Episode 164 – Learn to Broaden Your Horizons and Become a Good Communicator with Reid Evans
Phil’s guest on today’s show is a functional programming advocate called Reid Evans. He started his IT career 15 years ago, working mainly in software support. Since then he has moved on and worked as a development lead, a project manager and systems analyst.
Today is a senior consultant for ResultStack. In 2017, he co-founded Functional Knox Inc. and is currently the president. The group supports a network of functional programmers by organizing meetups and via an annual conference.
(1.07) – So firstly, I wanted to pick up with you could you perhaps tell us a little bit about the Knoxville functional programmers group and what your involvement was with setting it up? Reid explains they have been operating as a hangout for 3 or 4 years. But, in 2018, they hosted their first conference, which was a great success. The 2019 conference was even bigger and even more successful with speakers traveling in from all over the US.
(2.02) – Is this an annual event and why did you decide to set it up? Reid responds by explaining that both himself and the co-founder of the group Cameron Presley had been speaking at conferences for a while. They enjoyed doing it but found that they had to keep things fairly rudimentary to deal with the fact the audience had mixed skills.
Both of them felt it would be beneficial to deliver talks that went a bit beyond the basics. So, they decided to address that gap and start their own group and conference. They wanted a place where people could come together and discuss things that were slightly outside of the mainstream.
(3.38) – So, are you planning future events? Reid says yes, for sure. There is a lot of demand for this kind of conference. So, they will be arranging more.
But, these events are not just for speakers with decades of experience. This year, 2 of the speakers had only just completed boot camp. It is clearly a form of education that works because they had a similar level of knowledge as someone who had been programming for years would have.
Something Reid finds very encouraging. Becoming a programmer is now far more attainable.
New people have not had to learn how to follow the traditional object-oriented way of working. Instead, they have gone straight into functional programming and been able to learn quickly because they have not had to unlearn other ways of working.
(6.00) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Reid’s advice is not to let people put you into a singular box. You need to expand your horizons and learn more than one thing. If you do not, you stagnate and it is really easy for someone to replace you with another programmer who has more or less the same skill set as you.
If you can move a JIRA ticket across the board, don’t stop there. Learn some design and UX patterns too.
He also points out that becoming a good communicator is a good way to progress your career. It is something that sets you apart.
(7.06) – Is this something you have done yourself? Reid explains that his path into development was an unusual one. For a while, he was technically a vice president of a small software support company. In that role, he started to do a bit of software writing.
When he started programming, he was shocked to find that he was expected to simply take the ticket and move it across the board. Adding anything or making suggestions to improve things was generally not welcome. Basically, his bosses did not want him asking questions.
Now, he works as a consultant he gets to go in and actively ask questions. It is the only way to find out what the problems actually are. Reid believes that without knowing why you are doing something it is all easy to get cynical about anything you are developing. When you feel like that you do not do good work.
(8.44) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. That happened when Reid joined a team that had already been working on a huge project, for 10 years. It was massive. Reid, along with everyone else, spent months in a little cubical blindly creating their bits of code.
Finally, it was delivered to the customer. Unsurprisingly, it was a total disaster.
Basically, they ended up delivering a system that offered the customer virtually nothing new. The old system did everything the new system did.
Worse, the new system took much longer to carry out each process than the old one did. It was stuffed full of needless code.
At some point, people had got it into their heads that they could not ask questions. As a result, the project had drifted badly off course. When it comes to software design, you need to be able to ask the right questions to make sure you build the right solution.
(11.27) – What was your best career moment? Reid could not nail down a specific highlight. But, he explains that he finds working with and helping others to be incredibly fulfilling. It feels great to be able to get someone who has been stuck for ages, unstuck.
It is these micro wins that keep Reid engaged and happy working in the industry. In those situations, you have much more control than when you are working on some huge project. You can see that you have made a positive difference.
(13.08) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? Reid is very excited by the fact that functional programming opens up the opportunity for new developers to make a big impact at a very early stage in their careers. It is great to see enthusiastic new developers being inspired by the work they are doing.
The fact that there are so many new languages emerging is also exciting. With so much choice, it is possible to quickly find a solution to practically any issue.
Developers just need to be willing to let go and move on to something new, when the need arises. They should never let a single language define them.
Fortunately, the more languages you learn the easier it becomes to learn the next one.
Each new one you learn gets you thinking in a slightly different way. This makes you a much better programmer and improves your ability to find your way through any coding challenge.
(15.53) – What first attracted you to a career in IT? Reid was at music school and working as a cook. But, he wanted to quit. When he told his dad this, he invited him to work for him answering the phones at his software firm. Reid agreed and discovered that he loved the IT world.
(16.36) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? That is – “don’t seek feedback from someone you wouldn’t ask their advice? Reid wishes he had been told that early in his career. He feels he would have got a lot further if he had.
(17.04) – Conversely, what is the worst career advice you’ve ever received? Someone once told Reid to follow the money and not worry about what type of work he was doing. The rationale was that there is plenty of time to enjoy yourself after work.
In reality, that is terrible advice. It is all too easy to end up spending a significant percentage of your week doing something that makes you miserable. You need to find a job that pays enough, but, you also have to enjoy doing it.
(18.31) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Reid would put himself through a boot camp. This despite the fact he has a bachelor’s degree.
The environment in a good boot camp is great. You are surrounded by people striving to do the same as you. Plus, more importantly, the boot camp staff are highly motivated to help you to find a job.
Following the boot camp route gets you out there really fast. The best way to learn anything is to do it rather than spend 4 years learning with relatively little doing.
(19.29) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? Reid says he loves helping people, so that is one of his focuses. His consulting work and FunctionalKnox role both feed into this objective.
But, he is also moving into being a consultant for other consultants. He is having a great time doing that.
(20.15) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you in your IT career? Reid jokes that is his superpower of asking dumb questions. Phil responds by saying there are no dumb questions, which Reid agrees with.
Reid goes on to say that he has asked so many dumb questions in his life that he is no longer afraid of looking silly. As a consultant, one of his roles is asking questions.
He has learned to preface them by saying – “this may be a dumb question, but…” He finds that this helps people to understand that he is asking questions to seek understanding, not as a way to quietly challenge them.
(22.30) – What do you do to keep your own IT career energized? Attending conferences and speaking to other programmers both keep him energized. Talking about things you are passionate about always feels great regardless of the platform you do it from.
(23.02) – What do you do in your spare time away from technology? Reid says that he spends a lot of time with his family and also enjoys running and cycling. He describes himself as a suboptimal triathlete. Physical exercise enables him to unburden his mind, so he can start each workday feeling good and able to look at things from a fresh perspective.
Running is particularly good for this. On a tempo run, after about 20 minutes he is able to switch off to the point where all he is thinking about is putting one foot in front of another one.
(24.41) – Phil asks Reid to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Reid’s advice is to find a place where you are respected. He goes on to point out that the easiest way to gain respect is to give it. When you do that your working relationships become a lot easier.
(2.46) REID – “We wanted a place where people could come together and share ideas that were maybe slightly outside of the mainstream.”
(6.25) REID – “If you let people put you in a box, they will gladly do so.”
(10.44) REID – “You need to be able to ask the right questions to make sure you build the right solution.”
(15.03) REID – “The more languages you learn, the easier it is to learn the next one.”
(16.47) REID – “Don’t seek feedback from someone you wouldn’t ask for advice?”
(20.24) PHIL – “There are no dumb questions.”