I realize that I haven’t blogged since November. It’s kind of strange; especially since blogging is very therapeutic for me.
Well, along with changing teams internally at NetApp and navigating the holiday season, I tried to launch a solo podcast.
Podcasts have been a key part to my life for the past year or so. I can listen to a podcast while running errands, doing chores or working out. Not only are the shows themselves valuable, but they can be much easier to consume than blog posts.
The idea of transitioning from writing to speaking began with whimsically polling with friends on social media. “Blog or podcast?” was the question… and, overwhelmingly, “podcast” was the answer.
Shock. I would have thought that “podcast” was a buzzword that would have been met with eye rolls. However, it seems that value of the shows themselves in conjunction with their consumption format resonates with a ton of people.
After a 10 minute demo, cover art design, RSS research and hammering-out ideas with some friends, I decided on starting a podcast.
The blog took a temporary backseat for the past few months, which was a healthy move. Less is more and overloading would not have been great.
All looked well leading up to launch. Narrowed down to the monologue/no-release-date format, the first episode began production. I sat in front of the microphone, notes from my Trello board on screen, and began recording.
However… I deleted that take.
Then, I deleted the next take.
After that, I spliced the next take; followed that with another take… leading the newly merged take to deletion.
This process continued for 3.5 hours, until I realized how long I’d been trying this.
“The demo went well!” “I had notes!” “Why isn’t this working?”
Then, I remembered that one of my favorite technologists, Kelsey Hightower, had been recently tweeting about starting a podcast.
With about 7 months of full-time experience, what value would a junior engineer provide to someone of that level? I’ve received great advice to “pay forward” everything learned from experienced folks, but would they have the time to talk about podcasting?
Would he respond? Maybe, maybe not, but I had to find a way to rip down this wall.
Truly stuck, I decided to reach out via Twitter DM. Even though Kelsey is an esteemed technologist, perhaps he had encountered the same issues when creating a podcast.
A Google Hangouts invite and video chat later, and I think I have a decent idea on where to go. And… that’s not just for the podcast.
Taking the time to help out a junior engineer meant a lot to me, so I wanted to share…
- some things I learned from the conversation
- conclusions from the conversation
- how the conversation evolved beyond podcasting in a vacuum
Before going into those experiences, I want to say the following. To all the junior engineers and college students out there reading this, you have the power and means to reach out to anyone in tech.
However, recognize points of privilege and the intersectional perspectives of your peers. You all hold that same power to reach out, so let’s learn more together.
Let’s back up a second though and dive the video call itself. With Kelsey’s permission, I’ll break down parts of the call and, hopefully, provide something meaningful to you.
Here’s my thirty minutes with Kelsey Hightower.
Trouble On My Mind
I explained to him why I wanted to start a podcast. Beyond what I’ve already stated in this post, part of my motivations were very similar to when I created a blog.
The ability to exfil thoughts from my mind and into writing has been extremely therapeutic. At the same time, if those thoughts and musings could teach someone else (and/or myself) something, then that would make it even better.
However, I approached my first podcast episode like my blog: attempts at clean cut opinions with heavy editing.
Yeah… This is where things went wrong.
As Kelsey pointed out, podcasts are conversations. Worrying about coming off as pretentious and saying everything perfectly misplaces what’s important.
Kelsey helped put things into perspective. You might not be expert on a subject, but you can convey how you are thinking about it. While blogs contain well-polished ideas, podcasts rely on their organic structure for entertainment, and, sometimes, educational value.
Sure, show notes are important to keep yourself from being derailed, but visualizing yourself standing in front of someone is even more important. Awesome advice for keeping you on the tracks.
I was extremely happy that he was not only willing to help me through something that was borderline emotional, but also happy that his podcast format was not too distant from mine. Without spilling too many details (so excited for his podcast by the way), Kelsey is also adopting the “no cadence”, diary-style podcast model.
Neither of us had seen too many of these, but personally… I think this could be a great format to spring up out of the podcast revolution.
Even with our unusual podcast format, he made sure to note that experiences and opinions are better than topics. If there was only one thing to takeaway here for interested podcasters, this is it.
Blog posts are, generally, very focused on the topic at hand. While that’s extremely effective for blogging, refocusing on the conversation itself is essential for podcasting.
That’s because blog posts enable the reader to imagine the voice, read at their own pace, and digest the information in their own ways. Podcasts engage the listener with pre-determined tonality, voice, and delivery.
Although I was totally on board with everything Kelsey had said so far, it was at this point in the call where we talked about how current thoughts are subject to change. That might seem rudimentary, but I wanted to dig deeper.
- How do you check your own privilege, perspectives, and not come off as pretentious? (tech or other)
- An example: how do I talk my experiences using Rust over C without years worth of industry experience writing in either language?
- Sure, you can follow the conversational format that we talked about above, but how do you present your opinions in a way that other people will enjoy?
These questions blazed through my head, and while I may not have the answers to all of them, I now have a better idea on how to approach them.
Don’t Be Superman
Above all, your perspective contributes to the global conversation and just sharing helps everyone.
This isn’t necessarily just about tech. Sure, both our podcasts are (will be) focused on tech. However, there will always be inherent privilege when talking about… well, anything!
You might begin talking about programming languages, but then branch off into code of conducts for open source repositories. Then, you might delve into local labor laws based on your experiences in tech. The line may begin to blur, depending on the subject matter.
In another scenario, you might begin talking about those same programming languages, hold an unpopular opinion on some of them, and factor in your years of industry experience into the discussion.
You might feel pressure to “say exactly the right thing” in these scenarios, but do not take that upon yourself!
Kelsey helped me realize that you don’t have to figure out if you’re entirely right or wrong with your opinions. While no one can invalidate your perspective, you need to balance that with recognizing that you cannot possibly experience someone else’s perspective. That might be difficult to envision, so let’s go over an example.
Beyond just talking about code and tech, sometimes being an “ally” (using the corporatized version of the word) and “actively trying to help” folks from underrepresented groups may actually do more damage than good.
For instance, I will never truly understand what it is like to experience “Blackness”, so I should not dictate how anyone who experiences “Blackness” needs to be helped in tech.
Empathizing with another person’s experience is the first step in being an “ally”. All of these things come to play and intersectionality is key, regardless of topic.
The point is that we will never have the perspective from folks of varying identities and experiences, but we do have the power to share our own points of view while recognizing our own points of privilege.
Regurgitating talking points from topics add to the noise. Your point of view adds value, so don’t be afraid to share it!
If and when I decide to try podcasting again, Kelsey helped me think about how I articulate my own perspective and thoughts.
I’m Holding Out For A Hero
“You have the power and means to reach out.” I said that earlier, but it’s time to expand on that.
As I thanked Kelsey for his time and care for a random junior engineer on Twitter, he made it a point to thank me for reaching out.
I was taken aback, admittedly. I used up someone’s time, right? Actually, no. No, I did not.
Giving back, and paying it forward are important things to Kelsey. As we wrapped up, I began to understand why.
It’s difficult for a junior engineer to give back to their senior engineer(s). You learn a lot from your mentors, they help you navigate your career, and they help you grow as a person.
So what’s the next best thing? Helping the next junior engineer. And, uh, that’s what I am doing with this blog post… at least, I’m trying to.
Kelsey made it clear that junior engineers should not be afraid of their own power. You should take that step to ask for that one conversation when you need it.
I almost pushed back because I thought that might not work for everyone. Well, I hesitated and realized that in the context of aspiring engineers on Twitter, we do all have that power to reach out.
If you are afraid of not having anything to offer your favorite technologists or industry folks, you can always pay it forward. While I’ll give a fellow alum, Alex Lyons, credit for teaching me that, this conservation with Kelsey really made it come to light.
I cannot thank Kelsey enough for this video call. Even if I do not try podcasting again (leaning on trying it again soon), the points I’ve taken away have helped me look at my day-to-day interactions, tech talks, presentations and more.
Oh wait! I almost forgot. It wouldn’t be blog post from me without spicy hot takes while you’re here.
Ahem… clears throat… microVMs are the future, monolithic applications will take over once again, and Redox OS will take over the world. Have at it Reddit!