Episode 66 – Stay Creative and Step Outside Your Comfort Zone with Shawn Rakowski
Shawn Rakowski is a seasoned software developer with Gullview Technologies out of Brainerd Minnesota, where he specializes in delivering full stack .NET solutions. Shawn is also a husband, father, conference speaker, blogger, former podcaster, aspiring entrepreneur, and game dev hobbyist.
In this episode, Shawn explains the value of taking time for personal creative projects to challenge yourself and create a more diverse portfolio and skills set. Shawn also talks about the dangers of second-guessing yourself, as well as the importance of always pushing yourself to learn more and gain new experiences.
(1.31) Phil opens the interview by asking Shawn to tell the listeners a bit more about himself. Shawn says that he’s been working in software development for about a decade, generally working in e-commerce and distribution. He has been recently focusing more on speaking about game development at conferences, including Codemash this past January.
(2.37) Phil then asks Shawn for a “unique career tip,” to which Shawn responds with the advice that anyone doing software development should make a point to spend time developing games or other side projects. He explains that games, in particular, are very useful for teaching developers new ways to learn and adapt and that they can be combined with different disciplines like music, art, physics or math.
(4.08) Shawn goes on to illustrate how games also provide a tangible product for developers to add to their portfolios. Shawn also tells Phil about “game jam” events where the participants have to build a game in just a couple days. Game jam events are useful because the time constraints force you to be creative, and there’s usually a prompt to follow, which solves the problem of not being able to come up with an idea.
(5.41) Phil notes that game development seems like it would make you think differently about problems and solutions, and Shawn agrees that game dev offers complexities that you would not typically encounter in your regular IT or developer day job. Because of this, devoting time to game dev can also help you challenge yourself and make you a better developer overall.
(7.28) Phil asks Shawn about what he considers the worst IT moment of his career and what he learned from it. Shawn talks about working at a job where he didn’t like the culture of the office and felt like he didn’t fit. While he did leave that job for a remote one, he was convinced to come back on the grounds that management had changed and things were better, only to find that this was not the case. Shawn says the main thing he learned was to trust his feelings and to move on and don’t look back rather than stay unhappy at a bad job that might change.
(11.00) Phil changes gears and asks Shawn to share any highlights of his IT career. Shawn relates a story about how he developed his first indie game for Xbox Live and that, while it did not make him much money and was “kind of a terrible game, creating it pushed him to learn command patterns, object-oriented programming, C# (Sharp), and .NET. Now he works with .NET for a living and owes it to developing that terrible Xbox Live game.
(14.47) Phil and Shawn discuss the future of IT, with Shawn mentioning the book Developer Hegemony by Erik Dietrich, positing that we are moving more towards independent IT and development firms with small, specialized teams that can be brought into major organizations to solve problems.
(16.7) Phil starts the “Real Round,” asking Shawn what got him into IT. According to Shawn, LAN parties were his first introduction to computer technology but that he was actually going to school for a philosophy degree before falling in love with computer science.
(17.49) Next Phil asks Shawn for the best career advice he’s ever received. Shawn says it wasn’t just career advice but life advice from a guest on his podcast who recommended he look into meditation and mindfulness as a way to handle the feelings stress and frustration at being stuck at his old job. Learning to be more conscious of his feelings and rationalize them has improved his mindset when it comes to both work and life.
(19.41) Shawn tells Phil that if he were starting his IT career now, he would skip college and jump straight into programming and learning on the job. Shawn also mentions that he would make it a point to look into functional programming, stating that it’s a better way to compose software and that, as it is on the far end of the adoption curve, now is the best time to become familiar with it.
(22.22) On the subject of the most helpful nontechnical skill to have, Shawn says that it’s being fearless about stepping outside your comfort zone in regards to things like public speaking, podcasting, and not stopping yourself because you’re worried you’ll make a mistake or that someone is better than you. Shawn and Phil both emphasize the value of new experiences.
(23.24) Finally, Phil asks Shawn for some parting advice for a career in IT, and Shawn recommends joining a “mastermind group,” which is a group of like-minded people trying to reach the same goals that regularly meet up to help hold each other accountable as well as provide support, advice, and fresh ideas. Phil agrees and says that he’s in a podcast mastermind group as well.
(3.29) Shawn: “I’ve come to find that developing games opens you up to a lot of other disciplines and artistic endeavors that you can kind of combine with software development, which is something that I think is good for the soul and can be very, very good for your career.”
(5.41) Phil: “It [game development] seems quite different in terms of the mindset of the people who do it and the way they think about solutions.”
(7.10) Shawn: “I think games are a great domain for developing because they challenge you in ways that you don’t normally get challenged at your day job.”
(10.29) Shawn: “When you find that you and a place no longer fit together, it’s best to just cut it and go forward and move on.”
(19.27) Shawn: “I’m able to capture those feelings that I’m having and those thoughts I’m having and pinpoint them and realize that they’re not exactly true and realize that I can rationalize and get over things like fear, anger, and emotions like that.”
(23.06) Phil: “It’s taking yourself out of your comfort zone, it’s new experiences, isn’t it really?”
Shawn: “Yeah, being willing to embrace those new experiences and realize that those are important and paramount to your growth and just overall to your happiness.”
Contact Shawn Rakowski