Thursday, April 26, 2012

Speak Up

I was recently listening to a podcast from Penn’s Sunday School, in which Penn Jillette, half of the brilliant and prolific magic duo Penn & Teller, was discussing how he learns with his co-host Michael Goudeau.  I’m going to be paraphrasing, here, so bear with me.  The spirit of what he said was that it’s easiest to learn when you’re outspoken

The point he made was that if you are outspoken and take a position in public, any position at all, people will invariably come out of the woodwork and tell you you’re wrong.  Even if you have the moral or factual high ground, there is someone out there that disagrees with pretty much any point of view.  And on the internet, it's a given that people are just waiting to tell you you're wrong about something.

In listening – honestly listening, not just patiently waiting to argue back – you learn more about your position, and if you’re a humble person, you may even change your opinion in the face of greater facts or more persuasive argument.  Either way, it's a way to guarantee you'll hear an opposing point of view.  You might also get some people arguing on your side and help you understand your own points better.

Note: changing your opinion in the face of more information isn’t flip-flopping.  It can be perceived that way, but no one knows everything.  We all make assumptions that underpin the opinions we hold.  Arguing the same position in the face of better evidence isn’t sticking to your guns, or digging in.  It’s ignorance.  Be willing to have your mind changed when you have a discussion.    Be open to the idea that the opinions you hold today are based on some pretty shaky underpinnings.

I’m a fairly big fan of Scott Hanselman.  He’s an immensely talented polyglot who currently works for Microsoft and is able to put himself publicly out there in a dozen different directions (blogging, twittering, open source projects, conference talks), all while being an active family man.  His talks can be quite inspirational, and recently I watched the one he did on productivity and information overload.  One of the things that he said resonated with me was the need for every developer to have and manage their personal brand, and maintain some kind of public life. 

I’ve heard both sides of this one.  Scott has a good description of Dark Matter developers that describes the other side of the coin pretty well.  Folks that don’t feel the need to have a public persona.  Folks that don’t want to be searchable.  Folks that aren’t worried about being found on Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other social media site.  Folks that, like dark matter, aren’t visible.

The thing about being invisible is that you’re not part of the larger conversation.  You’re living in isolation.  You are not speaking up and getting feedback.  You’re not evolving your opinions.  That’s okay for some folks, I suppose.  And for a long time it's been good enough for me.  

But not anymore.  What really changed for me was attending Codemash this year.  It's a most excellent time, and at that conference, I found myself in the company of professionals who just loved technology, and loved code.  I learned a lot from the sessions, and realized that being part of the community was really important. It made a huge difference to me.  It may be almost responsible for changing me from a dark matter developer into a community contributor.  Well, that and my recent membership in the Cult of Do.

So I'm speaking up.  This blog is part of that.  Part of my commitment to being involved in the ongoing conversation.  Please feel free to leave comments.  Please feel free to find me @kevinpdavis on twitter.  I'll keep posting here as I have new thinks.  More than anything, I'm going to allow this blog to allow folks I don't know to find me and get to know me.

There are other ways to speak up.  Actions speak louder than words, so I'm contributing as much as I can to That Conference.  This may be the first year for this new conference, but I'm positive it's going to be awesome.  Sessions will be announced in less that a week, and I am already excited about the huge variety of talks and topics we're having, including Scott Hanselman himself.

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