Episode 78 – It’s All About Learning and Communication with Andy Hunt

 In Podcasts

In this episode, Phil chats with Andy Hunt. Andy is a programmer turned consultant, author and publisher. He’s authored a dozen books including the best-selling “The Pragmatic Programmer,” and was one of the 17 authors of the Agile Manifesto and founders of the Agile Alliance. He also co-founded the pragmatic bookshelf, publishing award-winning and critically acclaimed books for software developers.

Andy shares his story about why he chose I.T as his career and reveals his best and worst experiences in the I.T world. Listen to his career tips and advice. There is a lot to learn from Andy that will help you to become the best that you can be.


[1:21] Phil asks Andy to expand upon the brief introduction provided. Andy shares the story of how he had a real interest in radio electronics at that time. He says that he was very interested in early computers with the S100 BUS and CPM. He recalls that he loved how programming lets you go in and create your own world which, for Andy, is still the most exciting aspect of it. Andy says that programming was easier and much more self-contained back then. The programming world is a very different place than it used to be.

[2:41] Phil requests for Andy to share a unique career tip for the I.T Career Energizer audience, one that the audience should know but don’t. Andy excitedly answers that he’ll give two tips. He talks about his 2008 book “Pragmatic Thinking and Learning”, the thesis being that the two things you do more than anything else as a programmer are learning and communication. We communicate with the machine. We communicate with each other, and to end users to gather requirements, to learn requirements. Besides the tech stacks and the latest language of the day, you’re learning how the evolving system behave, you’re learning how your team behaves, and you’re learning how the end users work and what they expect, what the market demands. So, we’re all about learning in communication. Those are the important things.

[3:42] Andy’s first tip is to never stop learning. When you come across something unfamiliar, a term you don’t know, a framework you’ve never heard of, a new language, look it up, Google’s right there. It’s on your phone. It’s right on your screen. Take the 5 seconds when something you’re unfamiliar with comes up and see what it is. Look into it. Look more into it if it’s something interesting or something that you might have to work with. So, always take that extra step and pursue the unfamiliar. That’s part one.

[4:16] Andy says that this second tip makes the biggest difference for people who are successful. Always write down your ideas. Carry something with you always where you can jot down a quick note. It doesn’t have to be electronic. It might even be better if it’s not. Use an App on your phone, send yourself a voicemail. Andy says that he found out that most of the processes in the brain are asynchronous. You get interesting ideas or the seeds of great ideas randomly and usually when you’re not at a computer and not at work. So you need something with you to jot them down because you won’t remember it later. And then, when you have a chance later, when you’re at the computer, when you’re working, whatever, follow up on it. Make a note somewhere else more permanently. That’s really key to capturing the great ideas that you have but most people just loose. And Phil totally agrees with the idea.
[6:54] Phil asks about Andy’s worst career moment and what he has learned from it. Andy recalls a story from early in his career when, between the time of being interviewed and starting the job, his interviewer had been fired and the position eliminated. Andy was therefore assigned to a different group. It was an awful place to work and within a year the company went out of business which made an impact on him. The myth of working for a big company and having stability is just a myth. You’re not stable with a big company. You’re not necessarily stable with a small startup either. So, in terms of career preparation, you really can’t count on the organization being there for you for any number of reasons. Later on, during Andy’s consultant career phase, one project that he rather enjoyed and he had a good time at. It was very clear from their practices and what they were doing on the project that they were going to fail. Andy made his report, talked to the boss and said, “Okay, here’s the problem. This is what you need to fix.” They said, “Thank you very much.” and didn’t change a thing. They lost $14 million. That was a lot of what inspired Andy to get on the early train of lightweight methods which was when the term ‘agile’ was coined. Andy then provides some insight into the Agile Manifesto.

[12:34] Phil asks about Andy’s career greatest success. Andy recalls one of his projects which was highly successful. It was replace a debit card transaction system. In fact, that’s the project where Andy met his partner Dave Thomas. They wrote “The Pragmatic Programmer” together and founded the Pragmatic Bookshelf. He recalls that it was one of those insane projects where it was just the two of them. The key was that they had access to an on-site customer who knew the existing system inside and out. They got the project done and the system was subsequently the preferred solution when the company merged with other companies. Andy and Dave’s system did what it was supposed to do and did it better than the other companies solutions that cost a lot more money and had been written by large teams.

[15:46] Phil asks Andy about the future of the industry and careers in IT. Andy says that he is amazed when he watches his nephews and nieces, toddler age, navigating an iPad and buying apps. The idea that being able to learn at an early age how computers work and how to create and adapt software yourself, that’s critical. Because if you don’t take that next step and learn how to manipulate this world, you’ll be powerless in the future. He adds that he thinks we’ve barely scratched the surface of technology.

[18:42] Phil asks what first attracted Andy to a career in IT? Andy recalls when he was at a radio shack, it was in the 70’s, and there was a book about microcomputers. Andy thought that it was fascinating and as cool as any science fiction he had ever read. The author was convinced that this is going to happen in the future. It wet Andy’s appetite and he started from there.

[18:54] Phil asks what the best advice Andy has ever received. Andy says don’t focus solely on the technology because the tech comes and goes. And the companies behind the tech come and go. Andy says that people are much harder to program and deal with than with computers, but this is the world we now live in. This is what you’ve got to learn to do. If you focus solely on the tech, you’re going to get steamrolled.

[23:15] Phil then asks Andy what he would do if he had to begin his IT career again right now. Andy says that it would be AI, genetic algorithms, machine learning, that whole world.

[24:59] Phil asks Andy what objectives he is currently focusing on and Andy says that it’s retirement and going out with a bang. He wants to come up with something interesting.

[25:22] Phil then asks Andy what has been the number one non-technical skill that has helped him in his career so far. Andy thinks that all non-technical skills are critical. The sort of basics such as continuous learning and reading voraciously. Read everything you get your hands on. Write to remember. Take note and summarize. Write it in your own words. The act of writing stuff down like that really helps wire it in and to cement it in your memory. Do user group talks or write a blog if you don’t like talking in front of people. Talk to people at work, such as brown bag lunches. Be an advocate for the stuff that you’ve discovered, that you’re passionate about and that’s interesting.

[26:37] Phil asks Andy for a parting piece of career advice. Andy thinks that the number one piece of advice is to realize that you’re never done and that you’ve never made it. If you’ve learned some great framework, some great language, don’t stop there. The technology, the methodology that you used in the last project that was so successful might not work at all in the next project. That could be a completely different context. You might need completely different tools. So, the number one thing is to be prepared for that and to be ready to learn something completely different all the time.


[18:00] Andy: “Turbo Pascal when it came out was brilliant. It was 79 bucks and it included an IDE and a multi-pass compiler, and it was like, “Oh my God that genius.” At the time that was a real breakthrough. These days you can get the hardware and any language you’ve ever heard of and just download it. So I think that’s pretty exciting and pretty remarkable and I think we’ve barely scratched the surface of where we can go with that.”

“The stuff you learn in college you probably will not use much more than the first couple of years out in the world just because things change. So the tech comes and goes, and that’s fine. You need to know the basics. You need to understand how it all works at the lowest level.”

“The hard part is that the tech keeps improving, but people are still people, and we are deeply flawed creatures. We are not like these brilliant computers that we work with. We have got major cognitive processing issues.”

“You have to remember that whatever you think of the pace of change at the moment, this is the slowest that the pace of change will ever be because it is ever increasing. So as bad as it is now, this is slower. It’s going to be slightly faster tomorrow and slightly faster the day after that, on and on and on and on. So if you want to keep up, you have to keep going.”


Phil Burgess, an I.T. consultant, mentor, and coach, is the creator and host of the I.T. Career Energizer Podcast. His podcast continues to inspire, assist and guide anybody wanting to start, develop and grow a career in I.T. by inviting successful I.T. professionals, consultants, and experts to share their advice, career tips and experiences.


Andy is a programmer turned consultant, author and publisher. He’s authored a dozen books including the best-selling The Pragmatic Programmer, was one of the 17 authors of the Agile Manifesto and founders of the Agile Alliance and co-founded the Pragmatic Bookshelf, publishing award-winning, critically-acclaimed books for software developers.



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