Episode 86 – Growing and Progressing as a Developer and a Person with C# Legend Jon Skeet
In this episode Phil interviews Jon Skeet who is a senior software engineer for Google. He is the author behind C# in Depth, a book that made him something of a C# legend. Jon is also a well-known Stack Overflow contributor who has a reputation for providing descriptive answers that solve the toughest challenges. Some go as far as calling him “the Chuck Norris of programming”.
(1.00) – So Jon, can you expand on that summary and tell us a little bit more about yourself? In response, Jon explains that he is a big fan of working from home. So, he does not spend very much time at Google’s London headquarters. Instead he works out of a high tech, air-conditioned shed, complete with an ice-cream maker and surround-sound. Jon is a feminist, a Methodist and a local preacher who has a passion for musical theatre.
(2.03) – Phil asks Jon for a unique IT career tip, something the audience should know. Jon replies that it is important to remember that “you will make far quicker progress in the long run, if you take one step at a time. Work through the problem in a structured way using a language you are really familiar with. If you are learning a new language, start by doing really simple things. But, don’t be afraid to “step into the dark” to try something totally new. Just do so consciously and accept that failing, at first, is fine. You will learn a lot that way. Spend most of your time working in a familiar way and try just one new thing at a time, so that you are always making progress.
(4.14) Phil asks if Jon would describe that as a sort of incremental process. Jon said yes, “it is really don’t run before you can walk.”
(4.38) – Phil asks Jon to share his worst career moment and what he learned from it. For Jon his low-point was not directly related to coding or a technical issue. He was working on a product launch with a looming deadline. As a result, he ended up working very odd hours to get the job done. Instead of arriving at the station at his normal time of 6.45 he was getting there at about 3.30am. He was compensating a bit by going home a little earlier than normal but he was actually working long hours. Plus, even though he was going to bed earlier he was not sleeping well. People were telling him he did not look well, so he was clearly stretched. But, he carried on working that way, until one morning he was mugged. The mugging probably would not have happened if there were more people around. Being mugged stopped Jon in his tracks and he realized that he needed to take more care of himself. He decided to stop putting in a lot of hours at the wrong times of the day. He no longer pushed himself so hard or let others do it to him. Jon realized that he had to take care of himself.
(7.18) – Phil wants to know what Jon’s best career moment was. Jon starts by explaining that he is proud of helping thousands of people and being at the top of Stack Overflow as well as his book and software. But, his career highlights have come while talking with other people. For example, in June, Jon spent several days talking with and teaching alongside a lead designer on C#. During that collaboration he learned a huge amount about why C# is designed the way it is. Talking and working with others teaches him a lot and is very fulfilling.
(9.18) – Phil asks what excites Jon about the future of IT. To some extent for Jon it is how little we know about it. “We are now in an age where when you go to university half of the jobs the student take up don’t exist yet.” The fact that we cannot really tell what tech is going to look like in 10 years time is exciting. Potentially, a whole area that nobody is even considering now could easily come to the fore.
(10.56) – What drew you to a career in IT, Jon? From the age of 8 Jon played games on a ZX Spectrum 48K. Eventually, he started programming on the Spectrum. In one early project, he created a logo interpreter. He was motivated to do so because the BBC microcomputer at school had one. His innocence meant that he did not know that you could not implement the code yourself. So, he did not see that so-called impossible barrier. As a result, he just kept working at it until he got it done. By age 9 or 10 he was in love with programming.
(12.32) – What is the best career advice you were given? “Be good at one thing” – make sure that there is one thing that you are really comfortable in. It is good to have several strings to your bow. But, be the go-to person for at least one topic or discipline.
(13.36) – If you were to start your IT career again, what would you do? Jon said that because things are changing so quickly he has no idea. It would depend on what would hook him. “I am a big fan of doing something that you are interested in for whatever reason you’re interested.” He explained why this is so important using an example. Someone could be inspired to help out in a soup kitchen and while there wonder if they can automate the rota. That leads to working out what the best way to organize it is. This in turn leads to them falling into all kinds of optimization things. Suddenly, you are having fun developing and optimizing things and you become an inspired developer.
(15.29) – Phil asks Jon what career objectives Jon currently focusing on. Jon’s response is “Having a good time.” He has never chased money or power. Instead, he has chased having a good life. Right now, he enjoys writing in C#. Jon also relishes the fact that he can work from home and spend plenty of time with his family, which he loves doing.
(16.52) – What is your most important non-technical skill? Jon’s short answer is “empathy and compassion”. We have done a great job of solving the problems of straight white men, because that is the demographic of most software developers. That needs to change. We need to solve the problems of the people that are not represented in the software community. Jon is finding that being a novice feminist is changing the way he works. Feminism is all about seeing things from multiple perspectives. It teaches you that people’s problems and challenges are different, so they need to be answered and solved in different ways.
(18.24) – Phil asks Jon to share some final career advice. Jon’s reply is– “really just focus on your life, think about what is genuinely important to you and pursue that.” That might mean switching from IT to solving an environmental issue you believe you can solve. If you think you can make a difference, just do it. You only have one life.
(2.20) JON – “You will make far quicker progress in the long run, if you take one step at a time.”
(2.55) JON – “If you are learning a new language, start with really simple things, just so that you feel familiar in the language,”
(6.59) JON – “I was just putting in lots of hours and the wrong hours, and you’ve got to take care of yourself, basically.”
(9.20) JON – “It’s really the people I’ve worked with that have provided the highlights rather than the code I’ve written.”
(13.42) JON – “Have a balance between knowing plenty of things to just as much as you need, but have one thing that you’re the expert on.”
(17.32) JON – “The ability to look at the world from other people’s perspectives is absolutely crucial for software.”
CONTACT JON SKEET:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jonskeet @jonskeet