It started twenty years ago this month
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Twenty years ago this month I began my IT career. I could not have imagined the journey and adventure that awaited me when I applied for that first job at Cousins Corporation. Though I’d been writing software personally for sixteen years at that point, I’d never been paid to do so. I had the skills, but no work experience. Thankfully, Guy Hoovler took a chance on me and launched my career.

For the next twenty years I’ve worked for about every kind of company imaginable. From family owned businesses with 100-150 employees, to startups with only two, all the way to companies like IBM and Intercontinental Hotels. I’ve done freelance, contract and full time. I’ve been through huge layoffs, and some extremely bad work situations. I’ve also worked on some exhilarating projects and met some incredible people. To this day I remain in contact with at least one person from every full time job I’ve had and all but one contract job (10 out of 11 overall).

I’ve had the wonderful blessing of being able to learn from so many mentors, the first of which, was my own father. When I was seven, he was a teacher for a private school in Clearwater. The TRS-80 Model 1 had just come out and the school bought him one so he could learn to use it, learn to program and start a class teaching the 7th and 8th graders how to code.

Every night when he came home from school and sat down to learn, I sat right beside him. Since that time, so long ago, I doubt I’ve ever gone more than one week without writing code.

I continued to meet mentors who shaped my thinking all through school, and then as the opportunities came in the professional world, mentors and peers helped push me to new levels I could never have anticipated.

It’s amazingly fitting, that on this day I start as a full time instructor for The Iron Yard. My job will be to not only teach Ruby on Rails syntax, but more importantly, teach how to think like a software engineer, and how to learn any language one chooses. My hope is that I can be a mentor to these students as so many were to me over the last twenty years. I also fully expect to learn from my students. I’ve found that I have learned so much from those juniors I’ve hired over the years. At first it surprised me, but now I look forward to it. Everyone you work with is an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Overlook no one.

I’d like to say thanks to everyone at The Iron Yard for my next adventure. I hope I can be as beneficial to those I work with and teach, as I know you will be to me.

To close out my post, I’d like to list as many people as I can think of who have contributed to my twenty years in this profession, but as I started to do so I realized it would be well over 100, and I’d be sure to leave someone out. So instead, let me just say thank you to everyone who has either mentored me, taught me, hired me, worked for me, or generally made the work day a more pleasant experience. You have helped make this a memorably journey I will always treasure.

Now…on to new challenges, with new amazing people.

Greet with a hug
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I have learned that there is more power in a good strong hug than in a thousand meaningful words. ~ Ann Hood

I’m a pretty reserved guy, and yet, as the years go by, the handshake has felt less and less appropriate. To be sure, it’s the only appropriate greeting in our society when meeting someone for the first time, or meeting someone you have very little relationship with. But for all those I’m friends with, or even regularly acquainted with, the handshake feels so…silly.

I have to wonder what our society would look like if we all greeted each other with hugs instead of handshakes. Would the hug immediately release any tension between parties? Would it break down emotional walls and allow us to build closer relationships, perhaps even build trust faster?

If two people were meeting and one came to the meeting in a bad mood, or with the intention to remain emotionally distant, would the hug help diffuse that distance and bring the two people to a closer place to begin their conversation?

Men seem to have a much harder time with hugging. I’m very pleased that I still hug my dad every time I see him, and my 16 year old son still feels comfortable hugging me every day. I hope that never stops. I think the only other male in my life who feels comfortable hugging me without reserve is Hugh Butler (thanks Hugh).

And yes, I am one who approaches every personal meeting as though I’m in the World Series of Poker going up against Phil Hellmuth. Good luck reading my face Phil. But still, if our society took a vote today to replace handshaking with hugging, I’d vote a hearty yes. Male or female, friend or foe, I have this hunch that replacing the handshake with a hug would result in, at the very least, a much better starting foundation for whatever is to follow.

If you aren’t comfortable with hugging, be careful when approaching me. At any moment, I may pull a fast one on you, and hot swap the handshake for a full on hug. Hopefully, in that moment of awkward uncomfortableness for you, you’ll pause for just long enough to realize, this guy cares enough about you to not treat you like a complete stranger.

Ending employee relationships should take longer than the hiring process
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I’ve been involved in many hirings, both getting hired myself, and hiring other developers. Unfortunately, I’ve also been around numerous layoffs, and had to watch great people be let go. I’ve also had a few contracts not renewed, and was even let go once myself. No doubt it’s a painful process for the person being let go. Throughout all these situations, one thing has stood out to me above all else: more time is spent on the hiring process than on the process to decide to let someone go.

If you’ve gone through the interview process for any major tech company, you know just how involved it can be. When I interviewed for GitHub, I had four video interviews, and was then flown out to San Francisco for a full day of interviews. During that day, I interviewed with seven different people. The policy at GitHub is the majority must agree the person is a fit before they are brought on.

Recently, I went through a very similar process with The Iron Yard. I had phone interviews with three of the four founders, and met with one instructor in Durham, before I was flown to Atlanta to meet the entire staff there. I was asked to speak in front of the two classes at that campus, and spent two whole days with the team. It was a wonderful experience, and to be honest, was one of the least stressful interview process I’ve ever been through. Note: I think that’s a good sign you’ve found a fit.

These are both examples of a very typical interview process for major tech companies these days, and the process itself can take several months, from first contact to offer. Companies want to be as sure as possible that you are a great fit before adding you to the team, and considering how important an employee is to a team, and how much one bad apple can effect the entire bunch, it makes perfect sense.

What troubles me is the very short process that goes into letting someone go who you previously thought was a great fit. No matter how hard you try as a company, you won’t always be right when you hire. Often, you will have been right to make the hire, based on what the candidate communicated to you, but it may simply be the candidate didn’t understand the situation enough to realize they weren’t a great fit. Or, out of desperation to be employed, they may have oversold themselves. As well, it may simply be a case of bad timing. I’ve seen great hires go bad because the employee is having personal troubles at the time and can’t focus and do what is necessary to become a productive member of the team.

If you, as a tech company, decide to hire someone to your team, and then go through another lengthy investment of time during the on boarding process, surely it’s worth it to nurture that employee and protect them at even more considerable cost. It sends an unhealthy message to the rest of the team, when a teammate is so quickly shown the door, with no obvious process to help them grow.

If you are planting a garden, and you spend all the time to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, feed and water them, surely you would not rip it out of the ground at the first sign of leaf damage or failure to grow as quickly as you had hoped. We don’t do that with students either. They struggle at times and grow at different rates, yet we don’t toss them out of the class at the first sign they aren’t a good fit. No, if we care about them, we work to get them to the point where they can be their best.

Unfortunately, that is not the case right now in most IT companies. Most are so protective of their culture they will pull a slow growing plant as if it were a filthy, virus laden weed. This is both cruel and short-sighted, and sends a message to the remaining teammates: no matter how much you feel like part of this company you are only a few struggles away from being tossed to the curb. In other words, though you might feel like a cherished part of our team, so did this person before we threw them out. This leads employees to live in fear. That mentality will crush your precious culture faster than anything else.

The lesson? You must be as protective of your employees as you are of your culture. Your culture is nothing without those people. Once you let them in, accept them for who they are, and understand that no two will be alike; no two will grow at the same pace; no two will contribute in exactly the same manner. Get to know each of them, and care more about helping them become a fit than you did in trying to determine the fit.

Yes, there will still be times when you need to let an employee go. Both because of lack of funds, and because they aren’t working out. But the latter should be determined only after just as many people worked to help them succeed as you had interview them in the beginning. If their spot on the team is worthy of ten personal interviews, then isn’t that person themselves worthy of more than one or two people deciding they aren’t working out? If it takes you three months to decide to hire someone, shouldn’t it take exponentially longer to decide they aren’t the fit you thought they were?

The next time you decide to hire someone to your team, be sure you’re ready to help the person succeed when you hire them. If you can’t commit to a lengthy process when things don’t seem to be working out, then don’t bother to bring them through a lengthy process in the beginning. To spend the time protecting your business and not spend the time protecting your employees demonstrates one simple principle: you care more about your culture and bottom line than you do about the humans who are making your business work.

Are you doing now what you wanted to when you were 10?
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“As I’ve gone through life, I’ve found that your chances for happiness are increased if you wind up doing something that is a reflection of what you loved most when you were somewhere between nine and eleven years old…At that age, you know enough of the world to have opinions about things, but you’re not old enough yet to be overly influenced by the crowd or by what other people are doing or what you think you ‘should’ be doing. If what you do later on ties into that reservoir in some way, then you are nurturing some essential part of yourself. It’s certainly been true in my case. I’m doing now, at fifty-eight, almost exactly what most excited me when I was eleven.” ~ Walter Murch

A very thought provoking quote indeed. As best I can remember, there were three things I thought about the most at age 10: coding, teaching, and writing movies or books.

My dad was a teacher at the time, and though I can’t remember actually wanting to grow up to be a teacher, I used to pretend to be a teacher all the time at that age. My sister would sit in my “class” and I would teach, or preach (my dad did that part time while teaching full time) to her. This was a weekly practice we did for fun.

I’m about to start teaching full time and obviously have been coding for a living for almost 20 years. Not bad, as far as this quote goes, but I suppose it’s time I start working on that novel or screenplay.

How about you?

Joining The Iron Yard
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After 16 years of developing Internet based software, I’m about to take a very new direction in my career. No, I won’t be MMA fighting nor am I becoming a nutritionist or an interior decorator, though all three I’ve considered at one point in time. Instead, I have an amazing opportunity to leverage all I’ve learned since I first entered the professional field of Software Engineering back in 1998. Starting in late July, I’ll be joining Iron Yard full time as a Ruby on Rails instructor here in Tampa Bay.

What led me to this

Few of the applications I have created over my career are still up and running. The many Miley Cyrus sites I built are long gone. The billing hub I helped architect and develop for IBM has since been replaced as has the encouraging support app for the New York and LA Marathon’s. Apps I created on my own (WeAreTampaBay.com, PeepNote.com and others) are also all since shutdown. All these apps effected people on a daily basis for the period of time they were in place. Most of the apps listed above resulted in thank you notes from it’s users (except the billing hub). But it’s inevitable in this fast paced industry that software will be replaced on a regular basis. We understand this as developers and we deal with it and move on. Yet still, it’s difficult to look back and see very few evidences of your life’s work still in place.

I grew up a teacher’s kid and then eventually a pastor’s kid. Both can be difficult labels to overcome as a child, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I had the blessing of seeing the lives my father touched on a daily basis. Even to this day, I bump into students of his from more than 25 years ago who still remember how my dad touched them and educated them.

Similarly, what remains to this day of my development past are the relationships and the people. I’m still in contact with at least one person from eleven of the twelve companies I’ve worked for. While at ValPak, I had the opportunity to hire several non-developers and mentor them toward becoming developers. Most are still in the industry full time. For me, it’s always been about effecting people and improving their lives. That’s why I write software and that’s why I’ve always enjoyed mentoring, teaching, and coaching.

Over the last year I’ve been pulled more and more toward the idea of training even though I didn’t realize it was happening. In fact, I’ve been involved in teaching in one way or another all my life. I tutored in college. My wife and I made the decision to homeschool 11 years ago. I’ve taught Sunday School at my church. I founded Commendable Kids in 2010 and still work on it to this day. Last year after freelancing for years, I interviewed for two positions: a well known online code school and a position on the Training team as a developer at GitHub. I honestly didn’t even realize the similarity between the two positions until recently. I ended up joining GitHub to work on some training software and while there, I clung to the training team and loved to watch them teach. The teachers on that team made a huge impression on me that I now believe moved me even further in this direction. When that software project was canceled and I was no longer needed on the training team, I had little interest in joining another part of the company. At the time, I didn’t realize why all of this was happening and what effect it was having on me.

A few months ago, a company I’d never heard of, Iron Yard, was mentioned in conversation to me three times in the span of a week. Even then, my first thought was, “I’m a developer, why would I do that?” Thankfully, my family pushed me to reconsider and be open to something outside my immediate comfort zone. As I began reading about the Iron Yard and then talking with the founders, one after another, I felt such an instant connection. It was an opportunity to use all the experience I have to help others and impact them far longer than any application could.

Eventually I visited the Iron Yard in Atlanta and I was hooked. Even the short time I spent there with the students and staff was invigorating. Teaching students in 12 weeks is a challenge for sure, but to see them working hard, struggling, but persevering and becoming better people for it is so rewarding. It reminded me of the journey I began when I was 7 and am still on today.

In the end, I accepted a full time teaching position with the Iron Yard and I could not be more excited to help bring them to Tampa Bay. I’ll be teaching Ruby on Rails and also helping do all we can to support the tech community here in the area (another passion of mine as many of you know).

I won’t say it’s going to be easy, but I’ll do my best to help the students become the best developers they can be. If I can pass along some of my skills and experiences to them, and help them realize their dream of becoming software developers, it will be beyond amazing. I’ll continue to develop Commendable Kids and other apps on the side as well, because I’ll always love writing code.

The Iron Yard is doing some amazing work and it’s only the beginning. It’s such a blessing to be on board with them and I cannot wait to get started. If you aren’t familiar with them, check out their site and feel free to ask me any questions.

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