Surround yourself with amazing people

9 minute read article Leadership   Technology   Wisdom   Dotnet Comments

Around 2010, I started giving a talk at users groups and conferences about “going indie.” By that time, I had been working for myself for almost 10 years with just a short break in the middle. In the beginning, it was about the high-level lessons I’d learned, but it slowly morphed into something more. People kept asking more and more questions about the details. How do I start? Do I need a contract? How much do I charge? The questions kept coming, so I slowly added more information to the session. Over the years, I delivered it as 45 and 60-minute sessions, and as 4 or 8-hour workshops.

As the sessions grew in popularity, I realized I couldn’t continue to gloss over the areas in which I was NOT the expert–things like contracts, intellectual property, etc. Sure, I dealt with those things, but I wasn’t an expert. Thankfully, I had a friend who happened to be an attorney-turned-geek and I asked him if he would be willing to join me. After that, my friend, Jeff Strauss, became a regular fixture, and we delivered the talk jointly several times.

A few years ago, after leaving the life of an independent developer to work for The Man, I stopped submitting my “Going Independent” session to conferences. I’ve revisited the content a few times over the years, and at one point I even started writing a book to capture everything I talked about in that session. I never finished it but I did publish this bit in 2018 back in 2018.

After spending time this week with my former team and having coffee with a friend and mentor, I decided to revisit one of the things I really stressed back in that session - the idea of surrounding yourself with amazing people. In the context of “going indie,” I was talking about surrounding yourself with amazing lawyers, accountants, and insurance agents, but I want to go a bit deeper today.

Book excerpt: Amazing People (written in 2015)

Having a strong support group is key, not just to being independent, but for life in general. From your family and friends to your attorney and accountant, you need to surround yourself with amazing, supportive people.

As a professional, the most important thing you can develop is your network. While my larger network took longer to build, I’ve been lucky to have an extremely supportive spouse who has stuck with me through the good times, and more importantly, the bad times. If your spouse or partner doesn’t support your desire to be independent, you need to think long and hard about whether it’s the right decision.

In 2003, I stumbled across the Independent Computer Consultants Association (ICCA). A new chapter was opening in Detroit and I wanted to be part of it! The meetings were 2+ hours away, but I tried my best to attend. I became the chapter webmaster and helped anywhere I was able. Unfortunately, the core group of us (5 or 6 if I recall correctly) weren’t able to keep it going so, in 2005, the chapter disbanded. The national organization disbanded a few years later, in 2009.

Once I started speaking at user groups and conferences in 2008, my network really started to expand. I developed a lot of connections and made a lot of friends. Most of my friends had “real jobs”, but a few were trying to forge a path on their own, whether through product development, service development or consulting. In 2008, a small group of us decided to start my first mastermind group.

The group consisted of three friends: James Avery, founder of InfoZerk, Jayme Davis, creator of LiteAccounting, and Nate Kohari, creator of both Ninject and Agile Zen. I was the lone consultant. The group was great, and everyone was very supportive of each other. We would have weekly calls to discuss our respective businesses. The format followed the typical stand-up–what we did since the last time we talked to advance our business, what we were doing this week to advance our business, and what roadblocks if any, were we experiencing.

While I learned a lot from the group, I felt very out of place. They talked about adding features to products or new business opportunities they were working on. I could only really offer up how many hours I billed, how many hours I planned to bill, and issues I was having with my clients. I did learn a lot though. I was motivated each week as I listened to the evolution of Agile Zen, or the growth of Adzerk, and the challenges of Lite Accounting.

Once Rally Software acquired Agile Zen, the group disbanded since Nate really was a key contributor the group, and he needed to shift his priority to the new acquisition. Because I got so much value from the group, it wasn’t long after that I started another group. Jamie Wright, Jay Harris, Alan Stevens, and Jim Christopher formed the core of this group. Jamie was also dabbling in production development, but overall, we were all consultants dealing with the same types of issues.

Those groups really helped me understand that I wasn’t alone–that others were experiencing the same ups and downs. What really hit home for me was the fact that the others were experiencing burnout just like I was. In fact, it was the most common theme of our weekly calls!

Find a group of individuals that you can talk to about your business. Carve out the time in your schedule to have those conversations. Surround yourself with amazing people!

(end of the content from the book)

Networking == relationship development

At a recent meetup, I stressed to people who are just entering the world of software development that networking is not shaking someone’s hand and then connecting on LinkedIn. It’s so much more than that. It’s about developing relationships. I see a lot of developer bootcamp students show up at my meetup with an assignment to “network and meet people.” Almost all of them walk up awkwardly, ask a couple questions, and then walk away. Sometimes I’ll see a LinkedIn connection request after the meeting, most times not.

Not long ago, right after a meetup ended, one of the new people came up, shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and said,

I’d like to take you out to lunch and get to know you better.

We did get lunch, and we did get to know each other better. Win! He emailed me recently after landing his first job in tech!

I have plenty of shallow connections on LinkedIn, but I also have a deep, very solid network of amazing people that I can rely on. The shallow connections have potential to deepen, but it takes time; sometimes years. I have people in my network that are experts in all sorts of things I’m not and it’s great.

See what happens when geeks socialize?

Back in 2008, I wrote a blog post about my realization of how important all of this was. Here’s a very short excerpt from that (I did you a favor and removed the smileys this time. You’re welcome):

If I run into a React issue, I know exactly who I’m reaching out to. If I have deeper career-type issues and questions, I know who I’m reaching out to. If I have questions about writing whether it’s technical or fiction, I know who I’m reaching out to. If I need a blog post reviewed and don’t just want a rubber stamp, I know who I’m reaching out to. If I have questions about leadership, I know who I’m reaching out to.

When I’ve been on job hunts, my network has been there for me. When I was in those indie years, my network helped keep my pipeline full. When I realized I was ready to leave that life, my network helped me find a great role.

During COVID when I was furloughed, my network was there. I had simply tweeted that I had been furloughed and within a day, my network reached out. Within a week I had a short-term git, and within a few months, I had a full-time gig working with one of the smartest people I’ve had the privilege of knowing.

When I was ready to leave Big Tobacco (an interesting job for sure), my network was there for me. When I struggled at the next thing, my network was there for me.

These are not shallow connections. These are people I have gotten to know over the years. I text them on their birthdays, I hang out with them at conferences, I sit in Discord with some of them. I have a photo board near my desk with pictures of many of them. I reach out to them when I see they’re having a tough time. I make sure to let them know I’m there to help them just as they helped me.

They are not just amazing people, they are my friends.

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