Episode 122 – Build Your Personal Brand and Broaden Your Horizons with Asim Hussain
(1.05) – So Asim, can you expand on that brief introduction and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Asim explains that he has been working in the IT industry for about 19 years. Over that time, he has worked in many different sectors, using a range of languages.
Right now, he is the lead developer advocate for the EMEA region, at Microsoft. This is a recent promotion that he is both excited and nervous about.
He is part way through open-sourcing them. Asim is now a big believer in open source education. It brings benefits to the teacher as well as the students.
(3.11) – So, why did you go into advocacy and development courses? Asim explained he got the bug when he was listening to a podcast in the car. While listening to it the speaker said something that was totally wrong about a subject Asim knew a lot about. Naturally, this frustrated him, but also motivated Asim to get out there and share his knowledge. That day, the idea for his first course was born.
(4.28) – Phil asks Asim to share a unique IT career tip. Asim says that it is very important to be public about what you are doing. From the very start of your IT journey, share what you are learning and your experiences.
Asim believes that if, for the past 19 years, he had consistently written a blog article per week his blog would now be more valuable than his house.
When you look at someone who is well-known and respected in the industry, you will usually find out that they have been blogging, for many years. For the first year, you will be writing in a vacuum, so will get very little value from doing it. But, if you persist it will become an invaluable asset. Fairly quickly, it will start to grow at a very fast rate.
(5.57) – Phil asks Asim to share his worst career moment with the audience and explain what he learned from that situation. The biggest mistake Asim made was when he was working in the finance industry. At that time, he had a dual role. He was responsible for developing new systems, but, also had to keep the existing one running smoothly.
To do this, he had two terminals open, one for development, the other for the production server. He would multitask. Running tests on new software on one terminal, while monitoring and maintaining the live system on the other.
For the most part, this approach worked really well. However, one day, it led to near disaster.
At the time, he smoked, so would regularly pop out for a cigarette. One day, he did exactly that. Before he left the office, he typed make into what he thought was his development terminal and left.
Unfortunately, Asim had typed make into the wrong terminal. So, he had inadvertently started a job on the production server. That process consumed 100% of the CPU’s power and left the traders unable to do their job.
Worse than that, it was just as the markets were about to close. For the bank’s trader’s this was a disaster. Closing is always a crazy busy and critical time of the day.
They were unable to close their trades. Potentially, the company could have lost tens of thousands because of Asim’s simple mistake. Fortunately, the opposite happened. The trades they had been unable to close ended up making the bank money.
Naturally, that episode reminded Asim of the need to be careful, at all times.
(8.16) – Phil asks Asim what his best career moment has been, so far. For Asim, his biggest successes have come along recently. For example, getting involved in public speaking has been a highlight.
This has led to so many other good things for Asim, including the chance to join Microsoft, in a role that he really enjoys.
Writing his first book has also been a highlight. He released it for free, which was nerve-racking, especially when you consider that it took him 3 months to write. However, giving it away turned out to be a great approach. It really got him noticed and led to even more speaking opportunities. Asim says that releasing his book for free has been his biggest career win, to date.
He really enjoys people coming up to him and thanking him for not charging for his book. In particular those from a developing country who tell him they could not have afforded to learn what he taught in that book any other way.
(11.34) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? The pace of change is both exciting and terrifying. On the one hand, you are constantly worried about being relevant. But, at the same time the possibilities this fast-paced change brings is exciting.
(13.54) – What drew you to a career in IT, Asim? For Asim, it all started when he was a child. His sister studied computer science, so he started playing with her computer. At first, he just played the game. But, soon completed it and got bored. So, he put the BASIC tape in, read the manual, and started programming.
As children, Asim and his brother set up a web agency. So, it was only natural for him to pick an IT-related degree subject.
(16.06) – What is the best career advice you have been given? Asim says that is probably – admit your mistakes, something that he learned at the European Space Agency.
When something goes wrong in space, that is it, you have potentially just wasted a couple of billion dollars. So, for the space industry, it is vital that people admit when they have made a mistake and do so straight away. It means that the problem can be sorted out before it is too late.
It is important to own up to problems, as well as mistakes. The moment you do that, the solution starts to become apparent.
Asim went on to say that he trusts people who admit their mistakes more than he does those who say they never make them. Usually, they are either hiding them, or are simply not doing enough, just playing it safe.
(17.30) – If you were to start your IT career again, now, what would you do? Asim explains when he was younger; he followed the money, when he should have been paying attention to his brand.
Today, he would work first on developing and improving his personal brand. That stays with you and benefits you forever, unlike the money which you usually end up wasting anyway.
(18.14) – Phil asks Asim what career objectives he is currently focusing on. Right now, his new role at Microsoft is Asim’s main focus.
His plan is to help to drive some thought leadership into the advocacy space. In particular, he wants to build genuinely strong connections between developers, across the world. Asim also wants to change the emotional response people have towards Microsoft.
On a personal level, he wants to achieve these things by using more empathy and authentic connections. His aim is to come up with something that is truly innovative.
(19.40) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Asim says being able to explain things to others has helped him throughout his career. Being able to put himself in other people’s shoes and understand how they work helps him to find the right language and mediums to use when sorting out bugs or developing something new.
Good communication skills help you with many different aspects of your career. For example, when you have to make a presentation, perhaps to sell a new product, it is not hard to find the right language.
Learning to think through somebody else’s eyes is very beneficial. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
(21.45) – Phil asks Asim to share a final piece of career advice. When it comes to your career, do not over think things. It is all too easy to become overwhelmed by the fact there are so many different paths you can take. Don’t let that happen, just pick one and do that. If you find you don’t like it, that is not a problem, you can easily change direction.
(4.56) Asim – “Be very, very public about what it is that you do.”
(5.21) Asim – “If I was writing a blog article a week, when I was 20, I think my blog would be worth more than my house today.”
(10.32) Asim – “Releasing that book for free, and out in the open was, I would say, the biggest win.”
(11.53) Asim – “What’s exciting about this field is also terrifying about this field, which is that everything changes all the time.”
(17.00) Asim – “Admit your mistakes, own up to problems. Once you own up to them, you own up to the solution as well.”
(18.05) Asim – “Always pick your personal brand, because that is worth a lot more to you, and it will stay with you.”