Episode 151 – You Must Listen and Understand Before Building Solutions with Beau Simensen
Phil’s guest on today’s show is Beau Simensen who is currently working as a freelance Strategy Consultant. His main professional language is PHP, but he is actually a polyglot programmer.
Beau is well known for being the host of the Astrocasts podcast and the co-host of the That podcast. He is also an experienced conference speaker and a serving Core Committee member for the PHP Framework Interoperability Group.
Since 2012, he has been an active member of the Open Soured community. Beau is the creator Sculpin and played an important role in creating Stack PHP.
(00.48) – So Beau, can I ask you to expand on that brief intro and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Beau explains that since 2012 he has been involved with the PHP community and working on open source projects. During that time he has spoken at many conferences and had a lot of fun doing so. PHP is his main professional language and Dev Ops his field.
(1.49) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Beau wishes he had found people who encouraged and pushed him at an earlier stage in his career. Before 2012, he was basically working alone without any outside validation, guidance or encouragement. At times it was hard going.
(2.31) – How would you encourage other people to go about doing that? There are lots of ways to do it but attending conferences and meetups is a particularly good approach. On occasion, co-workers will also be able to help out. But generally speaking people who you do not work directly with will be able to help you more effectively.
(3.10) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. Before he started programming, Beau worked for an ISP in a relatively big town in North Dakota. He was trying to solve a problem, possibly trying to stop a zombie process. Using some documentation he had found Beau ended up typing kill space dash one into the system. Unfortunately, he did that. At which point the entire bank of 100 modems went completely silent. His heart sank; he knew he had just crashed the entire system.
It was a tough way to be reminded that actions have consequences. You have to be 100% sure you know what you are doing before taking action, especially when you are going to impact other people’s lives so much.
(5.05) – What was your best career moment? For Beau that was the demo he did at wearables Dev Con in 2014. At the time he was involved in a project that was developing sensors in shoes. They wanted to integrate their sensors with Google Glass.
That meant getting them to speak to each other via Bluetooth. But, the Bluetooth connection didn’t have the necessary networking stack to do so. You couldn’t actually get to an IP address. But, in the end, Beau did manage to figure things out and tether them together.
He was sitting in the Google Glass meetup at the conference and on the spot decided to put together a short presentation about this little project. He spent just 15 minutes putting it together. Naturally, he was nervous, but he still delivered his demo and presentation. For a change, the demo actually worked and he was very well received, which felt great. It was a real career highlight for Beau.
(7.48) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? The fact that there is always stuff Beau does not know is something he finds exciting about the industry. He loves the fact he is constantly learning new things.
Beau is especially excited to hear about new developers putting together amazing things simply by mashing their own code with existing stuff. In under a year, some people are already capable of creating great things.
For example, the person who has just put together an American Sign Language translator. They have just made it possible to play a video and have it translated and visually signed for the user. All of this without the program having to understand what the content is about, to begin with.
(9.19) – Are there any particular technologies that are of interest to you? Beau explains that he is getting to a point where he is not as curious about the technologies anymore. He is more interested in everything else that goes around it, more the business side of things.
Beau really likes figuring out what kind of outcomes people are looking for. Whether the solution is built using Rails, PHP or Node JS is not that important. What matters is that the outcome is right for the end users. Finding different ways to deploy code is what he is focused on, right now.
(11.26) – What drew you to a career in IT? The fact that he could make money doing something that he loved is why Beau chose a career in IT. He had loved all things tech as a kid.
His parents were very supportive of this, so he got deeply involved in HTML, deploying dial-up networks, all kinds of things. So, he knew he loved this sort of thing and was very happy to learn that he could make money doing it.
(12.15) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? For Beau it was not advice as such.
A friend of his once said to him who do you validate your ideas with? Beau realized he did not really have an answer for him.
That conversation highlighted a blind spot for Beau. Within a year he had changed his approach. Now he asks others what they think and test what he is doing and where he is going a lot more.
(13.06) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Beau says that he feels like he is starting over again, pretty frequently. His work as a freelance consultant means he is always doing something new, often, starting from scratch.
If he were to start his career again he would still want to end up doing the same thing. But, he would probably get involved with the community, at an earlier stage.
(13.37) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? Right now, Beau is trying to gain a better understanding of the type of projects he wants to work on.
When you are a freelancer it is all too easy to just grab whatever comes along. That is OK, but, at some stage you need to pause and start chasing the work that really interests you.
(14.29) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Beau feels that listening is his best non-technical skill. It is certainly one he has been trying to develop more lately.
Most programmers have a tendency not to want to spend a lot of time talking. They want someone to tell them what to do, then leave them alone while they do it. Beau is working to get away from being like that. He likes to sit down with people and help them to figure out what it is that they want. This is the best way to be sure that you are building the right thing.
You need to be able to understand the underlying problem that they are trying to solve. If you do not do that you are going to end up building something that is nearly right, but not quite. Or worse, something that is nothing like what they want.
Phil says that is certainly what used to happen with the traditional delivery approaches.
(16.12) – Phil asks Beau to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Get connected is the most important piece of IT career advice Beau wants to share.
Having peers and mentors you can bounce things off is hugely beneficial. They do not necessarily have to be actively looking at your code to be able to help you a great deal. Other people provide you with a fresh and different perspective, which makes it easier for you to keep moving in the right direction.
(2.29) BEAU – “I wish I’d learned earlier on how to find people that encourage and push me,”
(4.08) BEAU – “Actions have consequences so make sure you don’t try to do things you aren’t 100% sure about”
(8.16) BEAU – “Every day I’m hearing about something new or interesting”
(14.43) BEAU – “Listening is one of those skills where you can think that you’re doing really well at it. Until you find out that you aren’t. ”
(16.20) BEAU – “Find peers and mentors, they do not have to be actively looking at your code to be able to help you.”