Episode 183 – Communicate Clearly and Concisely to Create Applications That Break the Mould with Heidi Waterhouse
Phil’s guest on his IT Career Energizer podcast, today, is Heidi Waterhouse. She is an accomplished technical writer. Heidi has a talent for quickly understanding complex systems and creating clear and concise documentation.
Heidi is also a well known public speaker and blogger. She has delivered talks at 40+ conferences, across three continents.
Currently, she is working for LaunchDarkly as a Senior Developer Advocate. Her role there involves listening to current and potential clients to understand their needs and help the development team to meet and exceed them.
(00.37) – Can you perhaps tell us a little bit of why you got into public speaking blogging and technical writing as well? Heidi explains that it kind of happened by accident.
While at university, she got mononucleosis and had to spend a semester at home. During her recovery, she was given a musical optical character recognition project to work on. She enjoyed the work so much that she wrote up a set of instructions. She wanted to make sure that others could make the magic happen and enjoy using the system to the extent she had.
Heidi enjoyed doing that so much that, when she returned to university she changed her degree to technical writing.
When she started working independently she got into public speaking. At first, because it was an effective way of promoting what she had to offer. She helped audiences to see that hiring a technical writer makes a lot of sense. In the end, it is far cheaper than paying an engineer to do it. They don’t really know how to tackle the task, so it takes them longer and the results are never good.
(3.22) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Heidi’s biggest tip is that there is no such thing as a soft skill. All skills matter and are useful, especially people skills.
Being able to get along with your co-workers and relate to your customers is just as important as quantifiable skills are. If you can’t do those things your career will stall.
The same is true of communication skills. It does not matter how good a developer you are if you can’t explain why you deserve funding for an important project you won’t get it without the ability to communicate.
(5.00) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? Heidi has been fairly lucky in her career. But, she remembers not being able to get the Microsoft Security Bulletin (Patch Tuesday Bulletin) to compile. She could not leave it half done or deliver it late. But, it just would not compile. In the end, using git-bisect she was able to find the error in the XML. It was a stressful moment, there was no way she could not publish a document like that on time. Fortunately, she was able to get it done, but it was a close call.
(6.44) – What was your best career moment? Heidi says that she feels like she keeps experiencing that best moment. Every time she gets on stage and speaks. She really enjoys getting people to think about things in a different way. In particular, when members of the audience come up to her afterward and ask for help with a problem. Of course, occasionally you fail to connect. But, most of the time, you make the connection and can see that you are helping, which feels great.
(8.10) – Does the response you get from the audience vary depending on where you are in the world and who you are presenting to? Heidi says it does. For example, in the UK, fewer people approach her after the talk. Instead, she gets asked a lot of questions on Twitter. She has also noticed that Agile transformers can, as she puts it, “talk the hind legs off of a donkey”.
(9.10) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? Heidi looks forward to the day when most of the boring tasks will be automated out. She believes that the fact this is happening will lead to even more interesting and exciting IT careers.
(10.59) – What drew you to a career in IT? Hiedi was an English major in university and was planning to become an English professor. But, when she was exposed to the world of IT she was fascinated by it. When she realized she could combine both interests and have an IT career she was hooked. She loves sitting in conferences learning new things.
(11.49) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? People kept on telling her to ask for more cash. In the end, she listened and got over being shy about doing so. It was good advice.
If you do so when you are offered the job, people readily agreed. They have already slotted you into their organization in their minds, so do not want you to slip through their fingers.
(12.47) – Conversely, what is the worst career advice you’ve ever received? Someone once told Heidi not to do more than was absolutely necessary to get the job done. That was terrible advice. Heidi does not think you should kill yourself for a job. But, it is important to do a good job and take every opportunity you have to explore and learn.
(13.56) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Heidi says that she would probably get into developer advocacy as soon as possible. For her personally, it is an ideal fit.
She loves the fact that the role enables her to go out there and help people to find solutions to their problems without having to behave like a salesperson. It is always interesting to learn about the pain points of end users and take them back to the development team. She is endlessly surprised by the different and innovative ways users use the software and tools she shares with them.
(15.00) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? This year, Heidi is looking forward to her keynote at Velocity, this November.
Her other goal is to mentor and help more people, this year. She strongly believes that once you start to progress up the ladder, you should reach back and help others to follow you.
(15.58) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Being able to condense anything down into its essentials is a skill that has helped Heidi a great deal. She believes that if you can’t explain something to the proverbial five-year-old, you have probably not understood it properly.
(16.30) – What do you do to keep your own IT career energized? Going out and seeing how others do things, keeps Heidi energized. For example, she will attend talks on subjects she is not familiar with just to see how others do their presentations. Doing this keeps her fresh and enables her to pick up new ways of doing things.
It also keeps her in touch with upcoming technologies. Right now, she is super interested in GraphQL, despite the fact that the company she is working for does not use it.
(17.29) – What do you do in your spare time away from technology? Heidi is still working on developing interests outside of technology. For example, she has started to sew the dresses she wears for her conference speeches.
(18.11) – Phil asks Heidi to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. It is important to remember that your career is not your job.
If you are not getting what you need out of the job you are doing, leave. Find another that does engage you and enable you to carry on learning.
Things have changed from your parent’s days. Your company is not your family. If they had to make a choice between you and making more money, they will usually choose the latter.
(3.37) HEIDI – “There are no soft skills, just difficult skills that have to do with people.”
(13.22) HEIDI – “Don’t be afraid to do more. If you’re doing something interesting you will be learning something.”
(15.52) HEIDI – “The minute you climb up the ladder, you need to reach back down to help somebody else up.”
(16.15) HEIDI – “If you can’t explain it to the proverbial five-year-old, you probably don’t really understand it.”
(18.15) HEIDI – “If you are not getting what you need out of a particular job, save your career, and leave.”