Episode 67 – Get Excited About the Future of IT with Dan North
Dan North is the originator of Behaviour-Driven Development and Deliberate Discovery. He has been coaching, coding, and consulting for over 25 years and uses his knowledge to help CIOs, businesses, and software teams to deliver quickly and successfully. Dan is also a frequent speaker at conferences and has contributed to a number of books, including 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know.
In this episode, Dan shares his excitement on how wide open the field of IT remains, and that it continues to be powered by a strong sense of innovation and creativity. He also talks with Phil about the benefits of choosing your own path, the value of diversity, and the importance of empathy.
(1.22) Phil starts things off asking Dan to tell us more about himself and what he’s working on. Dan talks about how’s been working independently for almost six years now and that one of the downsides of being independent is having to run the actual business as well as do the work and that it takes up time that he would like to spend on book-writing. He adds that he also recently became a father and has less disposable time than ever before “and I couldn’t be happier about it.”
(4.19) Phil then asks Dan to share a unique career tip, to which Dan responds first with the fact that IT as an industry is barely into its second generation and that this can be immensely freeing because it means the industry hasn’t become stuck in a rut of making people do things a certain way. He says that because of this, even people who are new to the business have just as much a chance of making their ideas successful as people who have been in the business for many years.
(8.09) Dan then brings things back around by saying that the best tip he can think to give is for people just starting out in the industry to not “institutionalize themselves” and keep questioning and thinking of better ways to do things because everyone is just “making this up.”
(9.02) Dan continues this line of thought by saying that even if he had been asked as recently as ten years ago, he could not have possibly predicted where we would be today in terms of technology and what would be “hot and exciting.” He also says he can’t wait to see what keyboards finally get replaced with.
(10.41) Phil asks Dan about his worst IT career moment, and Dan tells a story about the second “real” job he ever had, where he was the senior software engineer for a database marketing business. He describes that there was one single database that essentially did everything for the company and that he, by typing something in the wrong terminal, accidentally shut down, along with the entire server. Dan says that rather than punish or fire him, that his boss instead told him that he was going to learn about database restores, and they manually restored the database all night.
(15.59) Phil moves on to asking about career successes, and Dan replies that he actually has a hard time thinking of what’s been the highlight of his career because he’s still learning and growing and that he has not had a very straightforward career path. Dan continues that rather he’s always just gone after opportunities as they appeared or based on what interested him and that even things he’s proud of, such as the first time he was a keynote speaker at a conference, happened essentially by accident. He emphasizes not getting too hung up on having a rigid career plan, as it can lead to you missing out on interesting experiences and opportunities.
(19.04) When Phil asks what excites Dan most about the future of IT, he reiterates that what excites him the most is that he has no idea what the future of IT will look like. Apart from that, he says that the strong shift towards more diversity in the field of IT excites him very much because it means opening up a much larger talent pool of different viewpoints, life experiences, and ways of thinking.
(22.41) On the topic of the best career advice that he’d ever received, Dan responds that it was actually advice from a friend in the context of relationship problems he was having and that it was to “never settle for second best.” Dan adds that it has translated into every part of his life, such as looking at jobs and asking himself if he’s just taking a job because it’s there and settling.
(24.35) On that note, Phil asks Dan about his current career objectives, to which Dan says that mostly he’s just trying to find interesting people and interesting challenges before adding that he’s tinkering with an idea for finding a better way to locate people for jobs that are good at working on teams in a way that gets people excited and motivated and can grow a team. Phil notes that people with these qualities are hard to find but easy to spot.
(28.16) Upon being asked about the non-technical skill that he has found the most useful, Dan mentions listening as a “powerful non-technical skill,” before adding that he also thinks that sharing information and empathy are both incredibly important as well.
(31.04) Lastly, Phil asks Dan if he has any final words of advice for someone starting a career in IT. Dan advises that someone should always do the best they can at whatever job they happen to be doing. He says that even if it feels like a pointless task if you always do your best someone is going to recognize that.
(6.51) Dan: “So my big unique career tip would be to just be aware that we’re making this up. This isn’t just Imposter Syndrome…it’s literally, the things we’re doing, no one knew about earlier.”
(8.09) Dan: “Don’t institutionalize yourself, we are making this up.”
(8.12) Phil: “I think any new career or technology is gonna go through those learning pains as well. If nobody’s been there and done it before, it’s all new, by definition.”
(18.03) Dan: “I’d say the only deliberate career move I’ve made was going independent just five and a half years ago…and I had no idea what I was gonna do or where it was gonna go…and I’m still not entirely sure what I want to be when I grow up. But I’m having some adventures, and I’m working with some really interesting organizations.”
(30.32) Dan: “As a developer, understanding who you’re building software for is massive. As a manager, understanding that if you have a struggling team, you don’t have a struggling team you have a system of work that presents as a struggling team, so you need to go fix the system of work. It’s understanding the interconnectedness of things.”
(31.04) Dan: “Whatever you’re doing, do it the best that you can, even if it’s a thing that you think sucks, even if you don’t see the point of it.”
Contact Dan North
Contributor to Book: Things Every Programmer Should Know