00:16 – Welcome to “Hanselminutes!” …we mean, “Greater Than Code!”
00:57 – Origin Story and Superpowers; Struggling and Prevailing
“The struggle is part of the journey.” – Scott Hanselman
13:51 – Systems Thinking, Problem Solving, and Instilling Those Values on Kids
19:11 – There is Value in Suffering
21:39 – Being a Teacher Over a Programmer; Ideas of Mediocrity, 10x Engineering, and Comparison to Others
36:28 – Being Nice Online
42:29 – Teaching (Cont’d)
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ASTRID: Welcome, everybody to our today in Hanselminutes. I’m here with my great friend, Jessica Kerr.
JESSICA: Thank you, Astrid. I know this looks a lot like Hanselminutes because we have Scott Hanselman on the show but in fact, this show is called Greater Than Code.
ASTRID: I’m glad that somebody remembered that.
JESSICA: Today, we have Scott Hanselman and Scott Hanselman is a podcaster extraordinaire. He has recorded over 500 podcasts and he actually shows up to his own show every week.
SCOTT: Yeah, 585 shows every Thursday for… I don’t know, 12 years.
JESSICA: Twelve years. That’s amazing.
SCOTT: Yeah, it’s a marathon.
ASTRID: Scott, would you like to start the show with origin stories? Can you start with the very, very beginning of how you got started and work all the way up to what you’re doing now.
SCOTT: Oh, wow. That’s a long time. You got 40 years?
ASTRID: Well, you can just like focus on your superpower.
JESSICA: Yeah. What’s your superpower and how did you acquire it?
SCOTT: I think that I finally figured out after all these years that I am probably a teacher and not a software engineer. I was getting into trouble when I was 10 or 11, doing things I wasn’t supposed to be doing. There was a meeting at the school — back in the day, do you remember when teachers had time to do meetings like that — about what are we going to do with this child and they said that they would loan me the computer. It was ‘the’ computer because we didn’t have one per room or one per kid. There was just one computer.
On Friday nights, my dad would take his pickup truck and he would back it up to the building and we would steal the computer. It was one of those wink-wink, nudge-nudge things because if they did it for me, they have to do it for everybody. Then as long as I had the computer back by Sunday at 5PM, then it would be cool and we could have it set up for school on Monday. That kept me off the street away from the bad kids I wasn’t supposed to be hanging out with because we had a gang problem in my neighborhood and I was making fake IDs.
JESSICA: And that was before you had a 3D printer.
SCOTT: I was voted most likely to be convicted of a white collar crime. I would have been a gangster but I wouldn’t have been the gangster’s accountant.
SCOTT: The point is that if a teacher hadn’t decided to loan me this Apple II, I would have been like the parrot from Aladdin. I would have actually been Jafar but I would have definitely been Gilbert Gottfried. Then after a couple of months of that, it was clear that I had some ability with computers. Then one day, I got home and my dad’s van was gone. I was walking up an empty driveway and I was like, “Oh, crap. What’s going on?” They had sold the van and bought a Commodore 64.
Then it became a problem of not getting me outside like I wouldn’t leave the house. They had to build in a ratio for a house where for every one hour inside, I had to be outside for an hour, then I would be on the computer for an hour and then they would push me out the door and I have to sit on the porch in the sunshine for an hour until they would let me in again.
ASTRID: Wow. Where that first early obsession with computers come from?
SCOTT: I don’t know because there’s no background. No one in my family had done any college education. My mom was a zookeeper. My dad was a fireman who drove an oil truck so there was no STEM background or science. My brother is a fireman. My grandmother was a nurse. There is no context for it so I think I just came out this way. I don’t know why. I will say to my dad took stuff apart. One of our family hobbies was going to the dump. I don’t know, I was taught this was a thing people did, apparently it’s not.
JESSICA: But now, it’s good though, right?
SCOTT: Well, I don’t go now because I don’t want to get dirty but going to the dump was a weekend thing. People dump stuff there and like, “Why would you not?” I remember one of my best memories of my dad, like a classic my dad thing is we went to the dump and somebody like three cars down was throwing out a barbecue. My dad was like, “Stop! What are you doing? That’s a perfectly good barbecue,” and then he has to convince the people at the dump to let him take it out because it’s supposed to be a one-way thing. You’re not supposed to take stuff out of the dump.
He took that barbecue off that guy’s truck and took it home and then sandblasted it and painted it and we ate on it that night. That frugalness, I think it’s a very Scottish thing. Our family is a Scottish. Last name, Hanselman is German name but we’re all Cormac’s and Lawson’s from Carnoustie, Scotland. Our family gatherings are bagpipes and kilts and it’s very Scottish. The Scottish people are notoriously cheap. Amongst my uncles, there’s this, “You’ll never catch a cold from a Scot because a Scotsman doesn’t gives anything away.”
SCOTT: We were cheap, cheap, cheap people. Now, it’s Goodwill for me but junkyard trips and being generally frugal, which is cool because my wife is super cheap.
JESSICA: You’re compatible that way.
SCOTT: Everything she has is Goodwill and what’s cool is that she wears really bright colors and she can find those outfits that no one else could pull off and she gets them all at Goodwill. She’s like, “I just got all these compliments at work and this outfit cost me $6.” That’s us. Our first conversation always starts with like, “How much that cost?” This was only $5 and let me tell you why because it’s the hunt as much as it is the capturing.
Fast forward, I became a software engineer because I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t hack it at college. After a bunch of college visits, I ended up going to Portland Community College and it took me 11 years to graduate. I graduated in 2003 but I started in 1992.
ASTRID: What did you study at community college?
SCOTT: It was the first year that Portland Community College had software engineering and they were juxtaposing it and they made a big deal out of it. This is a big deal because there was a feud between the computer science department and the software engineering department, because each one thought that they were the one true religion and the juxtaposition that they made was that software engineering is the practice of making software, which they didn’t believe was being taught in schools, while computer science was teaching everybody Compiler Theory and a bunch of stuff that ultimately didn’t help them ship.
JESSICA: It makes sense.
SCOTT: I was the first year of the software engineering group.
JESSICA: And also in the next 10 years.
SCOTT: And then I did two years and was working at night. My first job was doing Visual Basic. I was making $10 an hour. I remember the negotiation process as I made $12. I was sitting in a Subway sandwich shop and I was like, “I’m doing really good work and I learned how to call C Code from Visual Basic and you should pay me two more dollars an hour.” I can remember that negotiation process. Then, I started to feel bad that I had never done my four-year degree. My wife has several degrees. She’s got three or four degrees.
I’m looking up at the wall here because there are all my wife’s degrees. She’s got a master’s degree and she went back to school and became a nurse. I just wanted to get another degree — not another degree — I want to get ‘a’ degree. I want to finish a four-year degree. I want to finish. I want to be done. She supported me by letting me go to school at night and I did that for six or seven years until I got a call that my credit was expiring because after seven years, your 101 classes and all that stuff, that falls off the other end because you’re going to have to finish your four-year degree in seven years.
I made a deal with the dean that if I taught classes at the college, they would waive that. I was teaching C# and testing while I was simultaneously taking classes and then finally, I finished in 2003. I’ve been doing software for 25 years but I only got my degree a little bit ago.
JESSICA: So you were both teaching and taking classes in addition to working?
SCOTT: Yeah. It was basically like 8AM to 10PM every night for six years or seven years. But you got to that. You’ve got to. The struggle is part of the journey.
ASTRID: That’s true.
SCOTT: I’m not trying to disrespect other people’s journeys but I’m happy with my journey because that means the catering jobs and the short order cook jobs and those things matter. I, sometimes get a little frustrated when I see other people’s journeys where it’s like their feet never touch the ground and they went straight from their parent’s minivan to Stanford to a job. I’m like, “That’s fine.” That’s their journey.” They didn’t control their journey necessarily but at the same time, there’s character in sifting through a dump. One of my jobs was making salsa in a 50-gallon garbage can. I had to put on these big rubber things and clean and mix the salsa. When you have jalapenos juice squirting in your eyes and you’ve got rubber gloves on and you’re trying not to get your hair on the salsa, that’s —
SCOTT: Right there. Again, no disrespect if whoever’s listening, your feet never touch the ground, that’s fine but at the same time, I don’t want my kids to float right into ‘$100,000 a year job.’
ASTRID: I think you’re making a really good point, Scott about some people. They have a much more smooth transition but some people have to struggle and really, really pushed for some of the thing and that becomes a part of who you are and it becomes a part of why you do what you do. That story doesn’t always get told.
SCOTT: Right and I find also that in this time where we want to be more inclusive and get more people into technology, it is sometimes problematic but also sometimes useful when a cisgender straight white guys says, “I had struggled too.” The trick is not to make it about comparisons and not to try to make it about the oppression Olympics because one shouldn’t use their come up as a justification to be mean to somebody or as a way to juxtapose, “What do you think you had? Difficulties as a black woman? Let me tell you about the time I…” It’s not the oppression Olympics.
This was my story. This is my struggle but while there were financial issues, one of the things that’s worth pointing out about the degree thing is that no one really needed me to get the four-year degree. People always say, “Why do you need to do it?” You were already 10 years into the industry. It was for me. I have women and people of color on my team who are still getting questioned about their degree and where they went to school even though there are years in. You her what I’m saying?
JESSICA: So you had that option?
SCOTT: I had an option. I would argue that I did not need to go back and finish the degree because no one has ever asked me about my degree in the last 20 years of the 25 I’ve been doing software. I know that there are people who are getting asked about their degree even now. I think that’s why for some people, getting a degree at a Northwestern or at a fancy school matters more. I don’t think I would even need to put my degree on my resume now that I have so many years in the biz. That I think is a privilege that I have.
JESSICA: As a teacher, it makes a difference that you have a journey that wasn’t smooth, that has some jaggedness in it that other people can relate to.
SCOTT: One of the things I try to explain to my kids who are black — they are mixed but they’re young black men — is that they are going to have different struggles than I did. They won’t have the financial struggles. I like to say to my sons that their crown was paid for and they just need to put it on, to give them a sense of what has been done for them versus what hasn’t. There’s a lot of reminders of what you have.
We went to dinner yesterday and they were complaining about the food. My wife and I, still have — and we’re married for 20 years — issues about food security. When we’re sitting around, we’re thinking about our blessings. You have those moments. Those quiet, calm moments where you’re just like, “Oh, man. We’re just really lucky. There’s food in the house.” I was reminiscing with someone when I was in Atlanta a couple days ago and we’re talking about like who had the most [inaudible] dinners. We used to have eggs and oranges.
“What do we have in dinner?” Well, I got some eggs and we had some oranges. Maybe we have some bread. Twenty-five, 30 years, 40 years later, we still think about those things. When you say that to people they’re like, “Oh, you’re just being falsely humble. You’re just being silly.” No, that will mess you up.
JESSICA: That stuff is part of you.
SCOTT: Then, when the nine-year old is like, “Oh, Indian food again?” You are welcome, sir!
“I don’t want to eat this.” Well, then you don’t have to eat. You’re old enough to go to bed without a meal.
“Well, you can’t send me to bed without a meal.” I didn’t say that. Food is here. You choose not to eat it. Step off.
“I want to go home and I’m going to eat something.” No, you eat this or you go to sleep. You have to have an appreciation of like, “Wow, do you think these chickens slaughter themselves? That this spices were shipped here?” And this is where comes into systems thinking, “Think about the systems that were in place from the people who made the stove, to the people who killed the chicken, to the people who brought this spices from India to make this meal that you’re complaining about.
JESSICA: Does that help?
SCOTT: It does. It actually is two-fold. One it makes them realize that food doesn’t make itself. That’s why we have a garden. We go to my brother’s farm so that they understand that nothing is simply granted to you. Someone is digging that potato up. While you complain about the fries, let’s think about the person who doesn’t have health insurance because they’re digging potatoes. Then it helps them think about systems thinking, which I think is more important than coding, which a little bit of an orthogonal conversation but an interesting one, to debug a system. One needs to realize that there is in fact a system.
Toaster doesn’t work. The entitled child is like, “Toaster is broken. Blech! Let’s buy a new toaster.” The systems thinking child is going to think about, “Is it electricity? Is it the knob? Is it the outlet? Is it the fuse? Is it the ground fault interrupters?” Think about all the systems that are there to make the toaster turn on and that turns into these really interesting science conversations that will go on for an hour in our house because the toaster didn’t work.
JESSICA: My reaction would be, “I could use the oven or the stove,” and that’s also systems thinking because if the electricity is out, then the oven is not an option.
SCOTT: I heard what you’re saying. I think we agree though, right?
JESSICA: Yeah. Also, I think systems thinking is both the biggest thing that we’re coming to in code and that helps us more than anything with creating software systems. It’s also a fascinating thing that’s coming out of code because we finally have the opportunity to really study systems because we can change them so fast. My secret hope — well, it’s not very secret — is the software industry can change the world by teaching all of us more about systems thinking.
SCOTT: I think that those are very reasonable thing to hope for. I think that we need to catch the kids before they’re 10 because after having now raised two kids up to 11, I realized that a 10-year head start is an eternity. You can’t snatch a 20-year old out of school in a trade and make them the same developer. You could make them developers, put them in a bootcamp but they will be different people with different paths. It’s hard to teach systems thinking if one has spent 20 years of their life, not thinking about systems. Bootcamps will teach you ‘for’ loops and syntax but you’ll always be a little bit behind, unless it’s naturally coming to you. My kids can’t code. It’s too early. I keep them off the computer as much as possible.
JESSICA: But they can problem solve.
SCOTT: They can problem solve. There are systems thinking. I have conversations with my nine-year old because we listen to a podcast in the car, listen to Marketplace which is his favorite podcast. He will talk to you about currency fluctuations and how the dollar here goes against South African Rand and stuff like that and why those things matter but I couldn’t write ‘for’ loops to save his life. I would argue that they can pick up the syntax at some point but you have to get systems thinking early. We need to teach systems thinking at first grade and second grade.
ASTRID: I really like the focus on the systems thinking and the problem solving because I think it is way more inclusive. I think there is a lot of people who are very intimidated by the idea of trying to learn how to code but they are solving problems and making decisions all the time and I don’t think that they realize that those things are related. They think they’re very separate things and they don’t see that if they can bring them together, it’s a very powerful thing.
SCOTT: Well said, and they’re not giving themselves credit for that as well.
ASTRID: This reminds me when I was young and I didn’t know as a kid that what my parents said was like work or important was different than my play, which I thought was also really important. I didn’t understand why I would get in trouble for being loud.
JESSICA: Yeah, play is important but it can go to the other room.
ASTRID: Well to me it was like adults who were just getting to play at stuff that I didn’t get to play at like stuff I wanted. I used to have an obsession with getting mail, like I really wanted mail.
JESSICA: Oh, I remember those days.
ASTRID: Because I wanted somebody out in the world know I existed and want to talk to me and my parents would be like, “You don’t want mail because that was mostly bills,” but I didn’t know that.
JESSICA: Right. They want to tax you to get your money.
ASTRID: I wanted money too.
SCOTT: Yeah, we made them little accounts that we put $5 in every month just so they get mail that shows their money is growing.
ASTRID: That’s so cool.
JESSICA: So you made the bank spend the money to save it for $5?
SCOTT: Again, it’s systems thinking. They don’t do home-ec anymore so how does someone going to learn how to balance a checkbook if they never seen a checkbook? Then someone might say, “Oh, I don’t need checks.” How do you manage your money? You started to think about it on a ledger, which is interesting.
Here’s an interesting question. I believe that there’s some value in suffering. Sometimes trite, sometimes manufactured. But mine are suffering and then you lift them above it. That might mean teaching someone see before you teach them Java, make them allocate their own memory and they go, “Ah, don’t worry about that.”
JESSICA: And that’s antifragile, right? Antifragile is a book by Nassim Taleb and the concept is something is antifragile if a little bit of stress makes it stronger.
SCOTT: That is now my favorite thing and I’m going to talk about it all the time and take full credit for it.
SCOTT: Antifragile, I’m going to pick that up. That’s a really good idea. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I like it.
JESSICA: Right, but like you said, if it’s too much stress then that can damage a person or turn them off from ever trying.
SCOTT: Which is interesting. When I said before that maybe the kids won’t eat tonight, that’s not appropriate for a three-year old or a five-year old. But if a twelve-year old willfully refuses to eat the meal because they find it offensive, when it’s clearly not, missing one meal is not abuse. It is parenting.
JESSICA: Right, the three or five-year old is still unable to calm their emotions enough to really see the option of eating or not.
SCOTT: And they aren’t given the option. You don’t send a three-year old away. Well the twelve-year old it’s like, “Here’s the food. Finish it but there won’t be any food later.” That’s the trick. Sometimes the kids are like, “Oh, I’ll just eat oranges,” and I can work the system. No, you don’t eat the whole plate but eat until you’re done but here’s the food. It’s good food. I like that, antifragile. Thank you.
JESSICA: You’re welcome. My kids, they would totally get away with fixing themselves dinner later because I don’t care what they do if they do it themselves and don’t ask me to make the food.
SCOTT: I try to make things collaborative. We make our dinners together and I try to get them to make it with us.
JESSICA: You are a better parent than I am.
SCOTT: Well, I think I may just not have been broken yet but maybe in the next year or two. I think that at some point, I’m getting to that like, “Guys, just go to bed!” You know, that level of frustration which is born after 10 or 15 years of childbearing is why by the time they’re 20, it’s like, “Just get out of my house.”
JESSICA: You talked about your software development career but you said you’re actually a teacher.
SCOTT: Oh, yeah. There’s this ridiculous kind of myth of the 10X programmer and the myth of the rockstar programmer and just because I happen to start a blog 20 years ago and it’s still happening and just because I started up the podcast 12 years ago, because I am still here, people somehow ascribe longevity to, “Oh, Hanselman is an amazing programmer.” I’m a perfectly competent average programmer. I may be a B+ programmer. Being loud isn’t necessarily being a good programmer.
When I meet people who are like, “Oh, my goodness, your blog. Your podcast. You’re such an amazing programmer.” Well, you have me right up until the programmer part but you have no actual proof of my skill. You are ascribing those attributes to me because of my visibility. There’s all kinds of amazing athletes who have tons of money but it doesn’t mean that they’re experts in finance. You must have a lot of money. You must be really good at finance because you have all this money. No, those things are unrelated. Correlation doesn’t equal causality. Then I finally figured out the issue is that I have a blog and the podcast because I just am overflowing with enthusiasm for certain topics to the point where I have to tell people that sounds more like a teacher than a programmer. I decided that that’s what I am.
JESSICA: Do you think that teaching talent makes you more valuable on a team?
SCOTT: It is, also because when you have an argument on a team, when you’re trying to —
SCOTT: Yeah, consensus building. Like you want to create tension, create lowercase A arguments and then bring everyone together in the scope of the 45-minute class. “That is an interesting question but that’s against what little Johnny just said so Anna, why don’t you back up your –” and then you [inaudible] them against each other, again in a gentle and safe place where they think they’re having an argument but you ultimately know the direction of the class that is going to go. “Oh, we’ve all learned a lot so it turns out you all were closer in your opinions than we thought,” and then we all be friends. That’s what we have been doing in team designing features for the last 20 years.
JESSICA: So do you wind up moderating these discussions?
SCOTT: If there’s one thing I’m good at is panel moderation and I say that, as someone with impostor syndrome who is just now learning to say that I’m good at certain things.
JESSICA: Oh, good job.
SCOTT: Seriously. This is a big deal. The last 500 episodes of my podcast, the last 85 have been pretty awesome. At the last 85, I feel pretty good about it. Just being able to say that my podcast is a good podcast has taken me 20 years of emotional… I don’t know. I know what I’m good at and that’s a little bit important to be able to accept that. Yeah, I am good at that.
JESSICA: You clearly don’t get your validation externally. You got your degree for your own purposes and it took a while for you to decide that your podcast was [inaudible]. Everybody else was —
SCOTT: I need to lie down on the therapy couch here. You’re reading my life here.
JESSICA: That’s a lot of podcasts and I know people tell you all the time that your podcast are awesome and you get invited to keynote all the conferences and you do a great job of that, by the way.
SCOTT: If you ask anyone who knows me… Well look, okay let’s talk about this. I was at a conference last Thursday in Atlanta, a fantastic conference. You should go to next year it’s called WeRise.tech, ‘We Rise, Women in Tech in Atlanta.’ It’s a women’s conference and they asked me to give a little opening to one of the keynote panels and I freaking agonized about that. I want to be a good ally but I’m a man. I’m going to be the women’s conference, how can I be the best male that I can be at the women’s conference.
I sat with my friend, Safia Abdalla, she’s been amazing. She’s Captain Safia on Twitter and she went over my slides and emotionally held me for two days as I agonized over this 10 minutes to introduce this panel. Afterwards of course, everyone’s is gushing that I went great and like, “You’re amazing,” or whatever and I talk to Safia, she’s on a come up right now. She’s 20 and she’s about to graduate from school. She gave an actual one-hour keynote and I was like, “And that’s what a freaking out before keynote looks like.” She’s like, “I had no idea that that’s what people did,” and I was like, “Everybody does that.” The amount of effort required to make something look effortless —
ASTRID: That’s a lot.
SCOTT: Immense. She’s like, “I didn’t know that you freak out.” I said, “I freak out every time because if you don’t, it’ll look half-assed. It’ll look like you half-assed it,” so I went through that whole thing. I double checked every joke. I double checked every clip art. I went through the whole thing, multiple times. We were looking for punctuation towards the end of this process together. The other thing is I didn’t do it alone and this is really important. I actually thanked her on Instagram as being my conference buddy because we were balancing that whole introvert-extrovert thing and was like, “Are we introvert? Are we extrovert?”
We skipped the lunches because it was just too much and then we went across the street and had tacos just to be elsewhere, to get our brains in the right way. I appreciated her ability to help me thread the needle at this conference as I tried to be a benefit as opposed to being a, “Why are you here?” And all of that comes from a place of insecurity that is ultimately driven by wanting to do the best that one can do. I know it’s a long answer but it’s the truth.
JESSICA: So the insecurity is also part of the journey?
SCOTT: I think that everyone has to feel a little bit in over their head. Treading water makes you a better swimmer. This gets to your antifragile thing, which I’m adopting as my thing now.
ASTRID: When you say the earlier that just because you do something a long time, it doesn’t make you really good at it. I understood what you were saying but then, as you’re talking about things like after your 500th episode of a podcast, it also feels like you wouldn’t have made it that far if you weren’t good so it’s hard to reconcile this idea that just because you’re doing it a long time, you’re not necessarily good.
SCOTT: Why couldn’t I just be mediocre for years?
ASTRID: Because I think mediocracy is more than just your one instance of ability. It will start to bring you down because you won’t have the other pieces that it takes in order to keep going past mistakes. A lot of what makes people become really great is because they make mistakes, they learn from those mistakes and they keep going. People who are more mediocre, they don’t keep going, which is why they don’t increase their abilities.
SCOTT: Well, I would say though that I’ve met some PhDs that were not very smart and I was shocked that this person got a PhD. I asked my wife how they did it and they said that no one ever told them to stop and sometimes getting an advanced degree just shows that you won’t give up, not that necessarily naturally talented. I always have this little pity thing that I talk about where, “Do you have 20 years’ experience or do you have the same year 20 times?”
ASTRID: Yes but I think there’s a difference between when you are basically being supported by an entire other entity. If you’re in a program like that, it’s not just you. It’s also all the people who are working with you who are on the line for that.
SCOTT: I see, who are supporting your mediocrity over time.
SCOTT: Okay, I think through with blogs and with podcasts and stuff, one could just blindly host their own thing and just march forward.
JESSICA: But you wouldn’t have listeners.
SCOTT: I don’t know how many listeners I have. I don’t look at the stats. If I look at the stats, it’ll freak me out so I just don’t look at them. I haven’t thought about how many listeners I have.
ASTRID: Well, you don’t necessarily have to know how many listeners you have but the fact that they’re talking to you means that whatever you’re doing is enough for them to come out of their way to make sure about it.
SCOTT: But I only get two or three emails about the podcast a week so I don’t know how many people are listening. It’s the emails that tell me. Comments matter more than the views. You guys are trying to make me feel better about myself. It’s not going to work.
ASTRID: Well, I was thinking what you said about how ridiculous it is, this concept of a 10X engineer. I was thinking about why that could be ridiculous. I think there’s this thing that we do, especially in America where we have this idea of a self-made man and you’re supposed to be super-intelligent and able to do everything all by yourself and the more you can do by yourself, the more like a hero you seem to become. But that’s not the truth about how we do things for real in this country.
Usually what happens is that a group of people who are not all like superheroes. This group of people who are little bit better than average do something incredible. That’s what normally happens but we kind of have this fairy tale about how this one person who has all these super abilities made the world changed.
SCOTT: It’s a true American myth. Walt Disney built Disney World by himself, with his own hands.
ASTRID: Yes, exactly. The 10X engineer thing that you think is ridiculous is because so what? You do that all by yourself. You can’t build a community around you, then it doesn’t really do anything.
SCOTT: I think that myth, though gets perpetuated when those people, in fact do exist. Linus is that good. He balance it out, of course because he’s a jerk. But then someone says, “That anecdote proves that there are 10X engineers.”
JESSICA: So there are? I could be the anti-Scott Hanselman here because I’ve heard a blog post about 10X engineer on Sunday and I can tell you that this morning it crossed 35,000 views.
ASTRID: What did you say, Jessica?
JESSICA: I said that absolutely 10X engineers exists. They’re the ones that know the code inside out and backwards and forwards, usually because they wrote it.
SCOTT: Oh, okay that’s different. You saying, TLDR says the productive development happens when one person knows the system intimately because they wrote it. That’s true and this is the brilliant part of her thing. This is in conflict with growing a system beyond what one person maintains. That’s very smart. A 10X engineer definitely exists if they’re working on their own software and they’re the only one that’s ever worked on it. That’s deep. I like it.
JESSICA: And it’s true and sometimes that’s useful in what you want. This doesn’t preclude the idea that some developers are 10 times more talented or whatever or have a larger working memory and can hold a larger system in their head. Personally, I like being a person who can figure out somebody else’s system because that’s way harder than [inaudible] development. That’s entertaining.
SCOTT: I guess my point is that it’s not healthy to chase the myth. Let’s rather than making declarative statements like it doesn’t exist. I think that they’re not as common as we think they are and it’s not a thing to go for. I’m going to toy real with you. I’m going to bring it down to be real. I’m a little pissed off that Ryan Reynolds has my career. From the time he was on Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Shop, I knew that that was my role. I was supposed to be famous and then he became Green Lantern and now he’s an A-level star and I’m just like, I’ve got like dead bod and I’m in Portland and I’m sad about that.
He is the 10X person and I am not and that’s fine and I can’t fixate on Ryan Reynolds, that jerk, who has my career. If one is absolutely like, “I’ve got to be hyper productive,” it’ll chew them up from the inside. Do you think that we should put them on pedestals or should we just accept that there are some occasional unicorns and we just let Ryan Reynolds live.
JESSICA: I think we should recognize that having a 10X developer holds the rest of the team back and it’s a tradeoff.
ASTRID: I agree.
SCOTT: I like it. Now, I have to destroy Ryan Reynolds.
JESSICA: Okay. Did you tell me that Amanda Palmer post about Joan this week, about Fucking Joan?
JESSICA: Okay, I will find this and link it. It’s about exactly what you’re talking about. It’s about that one person who is what you feel like you should be but of course, you’re comparing your insides to their outsides and they have their own problems. It’s just not about comparison. It’s a great post. I find myself experiencing this right now with you, Scott because you are a great podcast, you’re a speaker and keynoter and teacher and you’re a great parent and you’re super humble about it.
SCOTT: Thank you. I’m learning how to say thank you.
JESSICA: It’s like what my VP of Engineering, he’s one of the 10X developers on our team, told me today, he knows the system inside and out but I wrote a good blog post the other day.
SCOTT: I’m not sure if that’s helpful.
JESSICA: Well, I’m pretty proud of my blog post because clearly, it gave people words for something they already knew.
SCOTT: That’s the formula right there for a good blog post. You crystallize what we all knew in our DNA.
JESSICA: Exactly. Everyone has experienced this. They’re like, “These are the words for it,” and like antifragile.
SCOTT: Yes, which totally change my life. I’m going to incorporate that into everything I do.
JESSICA: There you go. You have a new name, for something you already were. Now you can feel good about it.
ASTRID: I think the other thing about the whole 10X engineering concept is that it’s not replicable. You can’t just take a 10X engineer and put them with other engineers and make more 10X engineers. That doesn’t happen. It’s nice that you do have that they exist and they can do great things but they can’t grow themselves. Whereas somebody like you Scott, who’s a teacher, exactly what you do is you put you with other people and then you can make them better.
I think in the big picture, that’s way more important because it’s very hard to be able to take information, synthesize it, put it in a way that another person cannot only digest it but also can take it on as their own and then grow from there. That’s a really hard thing to do but that is the process of how you make new things. Not necessarily that one person who can do everything because the user cannot teach that skill.
JESSICA: Ten-X developer is still only plus 10 but a teacher is multiplicative.
SCOTT: I don’t like having to constantly justify being nice online. I’ve got into arguments with other engineers like, “Talk is cheap. Show me the code. I don’t need to be nice,” because I’m always emphasizing how important niceness is and they’re always saying, “Nice doesn’t compile.” Do you really want to go to work with a 10X who is mean? That’s the unicorn. Can we be 10X productive and also 10X nice? Why are those things not always connected?
JESSICA: Right, at Atomist we have three 10X’ers in different parts of the system and they are all as nice as can be and it’s fine. It a startup. It’s supposed to take risk and if Christian gets hit by a bus, it’ll be a long time before we can modify Rug CLI but we can take that risk and it doesn’t cost us much because he is super nice.
SCOTT: Did you know that I went viral for being nice last week?
ASTRID: That’s awesome.
SCOTT: No, it’s actually a thing. Take a look at this tweet and look at the numbers on them, on the likes and the retweets. As of the time of this recording, it has 83,000 retweets and 184,000 likes. This young woman name, Halima Aden from Somalia was on the cover of Allure in her hijab. This fella shows up and basically is mean saying, “You’re wearing a burka and you’re oppressing, blah-blah-blah-blah.” I replied — if you go to the next picture and I said, “Well, that’s silly. It was a hijab not a burka. Watch the video interview with her.” Literally, the entire video is her talking about her decision to put the hijab on.
Then the guy says, “Oh, well. I’m guilty as charged. I didn’t watch the video and I don’t know the difference between a burka and a hijab,” and then I said, “Thanks.” Then I provide a little context like, “Well, a burka is when you’re covered in black and a hijab is a headscarf. It’s quite fashionable,” and then someone else, a third party as with Twitter jumps in and says, “Well, actually no. A burka is not covered in black. It’s a cloak and covers the face, including the eyes and using a mesh through the face.”
I replied and I said, “Oh, thank you for the additional info. I’m sorry. I was trying to get the point across somewhat quickly,” and then the third person goes, “Oh, no worries. I was trying to clarify, just in case.” Then the tweet that went viral was, “I have never in my life seen an argument being settled so calmly and respectfully.” Think about what it says about our national discourse —
JESSICA: That is a remarkable Twitter exchange.
SCOTT: Scroll down. There’s picture that’s like [inaudible] gives the people crying. People settle this like two adults and then the other tweets around this tweet went viral like, “Are they Canadian?” and they were like, “They are not Canadians.” Then one of the people came through and said, “Oh, well actually I am Canadian.” Then the guys are like, “We have a Canadian. We repeat! We have one Canadian.”
This tweet has gone so viral that I sent a winky face to the guy who did the screen shots and that tweet has 1200 likes. It’s the craziest thing and all I did was not be crisp with someone on Twitter. What does that say about our worldwide discourse that simply not being a jerk online is 200,000 likes?
ASTRID: We’re starved for kindness.
SCOTT: We are and to pop it all the way off the stack, to what you were talking about before, I feel like that tweet is just a tweet and it’ll be forgotten next week but I feel like it validated the last 25 years of my experience online because I don’t give bio a permalink. There’s no URI that you can find where I’m being mean. I might be poking jokes at the Skype team or the Outlook team for making crash-y software but there’s no vindictive URL and you can say, “Look at Hanselman for being such a vindictive jerk.” I tell that to everyone that what you’ve got to do is be kind and do it for the long haul and it will come back to you eventually. My point is that people are like reading people online, reading them hard like, “Oh I wish –” and then they go off and those permalinks stay forever. They get screenshot.
JESSICA: So you have a point that one piece of meanness is forever whereas kindness pays off in the long haul.
SCOTT: My wife thinks that it gets us better parking spaces. We call it parking karma. I have, amongst my many privileges, the most amazing parking karma that you will ever see and this isn’t a one-time thing. This is driving into a concert five minutes before it starts, just as someone’s backing out and I’m three slots from the first parking row. Every single time, my wife just goes, “I have no idea how this possible.”
JESSICA: So you can find a parking space in San Francisco?
SCOTT: I can find a parking space anywhere and I can do it in 10 minutes. I told her, I think it’s because we’re nice and we’ve been doing it. Now, I live in fear of not being nice because I don’t want to lose my parking karma because it’s really —
JESSICA: Fear is also part of the training.
SCOTT: Exactly. Everybody else is afraid like, “I must be nice or I’ll go to hell.” No, I really need my parking karma.
JESSICA: So how is top of the parking garage?
SCOTT: I have never seen the top of the parking garage because I park —
ASTRID: Thank you, Jessica. That’s how nice he is.
JESSICA: I do the opposite. I go straight to the top of the parking garage.
SCOTT: And I’m worried that it’s going to collapse. I guess, you’ll just surf your way down when it collapses.
JESSICA: I’ll get some exercise on the way down. That’s my theory. You said that you’re a teacher, you teach with your podcast, you teach on your team, you team at conferences, what’s your favorite thing that you’ve ever taught.
SCOTT: I like life lesson type stuff more than teaching software. At the conference last week, I did a whole thing on personal branding and I localized it to women and ran it by a bunch of women to make sure that it wasn’t garbage. It’s the idea of how could I be successful and visible while still being safe online. I really enjoyed that. It used to be called like personal branding or personal marketing but more, it’s just like maintaining your online resume as a software developer. The talk is called the Social Developer.
I really like that because I always open it up to questions and then it makes it better talk. My blog is okay but my comments are great. I curate my comments very much and the commenters on my blog are better than my blog. They don’t even realize it but they’re what makes the blog go, like my friend Luvvie has this blog Luvvie.com but the LuvvNation, which is all of her followers are as funny or interesting as her blog because she has cultivated that.
Having a good talk, where you talk at people is one thing. I like talking to groups of 50 people and then having it devolve into me moderating a talk show, where all of the people do that. When I gave my talk on the Social Developer, I keep in mind that I’m in a women’s conference, I come out and I said, “Hey, I’m Scott. I want to give this talk on being a Social Developer online,” and I realize that there’s a certain irony where there’s 50 women here at a women’s conference and I happen to be a man. By nature of the fact that this is a conference where I’m presenting, I am going to basically mansplaining here for an hour and how can we make that a positive experience for you.
I say, “What you can do is you can interrupt me. If anything I say doesn’t fit your experience, interrupt and let’s have that conversation.” I think, I got 10 or 15 minutes into my talk until someone said, “Well, I don’t think that’s really true,” and that was moderated and they were kind because I had set them up for kindness and it was amazing. It ended up going 90 minutes and it was only a 60-minute talk. They wouldn’t leave and we eventually got kicked out of the room. It felt like we all had an experience together.
I’m patting myself on the back a little bit. I don’t want my cape to get too heavy but I feel like I set up a safe space, I told them it was okay to interrupt me and that defuse the whole ‘dude in the space’ issue and the result was my talk was multiplied by their input. It wasn’t a whole series of each of us, ‘well, actually-ing’ each other. They could have done that. It could have been like, I’m going to make a bunch of declarative statements and a bunch of people the audience are going to be like, “Well, actually…” which hurts in any direction but instead it was, “Here is my experience online. Here are the things that you need to do. Here are the things that women I’ve talked to have said about their experiences online on what you need to do to be safe,” and a couple of people are like, “Well, that wasn’t my experience.”
Their experience is valid so then the question is, “How many experiences can we get out in the scope of the talk, such that people can go and make their own decision?” That’s the great thing about advice. You don’t have to take it and it was great.
JESSICA: You don’t have to go to bed without dinner if you don’t —
SCOTT: You don’t have to go to bed without dinner, look at you. That was brilliant. Doing talks like that about life talks, productivity talks, helping people explore, how they found success and leading them toward success are kind of like a less slimy Tony Robbins. Those are the things I like doing: my talks in productivity, my talks on personal branding, my talks on team building are more fun than my talks on coding.
JESSICA: Because they are Greater Than Code.
ASTRID: That was awesome.
SCOTT: That was a best tweet. Stop right away.
JESSICA: So Scott, we usually end our show with reflections, where each of the three of us gets to say what it was about the show that they’re going to takeaway and think about or preferences or points of action.
SCOTT: Yeah, anti-fragile was my takeaway. I’m going to go read the book.
JESSICA: Cool. I have one from just a last few minutes. Scott was talking the community of comments on his blog. My favorite thing about this podcast, as much as I love the podcast, I love the Slack community. We have a Slack community where everyone who donate any amount to our Patreon gets an invitation to the Slack and people in there are just so nice.
ASTRID: And they have interesting conversations. They help each other out. It’s just nice to watch. My takeaway is I really like the approach that you’ve taken to how you built your career, Scott. I really like the way that you tend to look around you, for others to show you the way, as opposed to assuming that you know the way, which I think makes people want to follow you. I like that there’s a certain kind of completeness to that.
SCOTT: I appreciate that. Thank you. That is a very nice compliment and I think it’s one, unlike compliments that make you feel awkward and uncomfortable, I think I will own that compliment and I thank you for it.
JESSICA: Awesome. This has been a great conversation. Thank you so much.
SCOTT: Thank you. This was cool.
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