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I was recently asked the following question on twitter:
how do you ever learn new technologies & languages? It’s not like you have copious spare time.
Instead of trying to answer in a bunch of tweets, I decided a post would be the best way to answer.
The fact is, it can be a struggle to learn new things. Many times I’ll learn new technology on the fly, as-needed by a given project. I actually don’t mind learning this way. It brings a certain amount of focus that more casual learning doesn’t. On a recent project, I found myself having to do a lot of bit manipulation. Since I don’t have a Computer Science background, this was new to me. I learned by diving in, writing a TON of tests and figuring it out. It was really satisfying to see my tests pass, and even more satisfying when the firmware team I was working with gave my code the “thumbs up”.
Over the years, as my network of friends and colleagues has grown, I’ve started going directly to the experts in a given technology and getting some great one-on-one instruction. For example, a little over a year ago, I need to get up to speed on all the Microsoft Azure offerings. I wanted more than the normal marketing fluff from Microsoft, so I asked my friend (and Azure MVP), Mike Wood. We connected via skype where he gave me a solid couple hours of instruction. I did the same thing with Jim Holmes when I needed to learn about the telerik test studio, specifically in the context of testing WPF applications.
While a little off-topic, I also like to pair with friends when I’m stuck on a problem. The majority of the time, all it takes is getting them on skype and explaining the problem to them before I have that “AHA!” moment.
Conferences, for the most part, are more about the social aspect than sitting in sessions. Recently though, I’ve started seeking out sessions on tools and technologies I’m interested in. I know I won’t come away an expert, but I’ll have a much better idea of what I need to know and where I can find more information. A recent example from Codemash 2014 – I’d been hearing about scriptcs and it sounded interesting so I made sure to hit my friend Kevin’s session on the subject. I now have a better understanding of what it is, how I’d use and where to look for more information.
As a long-time speaker, people ask if I like to pitch “unknown” topics to conferences so I’ll be forced to learn the subject. While many speakers do this successfully, it’s not something I like doing. When I go into a room of attendees, I want to know the material inside and out. I want to have actually used it on a project so I can talk about it in terms of “production code” versus “demo code”. I recently had a good friend (and mentor) tell me I should do this regarding some web technology. While I respect his opinion, I still can’t bring myself to do it.
I do try to carve out a couple hours a week for learning, whether it’s surfing to find material, reading one of the many tech books that I have on my bookshelf (most are on web related technologies since I know that’s a weak spot I *need* to improve on) or watching videos on Pluralsight. I’m not as consistent with this as I need to be, but that’s only because billable work (or Lite Accounting work) is always waiting.
Specifically on the subject of Lite Accounting – there are times when I’ll work on something in a branch, commit it and then have Matt review it. Sometimes he’ll just “fix” my code and send me the diff, but other times he’ll tell me what I can do better. I find this a great way to learn.
I hope this answered the question.
Ugh, unlike 2012, I didn’t read nearly as many books as I wanted. I was doing really well up until about October, then I started traveling and just didn’t find the time.
My goal was 35 books, but I only read 15. Once again, I read books about people who have gone through some extraordinary situations in their lives…
From the list, there are definitely some highlights. I’ve also included _some_ of the highlights I made while reading (if I read the book on my Kindle):
Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell
Read this book. Do it. Don’t just go watch the movie. Read the book first. Don’t want to see the movie? Read the book.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
Loved the book. About the only thing the movie had in common with the book was the name…and ummm…zombies. Read the book!
Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam, by Mark Bowden
I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve read by Bowden. He’s a fantastic author. This book was long, but I loved it. Really, really interesting.
Against stupidity the gods themselves labor in vain.
Metrinko was at peace with his own behavior. He had fought his captors and insulted them every day, right up to the ride to the airport, and he had fresh scrapes and bruises to show for it. His fifteen months in captivity would be summed up many years later by Ebtekar: “We thought [him] to be deranged; [he] hated everyone and was hated in return.”
Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan by Sean Parnell, John Bruning
You cannot lead men who are unwilling to be led. You must inspire them to give you the power to do so. That power comes only from their minds, their hearts, not from discipline or devotion to army regulations.
It is easy to be a virtuous man in good times. It is easy to be judged a success when luck runs with the fortunate son. But when adversity strikes, the true measure of a man percolates to the surface.
Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist by Michael J. Fox
Before a catastrophe, we can’t imagine coping with the burdens that might confront us in a dire moment. Then when that moment arrives, we suddenly find that we have resources inside us that we knew nothing about
As a way of motivating people, cultivating fear is easier than investing the time and effort necessary to engender respect. Respect requires greater knowledge, and in my experience, the more you know, the less you fear.
We are where we are. If we keep moving, we’ll be someplace else. We’ll know when we get there.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
This was an incredible book. I have 24 highlighted passages. These are the top.
He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.
The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life.
Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.
Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.
Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.
Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.
The Only Thing Worth Dying For (P.S.) by Eric Blehm
and following your ideals is the only thing worth dying for. Just remember that: Don’t ever put your life on the line for something you don’t believe in.
I read several other books, some amazing, some not so amazing.
This year, I’ve set my goal to be 25 books. I think it’s doable and I’m already on track.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 8 years since the very first Codemash. I was one of the 220 people that first year. What’s funny to me is that I didn’t know many people that first year, so I stayed in my room and played WoW during the attendee party. In the years since, I’ve come to realize the importance of networking, especially at an event like Codemash.
I’ve been lucky over the past 4 years to have been asked to present my “Going Indie” talk as both 1/2-day and full-day Precompilers. This year, due to the weather, I was asked to do two 1/2 day sessions on Tuesday to help fill in for some speakers dealing with weather-related travel issues. The first session I delivered was “XAML: So easy a web developer can do it”. It’s a fun session to deliver. Even though it was announced at the last minute, I still had a good group of about 30 attendees. When I asked what session they had planned to attend, many said “the MVC session”. I also really enjoyed having Jon Skeet sit in on my session. A couple times I wrote some questionable C# to which he said, “Please don’t do that” He also pointed out a new feature in C# 5.0 that I didn’t know about. Good times.
After 4 hours of XAML, I delivered a 4-hour version of my “Going Indie”. This session is always popular, and I had a great group. The session is always evolving because the longer I’m an indie (13 years and counting), the more I learn. On Wednesday, I delivered the full 8-hour version of the session. Unfortunately, my planned co-presenter, Jeff Strauss, was one of those with travel issues. I was bummed because Jeff, as an attorney, brings a lot to the session. Where I tend to skim legal areas, he’s able to go a lot deeper. While he wasn’t able to make it, my friend and fellow indie, Jim Christoper sat in and helped out. Near the end of the day, Jay Harris also dropped in to help bring yet another perspective to life as an indie / small-business owner. It was also very cool of Eric Lawrence to talk about product development in the last few minutes of the session.
After delivering 16-hours of content over two days, my voice was shot. Thankfully, I had no other talks scheduled, so I was able to enjoy several sessions. Full disclosure: I’ve been on the Codemash speaker selection team for the past 2 years. Whittling the 700+ submissions down to roughly 140 is tough. In my job as the .NET Track Chair, I had to find the best 17 talks out of 140′ish .NET-specific submissions. It sucks having to “reject” so many good talks, but in the end, the 17 I selected were pretty damn solid. If I can give people advice for how to get selected, I’d simply point them to this blog post by Jim Holmes.
Some of the sessions I attended: “C# on a diet with Scriptcs”, “An honest look at independence”, “Lessons from a grizzled speaker” (to which I also contributed at least one tip), “Navigating the open source legal waters” and “Becoming an outlier”.
While I did attend many great sessions, I spent a fair amount of time with friends including the one and only Matt Darby. Monday and Tuesday nights were spent in my room playing some epic games of Cards Against Humanity (The Bigger, Blacker Box). Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were spent talking to good friends with bourbon in hand. I avoided the “big” parties this year. It’s always too loud to actually hold a conversation and honestly, there was no way I was leaving the warm comfort of the main resort to go to the Villas. I also avoided the waterpark.
I’m sad that Jim Holmes and Jason Gilmore are stepping down from Codemash, but I know they’ll both be happier without all the stress that comes with Codemash. I’m also happy for my friend Jason Follas and his new role on the Codemash board.
I went into this years Codemash thinking it might be my last, at least for a while. I’m less convinced now than I was a week ago. I’d love to help out again for the 2015 event. I’d also like to continue delivering my “Going Indie” Precompiler. Hopefully the new board will ask me back.
A few months ago, my friend Jayme Davis hit me up via email about my interest in buying LiteAccounting.com from him. He’s been working on it off and on for the past few years, but finally decided he’d had enough. He’s been focusing on other things and couldn’t dedicate the time he wanted to LiteAccounting.
I used LA a few years ago, but moved on to another product when it was obvious that LA wasn’t going to have the features I needed going forward. When Jayme approached me about buying it, my first thought was, “ugh, I’d love to, but no way can I afford it.” After some discussion, we came to an amount that was workable for me, so a deal was struck. Knowing I didn’t really want to take on a product by myself, I brought on a partner – my friend and fellow developer, Matt Davis.
We’re slowly, but surely coming up to speed on LA and actually have a really solid road map in place for where we want to take LiteAccounting over the coming months and years. On Saturday, March 9, 2013, we made the final DNS changes, so we really do “own it” now.
If you need a simple online invoicing system, please check us out!
Basically, The RECON ONE is a bag designed to carry a tablet, charger and accessories. It has a removable “caddy / organizer” that can be used when flying. The caddy / organizer attaches to the seat pocket, allowing you to quickly and easily get to your “stuff” without having to dig around in the pocket itself. Helm, the project creator, is also creating a couple other items including a travel bag (toiletry kit) and a TSA-compliant bag for all the crap you’d normally shove in a Ziploc bag.
Anyway, I think it’s a cool idea and would love to see the project get funded.
On Tuesday, January 8, I’ll be delivering a full-day precompiler session on “Going Independent”. The session will start at 8:30am in the Ironwood room.
This year, I will be joined by friend, fellow developer and part-time attorney Jeffrey Strauss.
The purpose of the session is:
- Share lessons learned
- Provide you with the tools and resources necessary to either:
– Support what you’re currently doing as an indie
– Make the leap to life as an indie
The agenda for the day is:
- Discuss lessons learned over the course of the last 11 or so years I’ve been an independent consultant.
- Discuss ‘Starting and Running a Business’. This will include the different business types, business plans, logistics, marketing and more.
- Discuss Clients. This will include how to find them, how to work with them and how to keep them.
- Discuss Rates. This will include all sorts of information about setting rates, T&M vs. fixed bid and more.
The session tends to be very open and fluid. Come with questions and Jeff and I will do our best to answer them.
I hope to see you there!
I read 26 books in 2012, compared to 31 in 2011. In all honesty, I did read a couple more books that aren’t included in this list.
In looking at the list, you’ll notice “Little House in the Big Woods”. I read that to my son, along with “Farmer Boy” and “Little House on the Prairie”. For whatever reason, I never added the other two books to my list, so they’re not counted. I love that my son, 9, still loves to be read to. I mean c’mon, who DOESN’T like to be read to? We actually started “Little House on Plum Creek” a few weeks ago, but with all the holiday activity and Christmas Break, we slacked off a bit. We’ll pick it back up soon.
From the list, there are definitely some highlights. I’ve also included _some_ of the highlights I made while reading (if I read the book on my Kindle):
- Life, by Keith Richards: It’s amazing Keith is still with us. REALLY, REALLY good book. I could hear him when I read it. Awesome.
if you don’t make bold moves, you don’t get fucking anywhere. You’ve got to push the limits.
But if you want to get to the top, you’ve got to start at the bottom, same with anything.
- I Am Legend: If you’ve ever seen the Wil Smith movie of the same name, you MUST read the book. The movie bears almost NO resemblance to the book!
- Awol on the Appalachian Trail: This was a bit of a grind to get through, but it came at a good time in my life. It’s about a 40-year old software developer who got tired of his life and decided to thru-hike all 2100 miles of the AT.
Assumption, even about your own state of mind, without immediacy of action is guesswork.
Our vision becomes so narrow that risk is trying a new brand of cereal, and adventure is watching a new sitcom. Over time I have elevated my opinion of nonconformity nearly to the level of an obligation. We should have a bias toward doing activities that we don’t normally do to keep loose the moorings of society.
Activities that even momentarily cause discomfort, that don’t provide immediate positive feedback, are subtracted from the realm of experience. We are outraged when we are constrained by others, but willfully, unwittingly put limits on ourselves.
We all perceive that the other guy has it easier than we do; we all assume that others know our inner doubts.
- Heroes and Monsters: One of the daily Kindle deals I picked up. I had NO idea what I was getting into with this book, but WOW, what a great book. I’m still not sure exactly how to describe it. Strange, comforting…<
understanding something isn’t a prerequisite to feeling it. We don’t have to understand things in order to be affected by them.
The most fascinating people in the world are the people who are most fascinated by the world, and those same people are the ones who change the world. No one who’s ever influenced this planet has ever done so without being remarkably curious.
- The Caine Mutiny: This has always been one of my favorite movies, so I finally decided to read the book. It. Was. Awesome! After reading the book, I think the movie was perfectly cast. When I finished, I almost immediately re-started.
- Lucky, by Michael J. Fox: Wow. Great book. Very inspiring.
No matter how great the acceptance, adulation, and accumulation of wealth, gnawing at you always is the deep-seated belief that you’re a fake, a phony. Even if you can bullshit your way through whatever job you’re working on now, you’d better prepare for the likelihood that you’re never going to get another one.
- Utah Beach: They’re called The Greatest Generation for a reason. A long, in-depth chronicle of the battle for one beach on D-Day. I’m looking forward to reading the sister book, “Omaha Beach” this year.
- Ernie’s Ark: This was one of those random books I picked up as a Kindle Deal of the Day. I had NO expectations, but wow, it was really good.
- Mustaine: I love heavy metal. I love (auto)biographies of rock stars. Unfortunately, I’ve never been a big Megadeth OR Dave Mustaine fan. In the last year, I’ve started listening to (and liking) the music, so I figured I’d give the book a try. Parts of this book were tough to get through because he can be a whiny bitch (one of the reasons I’ve never liked him). Thankfully, the last couple chapters saved it for me. I have a little more respect for Mustaine now.
simply put, a shitty upbringing does not relieve you of the burden of accountability. Life goes on. Deal with it.
It’s pretty simple for me, really. I want to be able to carry a gun; listen to whatever music I like; eat, drink, and be merry; and not hurt anyone else (the exception, obviously, being self-defense). It’s the abbreviated Sermon on the Mount: treat other people the way you want to be treated.
- In the Heat of the Night: Again, I’ve always loved the movie with Sydney Poitier and Rod Steiger. The book was really, really good. One of the things that stood out above and beyond the movie was the racism that occurred. It’s hard to believe that 50 years ago, many places were still segregated. CRAZY!
There were also some books that I didn’t like as much:
- MockingJay: I read The Hunger Games books. Book 1 was good. I loved book 2, but OMG, book 3 was horribad.
- Camera Boy: First, let me say that I have a ton of respect for our military. This was one of those books that came up as a Kindle Deal of the Day, so I snagged it. While there were some good parts, the bad parts outweighed them by a long shot. Blah.
I’ve already started toward my 2013 target and I have a stack of books on my nightstand that should help get me there.
My plan to take over the tri state area is just starting.
For the third consecutive year, I’ll be delivering my “Going Independent” session during the Codemash Precompiler. This year, the session will be a full day instead of half, AND I’ll be bringing in at least one attorney to help answer legal (and other) questions. My goal is to bring in a couple other resources to answer questions I’ve been unable to deal with in previous deliveries of this talk.
The abstract for my session is:
Breaking free from the confines of the cubicle farm and going out on your own can be one of the most satisfying things you do for your career. It can also be one of the most terrifying. Being on your own can seem like it’s nothing but ponies, unicorns and rainbows, but it’s a lot of work, and success is not guaranteed.
Mike, an independent developer since 2001, will discuss the lessons he’s learned over the years along with the ups and downs he’s experienced. In this updated and expanded session, he will be joined by two legal professionals to help answer the most common questions he’s been asked over the years. “How do I get started?”, “Where do I find clients?”, “How much do I charge?”, “Do I need a contract?” and many others. Bring your questions and find out if the grass really is greener on the other side.
I know Codemash tickets can be tough to come by, but if you get a chance to get one, DO IT! Codemash is amazing conference. I’ve been lucky enough to attend every single year, and I’ll continue attending as long as I can get a ticket.