#104 Jason Lengstorf successfully bet on himself for his career
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Jason Lengstorf 0:00
I'm not an outstanding developer. I'm not like the best developer on the planet. I'm not a leading expert in any particular discipline or anything. I just, you know, I just know how to do stuff. But what I am really good at, is the improv, teaching stuff like I do with "online with Jason". I'm good at explaining something with a lot of metaphors and different ways of twisting and turning that information to help it click into place for people.
Tim Bourguignon 0:36
Hello, and welcome to developers journey, the podcast bringing you the making of stories of successful developers. To help you on your upcoming journey. My name is Tim Bourguignon, and today I received Jason Lengstorf. Jason is a developer and a streamer. He's deeply involved into IT communities and works as developer experience engineer at Netlify. Jason Welcome to DevJourney.
Jason Lengstorf 1:01
Thank you so much for having me
Tim Bourguignon 1:02
The show exists to help the listeners understand what your story look like, and imagine how to shape their own future. So let's go back to your beginnings. Where would you place the start of your journey?
Jason Lengstorf 1:16
My developer journey was kind of an odd one because I started out as a musician, and I was in a band, and we were completely convinced that we were going to be rock stars. So we, we toured constantly for about two years. And while I was doing that, we were playing around 200 shows a year. So that's a lot of traveling. We basically lived in a van. And we weren't a very good band, so we didn't make any money. And so that meant that when we were doing things like we needed tour posters, we needed to, to customize our MySpace page. We needed a website with you know, photos, and press Kids and that sort of stuff. And we didn't have any way to hire people to do that. So I just kind of volunteered and figured it out. And I didn't do a good job. It wasn't these weren't like great websites, they were just me hacking around and and googling what I could and getting to the point where I could put something up on the internet. And I would learn more and more and kind of figure out how this stuff worked. And eventually, after a few years, we realized the band wasn't gonna make it. And it broke up. And I started looking at what is my life gonna be like now that I'm not a musician? Because I knew I didn't want to do that. Again. Like I knew that I didn't want to start at zero with another band and do this live on the road thing. It's, you know, it's a it's a hard life. So I started to look at all the skills that I had. And I realized that everything that I had been learning to do as I was managing and building this band, was really similar to what I would do if I were to start a web agency or do You know, graphic design. And really, I was better at that stuff than I was as a musician. So I started to look at what I could do there started taking on some freelance clients, built that up into a small agency practice, made a couple hires later on and, and that was kind of how I became a, a full on developer was was through failing as a musician.
Tim Bourguignon 3:25
In a way, it's pretty neat.
Jason Lengstorf 3:29
It's led me to what I think is kind of a core part of my philosophy, which is like, you should never consider anything to be a true failure. Because what you're always doing whenever you try anything, whenever you learn something, when you try something, and it doesn't work out, you're gaining information. And you know, from there's things that you learn like, well, I never want to do that again. That was terrible. And then there's stuff that you learn like, I feel like that could have gone better and then you want to dig into how so whether it's a job that I had, that was terrible. Like I spent a few weeks selling vacuums door to door and it was the most soul crushing experience I've ever had in my life. And I learned a bunch of things about what I didn't want to do. I didn't want to be a pressure salesman, I didn't want to work in an industry that was targeting people based on that what they consider to be their like likelihood to make impulse purchases, you know, there were all these these things that I learned that I didn't want. And I knew that I didn't want to take jobs in that in that realm either. So it helped me narrow the field and make better choices going forward. And I think that's such an important thing to that for me at least that I learned was that none of these things that I did were really failures they weren't wasted time I got a ton of information. And that information then my my completely bizarre experiences of you know, being a lead singer in a band helped me be a better performer when I stream my or to get on stage and give a conference soccer be here on this podcast. My my experience as a like manager of band doing booking and arguing with, with venue owners to make sure that we got paid and making sure the band showed up places on time that actually helped me out a lot with thinking through business cases and, you know, keeping schedules and hitting deadlines. So all of these things that really weren't directly valuable in the sense of like, being a musician was a clear good career move for me. Like it obviously wasn't, I'm not a musician anymore. But I learned all these things that were actually great career moves for me. And so I think that it's it's important not to, to chop things up as failures if they don't work out exactly as planned, because you're still taking away so much information that's going to help you as you go forward. Mm hmm.
Tim Bourguignon 5:39
Absolutely. First a comment and then
I always find it fascinating when you look back at your your life and and see a thread emerge that you never saw before and say hey, I picked this skill here and I did this thing there. And if you combine the two then the next step is actually logical, even though back then it wasn't at all you And slowly you you piece out this this puzzle that actually really makes sense. So, that was the comment. The question
is there such thing as a real failure then?
Jason Lengstorf 6:12
in my opinion, the only real failure is not trying. I think if you come up against an opportunity and you say, that probably isn't going to work out, I'm not going to try. That's a failure because you didn't learn anything. Like you, you can't get information if you don't take a shot. So yeah, that's that's how I would frame that is the The only real failure is not is not trying.
Tim Bourguignon 6:34
Okay. So, um, one more c just somment since we're all remote right now, you could now be a musician on tour and still work your engineering on the side, fully remote it you wanted to.
Jason Lengstorf 6:50
you know, I still do make some music from time to time I what I've found is that I am much better at doing things collaboratively, right. And I love that being in a band, but I don't like making music by myself. So what I'm what I'm noticing is that the stuff that I tend to stick with is the stuff that I do in a community. For example, I've been doing a lot of like art and sketching lately. And that's, you know, I don't know that I would do that if I wasn't sharing it, but I've been sharing it with a group of creators in the party Corgi discord party. Corgi calm is a bunch of people that just kind of hang out and create stuff from tutorials to live streams to art to music, and whatever. And because they're in there creating things and then I'll take an idea and I'll remix it and they'll take one of my ideas and they'll remix it, it starts to feel much more collaborative, and that's fun. Sitting and arguing with myself about whether or not I've done something that's worthy. That's not fun. So I kind of like this. And I've noticed that with my music, I am not a good enough musician to throw something together and put it out there. And I'm not a good enough musician to, like, take somebody's work and, and remix it and make it into something, you know, amazing. So, I've found myself gravitating more toward things that I can be collaborative with, like art encode. And that just tends to be where I've landed. But you know, that's not to say I don't pick up my guitar and, and futz around on it, it's just not. It's not something I see being like a core part of my life.
Tim Bourguignon 8:28
It's not what's gonna pay the bills. Mm hmm. How do you make sure that you're always surrounded with like minded individuals that partake to this collaboration?
Jason Lengstorf 8:45
you know, a lot of it is going to be really intentional. I think that you, there's that, that old saying that you are the sum of the people you spend the most time with? And so I think that being conscious, especially in your online communities, like where are you hanging out what are the people that you that you spend the most time talking to? What are they doing? Do you feel like they are you know are you leaving those conversations feeling inspired to do more? Or are you leaving those conversations feeling kind of drained and worn down and and like maybe things are terrible like I you know I feel like Twitter is a good example of of going so many different directions right there's the like the the yell and argue Twitter which I done my best to stay away from because every time I get involved in those conversations, I don't feel like anyone changes I feel like people just shout and then go home and then they're mad. But then there's there's creative Twitter, where people are, you know, people like Lynn Fisher doing the single div project, which is incredible. People like, you know, the whole code pen community is amazing with just creating fun stuff that's like, hey, what if I made the technology do this. There's the you know, the Party Corgi community is the one that I really settled into, which is Christmas party. And I and another bunch of other people just kind of notice that we were kind of doing the same thing. So we started, Chris started the discord. And we started hanging out in there. And it's just kind of flourished is this really positive place where people come in and they're, they're showing off the things that they want to do. They want to show off and they're learning from other people. And it's a very positive vibe. We've got a strict code of conduct and you know, but that was a deliberate choice, right? Like we we, Chris and I had lots of conversations at the early stages of party coracii to make sure like, how do we make sure this stays a positive place? How do we make sure that we protect the people who are coming in here so that it's not going to be somewhere where they share something and get bashed? So that what they're seeing is, is that the content is always kind of lifting people you're always trying to bring the people around you up, and in making sure that that feels Like it's it's happening, you know, like everyone is always lifting each other up and nobody's ever pushing down. And, you know, that was a very like, it's been a conscious tailoring of my social circles and you know, I've done that in my personal life all the people that I spend time with in, in the real world, like, they're all people who are similar like I hang out with people who are really into cooking and and, and who really like to, you know just like hang out and have great conversations about you know, living living a good life and and that those types of people are so rewarding to hang out with. And so you know, you do that in your real life. You do that in your your online life, you do that in your work life. And it takes work like I went through a bunch of places that weren't like that, and I went through a bunch of circles of friends that I was in for a little while and they didn't quite feel right. And I had to, you know, go out and look in other places for that. So it takes work but it's definitely work worth doing.
Tim Bourguignon 11:55
It is indeed it is indeed, in for this community. It is possible to rely solely - with with big air quotes - on the people to uphold this this code of conduct and this this ethic of uplifting people always etc you don't have anything special otherwise in to enforce this, do you?
Jason Lengstorf 12:16
Well I there's the Code of Conduct so there is like an actual there is an actual like enforcement policy we have once or twice had to you know, coach people and I think once we had to remove someone, but in general, what I've noticed is that communities tend to mirror each other so if you're in a room full of people, who are you shifting blame and and talking crap and you know, being rude, that shows everyone in the room that that's the behavior that's acceptable and expected. So if you instead like what we did with party Corgi is you create a room full of people who are excited, supportive, positive, enthusiastic your Showing the community that that's the type of of experience that's expected and and normal here. And so you kind of get to establish a reality and then people will mirror that. And as you know at first it's a conscious effort but over time it just becomes natural the people in that party Courtney group, they're not being coached or or told to be a certain way that's just the way that everybody acts in there and and that behavior is is the best kind of contagious you you walk in and you see everybody being wonderful and then you you in turn want to be wonderful to other people. And I think that's such a nice it's such a nice, like, it's what I like about humanity I mean, I can go the other way so fast but in these these pockets of just people being wonderful,
Tim Bourguignon 13:44
I love to see it, it sounds awesome. Have a big smile on my face. So let's go back to your your beginnings where you you you said you were you were pretty much on your own and doing this on the side doing basically the whole Marketing slash it stars. Well you band. How did you learn your craft? What was your process there?
Jason Lengstorf 14:09
I spent a lot of time I reverse engineer stuff. And so I feel like the first thing that I learned was how to reverse engineer a MySpace page, I had seen that you could customize them and I didn't know how. So I think someone had written a post about how they had done theirs. And so I learned how to, you know, open the, the view source and see how somebody had customized things. And then I copy pasted some stuff and saw how it worked. And then when I tried to change things, and everything would break, and then I'd have to go look at what what the difference was between my code and theirs. And, you know, I started to piece together like, Okay, so this is the grammar for writing Custom CSS, or this is how you customize an HTML file or something like that. And that just tended to spiral out right like I learned enough If HTML and CSS that I could put something on a page, and then I wanted to build a website, and I think the first, the first website that I ever built was, I had like, made a image in Photoshop and then I cut it up and I did a table based layout, where I, you know, just kind of placed different size table frames all over and stuck the image chunks in there to line it up. So it looked right. And you know, it was a mess. It was, but it worked. And it got the it got things across. And then I learned that I could do the same thing but with CSS and so I went a little bit deeper. And then I learned that I could actually let other people edit the content if I learned some PHP. So then I I bought a book on PHP, and I worked through that I sat in a coffee shop for you know, from the time they opened until the time they closed I think for a whole summer just with that book and with projects and I would build little things and see if they worked and you know, I it just took it was something that was fun for me. And then I found ways to make a little bit of money doing it like I built a website for A local karate school that needed to show their schedule and then I built a website that was just a contact form for a local event planning company and it just kind of went from there and there until it turned into an actual clientele and an actual business from a from a hobby before that.
Tim Bourguignon 16:19
Was it always in the back of your mind to create such a business or just really emerged as is and someday you woke up and you had a business?
Jason Lengstorf 16:30
I think it was. I knew that I didn't want to do what I was doing. So I when you're in a band because of the travel, it's really really hard to hold down a job so I would always take jobs that had high turnover so that they didn't really look too hard at my resume. So you know I'd work I'd work at a fast food restaurant, I would take a midnight shift at a bowling alley in the in the kitchen cooking burgers, I would you know I'd work as a grocery bagger in the US. In the local supermarket or sell vacuums door to door, you know, whatever job I could get that would just hire me on. And I'd usually keep that job for, you know, a week or three, get a single paycheck and then I'd bail and go back on the road and and I knew that that wasn't how I wanted my life to be. So when I got out of the band, my resume was horrible. And so I was able to get a job I worked at a FedEx kinkos and I guess it's called FedEx Office now. And I was like, a, I started out making copies, I got to be a floor lead. They're where I kind of manage some of the copy projects and, and that sort of stuff. But I didn't want to be on that type of schedule. I didn't want to do that kind of work forever. I knew I wanted to do something more self directed. Because I remembered what it was like to be a musician. I set my own schedule. I kind of got to drive my own destiny a little bit. And I knew I wanted to do that. I didn't know that that development was going to be the thing that gave Give me that opportunity. But as I did more and more of it on the side, because, you know, when I worked at FedEx Office, I made enough to cover my rent, but just barely. And so any extra money if I wanted to go on a vacation, or I wanted to buy something that, you know, wasn't in my normal budget, I needed some kind of side hustle. And building websites for people became that that was sort of how I got to that point was by you know, I would build these websites and it'd be a couple hundred dollars here, you know, a big project that would go over a few months here, and that was kind of like how I funded My, my, whatever, I needed a new couch. And so when I, when I started to connect those dots, I started to see like, Okay, I have way higher earning potential. If I'm doing this web development, because this is something that is, you know, it's something that I'm good at, that most people don't want to learn or are unwilling to they, they don't believe that they can do it. So it's something that's high value. It's something that is so One rare and something that people are willing to part with money for. So I started, you know, looking around for web development jobs, maybe I could find one of those. I eventually interviewed for a couple and then at the same time that I got my first job offer at a web design agency, I got my first offer for a long contract. I had what was it it was a client offered me it was like $3,000 a month for four months to work on a project. And that was like, just barely enough to cover my my, you know, my debts, my rent and my food. And I decided that was good enough, like I was gonna be able to, I was like, I don't mind if I have to, like eat, you know, ramen or make a bunch of chicken breasts and just eat the same thing every day. If that means that I can kind of chase this down. And so I took the shot. I quit my job. I went full time on that. agency. And I found that autonomy. And then also once I went full time, I almost immediately was able to find more clients because I had more headspace to dedicate toward looking for new business and towards getting things done quickly. So, you know, it took me a while to get to the point where I was comfortable, but I was definitely able to, like get out of the gate and run as soon as I got that first shot.
Tim Bourguignon 20:23
And that's the moment where the side hustle became the, the the main activity?
Jason Lengstorf 20:28
Yeah, that was kind of the crossover moment. And it was a big one too, because I actually made I got an offer to make, like 10% more than the contract was worth but it was a salary. So I was like, oh, okay, so if I take this job, I will work for this company. And I think they wanted to pay 38,000 a year as a web developer, and I was like, that's a guaranteed salary. And I think when I was working at FedEx, I was making maybe 26,000 Something like that, like, it was a pretty low. It was enough. Like I said it was enough to get by but barely. And so when I got this offer from, from this client, I think that was going to put me at, it would have been the equivalent of like, 30 ish thousand I can't remember what the exact numbers were, but it was less than the agency was going to pay me. And so I had this long conversation with with my family with some friends. And I was like, Okay, do I want to take a bet on myself? Because I think I can make more than this agency is willing to pay me or do I want to take a safe bet and work for this agency for a while and get the experience so that I can go out on my own later. And I ultimately decided to bet on myself which i think i think it would have been fine either way. I you know, I'm relatively convinced that that no matter what decision I would have made I I you know, the the trajectory probably would have been roughly the same because learning is learning and short of somebody in that company being like it transformative Lee, like a transformative mentor or like a a terrible setback for me, I can't imagine that it would have been too different. So I think it's sort of like, you know, six to one half a dozen to the other, but it's the same of it was, it was a good like moment of empowerment to say, I'm gonna take this bet on myself, which I, I've never really done before. Like, when I was in the band, it was always like, well, this, if this blows up, I'll just go live with my parents. This one was like, this was after I'd had a long conversation with my parents and said, like, Look, I don't want to be that kid who just gets carried by his parents forever. I think I was in my early 20s at this point, I ended when I was 19. I talked to my dad and I just said, Look, I I don't want you to give me money anymore. Like if I if I get money from you, I want you to make me pay it back. And so we I think I was paying my dad like 8% interest alone. At the time that I took this this job and you know, I and I did that specifically because I didn't want to be one of these like spoiled kids who just gets handed everything right. Because I was I was comfortably middle class like my parents did well, they weren't like, we weren't rich or anything, but we, you know, we had money. And so my parents could have just paid for everything for me. And they, they probably would have if I'd asked, and I didn't want to be that kid. So I had to be like, this is gonna suck for me, and I'm going to hate it. And I'm going to ask you not to but but please don't let me have money, like make me earn my own stuff.
Tim Bourguignon 23:26
Good for you. Good for you. So what would convince you to, to go toward the bet, and not the safe go the safe game?
Jason Lengstorf 23:34
Um, so there were a couple things. I have a really good friend named Nate Greene, who I've known since we were 10 years old or something. And Nate is he's one of those people who he just trusts himself to get stuff done. And I'd watched him a few years prior to me taking a bet on the agency. He had done something similar where he knew he wanted to As a writer, he's a fitness journalist, or he was at the time. And he wanted to get in and write for bigger magazines, but he didn't have the connections. We grew up in Montana. So you know, it's not like you're rubbing elbows with people who work in these magazines all the time. And so he decided he was going to take out a loan for the he took out alone, bought a plane ticket, booked a hotel and went to a big like literary conference where a bunch of the editors and writers that he looked up to, were going to be. And he just showed up, and like, made friends with a bunch of these people and talked to him about what he was trying to do and all that stuff and somehow managed to like ingratiate himself into this group and was able to get a job moderating a forum at one of the big fitness magazines. And he was able then to use that job to pitch articles and, and got himself to a position where you know, he was making it A great salary, he was, you know, barely 20. And I think he was already making enough to like, put money away and rent a house by himself and all this amazing stuff. So seeing his success and seeing that he'd been able to pull it off, it seemed more possible to me like it was something that I had, I'd watched a friend do it. And this kind of comes back to what I was saying earlier about, like, you are the some of the people you hang out with. I think if I had only hung out with people who kept safe jobs and who didn't take bets, I probably wouldn't have taken that bet. But because I had some people in my network and some people who are close to me, who were taking those bets on themselves, it seemed reasonable to me to take that bet and it ended up paying off in a big way because I think within within like six months of taking that bat contract, I was already making more than the agency was gonna pay me and I was able to sustain that and grow it pretty consistently for the next ran that agency for 10 years. And, you know, we were able to grow year over year to the point where, you know, now I think I look back at the ad agency offering and I'm kind of like, wow, they were severely under paying their developers but that, you know, at the time, I was like, I'd never been offered anywhere near that much money that was, you know, a solid 30% more than I've ever seen on a salary.
Tim Bourguignon 26:23
I know what you mean, I know what you mean. So this, this company, you started, how long was it only you? Or is it still only you? And did you have some employees at some point? And how did you handle this transition?
Jason Lengstorf 26:41
It was only me for the first three ish years. Once I hit a certain size, I had a had kind of like a transitional moment where I was trying to juggle three projects at once and I ended up losing one of the clients and that really shook me up. So I started looking at subcontract And I found a couple people who are good subcontractors. And I would kick them parts of projects to help me take the workload. And it turns out I was pretty good at that. So I started a, I used to call it like a distributed collective of freelancers where I would kind of broker the work and then send work to other subcontractors. And I grew that up to about 12 people. And then it started to become too much for me to manage, because I was still doing a lot of the development work too. So I was kind of trying to do like, sales and management and development and all of it was, like only sort of being done well, because I, you know, I didn't have enough time to focus. I didn't have a whole lot of experience in management or sales. So I was just kind of plodding along as best I could. And then I decided to hire two full time people. So I hired a full time, like a I guess, like a lead engineer, who was there to kind of keep the wheels spinning between systems. And I hired a Like a operations manager, and the two of them were my only full time employees. And I overshot. So I thought that I was still growing at a rate that I wasn't growing at anymore. And I ended up having to lay one of them off, which was one of the hardest things I've ever done. And then it got even worse. And I started to get so stressed out from the job because like, I was, you know, I was a pretty bad workaholic. I was working like 70 to 90 hour weeks, and I'm really, really kind of burning it too hard to keep things going. And you know, when you build something on your own over time, the feeling is that like, it all rests on your shoulders. And that led to me being really, really bad at delegation. It led to me being I didn't trust my team to get work done. So I would tell them what to do, and then I'd kind of hover. So I was micromanaging. I didn't delegate. Well, I wasn't good at explaining what I wanted. And as a result, I ended up doing a lot of the work myself which just led to it Tremendous amount of burnout at one point I was so stressed that I gave myself like stress induced alopecia, my beard started falling out in clumps. I, I couldn't grow a full beard for a few years. And that was when I decided that I needed to like, change something right. And so that was I kind of dropped everything. I went to Alaska and spent a couple of weeks just out in the woods, no cell service, no internet service. And, you know, I was with a couple really close friends there. And when I came back, I decided I needed to change everything. So I sold the agency, I took a single contract that was gonna pay me enough that I was comfortable, but not so but it wasn't like so much that it was going to be a really high pressure contract. It was kind of like a three quarter time contract, if that makes sense. And then I just left my partner and I went to Europe and Asia and we stayed there for two years. We just kind of bounced around to different countries for a couple years. And I was like I don't want to have any stress. I don't want to have any responsibility. I want to just like, figure out who I want to be. So that was kind of my quarter life crisis. Right? This is right. Well, I'm just about to just about 230 when when I did all of this. And then from there, that was when I got into more of what I'm doing now I went to IBM, I worked as a front end architect there for for a while, I left IBM to go to Gatsby because I'd been trying to drive the jam stack approach at IBM and got frustrated by how slow things Went, went to Gatsby stayed there for a little bit, helped them grow their their Devereaux community, and they're kind of put a bunch of systems in place for them on like internal systems, company values, stuff like that. And then when I got it, that was almost like it was too fast. So now I've moved to natla phi where I feel like I found a good, a good, happy medium. It's a small enough company that I can affect real change, but it's not so small that I feel like if I make a mistake, the whole company is going to fall apart. That's really helped me with my work life balance. I feel like I have ownership. I feel like I can do real things. But I also feel like I can take a vacation without having to check in. And that for me, that's the magic balance.
Tim Bourguignon 31:14
Did you put some some mechanisms, some some safeguards in place to ensure that you will never fall back?
Jason Lengstorf 31:28
in the sense that I have. not like not strict ones because I think that adding, adding real barriers is, to me feels crunchy, right? Like I don't want to, I don't want to be somebody who is afraid of a thing, because it makes me like, Oh, I can't go near this thing or also fall back into my old habit. So instead, it's more like, how do I make sure that I keep an eye on what I'm doing and watch trends? So I have things like passive time trackers that show me where I spend my time every week and I just get an email report that says, hey, you were on Twitter for like, 18 hours this week. And I and then I have to come to I have to come to terms of that. Did I mean to spend 18 hours on Twitter? Sometimes, yeah, because that's my job some days, but, but other times, I'm like, holy crap, I spent that much time on Twitter. Like, that is not how I should be spending my life and then I, you know, make an adjustment there. And if I see that it's getting way out of hand, that's a signal for me that I should take a real vacation or I need to, you know, do something like let's uninstalled the Twitter app from my phone for a while and and see, you know, see what happens do I find myself like running to my computer to load up twitter calm like, Okay, then that that would be a sign of a real problem. But usually what it is, is I'm stressed out and my stress habit is to open my phone and look at stuff. So I like bounced between slack and discord and Twitter and just kind of like bounce between these apps. And that's To sign that I'm stressed out and so then I know Okay, what can I do like go on more walks I can, I can take a real vacation I can I can plan some big dinners where I'm going to do a bunch of like prep and stuff that's going to keep me away from the computer so that my I'm focused on my life and not on trying to distract myself from whatever I'm stressed about. But yeah, the in terms of like, physical safeguards, not really, I try not to do I try not to externalize my, my self control. I try to like build good pathways so that I make the right thing, the easy thing, but I try not to ever block myself because I'm also the kind of person that like if I, if I feel like I've been told not to do something, even if the person telling me not to do that thing is me, I will 100% go out of my way to do it.
Tim Bourguignon 33:50
I know the feeling I know. That could be as well as some kind of retrospective on the regular basis and observe what you described. Yeah, your time tracker or just with yourself and on thinking back on how how was the week? How was the moment? How was the quarter? Yeah. Was it what they expected out of it? You mentioned a retrospective. That's actually a practice that I've, I've had for a few years where I write an annual retrospective like, what did I do last year? What did I like about it? Well, what do I wish I would have done differently? And like, how am I going to use that information going to, you know, 2021 for next year? Although 2020 kind of throw a curveball at everyone...
Jason Lengstorf 34:30
but most certainly did. Yeah.
Tim Bourguignon 34:34
The retrospectives are gonna be funny, but 2020 will is going to be better. Definitely, definitely better. How did he step into Developer Relations and or live streaming? What's the story behind
Jason Lengstorf 34:49
both we're sort of drift. I have always liked to use teaching as a way to to cement ideas in my head. So, when I was first building my agency, I would write down something that I've learned. And it was it was done for a lot of reasons. One is when I have to explain something, I know that I've learned it properly if I can, if I can teach you how to do something, that means I understand it well enough to actually use it. There's also the kind of like networking effect of, if I write an article, and I posted like, one of my first articles was written and posted to CSS tricks, calm, I sent Chris coiour a message and I said, Hey, I have an idea for an article, can I post it on your site? And he was like, you know, I don't pay for articles. And I was like, No, I don't want to get paid. I just want to like, put some content on your site. And he was super cool about it. Let me do it. And that ended up being a really good, like networking opportunity. Chris and I have have run in the same circles for a long time. And now when we see each other at events, we It feels like we're, you know, like, friends, not like strangers at an event. And so those those sorts of things were really helpful. And then I also did it because it helped me demonstrate authority when I was trying to sell projects if I went into a pitch meeting, and somebody said, Well, why should I hire your company, I could point to a list of things that I'd created. And so that that was kind of a content and content creation has always just been something that I do. It's, you know, strategic, it's, it's therapeutic. It's, it's good for me in terms of helping me learn. So that's like part one. Part two is that I am a total ham. Like I I was the lead singer in my band. I absolutely love live performance. I'm a big fan of any kind of like, improv thing. Like, let's make stuff up on the fly and see how it goes. And all of that lends itself really well to live streaming to Devereaux. And, and so you know, when I when I got into development, I knew that I was a good developer, but I felt like I'm not a Standing developer. I'm not like the best developer on the planet. I'm not a leading expert in any particular discipline or anything. I just, you know, I just know how to do stuff. But what I am really good at is I'm good at like the the improv AV teaching stuff that I do on learn with Jason. And I'm good at explaining something with a lot of metaphors and different ways of twisting and turning that information to help it click into place for people. So when I got to Gatsby, one of the challenges that we were up against was like, how do we help people understand this, this kind of architectural shift that Gatsby is introducing where instead of doing all the logic on the servers, you're trying to do most of your logic ahead of time at build time and moving everything else to the client. Okay, so here's, I won't go into any of the dev specifics, but like, what do we do to teach people about that? How do we get people excited to try this and to give us a chance and and so it was a pretty natural shift. For me to go from where I was at IBM as a, as an architect, to being more of like a dev REL at Gatsby. And you know, it was it was also like, even when I was at IBM, I spent so much time I would go speak at conferences about the stuff we were building at IBM, I would do a bunch of internal learning and internal, like, really just internal dev REL where I was trying to show other teams best practices and things that would help make their systems better and help make IBM I work on IBM cloud. So how do we make IBM Cloud kind of run more effectively? So I did a lot of educational stuff about that. That was that was sort of, I was sort of doing dev REL internally. So in Gatsby, it was a really natural transition to just make that an external thing. And another thing that I started doing a Gatsby was I started learning a lot about the tech community. And I started to develop a little bit of a sense of like, An understanding of like how much privilege I've had in this industry and a little more empathy for the people who haven't had that privilege. Because, you know, you work at a company like my agency where it's just people I know. I had a very clear idea that like, everything was going to be okay because if you if you just work hard if you've just got your your meritocracy and all that kind of stuff, that's the, you know, I got to IBM and immediately got cured of that, like, it was very clear that it's not like meritocracy. It's it's how do you communicate to people? Are you making sure to give people space to talk? Are you are you clarifying to, you know, are you giving people the opportunities to succeed, as opposed to just listening to the loudest people in the room? So when we went to Gatsby, it was like, Alright, how do I how do I take some of these things that I've learned about how tech tends to be a little less welcoming, a little less embracing of different people and how do we turn that into a really healthy, like thriving Unity. And that led to a lot of the stuff that we did at Gatsby, like from the language that that we wrote in the way that we communicated to open source contributors to the way that we set up our documentation to the way that we like gave away swag to people who contributed docs, and who helped out in the, in the community forums and stuff, and not just code contributors, like making sure that we were we were treating all contributors as valuable contributors. That was all like, part of the experience and and I don't I feel like I'm kind of off on a tangent here. But But ultimately, I guess like I'm, I'm in dev rel, because I feel like I I'm an okay developer, but like, I feel like what I'm really good at is connecting human beings to information. And my goal is to make this all this cool stuff that we can do on the web these days, as accessible to the largest group of people in the most positive way possible.
Tim Bourguignon 41:01
And you're doing very great. I must say. The time box is really running away from us. But I have one last question for you. What will be the one advice that you would give to newcomers in our industry, if you had just one to give,
Jason Lengstorf 41:17
don't give up, keep trying things, keep building things and stick with it. Because what I've noticed is that in this industry, especially, it's hard to get your first chance. So keep building things, do things that make you smile, do things that make you laugh, do things to mess with your friends. build a website that that is just to try something out just because and keep building these these small victories and get those reps in because it's gonna feel like nothing's happening. And it's gonna feel like you're doing all of this work and nobody is noticing, but you're building momentum. And once that boulder starts rolling, it's really hard to slow down.
Tim Bourguignon 41:58
Amen, thank you for that. where's the best place to come back to you and continue this discussion with you?
Jason Lengstorf 42:04
Uh, Twitter is probably the easiest place. That's where I'm most active on @jlengstorf there. You can also find a lot of information about the different things I do, like learnwithjason, the live stream, and I've got my own blog on lengstorf.com, but I keep all those links under the website jason.af.
Tim Bourguignon 42:21
Well, it's been a blast talking to you. Thank you very much.
Jason Lengstorf 42:24
Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. This was a lot of fun.
Tim Bourguignon 42:26
And this has been another episode of developer's journey. And we'll see each other next week. Bye. This is Tim from a different time and space with a few comments to make. First, get the most of those developers journeys by subscribing to the podcast with the app of your choice, and get the new episodes out to magically right when they air. The podcast is available on all major platforms. Then, visit our website to find the shownotes with all the links mentioned by our guests, the advices they gave us, book references and so on. And while you're there, use the comments to continue the discussion with our guests and with me, or reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn. And a big, big thanks to the generous Patreon donors that helps me pay the hosting bills. If you can spare a few coins, please consider a small monthly donation. Every pledge, however small counts. Finally, please do someone you love a favor and tell them about the show today and help them on their own journey.