Episode 120 – Learn to Focus on Your Career and Be Brave Enough to Take on New Challenges with Scott Tolinski

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Scott Tolinski is Phil’s guest on today’s I.T. Career Energizer podcast. He is a former Team Detroit developer who also worked for The University of Michigan as an applications developer. For several years he was a Senior Developer with Q LTD.

Today, Scott runs his own web development teaching company. In 2012, he started Level Up Tutorials alongside Ben Schaaf. Today, Scott runs the business and has turned it into the go-to learning resource for developers.


(1.09) – So Scott, can you expand on that brief introduction and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Scott starts out by explaining that he actually left Team Detroit, a while ago, but has not yet updated his website to reflect that fact. He is now working full time on Level Up Tutorials. That means recording, editing, producing and coding between 20 and 25 videos per month. As well as, updating and maintaining the actual website. Scott describes his website as being – a magazine for coding tutorials.

Scott also produces a twice weekly web development podcast called Syntax, with Wes Bos. They approach the subject of web development from the point of view of teachers. The podcasts offer effective web development lessons in a format that is easy for everyone to access and use anywhere.

(2.34) – Phil asks Scott for a unique IT career tip. Scott’s advice is to never be afraid of new opportunities. It was his dad that made him realize the benefits of trying something new and fresh.

His dad had taken advantage of each new opportunity and been very successful. So, Scott decided to do the same, even if a new opportunity seems scary, he will usually say yes and dive in.

Most of the time, this approach pays off. On the rare occasion that it doesn’t, Scott quickly faces up to his mistake and moves on to something else.

Leaving his job to become a full-time entrepreneur was scary, challenging and quite stressful. But, Scott does not regret a minute of it and would do the same again.

(4.29) – Phil agrees that you should never let fear of the unknown stop you from making a change. He quoted Richard Branson who said –

“Work hard, take your chances, and seize opportunities when they present themselves. Don’t give in to the fear and self-doubt and instead find ways to make it happen. Those who are bold have a higher chance of being rewarded,”

(5.03) – Scott says that is exactly what he does. If it is a big thing, he just says yes. Later, he figures everything out. But, he points out that if it is not a big thing, you need to say no. If you do not, those little opportunities just end up getting in your way.

(5.17) – At this point, Scott is asked to share his worst career moment. Scott explained that he once had the perfect job. Everything was great, the company, the work and the people he was working with, he loved it. But, he got tempted and took another job. Basically, because it was a little bit more big time and, of course, there was a pay bump.

He soon realized that the grass was not greener in his new role. The projects were bad and the designers not as experienced. Plus, they were using outdated techniques and the management team did not really care much about the work.

Often, Scott was getting his part of the project completed months ahead of schedule. Yet, when that happened, the management team didn’t give him any meaningful work to fill in the gap.

However, this situation was not all bad. Scott legitimately ended up with a lot of free time on his hands. So, he was able to learn a lot of new things.

He learned Backbone, Angular and Ember. After six months, he was able to take all of that knowledge and land a really sweet gig.

(7.57) – What else did you learn from that experience? Scott said that it gave him a different perspective on work in general. It made him think about the type of people he wanted to work with and the kinds of projects he wanted to be involved in. That experience taught him not to just settle. Instead, he searches out exciting projects and ensures that he will be working with a good team.

(8.56) – Phil asks Scott what his best career moment was. Scott says that it was probably quitting his job and working for himself. He feels particularly good about being able to provide for his family off the back of something that he created.

Interestingly, it was not his intention to earn his living from his tutorial work. At first, he just posted his work to YouTube. It came as a big surprise to learn that he could translate that into a business that paid enough for him to be able to take care of his family.

Not being a born entrepreneur means that, for Scott, learning to run his own company was a steep learning curve. But, he is, understandably, proud of what he has achieved with Level Up Tutorials.

(10.59) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers, in particular? Scott finds the fact that it is so much easier to deliver the functionality that users really want to be exciting. In the past, adding something like live chat to a website would have been challenging and time-consuming. Today, it is easy and it can all be done really quickly.

This frees you up to be more creative and opens up a world of possibilities for the client and their customers. Scott is excited by the fact that things will continue to evolve and get easier.

(13.00) – Phil says that he is also excited about this. The ease with which web development can be done, these days, makes it possible to deliver truly appropriate solutions and do so quickly.

(13.16) – Scott goes on to highlight the ease with which you can create efficient sites. For example, using React, you can now build blisteringly fast static sites. This is particularly important for people who live in parts of the world that have a slow internet connection.

(14.08) – What drew you to a career in IT? Scott first got interested in IT when he wanted to add a flash intro to his band’s website. He fell in love with the problem-solving process and realized it was a great outlet for his flair for design.

(14.47) – What is the best career advice you have been given? Scott says it is probably the advice he mentioned at the start of the show – take every good opportunity that is presented to you. He uses his intuition to guide him in terms of what is exciting and finds that listening to his gut is the best way to work out whether to say yes or not.

(15.31) – If you were to start your IT career again, now, what would you do? When Scott went to college he had a long list of interests and things he wanted to do. He had a passion for music and was interested in graphic design and becoming a motion graphics artist.

It was great to have so many interests. But, it meant that he lacked focus. So, if he were to start his IT career again, he would be sure to focus on just doing that, instead of spreading himself too thinly.

(16.35) – Phil asks Scott what he is currently focusing on. Right now, Scott is working on getting better at delegating and communicating. He has a small team which he wants to grow, so that he can work more efficiently. His plan is to become more of a leader and step away a bit from being the developer of the site.

(17.26) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? For Scott it has been having a student mentality. Being open to learning has enabled Scott to stay ahead of developments. A fact that ensures what he teaches is never out of date.

(18.27) – Phil asks Scott to share a final piece of career advice. Scott explains that he did not follow a typical career path into IT. In fact, his first few jobs had nothing to do with the industry. Plus, he does not have a computer science degree. However, he would not let this stop him from working in IT.

His parting piece of advice is not to let where you are today hold you back. Become a good student, learn and keep on pushing forwards to secure the job you really want.


(2.55) Scott – “I haven’t ever been afraid of new opportunities, when they present themselves.”

(5.03) Scott – “If it’s a big thing, I almost always say yes, and figure it out later.”

(12.20) Scott – “Two years down the line, what kind of experiences am I going to be able to give people that I couldn’t give them right now.”

(18.01) Scott – “My number one non-technical skill is my ability or drive to want to continue to grow myself and my abilities as a developer.”

(18.53) Scott – “Do not let whatever your current situation is hold you back from where you want to be”


Twitter: https://twitter.com/stolinski

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stolinski/

Website: www.scotttolinski.com

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