Episode 109 – Learn to Ask Questions and When to Say No with Simon Maple
Phil’s guest on today’s show is Simon Maple. He is a developer advocate who spent 20 years working with IBM and is now involved with start-ups. Simon is well known for setting up vJUG, the Virtual Java User Group, which now has 16,000 members. He is also the co-leader of the London Java Community and a Java Champion. On a regular basis, Simon presents at major conferences, including, Devooxx Fr and UK, JavaOne, JavaZone, JAX, JavaLand and many more.
(1.02) – So Simon, can you expand on that brief introduction and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Simon started his career as a developer for IBM, 20 years ago. After 10 years, he moved into what IBM called technical evangelism, which is also known as developer advocacy. It was a big change. Suddenly, he had to do public speaking, customer engagement and blogging. Developer advocacy, for Simon, is all about helping developers with the day to day issues that they have. He does this in many different ways. Mostly, by introducing tools and techniques that can be used to make things easier for the developer. Part of his role is to educate developers about different issues, for example security.
(2.50) Do you find that there are certain subjects that people ask questions about more than others? Simon says that is more to do with the number of questions people ask rather than specific topics. When a developer has the confidence to start asking you more questions, you know you have hit the right level in terms of the information you are giving out as an advocate. If you overwhelm people they clam up because they are having trouble keeping up. Give them too little information and they find it impossible to piece things together and understand what you are trying to say. When you get the balance right, you know because the conversation flows and the questions come. People will talk more about topics that interest them or that resonate with them. Also, after speaking about a topic a few times you will pick up on the questions that most people want to be answered.
(4.22) – Phil asks Simon for a unique IT career tip. Simon explains that his role is basically to communicate something to someone. Over the years, he has learned that it is important to share the information your audience wants to consume. This is the case whether you are talking to one person or a thousand, or more. When you empathize with the person you are speaking to, you naturally adjust what you say and make it as relevant to the audience as possible. Empathy will also help you to change the way you say things, so that it easier for them to digest the information you are sharing. When you do that, regardless of what your role is, you will progress in your career.
(6.26) – Simon is asked to share his worst career moment with the I.T. Career Energizer audience. For Simon this was more of a personal situation rather than a professional one. As humans it is hard to keep up with all of the social pressure that comes with change. The developer world moves very quickly. You are doing your job in a certain way following a known path. Suddenly, Agile comes along and everything moves far faster. Testing has to be done in 2 weeks. Then you have to take on DevOps and SecOps as well as your main role of developing. Basically, the work keeps on being piled onto your plate. In that situation, it is all too easy to take on too much too quickly. When you do that, you burn out physically and mentally. That has happened to Simon twice, which put him in a bad place and stopped his career in its tracks. He is now careful about what he takes on and has got into the habit of prioritizing things properly. Simon has found that taking things out of his head and feeding them into a “to do” type tool helps him a lot. He finds that getting everything out of his head and into the tool enables him to concentrate once again on his work. Phil described it as removing clutter from his brain.
(9.23) – Phil asks Simon what his best career moment was. Simon feels that the best inventions come about when someone is trying to solve a problem. His best career moment came about because Simon was struggling to see enough of his family and still fulfil all of his work responsibilities. He wanted to attend the London Java group events, they were very beneficial, but he was very short on time. So, he came up with the idea of setting up a virtual Java group. At the time, this way of bringing people together was very rarely done. Now user groups stream their events so everyone can benefit, regardless of where they are in the world. Today, the virtual community that he set up, vJUG has 16,000 members. It has helped tens of thousands of people to collaborate and become more successful. His work with the group has helped Simon to become well-known something which has greatly helped his career. He thinks that setting up and running the group is the main reason he got the Java Champion award.
(12.23) – Phil asks what excites Simon about the future of the industry and IT careers. Simon finds the pace of change exciting, because it represents an incredible learning opportunity. Although, the pace of change means that just learning technical skills is no longer enough. Every developer now needs to develop additional skill sets to ensure they can keep up and remain relevant.
(14.44) – What first attracted you to a career in IT? Simon’s dad was a developer, so he gave Simon a book on C and the rest was history. He was hooked.
(15.02) – What is the best career advice you’ve ever received? Simon said always ask questions. There are no stupid questions and the sooner you ask them the less likely you are to think it is a stupid question.
(15.18) – If you were to start your IT career again, now, what would you do? Simon says he would have taken something like a computer science and cybernetics or AI degree instead of pure computer science. He would still choose to work in software development, but would move more quickly from working for a large company to joining a startup.
(16.01) – Phil asks Simon what he is currently focusing on. Right now, Simon is learning how to grow high performing teams and ensure that each individual in them reaches their full potential. So, that they can grow and so can the team.
(16.32) – What is the No. 1 non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Simon says the way he has learned to communicate with others has really helped him to progress. When you are happy and friendly people enjoy talking to you, which means that you can learn more.
(17.05) – Phil asks Simon to share a final piece of career advice. Never look at what you want to be in 10 to 15 years. Instead, make sure you enjoy what you are doing and who you are working with. If you are not happy, do not be frightened to follow your gut and change your career.
(5.19) SIMON – “Always make sure that the information that you’re giving is the information that person wants to actually consume.”
(9.44) SIMON – “The best kind of inventions come from problems or issues.”
(15.08) SIMON – “The earlier you ask a question the less likely it will be that you will think it’s a stupid question.”
(17.35) SIMON – “Always make sure that you’re enjoying the job you are doing.”
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