In a recent blog post, Scott Hanselman writes about a topic that I have always felt strongly about – honoring those who have helped us in our lives. He writes about how he got to where he is now, noting that if it were not for the help of his parents and some teachers, his life might be quite different. He suggests that we do the same, blogging about how we got to where we are. And he mentions Paying It forward.
I’ve always like the concept of Pay It Forward. This can mean different things to different people. But here is how it fits into my career…
As a kid, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Some people seemed to know right away what they wanted to do for a living and that always frustrated me. I guess around junior year in high school we start looking into colleges. Time to pick a school, a major, and possibly a career that we’ll have for the rest of our lives. I had no idea what to do. I wasn’t a great student in the first place. I spoke to some friends and family and decided that Communications seemed like a good major.
Through college I worked at a movie theatre and decided that I wanted to put my degree in Communications to work in the film industry (distribution, not production). It took a while but a few years after college I got a break and was off to work at Sony Pictures Releasing (at the time called Triumph Releasing).
I was always interested in computers and programming but didn’t have a head for all of the math back in high school or college. But at work I looked for ways to get involved with technology and I liked it more and more. I worked with Spreadsheets, Access Databases, helped with Operating System issues…whatever I could do to get some kind of experience. I was loving technology. I taught myself about Access databases, the best I could do on my PC with no programming experience, and wrote some cool programs using VBA. I couldn’t have done it without the help of friends. In particular, my friend Marc spent a lot of time explaining stuff like programming and database normalization to me. He often jokes how we’d sit on the beach and he’d be checking out the girls but I kept asking him about problems with the programs I was writing! I guess my inner geek had been released. But Marc always made time to help me. And he encouraged me too. While I was having fun with programming, he seemed to think I had some real abilities and encouraged me to change careers. Other people helped too. My friend Doug had a lot of experience with Access DB’s. I emailed him with some questions and he went above and beyond and really helped me with the programs I was writing. I was really surprised at the amount of time and support he gave me. People, some that I didn’t know very well, went out of their way to help me learn and they got nothing in return. It was very generous.
Fast forward to around mid 2002. I had been working as a programmer for a few years doing Java, JSP, PL/SQL, etc and had been hearing about Microsoft .Net. It sounded really good to me. I started reading some books and took on a side project. Marc suggested that I check out Philly.Net telling me that I could learn a lot at the meetings. At my first meeting I was lost. Some guy was talking about a bunch of stuff that was way over my head. And then it happened. As a side note, sort of unrelated to what he was really doing, the presenter said “oh by the way, did you know you could do this…”. The “this” that followed was something I had been struggling with for weeks. My problem was solved with a 30 second comment that wasn’t even related to the presentation! From there I was hooked on Philly.Net. I attended many great presentations and picked up a lot of knowledge. If it were not for Bill running Philly.Net, and all of the presenters who shared their expertise, I would not have progressed as quickly with my career.
A few years later, Bill Wolff started asking for help with Philly.Net. I volunteered and now I am pretty involved with helping Bill run the group. I’m often asked why I put so much time and effort into our community. I see it as Paying It Forward. Many people have helped me a long the way with my career. Some directly, some indirectly. Now I get a chance to help other people with their careers. I’ve mentored several people in .Net and I put a lot of effort into making sure that the Philadelphia .Net Community is strong so that people can learn and share information. Now I realize that the people who helped me did in fact get something in return. They got the pride and satisfaction that comes from helping other people. It’s a nice feeling.