Meeting Influencers AKA the Starstuck Syndrome

January 18, 2012

Learning, Nerd, Passion, Programming

If you’ve read some of my previous posts (like this one or this one or this one), you already know I exemplify, “You can’t spell Geek without ‘ee’.”

Although I never understood worshipping “celebrities” (like the Hollywood kind), meeting someone in person whose work, efforts or brilliance have made a difference in my life or to my path is an exciting honor that I admittedly don’t try to contain my enthusiasm for the first time I meet them.

The day after I got home from CodeMash 2012 (most amazing conference ever), a blog post by Evan Cummings and its ensuing Twitter thread made me ask my family for a Pomodoro (although it’s taking WAY more than just one) to blog my 2 cents:

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My History (for context, feel free to skip)

Many (especially those who went to school for it) cannot relate to having close to no one to “talk code” with. I am quite fortunate that my husband is technical, but he’s not a programmer, so I can’t get deep into the nuts & bolts on the best or most efficient way to solve [my latest challenge] in c# (or sql or JavaScript or… you get the point).

My favorite thing to do, and something I crave in my everyday life, is to just listen to programmers talk about code and about how they used a technology to solve a business problem (one of the reasons I’ve been so addicted to Herding Code since Alan Stevens made me aware of it at HTML5Austin this year – I’m not sure why I hadn’t heard of it before then, but I am officially addicted to and LOVE that podcast!)

I’ve been at my job since October of 2000, and have only ever programmed there. I did not go to school for it. I did not know where, other than work, to find others “like me.” Even at work, I have not found very many who love it so much they take it home with them (and some who used to have since accepted “promotions” to managerial positions that forced them to stop coding). I became very grateful for audio ways to enhance my learning, as being a mother of 2 has not left me much time for reading or for home programing projects.

30- to 45-minute podcasts I can listen to on my jogs & during my commute are invaluable to me, and also awe-inspiring. Invaluable because they enable me to multitask & sneak some learning into already “spoken-for” time. Awe-inspiring because it’s hard to imagine having the ability to talk, so eloquently & confidently, about tech. When you don’t have the opportunity to actually talk to others devs & make sure you’re not embarrassing yourself by saying, “instantiate,” instead of, “new up,” for example, it’s quite difficult to have the confidence to go to something like CodeMash where amazing brilliance is everywhere.

Discovering there is a tech community out there has started an amazing & wonderful journey.

CodeMash 2010 was my first (It’s hard to believe that was only two years ago). Walking in the door was terrifying. Fear of knowing less than everyone there was terrifying. Being surrounded by so much passion for problem solving was inspiring & gave me hope.

“What needs to happen to get you over this?”

Keith Elder asked me this question a few times during the week of //build/. Keith took me under this wing, and I couldn’t be more grateful. In doing that, he introduced me to the amazing minds you see in my //build/ photo album, and the coolest thing happened. After that initial, “Wow! I can’t believe I’m meeting you in person! You’ve done so much for me through your [podcast, work on x product, book, Twitter stream, etc.] and I am so very grateful for you,” I actually was able to talk to them “like normal people.” To those who might think that’s a silly reaction, think of someone who DOES awe you & imagine being able to hang out with them, be treated as an equal & talk [their specialty] without being made to feel amateur, or judged, or intimidated, or anything less than a peer.

I saw a tweet earlier that did a good job of capturing how welcoming everyone was and confirmed that feeling was shared:

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That speaks volumes about how great our community is.

Heck, Bill Wagner even thought I was a peer on this level (as much as I look forward to the day when I actually might be able to ask why he didn’t make Enumerator<T> a struct, I must swallow my ego and respectfully clarify that I have a lot to learn before a day like that comes). My point is, noone made me feel anything but an equal, and that’s pretty incredible.

What has been unbelievably eye-opening for me has been the realization that just because one person knows more than someone else, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re any better or worse (or smarter or dumber). It often means you’ve had a project that caused you to solve a problem using that language or technology or implementation or product. I have a bad habit of assuming that if I know something EVERYONE ELSE ON THE PLANET must know it, and conversations like some I had at CodeMash this year have inspired me to feel more comfortable sharing my enthusiasm for the technologies I’ve worked with, and to think of my own knowledge as something I could offer, instead of fearing I will come across as a know-it-all or a clueless imposter.

I saw many (many, many) of the people I met at //build/ at CodeMash 2012 (my photos) last week. I have never felt more at home or at ease around so many people in my entire life.

“What do you mean, ‘friend?’ Have you met them?”

Back in 2000, my husband was a huge gamer. He was in IRC all the time, and managed a few CounterStrike teams over the years. His male team went by the name, “TAU” (Texas Area Untouchables) & his female team called themselves the TAU Angels.

This was a time before people really connected online, and I distinctly remember walking into the office & seeing how happy my husband was, and how much fun he was having. Then he said something about how much he loved having such great friends. My reaction of, “what do you mean, ‘your friends?’ Have you ever met ANY of them?!?!” was pretty extreme, as I couldn’t understand the concept of thinking of someone as your friend whom you have never met.

Joining MySpace in ~2005, then Facebook in 2007 still didn’t bridge the gap for me.

It wasn’t until Twitter came along (I joined in late 2008 but didn’t fully embrace it for at least a year thereafter) that I finally understood that feeling of pure joy & symbiotic camaraderie from people I had not actually met in person.

See, although I very happily & proudly call myself a coder / programmer / (software engineer, according to my work) / nerd / geek / etc, what I’ve realized lately is that it stemmed from my love of solving problems. Sure, you can call it “creating solutions” or challenges, whatever – that’s all just nomenclature, right? My point is, I LOVE finding other ways to think about how challenges can be addressed, and I LOVE sharing those, “Oooh, I never thought about using it for THAT before, now I want to go code” moments.

Thanks to the wonderful world of Twitter, I follow (currently 1146) people JUST LIKE ME. People I follow Tweet things like (my recent favorite), “You just can’t explain to non-programmers just how good it feels to get a *Different* Error” and it MAKES MY DAY. I can totally relate to that. Or I can tweet something as esoteric as, “Boo.”The type parameter ‘T’ cannot be used with the ‘as’ operator because it does not have a class type constraint nor a ‘class’ constraint”” and get 30+ replies that spawn a blog post (the one that will be following this one, in fact), from the best & the brightest in our industry. I see people tweeting questions every day to Julie Lerman, Entity Framework Expert & Book Author, and she responds to every single one of them. We live in amazing times.

“Cured?”

Although I’m flattered beyond words that Keith Elder declared me, “cured,” as to me that says I didn’t act “fanboy” at CodeMash (although clearly he didn’t see my initial brush meeting Jon Skeet & Bill Wagner haha), I want to make it clear that I was no less full of awe. (Similarly, if the day comes when I actually meet The Gu & Keith witnesses it, he will most certainly revoke my “cured” diagnosis =)

My comfort level with the influencers I’m so inspired by can be 100% attributed to how down-to-earth, friendly, helpful & passionate THEY are.

So to sum up, I feel the same way you do, Evan, and if we’re lucky, we’ll capture it & cherish it. I hope I can look back on my blog & remember how I’m feeling right now. I hope I always appreciate it & that I never lose (or lose sight of) my appreciation for this unprecedented accessibility we have to the greatest minds of our times.

3 Comments on “Meeting Influencers AKA the Starstuck Syndrome”

  1. Evan Cummings Says:

    Very well said! The most inspiring knowledge I am taking away from all of this is that the voices I hear on a podcast or on blogs or books I read are real people that are not only influencers but 100% accessible and honestly awesome people.

    I feel like I’m very much in the same boat as you – I live and breath the amazing things we can do and create but it is very hard to find like minded people who are driven enough to strike out experience the great stuff that is out there. Because of that I spend a lot of drives to and from work with Keith and Woody or Scott Hanselman or any other number of people who I gain enormous amounts of respect for their knowledge and contributions to the community as a whole.

    My goal for my next conference is to overcome that awe and take your advice – capture as much as I can from it. The people (influencer or not) and the community are where the real value is in all of this.

    Hope we meet at CodeMash 2013 and can share some stories!

    Reply

  2. solarcurve Says:

    I’m still friends with many of my online gamer friends from the late 90’s and when I travel to one of their cities including Copenhagen, Vienna, and all over the world, I have local friends. It’s been amazing and it was just a precursor to what is going on that you describe in your post. Technology isn’t killing communicating, it’s enabling it exponentially with more meaningful and relevant connections that extend beyond physical proximity.

    Reply

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