Like many software developers I’m afflicted with ‘What’s Next?’ Syndrome. It’s a disease whereby you’re never content with your situation, no matter how cool it is, how long you planned for it, or how many hours you spent working to get there. My stagnation range is 6-12 months; if I’m not learning new things by then I start to unravel. Blessing? Curse? Not quite sure.
It seems like the most common activities for climbing the ranks in the development community are blogging, writing books, training/teaching, and public speaking.
So what’s next?
I’ve waffled on this decision for a long time due to the high barriers to entry and uncertainty of the payoff. Since I’m an independent developer working for an hourly rate, taking hundreds (thousands) of hours to write a book is a tremendous commitment. Training is similar: it requires learning a whole new set of skills, earning a certification or two (the easy part), and shifting your work schedule and marketing approach to accommodate a hybrid business model. I’m not sure how many trainers remain day-to-day developers.
But of the three options public speaking certainly has the lowest barrier to entry, especially in the .NET community where there are frequent local events that welcome new speakers. So 6 months ago I dipped my toe into the water and participated in my first speaking engagement.
I had mixed emotions about the outcome. On the one hand getting out of the house and seeing other developers face to face was a welcome change (even though it was 28 degrees outside). On the other hand, the amount of time invested seemed out of synch with the benefits.
Since I didn’t have much development experience with my topic I spent 8 hours learning it, creating the slide deck, and coding the examples. Then on a chilly Saturday morning I traveled an hour to the conference, spoke for an hour, and traveled home. In the end I spent about 11 hours and spoke to around 25 people.
As a point of comparison, in 11 hours I could have written 1-2 long-form articles or 5-10 blog posts that would have been read by 12,000-50,000 people (depending on the post’s popularity). In terms of people influenced, blogging is going to be more effective for me due to the massive up-front time investment I’ve made over the past three years (my “sunk costs”).
What makes things complicated is that face to face contact is exponentially more memorable than someone skimming your essay in their RSS reader. In addition, if I dedicated as much time to speaking as I have to blogging I would be speaking to much larger crowds, speaking more often (which would allow re-use of my talks), and generally glean a lot of benefits that a single speaking engagement at a local code camp wouldn’t bring.
The conclusions I’ve arrived at are:
- Assuming you have any lick of natural ability, investing hundreds of hours into any of these options (blogging, writing, training, speaking) will pay off, and I would venture to say that hundreds of hours is what’s required to obtain a good return on your investment.
- Pick the one you think you’ll enjoy most, and only get started if you have time to invest.
- A combination of two or more is a good approach; that’s why it’s so common among big names in the community. Plus it will keep you from getting bored.