Episode 133 – Endeavour To Be Flexible and Find Something That Challenges You with Chris Heilmann

 In Podcasts

Phil’s guest on today’s show is Chris Heilmann. Over the years, has worked as an HTML and web developer on some of the largest web projects. He has worked for netdecisions, Agilisys, Yahoo UK and Mozilla. Today, he is a Senior Program Manager Developer and Evangelist, at Microsoft. Chris is also an author who has written mainly about JavaScript. But, he is best known for his Developer Evangelism book and for his conference speaking.


(1.00) – So Chris, can you expand on that brief introduction and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Chris starts off by explaining that he did not take the normal route into an IT career. He did not go to university.

His IT journey started with him writing games for the Commodore 64 and other early computers. After leaving school, he became a journalist and newscaster.

In 1986, he discovered the internet and was immediately hooked. Fairly quickly, he was able to bring his two passions of tech and journalism together. Almost immediately, Chris could see the internet was going to help him and his colleagues to easily publish on a worldwide. He says that he was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

(2.25) – So, presumably your background in journalism has helped you in terms of other things you have done. For example, writing your books and public speaking. Chris agrees, he says his journalism skills were a great help when he started blogging. He found that his experience of writing for radio translated particularly well when writing for an online audience.

When writing for the radio you have to ensure that every sentence makes perfect sense. Usually, people are doing other things while listening to the radio, for example, driving. So, they cannot focus 100% on what you are saying. The clearer you are the more likely you are to keep their attention and really get through to them. It is the same when people are reading your stuff online. You rarely have their full attention. We all tend to skim through things, so every sentence has to clearly make its point.

This ability to make a point effectively and hold the attention of the audience has also been very useful when it comes to public speaking. His work as a journalist also helped Chris to adapt his message to suit the audience.

(3.14) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Chris says that being flexible is vital. He has moved to several different countries to pursue his career. If you are willing and able to be flexible there are a lot of opportunities available in the IT world. For example,

You need to be prepared to work at strange hours sometimes. Doing so opens up the opportunity to collaborate with people from across the world. Being flexible enables you to put yourself in the right place at the right time, more often.

Chris also thinks it is important to be prepared to physically travel so that you can work with others from across the world. Even though we have the internet you tend to get far more done when you spend time working with people face to face.

(5.05) – Can you tell us what your worst career moment was? And what you learned from that experience. For Chris, his worse career moment was when the UK office of a company he was working for was shut. When that happened, basically, all of the talented people they had pulled together over 10 years were scattered to the winds.

The team he was working with was very talented and worked quickly. They achieved more than the Silicon Valley team did in far less time.

Yet, they still closed the office and asked everyone to move to the USA. Some people went and just stayed with the firm for the 2 years they needed for the visa. Then, naturally, they left for better offers. Chris felt that this action showed an incredible lack of insight on the part of the company. It led to all of that talent being lost just because they were geographically in the wrong place.

Plus, naturally, a lot of the people were bitter. Many left in anger, which is a bad idea, especially in IT. Even today, it is quite a small world.

Chris says that the best approach is to take the high ground. Don’t bad mouth the company to others. The chances are you are going to come across these people again, in the future.

(7.00) – Phil asks Chris about their best career moment was. Chris has had lots of great moments.

He really enjoys the fact that a small change on the front end can make such a huge positive difference for users. It is also nice when you build up your reputation to the point where finding a new job becomes almost automatic. Chris also gets pleasure from seeing the careers of others he has worked with flourish.

(9.18) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? The fact that computers are taking over more is something that really excites Chris. This is despite the fact that AI is set to cut into the amount of work that will be available for him.

Currently, he sees too many security issues slipping through the net because the code has been written by people who are basically bored with their job. In the future, much of that boring work will be done by computers.

AI machines will be great at finding and fixing malicious code and debugging. They will be far faster at it than humans are. This will free developers up to become even more creative and innovative.

However, for this to happen quickly the industry needs more data scientists. We need people who can see the patterns and teach machines to recognize them too.

He points out that a lot of code has been written already. It is just that much of it has not been shared yet. The open source movement is helping to sort that out. As a result we are now moving forward at a far faster rate.

Chris is also excited by the fact that new roles are constantly being created within the IT industry. There are dozens of exciting and interesting jobs that simply did not exist a few years ago.

(12.20) – What drew you to a career in IT? Chris explains that he has always loved computers, so when he saw the chance to make working with them a part of his daily life he leapt at it. He was also drawn to the sector because he realized he would be able to help people to overcome their fear of working with computers. His work on the front end was helping people to tap into this new technology and achieve more, something he really enjoyed doing.

(12.51) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? That was – don’t forget to network within your company, especially when you first join. Get to know the people and their problems.

Help others and do everything you can to get departments to talk to each other. Get to know other communicators within that business. Doing all of this helps you to understand your company and find your place within it.

Taking this approach ensures that you will always have a backup plan. If your fantastic boss suddenly leaves and your new one is awful, you will be able to quickly move to another job.

Plus, when you play a role in getting something difficult fixed you are going to quickly be seen as a valuable employee. So, staying there long-term becomes a viable option. Provided, of course, that is what you want to do.

(14.31) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Nowadays, having a proper IT degree is a good thing. Chris knows that he was lucky to end up working in the IT field without a relevant degree. He says that the degree he would take now would be data science.

Chris also thinks he would start out by working for smaller startups. He says that this enables you to focus on one project and see it through. This hones your skills and helps you to learn how to turn what you are working on into a success.

He also says that he would not go into gaming. It is really hard to become successful in that field now.

Nowadays, there is a huge pool or pre-done stuff you can draw upon to get things done quickly. You no longer need to know how to code everything from scratch. So, Chris would also focus on maximizing the potential of this. He would familiarize himself with the various components and frameworks that are available and learn how to use them to get things done fast.

(16.49) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? Right now, Chris’ main objective is to move up and start building a team again. He wants to have team members who can replicate what he is doing right now, so he can focus on working with just a few clients.

(17.48) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Chris finds that he uses his communication skills a lot. It is important to know how to talk to people. It also helps you to recognize when not to pursue something. Just because you have identified the perfect solution does not mean that you should insist on developing it right there and then. Sometimes you have to think of the needs of the project, chunk up your knowledge and put together something that works for now, to move things forward. Then, perhaps circle back later to push your idea and get it implemented.

(18.59) – Phil asks Chris to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Make sure you stay interested in the job you are doing. Don’t do a boring job or one that you do not like, just for the money. If you do that, you are setting yourself up for failure. You have to find something that challenges you as well.

If you are hiring people, always hire someone who is better than you. When you do, you open up the opportunity for you to delegate to them. They get to develop and you are freed up to do something else. In time, they become able to replace you, by which point you will be ready to move on, anyway. You should not be afraid of the people that work for you.


(3.57) CHRIS – “Being flexible in your time and being flexible to actually work across the world is something that a lot of people still have problems with. IT is not a 9 to 5 job.”

(9.26) CHRIS – “I’m actually very excited that computers are taking over more and more.”

(9.54) CHRIS – “We should not be bored by writing software. Computers should actually be good enough to write most of the code for themselves.”

(13.00) CHRIS – “When you join a new company network inside the company.”

(16.47) CHRIS – “We are reusing 90% of the time what other people have been doing.”


Twitter: https://twitter.com/codepo8

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

Website: https://christianheilmann.com/

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