On becoming an author

So it’s 2017 and I’m creating a blog. I’ve written personal blog posts before, but they weren’t technical in nature (and were a very rough attempt at comedy, to be honest). They were also great learning experiences. To steal one of my favorite John Allspaw quips, “Comedy is about taking risks”.

 

Taking risks is a good way of intro-ing this post too, but I won’t belabor the news. I’m in the process of writing a book! It’s exciting and scary and carries this impending doom alongside it. Definitely a new experience for me, but one in which I’m feeling passionate about. I’ve got 15+ years of software engineering experience and the only thing I’m certain of is that once you level up in your career, you should turn around and giving others a helping hand to do the same. In fact, that’s exactly how you level up, but I won’t get ahead of myself. I’m working on a book with insights into practical advice for engineers who are interviewing. It’s primarily focused on those who are new to the industry, but there is value to those who may be a bit rusty and want to polish up some of their skills.

 

There are certainly collections of books out there that cover interviews, fielding sample questions and detailing company specific practices. Those are good and if you’re currently on the job hunt, they’d be good places to start. Software engineering isn’t just writing code and handing it off, with headphones to drown everyone out and your chair in place from morning to quitting time. It’s more than memorizing how to sort a list or writing out FizzBuzz on a whiteboard. In fact, many parts of interviews don’t directly translate to real world experience. I’ve never had to do a mergesort beyond an interview scope in my entire career. There are topics that would be great if we did help promote for engineers going into interviews, though, skills critical to doing well with potential colleagues that can also carry over to every day work.

  • Wouldn’t it be great if we addressed burnout before you start actually burning out? There are many folks who are either coming out of a job with the baggage from being worn out from their previous employment or are unaware of it and won’t have the tools to manage it heading into their next job. It’s tough to nail an interview if you’re stressed out from your last gig or you’re underprepared for understanding acceptable workloads.
  • What if engineers could properly assess their abilities without falling into the traps of impostor syndrome? Walking into an interview thinking “I don’t know anything, I’m going to bomb this” is an awful hard hill to climb, one that can often sabotage what otherwise could be a great conversation.
  • How does one’s prospects in applying for a job change when you’re coming from a background with a formalized education vs. a non-formalized one? Am I “less” of an engineer because I didn’t go to college, or I majored in writing, or I am changing careers later in life? Spoiler – the answer is a resounding “no”. You still have a ton of value, skills that are desperately needed in tech.
  • What does applying for a job look like if you’re searching for full time employment vs contract? How might I go about looking for companies in need for a short term contract employee? What are the pros and cons between the two?
  • How does the structure of the interview differ if you’re applying for a position as an developer vs. an ops engineer? As a QA engineer? A DBA? There are many more positions in tech that go way beyond being able to write code.

 

These are only a few of the ideas I’ve been putting together. I’m a first time author, so I’m guessing the process will be shaky and fraught with peril that more seasoned writers have known how to navigate. I’m supremely lucky to have been given buckets of advice from those vets that I’m equally lucky to call friends. Struggling a bit on my own in some of this will also be good for me. It’s just another way we learn. I’ll fail in ways big and small as I go, but what I do know is that there’s a good body of info to build from. I’ve got just under 50 pages put together, with another 5-10 of notes, written over the course of the last 3 months. Despite all the doubts that creep up, I know I’ve got something there.

 

I’m going to being using this blog to test the waters on some of this material for the book. I’m a good engineer, but there are better (for some arbitrary, vague definition of “better” that I’m going to hand wave my way past) engineers out there with more insight, experiences, whatever you want to call it. For those who’d care to share that knowledge, I’d love to hear about that in the comments section. We’ll see if I come to regret that at some point in the future. There’s also the potential of someone “stealing” these ideas (as if they were mine to decide what to do with). I’m strangely ok with that as well. If someone takes this as inspiration and writes something better than me, we’re all the better for it. I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes: “Rising tides raise all ships”.

 

My goal is to help others, one way or another. I want to be a catalyst for growth, whatever form that may take.

 

Lastly, I don’t have a publisher or any formalized path for producing this. I’m also strangely not concerned with this very much. I’ve got what I think is an important kernel of truth to share – that preparing for interviews should be more than rote memorization but preparation for your career. I want folks to come into an interview with skills that make them better engineers, such that the interview is almost a side effect. They’re well rounded engineers, ones ready to do good. If a publisher is available to help me share this, that’s great. I’d love to put this in the hands of as many as I can. If not, and I self publish, all the same I’ll be glad to do what good I can.

 

I’m writing this on my last day of sabbatical, having been given the chance to decompress from work for a while thanks to Etsy’s generous policy. I’m still working at Etsy, so this book will be put together during nights and weekends. That’s another challenge to overcome. It’ll be particularly interesting working on both, discussing things like burnout while trying to avoid burning out myself. The best I can say is this feels right, something that needs to be put out into the world.

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