Episode 165 – Become Involved in Making Things Better in Your Community with James Montemagno
James Montemagno is Phil’s guest on today’s show. He is currently a Principle Program Manager for Microsoft’s Mobile Developer Tools division. James started his career working as a gaming developer. But, he has also worked on printer software and web services.
For several years he was a Xamarin developer evangelist and is still involved in supporting those using the platform. He is also a .NET developer. James is well known for running numerous podcasts and being a prolific conference speaker.
(1.20) – I want to start by talking to you about the fact that you are a prolific podcaster. Can you please start by telling us about that? James explains that quite early in his IT career he developed a passion for public speaking.
He used to build home theatre PCs, which were also ideal for podcasting. So, he gave it a try. His experiment went really well and he realized that a podcast was a great way to have a long conversation with a friend. To make sure there is some structure to each podcast he calls his guest up about 30 minutes before the broadcast is due to start. They chat things through then go live for a further 30 minutes.
Over the years, he has started a bunch of different podcasts, including Merge Conflict. He also does a podcast with his friend Michael out of New York called Nintendo Dispatch. There is also the Xamarin podcast and he frequently does them for Microsoft too.
(2.59) – How did your interest in podcasting come about? In the beginning, it was just a technical challenge. Podcasts did not really exist, at that point in time. There was no Zencastr, no Audible, nor any podcast friendly equipment. So, he set about finding a way to make a podcast and share it. Once he figured out how to do it, he realized that he really enjoyed the podcasting process and things snowballed from there.
(4.22) Do you enjoy conference speaking too? James explains that giving conference talks was a natural progression from his podcasting. The fact he became a developer advocate helped too. Public speaking became a regular part of his work life, so he quickly became good at and really comfortable with public speaking.
A conference stage is a perfect platform for demonstrating what your tech can do for all kinds of people. Public speaking has enabled him to reach the world and tell them about the mobile development tools Microsoft has to offer.
He also did a road show with another podcaster, visiting 10 or 15 cities together in an RV. Every other day, he delivered the same material and became very comfortable with public presentations. In the end, it did not matter if he was presenting to 10 or 10,000 people, he felt comfortable doing it.
(5.59) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Two things are important. Firstly, try to do something that you love. Secondly, don’t try to change the world, early in your career. There really is no need to reinvent the wheel.
At the start of his career, James was tasked with developing an app. He was asked to do everything, including designing it to coding it and doing the UX and UI work.
At the time, he had only ever done coding. So, instead of reinventing everything he found out was already available and used as much of it as possible.
For example, he checked out the design and UX of a few of the most popular Google, Microsoft and Apple apps and used the same approach. James points out that you need to also keep an eye on what is new and roll those evolving paradigms into the design of your application.
(9.06) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. Early in his career, he moved from Phoenix to Seattle to work for a startup. He worked really hard for about 7 months on their DVR management app. At times he was putting in 70 or 80 hours a week. So, when it was released he felt a great sense of relief.
His boss told him not to read the reviews. He ignored that advice and was utterly crushed. Not all of the reviews were bad, but James was actually quite vulnerable at the time. He had just moved, was living in a tiny apartment, sleep-deprived and stressed out by the process of developing the app. As a result, reading some of the bad things that were said in the reviews tipped him over into a deep depression.
Thankfully, his manager and friends were there for him and were able to help. Now, he does not read the reviews.
(11.26) – What was your best career moment? James’ career highlight actually had nothing to do with his day job. During last year’s Seattle gift camp he did a mobile application workshop.
James was aware that a lot of the non-profits in the city would be able to use mobile apps to solve some of their issues. So, he asked them what they needed. They came back with some great ideas. He enjoyed sitting down with a bunch of different people who were totally new to mobile development and showing them how to build the apps the non-profits needed.
James was able to teach about 100 developers a new skill and solve a lot of problems for some of the city’s non-profits. They built an app for the Queensland Food Bank so that restaurants and food companies could tell them what they had available. In just 6 months they were able to collect 8 tons of food.
For James having such a significant impact on people’s lives is his greatest achievement, to date. It was made even better by the fact that not everyone in the room was a developer. There were other professionals, for example, graphic designers, who also played a part in delivering the app and training.
(14.52) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? The way in which the industry is transforming and the lines between roles are becoming blurred is exciting. People are now able to get involved in everything if they want to do so.
As a mobile developer, he is particularly excited by the sheer power of the new generation of smartphones. This combined with cloud computing is transformative. Foldable phones are also an interesting development.
What is happening with augmented and mixed reality is also exciting. It enables us to craft truly new experiences.
(17.24) – What drew you to a career in IT? James loves math. When he realized he could be a developer instead of an accountant he was so excited. He liked video games, so he started there. But, later he moved to desktop then mobile development.
(18.30) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? James credits his college instructor Phil Miller for all of his success. He taught him C++, but more importantly, he told him to “never stop learning.”
How you do it is up to you. But, for James actually doing is the best way to learn. He is always asking himself “what else can I learn?”
If the company he is working for has a training budget, he takes advantage of it. Both parties benefit when you do that. He also attends as many conferences as possible.
(20.04) – What is the worst career advice you have ever received? That advice came from his teachers. They just kept on telling him that there were only certain career paths he could follow. Fortunately, he recognized that this advice was flawed and went on to explore other ways he could use his skills to earn a living. James learned, early on, to challenge what others tell you.
(20.17) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? If he could go back in time and offer himself advice when he had just graduated, he would say – “take more risks earlier and if you don’t love your job, leave”.
For example, he spent 4 years working on printer software. He did actually enjoy it, but he should have moved on sooner. If he had been more of a risk taker he would have done so. When you see an opportunity, don’t be afraid to take it.
(21.31) – As well as career objectives, what are you currently focusing on? He is helping his partner and planning their wedding. At a career level, James is focusing on building the best community around .NET development and Xamarin for mobile developers.
(22.34) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Phil responds by saying that is being a good listener and speaker. It is important to allow others to speak, something a lot of people forget to do. His communications skills have defiantly helped him to grow his career faster.
(23.50) – What do you do to keep your own IT career energized? James loves tinkering with the little gadgets that come out. Currently, he is fascinated by what some of his friends are doing with Arduino and Raspberry Pi.
(24.43) – What do you do in your spare time away from technology? James and his partner Heather love to travel. They enjoy getting to spend time together experiencing different cultures.
When he is at home, he loves to cycle. He is also a big coffee fan. So much so that he roasts and grinds his own beans.
(26.37) – Phil asks James to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. This is the same advice he was given – “take risks early in your career.” He also believes that it is important to stand up for what you believe in and the things you feel passionate about.
James has also been careful to do things outside of his team. At Microsoft, he has nurtured a relationship with the marketing, development and several other teams. Even if you work at a small company, you can learn a lot from the other teams.
(6.28) JAMES – “You do not need to reinvent everything. It’s okay to take what has been done and re-craft that really well.”
(13.47) JAMES – “Get active in the community to have a really positive impact”
(21.01) JAMES – “When you see an opportunity out there, don’t feel like you shouldn’t take that leap.”
(26.48) JAMES – “Stand up for what you believe in and what you’re passionate about.”
(27.37) JAMES – “Even at a small company you can learn from the other teams.”