To say I traveled a lot in 2015 would be an understatement.  But some of that came with the benefit of fruitfully killing time in the airport.  One day when walking through DFW and checking Twitter, I happened across my dear friend Moe’s Twitter/LinkedIn share of a #ThankYourMentor post detailing to “Focus on Your Character, Not Your Career“, inspired by the original author’s parents.

It was pretty serendipitous that Moe shared this post, as he’s been my most influential & prolific mentor to date, so I figured I’d follow up with 3 things here that I learned from him and working with him; things that have helped me be successful every day.

1.  Starting out, just say Yes!

This is something so simple, but everyone isn’t always in tune with what this actually means.  I’m a very “learn by doing” person, so if I can jump at the chance to work through a project, I will.  But if it’s not my area or something I’m responsible for, either in a new area or just starting, I’ll stay with it to find the right person, the right answer, the right solution.

This may not always be the best for my multi-tasking focus, but it has always helped me to learn at an incredible pace, bring teammates up with me, and become a respected advisor for many peers across the IT landscape.

2.  Learn to say no, but for practical reasons

Contrasting #1 above, you will eventually need to learn to say no.  But not because you don’t want to do it, you don’t know how, or you don’t understand something, but because it’s more beneficial for a team member to accomplish the task for some reason or another.  Often in large companies, once you are known for being good at something, you get stuck as the “go to” person for that role.  But you may, in fact, have moved on from the role a long time ago.  Instead of saying yes, work with all parties involved to make sure the colleagues with needs are connected to the folks that can solve those problems.

This isn’t always apparently clear when you make the switch, and it’s definitely a grey area when you can start, but you’ll eventually know when it feels right and when to be maximizing your potential.

3.  Don’t shy away from things you’re not good at. They will be your strength in the future.

This, to me, is the most important thing I’ve learned from Moe.  Many times over I have been presented with a project that I just had to figure out — ranging from demos to presentations to keynotes.  These are things that just have to get figured out, often because someone who sees much more of what you are capable of than yourself, wants to push you in the right direction.  Not every swing is going to be a home run, not every project is going to be a success.

As I said, I learn by doing very well, and running head long into these projects, while often scary, has been the most rewarding part of my career and I can’t thank Moe enough for believing in me.

Going forward

All of these things I learned first hand from working with Moe and have often relayed them to new colleagues, in both words & action.  It’s a strange feeling when you recognize strengths or successes that you hadn’t really ever acknowledged or were aware of, but it is definitely a gratifying feeling and something that makes the hard cross-team work & brain teasers worth it.

Go to a Meetup… like yesterday!

The concept of a Meetup isn’t anything new.  It’s been around tech circles for a while in the form of a User Group.  But the term User Group suggested some amount of time invested into the technology or a certain level of expertise.  If I am completely new, what business do I have going to a User Group where people are actually… users!

Here are a couple things I’ve learned since I’ve started attending Meetups across the country, as I travel for work.

Go to Meetups to learn

Meetups have become much like the campfires of the Wild West.  Everyone comes to tell their stories and listen to everyone else’s stories.  You don’t need to be an expert to attend a Meetup.  Just have an interest and be willing to learn.

You like beer?  There’s a meetup for that.

You like food?  There’s a meetup for that.

You like to code?  There’s a meetup for that.

(Hint:  There’s generally going to be meetups that let you do all three at once)

There isn’t going to be a better experience for “learn by doing” than a Meetup for most technology today.

Attendance does not mean participation

Most of the Meetups I have attended over the past 18 months have had a pretty good distribution of “newbies” to “experienced users”.  It doesn’t hurt to start your meetup with some level setting information:

  • Sign up URLs
  • Getting started links
  • One-pager of terms
  • Recap of last meetup

As humans, we’re more likely to admit we didn’t know something after you tell us rather than speaking up before hand.

Just because someone is attending your Meetup, that does not mean they have registered for your service or product, let alone used it in any way.

The Death of Release Notes

As software is becoming more continuously delivered and more continuously released, it makes it more difficult to disseminate change information.  In the 5 years my product heavily depended on WebSphere Application Server, I can count the number of Release Notes documents I read on one finger.

As product updates are released, they should be accompanied with blogs and videos from the product teams.  

If you run Meetups, plan your weekly or regularly scheduled topics around your product releases to cover the updates.

Nothing is worse than exposing new users to mass confusion when experienced users don’t agree with breaking changes.

Going forward

Meetups are a great change to engaging a community previously left to Message Boards and Bug Trackers.  As new technologies pop up and persist, their associated Meetups will grow across the world as well.  It’s the rebirth of face to face communication, alongside not instead of technology.

Feel free to let me know of Meetups you’ve attended or plan to or would like to see.  I’ll be posting in the Meetups category as I attend more throughout the coming months.