I’m fortunate enough to be releasing this on Day 11 of this grand event and having read some of the other posts that have come before, I’m worried. I’m a worrier anyway, and not just because I suffer from an anxiety disorder; I’m lucky enough to have inherited this worrisome trait from my own father (thanks, Dad!) who suffers from a similarly over-active worry gland. In this case, I’m worried that my measly attempt to educate and entertain will go down badly after such a parade of big names in the community hit it out of the park in the 10 days before me.
I’ve come to a conclusion (as I approach my fortieth birthday) that it’s entirely natural and expected to be concerned when you release any kind of content out into the wild. Be it writings, podcasts, videos, conference talks, or worst of all, code. As a stoic and obvious Welshman, I wince every time I hear my own voice on a podcast or video, and I’m sure others (even the non-Welsh) will empathise with that. The first time that I heard myself speak on a podcast, I was pretty close to asking Cal Evans (the podcast host) to pull it down.
“For the love of Phil Sturgeon! I sound like a complete fool, and as soon as people hear this they are going to be all over Twitter mocking my terrible accent!”.
This was a genuine fear I had. Like most people, I forget that I speak with a pronounced accent and thought my voice sounded awful when I heard my voice on tape, but it turns out nobody else cares. I’ve had a few people comment on my accent in videos I’ve released for my heroic employer JetBrains, but it’s mainly been along the lines of “I like your accent” rather than “Why do you sound like your speaking with a whole custard slice in your mouth”. Since that first podcast I’ve done much more, and my career has definitely benefitted from it.
Stepping on stage to give my first talk was another huge fear to be overcome. Public speaking is probably the ultimate way of putting yourself out there; when I speak I leave so much of my actual personality on that stage that I have nothing left to hide. I’m lucky in that even though I have terrible nerves in the hours before stepping on stage, those get shaken off almost immediately once I step up to the podium and start speaking. I fully understand that other’s aren’t as lucky as this (and believe that public speaking isn’t for everyone, but that’s probably another post for another day). But if you can get over to your local user group and deliver a talk, it may well open the door to another hugely rewarding set of experiences that you can only access if you put yourself out there that first time. I know that I wouldn’t be doing this job I love if I hadn’t been brave and got on stage that first time.
Code is a whole different beast. Putting your code out into the wild for other people to read, use, and ultimately critique is putting an entirely different aspect of your professional life out there. Submitting code to open source projects is daunting because you’re opening up your most important professional skill to be judged, and that is very, very scary. But there’s a truly amazing upside to putting your code in a public arena to be commented upon, and that is that people will help you improve for free. You get a complete perspective shift once you stop looking at code reviews as a chance for people to criticise you, and start looking at them as free opportunities to learn. I wouldn’t be half the developer I am if I hadn’t contributed to the Zend Framework open source project and had excellent and completely free teaching from some of the communities most talented programmers.
I recently recorded myself solving the superb Advent of Code problems to try and explain not just my how I solve a problem, but why I make certain decisions when programming. I’m fascinated by the decision-making process that individuals use when coding, but once again was apprehensive to publish such intimate details of how I solve a problem, expecting me to be told I’m doing it all wrong. It turns out this stuff is really helpful to others, and most of the feedback was along the lines of “great video, you could change those three lines to this single line though”. This is amazing as I not only helped some people but learned something too!
I would go so far as to say that every time I’ve put myself out there, the good results have outweighed the bad. I can directly trace a path from my first ever open source pull request to me being sat here writing a blog post for a fantastic series. Sure, I’m worried this won’t go down well, but I think I’ve come to a conclusion; it’s human nature and happens to (nearly) everyone. Having spoken to other speakers, even those people who come across as being confident and well-rehearsed will tell you they were petrified minutes before taking to the stage. So be brave, and put yourself out there. After all, what’s the worst that can happen?