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I propose the Daenerys Targaryen test.

If you know who Daenerys Targaryen is, you do not have "no time." You have priorities which included "I wish to know who Daenerys Targaryen is." No judgement! I do, too! But if you know who Daenerys Targaryen is and you're dissatisfied with your career growth, you should attempt to consciously be aware of the fact that you can choose different things in the future.

It takes minutes to set up a web presence as a software developer. It takes 1~3 hours to stick a flag in the Internet about one topic. Having one flag stuck in the Internet beats zero flags, by a lot. You can keep doing this as you have time available. (Think less "submit bug fixes to OSS projects" and more "write an essay which shall endure regarding a topic which is professionally relevant to you." To pick one of the hundreds of things in this genre produced by an HN member, see https://www.chrisstucchio.com/blog/2012/hft_apology.html where HN's own yummyfajitas explains, in a useful and citable fashion, how order books work. You almost certainly know one topic well enough to post something which clears that bar of utility on any given day.)

You could also, I don't know, invent Rails, but you do not have to invent Rails to get career benefits out of working publicly.

After you have a flag stuck in the Internet, there are a variety of ways to get value out of it.

The simplest one is using it as a conversation piece when you're cold-opening conversations with folks who are relevant to your career. For example, if you've decided to stick a flag into (picking a random example) ActiveRecord optimization, and you're attempting to talk your way into a job interview with a Rails shop, "I see you're a Rails shop. I would like to talk to you about potential opportunities at your company." is _substantially_ improved by "Hiya, I see you're a Rails shop. I wrote a detailed guide to ActiveRecord optimization (see here). I would like to talk to you about potential opportunities at your company."

Another one -- also not hard! -- is to put a call-to-action at the bottom of the essay saying "If you're reading this, it is probably because you are interested in ActiveRecord optimization. So am I! If you've got hard problems with ActiveRecord optimization I would love to help you solve them. We should chat; here's my email. "




> It takes 1~3 hours to stick a flag in the Internet about one topic. Having one flag stuck in the Internet beats zero flags, by a lot.

I gave one rather mediocre talk at a regional tech conference with maybe ~100 attendees. The video is online. From that day forward inbound interest skyrocketed. I'm not talking about cold calls or LinkedIn requests, I'm talking about startup CTOs asking me out for coffee to chat about my future, managers asking if I can consult on their project, invitations to speak at other events.

When I lost my job, I called those people back and had more than enough consulting work to tide me over. As a direct result I now work at Twitter—before I was at a failing startup that nobody's ever heard of. In other words, speaking at that conference opened the door to >$200,000 in consulting work and increased income in the two years since.

The bar to speaking at events like that is not high. Every major city in the US has programming conferences. You don't need OSCON or JavaOne, pretty much any decent event will do so long as they record and post the talks. Link that from yourname.com and look forward to lots of coffee chats.


Went through the effort to find the video, you are a very good presenter! did it come naturally or did you work on it? if so how?


I'm a little ashamed to say it came naturally (I feel like that's a cop-out answer but I don't have a better one).


> I propose the Daenerys Targaryen test. If you know who Daenerys Targaryen is, you do not have "no time." You have priorities which included "I wish to know who Daenerys Targaryen is." No judgement! I do, too! But if you know who Daenerys Targaryen is and you're dissatisfied with your career growth, you should attempt to consciously be aware of the fact that you can choose different things in the future.

I don't agree. I watch Game of Thrones in the late evening hours where I'm reduced to a vegetable by a whole day of working/coding. I doubt I could squeeze more effective work hours into my schedule (maybe for a couple weeks, but not over a long term).


It seems that professional programmers have little understanding about the limits of human endurance in skilled labor. Junior doctors work 100 hour weeks and 36 hour shifts so busy they often don't have time to visit the bathroom. It may slightly harm your productivity by working more (almost certainly will) but to say you can't do anything on your own time except for watching Game of Thrones is overly pessimistic.


The doctor's job is not exactly equivalent. After a day of programming, I feel I could still put in a couple hours of light manual labor or say drive for Uber, but I'm unable to focus intensely any longer. Doctors probably use a much greater variety of skills (and not just intense focus on 100% abstract problems for 8 hours), hence I think their resources deplete slower.

I know that when I've worked at jobs which weren't all about focusing on abstract problems (such as an analyst or a consultant or a project manager), I could definitely put in more hours.

EDIT: Also, air traffic controllers (a job that I feel is more similar to programming than being a doctor) are restricted by law to work no more than 6 hours. From what they say, after their shift is done, their brain is often completely fried.


Do you really focus intensely for several hours at a time during a typical workday? What industry/domain are you working in? In my experience, most software jobs mix bits of intense abstract reasoning, distributed throughout the day, with an at-least-equal amount of tedious gruntwork or meetings.


For jobs, I do rather typical Java/Scala/BigData development. I agree that the there's a bit of mindless tediousness in the jobs, although a lot of it can eventually be automated.

However, IMO, when working on a large code base which you didn't author (so, pretty much the most typical case), if you want to do a good job - i.e. think through potential consequences of your changes, weight the pros and cons of alternative approaches etc. - you still need a ton of cognitive resources.


OTOH doctors are literally working with life and death scenarios.


Or is it the other way around? Maybe it's the junior doctors that don't understand something that professional programmers _do_ about the limits of human endurance in skilled labor?

There's no way those 100 hour weeks and 36 hours shifts don't lead to a measurable increase in errors. Given that in medicine, errors can cost lives, it's morally reprehensible that anyone allows this kind of thing to go on in medicine today as a matter of course (outside of a true one-off emergency)


Errors do increase with length of shift but they also increase when continuity of care is disrupted by shift change. When you look at patient outcomes it's a wash. This probably speaks more to awful shift change procedures than anything else but reducing the hours junior doctors are fostered for has not lead to any improvement for patients.

http://healthland.time.com/2013/03/26/fewer-hours-for-doctor...

I seem to recall surgery being an exception in that shorter shifts lead to more patients dying but I can't find anything quickly.


Perhaps this is just convenient for employers. The real problem could be in shift change procedures but they aren't incentivised to fix this and lower shift times.


An interesting anecdote I remember reading that Henri Poincare, one of the greatest mathemetians of all time, only worked 4 hours a day because he couldn't sustain more than that amount of time in deep concentrated work. He'd then go play cricket and read for the rest of the day. You need to find your own "sweet spot".


You could always go to bed early instead and wake up early in the morning.


You could also have just read the books :).


I try. Can't focus for literally more than 10 minutes. What works is actually doing some sports, but you can't run or lift for 4 hours - hence vegging out in front of the TV after the workout.


> You almost certainly know one topic well enough to post something which clears that bar of utility on any given day

I'm only 27, but I don't believe this. I know just enough to know I don't know anything deeply. Does the internet need another github page regurgitating the same stuff as everyone else?


Github pages seem to be a very suboptimal way to publish for professional purposes unless you decide to design them, since the credit for whatever you publish there goes to Github rather than to you. (Not an exaggeration, either: I got quoted in the BBC recently as "this page on Github.")

I don't know what you know, but I bet it is a lot more than what you think you know. I was 27 once, too. My day job at the time involved scintillating subjects like dealing with edge cases in parsing the CSV file format used to encode the results of the central Japanese university examination. (センター試験) A fun edge case, which you absolutely have to handle correctly, is how to calculate the English subscore for someone who has a medical waiver from the speaking comprehension portion on account of being deaf.

I assert without fear of contradiction that if I had published on that topic, in Japanese or English, I'd be the world's leading publicly accessible authority on that question. How many posts in that genre would it take to totally own that file format, which is only documented in a single out-of-print booklet whose copies are guarded like cherished relics of an ancient civilization the likes of which we'll never see again? My over-under is ten.

There are higher saliency problems in the world than that CSV file -- oh goodness, are there -- but there are hundreds of people with hiring authority who care about that CSV file very keenly indeed. (I'd not particularly recommend working for any of them, but one problem at a time right.)

What's the weirdest problem you've solved in the last year?


In addition to writing what you've learned from all the tasks you've done professionally for a good reason -- and since that reason is good, people who hire will care about your ability to do it -- you can also write (in a positive and professional way) about things you've done for no reason. Five years ago I had a boss with a, shall we say, keen eye for backwards compatibility. One of the strange rabbit holes we went down was building a jquery widget to implement the input[placeholder] attribute for browsers that did not support it. This turns out to be bizarrely complex if you want e.g. the cursor to focus before the placeholder text. And that _could_ be seen as a waste of time, but it would be perfect for a blog post talking about how to build something we all are familiar with (and likely transitioning into a discussion of the Shadow DOM) that establishes a reasonable amount of credibility.

[Edit: that's not even the most interesting one from that job, either -- while I didn't work directly on it, a clever coworker figured out how to write a client side collage builder that supported both download AND IE6, which is bordering on genius. I've heard him explain how he did it, and it would have to be a series of blog posts, there's just so much there -- obviously the median boss would have let him just use imagemagick on the server.]


What is a good place to plant such flags? Personal domains? Medium?

I've started writing a couple of posts on conversational interfaces recently. Having them linkable from Medium was definitely a key to land more speaking at events, in turn enabling potentially freelancing & consulting gigs (not closed yet), as well a good credibility and ice breaker when reaching out to interesting people


I used to write quick blog posts some years ago, and post on social media often, but I never wrote something I considered a professional article because of hesitations like you're expressing: it needs to be 'uniquely insightful', it needs to be 'applicably useful', it needs to be 'well written.'

Then one day I was like 'screw it' and started posting to Medium. I've written ~7 things so far, quick articles, tutorials, or reposting a slideshow I made for other reasons, and they have all been read and been provided recommendations/likes/shares/feedback to some degree. In terms of career growth, it's not been an instant magical boost, but it's more like 'networking' in that it enables people to connect with you, laying groundwork for collaboration in the future.

The thing is, certain people you can reach at a certain time are a unique factor in what drives interest in your writing. Maybe someone didn't see the other github page, but they saw yours. Give it a shot.


The world doesn't need another CV or an application form where I talk about a particular challenge I faced and how I overcame it. I still fill those out.


The better test is if you know what color Daenerys Targaryen's eyes are ;)

A human cannot be productive all the time. We need downtime. Time to spend with family. Time to sit and stare at a wall. If some of that wall stare time involves movies or books or TV, so be it.




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