Make It Impactful or Fun (or Both)

This is a guest post from Jay Miller. Enjoy.

Dear Developer,

I just wrote this 300 word unintentional brag piece for you trying to convince you that putting yourself in the right places in front of the right people would have a spinoff effect of more important people knowing who you are.

I decided not to send it to you because, after reading it, I felt it served nothing but to inflate my ego and that I was privileged to be in the spaces I was in and not everyone has that privilege. So I’m keeping that one for myself when my anxiety tells me I’m an imposter (it will happen and you should create a brag journal for yourself, as well).

Instead I want to tell you about a throw-away line in there that I have been saying a lot lately. “Make it impactful or make it fun (and bonus points if you can do both)”. The reason why comes down to one word. When you talk about impactful or fun topics, it will not only show that you are capable of writing code, but will also allow you to speak about your code passionately which will make all the difference in the interview process.

Impact

In the open source world what you will find is it’s not often the most technically advanced idea that wins out, but the one with the largest reach. For instance did you know there is a repo called Hello World that is literally how to write hello world in every computer language. At time of writing, it has been forked 1.7 thousand times, has over 500 contributors and has been starred more than 8800 times. This is significantly more than any project that I’ve done. Why did it take off? It’s just hello world!

That is exactly why it’s so popular. It’s just Hello World. This is a fantastic resource for budding polyglots (that’s a person that writes code in multiple languages). It’s simple. It does one thing extremely well. Most importantly, it’s inviting. “Is your favorite new language missing? ADD IT IN THERE!”

People will learn something about you when they look at the type of projects that you put together. On my GitHub hosts projects that associate with wildfire detection, diversity organizations, mental health, and analyzing public data. These are things that I advocate for and my employer knows this. I live in an area prone to wildfires, I am in an historically excluded group in tech, and my talks often touch on using tech for social and civic issues.

I’m sure that the maintainer of the Hello World repo learned from that project how to organize and understand the basics of multiple programming languages. They also gained some basic PM skills. Most importantly I believe this person has a passion for helping new developers. If I were hiring, those would be traits that I want on my team.

Fun

Not everything I do can be a protest or the most important project on the planet. So how do you show passion when the impact isn’t there? The answer is to build things that you are passionate about.

Also about me. I love Tetris! Because of this I have a couple projects that are just for me to play tetris more. I mean they are blatant and total excuses to combine things like Machine Learning, Computer Vision and all the other buzzwords with a game that I would be playing anyway.

I’ve done this with bowling (a family passion) as well.

When I’m working with others, I bring knowledge about the thing as well as the technical aspects.
This is also how I learn about new tech stacks. When some new hotness comes out, my first thought is how can I have fun with this. I’m sure others will stress about monetizing it and capitalize off of it and you can learn from them but if you’re chasing that dollar day in and day out, you’ll burn out quickly.
Both
These moments are unicorn opportunities. What I’ve learned is that if I can find something that makes a difference but I can add a fun spin to it, that helps me stay focused. That’s why my first keynote encouraged making the Python community more approachable by suggesting those belonging to it should serve as Code-Lifeguards protecting those splashing in the ecosystem or considering to dip their toes in.

I wish the best for you and know your career will continue to move in fantastic directions as long as you (to quote the early 90’s inspirational movie Brink) “Skate better” and make sure you’re having fun.

–Jay

Jay is a Senior Cloud Advocate at Microsoft. A Marine Veteran with ADHD, Jay uses python to build things that raise awareness around mental-health, diversity, civil issues, or just to have a little fun.

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