Episode 146 – You Need To Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable with Matt Harrison
Matt Harrison is Phil’s guest on today’s show. Matt is a Python and Data Science Consultant who offers customized training to corporations and startups as well as consulting services through his company MetaSnake. Over the years, he has worked with a range of languages and platforms, including Pandas, Pylons, Django, CherryPy, Postgres, AWS, SQLAlchemy, SciKit Learn, and Matplotlib.
Matt has been the co-chair of the Utah Python user group as well as an author and public speaker. In 2012, he published his first Python book Treading on Python Volume 1: Foundations of Python. Since then, he has published several other books and is currently busy writing more.
(1.02) – So Matt, can I ask you to expand on that brief intro and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Matt explains that he runs a small consulting and training company called MetaSnake. He works with businesses big and small and spends half his time speaking to very technical people teaching them Python and data science. Right now, he is working on three more books.
(2.09) – Python is quite a theme, in your career, what made you choose that, in particular? The first language Matt learned was Perl. He used it for his first summer job, so became very comfortable with it.
Matt was lucky enough to work with a really smart guy. At the time, he was building on a model to pull out relevant terms for their corpus of text. The guy he was working with wanted to use Tcl to get the task done and Matt thought Perl would do a better job.
So, they agreed to meet in the middle and use Python instead. At that time, it was a relatively new language. Within 3 days they had the proof of concept working. Python just gelled with him, unlike, Perl, C and Java, which he had mostly been using up to that point.
(3.42) – Phil asks Matt to tell the audience more about his books, which Phil understands are mainly about Python. Matt explains that his book “Illustrated guide to Python 3” is for beginners. He has also written an intermediate book, one that covers the Pandas library and a few others. All of which are available on Amazon.
(4.14) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Matt says his advice is to – get comfortable with being uncomfortable. When he was just starting out, his local Python meetup took place a couple of miles away from where he lived. But, he didn’t attend partly because it would take him outside of his comfort zone. A decision he regrets to this day.
At the time, it was a very tight-knit group. Not attending meant that he ended up missing out on a lot of important interactions. Plus, he eventually ended up meeting everyone anyway. At the time he did not understand the power of interacting with others.
If you want to further your career, you need to get away from your computer sometimes and mix with other people.
(6.00) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. For Matt that was when he started his small vertical niche software company.
A lot of firms let them liked the software. But very few of them decided to buy. In a surprising number of cases, this was because using the software would mean they would have to fire someone. A lot of the firms were small and employed family members, so they really did not want a piece of software to replace them. When Matt heard this he just said OK and moved on instead of trying another sales tactic. He knew he had a good product, but his lack of sales skills meant he could not close the deal.
(8.20) – What was your best career moment? For Matt, that was when he wrote his first book in 2010. He wanted to reach more people with his training and realized he could do that as an author. His self-published book was a great success and opened a lot of doors for him.
(10.00) – Phil asks if the process of writing books gets easier. Matt says yes, to a certain extent it does. Things do move faster once you have created a process that works for you. He now finds it easier to start typing and get in the flow.
(10.59) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? The fact that a lot of companies are now waking up to the power of their data is exciting. There is a lot of low hanging fruit. As a result, you can make a huge difference and do so very quickly.
(12.14) – What first attracted you to a career in IT? Matt always enjoyed creating things. When he was younger, he attended a lot of art classes and thought he might end up being an artist. But, a family member encouraged him to take a programming course. Once he did, he realized that there is a lot of creativity involved in most areas of technology, including in the data science field.
(13.23) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? Matt says that he actually ignored the best piece of career advice he got. In 2004, he was advised to get a job at Google, but he didn’t.
Fortunately, he did follow another great piece of advice, when he was told you need to network, he started doing exactly that. It is hard for a lot of programmers to network, because, by nature, many of them are introverts.
In the IT world, you usually get good jobs, not because you interviewed well, but, because someone in the company knows you. So, learning to network is something everyone has to do.
(14.33) – Phil points out that effective networking does not always have to happen face to face. There are plenty of online tools you can also use. Matt says that personally, he prefers face to face networking. However, he has seen people using Twitter and LinkedIn for job hunting. In fact, he tried it once and was contacted by about 40 people, so it can work.
(15.43) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Matt is intrigued by the idea of taking the full-time, online immersive Computer Science courses offered by the Lambda School. They do not charge for their courses, at least not at first. Instead, you pay for your tuition once you get a job.
Although, he goes on to say that he enjoyed his college experience. So, if he were to start again, he would probably still opt to attend Stanford and get a degree.
His advice to someone who is just starting out would be to go and get a job at Google or somewhere similar. Work for a big company for a few years. Build up your connections and involve yourself in the community. Having a firm like Google on your resume is still something of a golden ticket.
(18.40) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? For this year, Matt’s focus is growing MetaSnake. He really enjoys spending three or four days with a group of people who are motivated and excited to learn, so wants more clients.
(19.53) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Matt likes to think of himself as creative. Fortunately, when it comes to machine learning and data exploration creativity is a great skill to have.
(20.31) – Phil asks Matt to share a final piece of career advice with the I.T. Career Energizer audience. Matt’s advice is to look at where you are now. Then think about where you want to be a year and five years down the line.
Ask yourself what you want to achieve. It could be publishing a book, speaking at conferences, or something else. Matt has found that desire and motivation have helped him to move his career forward.
(4.30) MATT – “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
(5.16) MATT – “The more I network and connect with people the more value I can bring to them and the more value they can bring to me.”
(11.46) MATT – “There is a lot of low hanging fruit that companies can take advantage of.”
(13.51) MATT – “The best career advice I have seen is to network”
(20.42) MATT – “Look hard at where you are and know where you want to be.”