to learn. Some nights I would literally work until midnight and then spend 30-45 minutes learning something new. Other times I would only work till 10 PM or so and then I could spend an extra hour just learning something new.

This was a choice I made, I realize this. I sacrificed things to make this happen, still, I can’t imagine not doing it.  Again, God blessed me with a mother who was an educator. She instilled a curiosity into me that is with me even today. I am wired to learn and if I’ve got extra time on my hands I usually spend it reading, researching, listening.

I know that everybody is not blessed in this way, but for those of us who are, don’t be ashamed that it is who we are. If you aren’t like this, when you run across someone who is driven to learn, driven to create, driven do do whatever, do us all a favor and don’t discourage us by saying “You shouldn’t spend all your time doing <INSERT TASK HERE>.”  You aren’t me, and if you are telling me this then you don’t understand me. (That’s ok, because you aren’t driven like me, I probably don’t understand you either.)

If you are driven, don’t let anyone tell you it’s not good. They aren’t you, they don’t know. You do you, and if you have to, walk away from those who are trying to change you.

Until next time,
I <3 |<
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Time to get ready to learn

Dear reader,

Ok, the time is come to get ready for the Dutch PHP Conference. Wait, you didn’t think you just showed up and knowledge just magically flowed into your head did you? Nope, it does not work that way. You’ve got to prepare yourself, you’ve got to be ready to learn.

This week

This week you need to spend some time each day looking at the schedule, and thinking about the topics. How does each topic affect the projects you are working on? For instance, in my projects I sometimes leave them for six months and then come back and pick them up. The hard part at that point is figuring out why I made the decisions I made and what I was thinking was the next step. I am looking forward to Raphael Dohms talk How’d we get here? “A guide to Architectural Decision Records because I think it will help me solve that problem.

I’m not going to list all of the talks and workshops that will be presented,  but I am spending a few minutes each morning looking at the schedule, looking at the projects I am either working on or about to start, and making notes about how I think this session can help me. Next week, I will compare those notes to the notes I took during the session and make a decision on whether to pursue the concept or not.

Thursday and Friday

Day of you need to prepare yourself for learning by preparing your workspace. it’s bad enough that most of us take our work with us to a conference – emails, messaging apps, etc still drag us out of the learning zone but at least during the actual sessions, we have the option of turning them off or putting them under our chair. When attending a virtual conference it’s a lot harder to ignore work since we are sitting in front of our computers where we actually DO the work. So to prepare yourself for learning, shut down email, messaging, and social media. That last one, shutting off social media, is hard for me as a speaker to say because I LOVE to see people posting about my talk on social media, but I love more when people are thoughtfully considering what I am telling them. The two are mutually exclusive.

If you absolutely must, between sessions you can open them back up to make sure everything is fine but make sure you close them back down before the next session starts.

Dedicate the time you have with the speakers and other attendees as learning time and treat it as important. If you don’t, your co-workers and those around you who also want your attention won’t treat it as important either.

Next week

As you go into the next week, keep your notes from the conference handy and review them in your downtime. Waiting for a meeting to start? review them. Waiting for CI/CD to complete a run? Review your notes. Finish a task and need a mental spacer before the next one? Review your conference notes.

It’s not enough to just sit in front of the monitor and say you are learning, learning is an activity and you have to fully participate if you want to reap the benefits. Yes, you need to “be in the moment” during the actual conference, but without a plan for before and after, you won’t get the benefit you are looking for. It just takes a little time each day to get ready for and to debrief after the conference.  Commit to yourself that you are going to get the full benefit of the conference by committing to prepare yourself and allow for debrief time.

Until next time,
I <3 |<
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Everything changes…even conferences

Dear Reader,

“Change is the only constant in life.”
— Heraclitus

I’ve been around tech conferences for a long time now. I’ve seen conferences come and go. The more I look at tech conferences though, the more I realize that old Heraclitus was correct. The only constant in the tech conference sphere is that it is constantly changing…and that’s a good thing.

When I started working with PHP conferences There were only a handful of speakers and they were at almost every conference. All of us realized that this wasn’t ideal, but – at least in the PHP community – we had to grow our own talent base speaker-wise before this was going to change. I’m happy to say that this has changed. These days, yes, you’ve still got a few that speak at many of the conferences, but most conferences try to bring in fresh faces and fresh ideas.

When I started doing virtual conferences at Day Camp 4 Developers, it was because only about 1%-2% of PHP developers could get to a conference. Most companies wouldn’t spend the money to send a developer to a conference and most developers couldn’t afford it on their own.  Now, virtual conferences are a necessity of life. Hopefully one that will go away, but night now, there is no denying that virtual events are de rigueur for a while to come. Of curse nobody wanted it to be this way but the silver lining is there are a LOT more opportunities for PHP developers to learn.

When I first heard of the Dutch PHP Conference it was because I was blessed to be asked to speak at the very first one. Back then it was a small one-track conference with 200-300 people in attendance. Fast forward a few years to 2009 and I was honored to actually get to help run the conference. That year we have 3 tracks and a little more than 3x the number of attendees.

Now, for the second year in a row, I am hosting DPC again. This year, like last year, it will be a virtual conference. This year, like last year, the main conference day is free. (And now you know why I don’t run Day Camp 4 Developers events anymore. :) )

It has changed a lot since that very first one, but at it’s core, it’s still run by the same people for the same reason. See, I think the reason I like DPC so much is because I know the people behind the curtain. Joni and Tom have been friends of mine for more than 10 years now, and I see the effort that they – and the entire company – pour into DPC. I respect that they do this out of love.

So it’s an honor for me to be associated with DPC again. I’ll gladly stand in front of a camera for this this year, tell bad jokes between speakers and introduce those speakers to you. Yes, some of the speakers will be old friends of mine. Some of them are new friends of mine. All of them though are members of the herd – the PHP community – and that’s really all I need to know.

Join me and my old and new friends on June 18th for DPC21. If you want to seem some long-form sessions, there are still tickets available for the June 17th talks as well. (Those cost…still worth it)

If you have never been to a PHP conference before in your life, do yourself a favor and block off June 18th, 2021 and get yourself a ticket to DPC21.

As I say for Day Camp 4 Developers “Invest a day in your career” :)

Oh and make sure you join the slack channel and say hi. I’ll be the one telling the bad jokes. :)

Until next time,
I <3 |<
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