Long time friend KBall makes his “first” appearance on The Changelog by way of Changelog & Friends. You likely know Kevin from his panelist position on JS Party. Today he’s sharing his passion for coaching and developing human skills.
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|Chapter Number||Chapter Start Time||Chapter Title|
|2||00:38||First time caller, long time panelist|
|3||01:55||We met KBall at ATO 2016|
|4||06:21||Pitching human skills|
|5||10:54||Conferences we're attending|
|6||12:51||Hard vs Soft skills|
|8||21:20||It's about mindset|
|9||21:54||Jocko Willink "Good"|
|10||24:04||It's a re-framing of how you think|
|11||28:22||Sponsor: .Tech Domains|
|12||32:38||The packaging problem|
|13||34:45||Our viral short|
|14||37:32||Work hard to get lucky|
|15||41:28||Don't get bored|
|16||42:35||Nuggets of wisdom|
|17||46:29||What is leverage|
|18||49:14||Kball gets nerdy|
|22||58:10||What it takes to convince others|
|24||1:02:17||Being the best human|
|25||1:06:47||What if I don't like people?|
|26||1:10:41||I want to make more money|
|27||1:14:05||Do you want this?|
|28||1:18:35||Are we wrapping up?|
|29||1:21:52||That's it (but listen to this)|
Play the audio to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧
Well, we’re here with our old friend, Kball. What’s up, man?
Hey. Good to be on the show. I’ve never been on a full Changelog episode, I don’t think. Or maybe one.
Oh, my goodness.
But I’m excited to be on something else besides JS Party.
Well, we’re excited to have you on something else besides JS Party… Although you haven’t been partying with us much recently.
I have not. Well, I started a new gig, and there’s standing all company meetings at our old recording slot. Folks have been talking about moving around, and having some Friday recordings, which is great… I was on a show just recently that we recorded on a Friday… But yeah, our old slot has become suddenly challenging.
That happens to folks. That happened to Mikeal Rogers as well, where he’s just like “Every Thursday is booked in my entire life.” I’m like “I guess you’re off the show then, because that’s when we record JS Party.” And we’re doing it live for a very long time… And we’ve finally realized this is a constraint that’s optional, and we could actually remove that constraint and provide a lot more flexibility for everybody, and still share the link with our JS Party channel. So we’re live to just our friends inside of the Changelog Slack, but not on YouTube. And that’s actually been kind of a nice change, and it’s allowing you at least to get on the pod every once in a while, versus never.
I’m trying to think of when you were on the Changelog, Kevin. I don’t recall…
I might not have been. I feel like I was on –
Maybe like an All Things Open thing. So you guys met at All Things Open.
That never showed. I know that.
What did we talk about? Oh, we talked about foundation, I think.
I was there giving a talk on Foundation. Yeah, exactly.
A foundation. ZURB Foundation.
Yeah, I worked there for a while…
Yes, you did.
Now I’m scanning…
How come we never shipped that, Adam? Was he that big of a dud, or just…? [laugh]
Well, I think, like all conferences, we limit what we put out from there…
I don’t remember, honestly. I think that was actually the proving ground of us going to conferences and how to do it…
Well, I think it was just you. I wasn’t even there.
Yeah, I went solo to All Things Open… Enjoyed it… Yeah, I don’t know. I can’t remember that far back to know for sure the specifics of why.
I feel like you told me – now, whether this is accurate or not… You told me you lost it.
You lost the interview.
No way… Did I say that?
I don’t know. I mean, I feel like I heard that somewhere… It was probably in a Slack channel, and Slack expires now, but… So I cannot verify. But… I can neither confirm nor deny.
Well, we don’t usually lose stuff…
Okay, Editor’s Note here… We don’t lose anything. Okay, sometimes we do lose audio. But I know we did not lose this. So this was a surprise to me. So I had to go back into our archives and pull out a clip from the unaired first conversation with Kball at All Things Open. So here’s the opener… Just about 30 seconds or so from that conversation.
Zurbians like their nickname, so I had that nickname before…
That’s my online moniker, so I kind of got ahead of it and didn’t let them pick a nickname… And I was like “I go by Kball, too. So if you want it…”
Nice. Well, I go by Stac, or Stacs, or Adam Stac, or Adam…
Thank you for being patient though. So I’m gonna do a quick soundcheck and kind of give you some instructions on proximity…
You got it.
Nut it’s based on your voice, because everybody has a different sounding voice, different loudness, or whatever…
You’re a professional. You tell me what to do.
So I’m about here. This is what works for me. So we do have some live listeners… I’m not sure how many live listeners we actually have, but I’m a huge fan of the foundation. We’ve talked about the foundation on the podcast. I think the last one we talked about was Foundation 5.
So what version are we at now?
We’re at 6. We’ve actually just released 6.2.4. So we released six about a year ago, and I don’t mind saying it, it was actually a little bit of a flubbed release. We rewrote the entire codebase for a couple of different reasons, to build accessibility in from the ground up, and rework how we were doing some stuff… Sort of the legacy of the framework had –
I mean, it can happen, especially maybe at your first conference. Did you ship anything from that conference? Because I can’t remember an episode from All Things Open that I wasn’t part of.
Well, that’s when we were doing Spotlight, and so we weren’t putting things onto the Changelog from conferences…
We thought, for whatever reason, that that content didn’t belong on our main channel, Jerod. We were weird people back then. We made strange choices. We went to conferences and we put that conference conversation on Spotlight, a whole separate show –
A separate podcast.
…that had much less listeners… And that’s what we did. So I’m trying to remember exactly why. I know that there was - Anna is her first name, but I can’t recall her last name. I can easily pull up changelog.com/spotlight, and jog my memory… Because that’s where all the content went from that engagement. So Anna Derbakova. We were talking about blockchain and Hyperledger. So I think we only shipped one thing from that conference, and that was it.
You must have lost everything else.
Spotlight number four.
Either that, or we were all that bad. [laughter]
You know, honestly, I mean, that was December 2016 we shipped that… So I think if we went around that range in our feed, we’d see potentially something else on the Changelog, and I just don’t know for sure.
[00:06:03.13] So barring that - and I was just scanning… So there were two crossover episodes y’all did, where you pulled content from JS Party into Changelog, that I was on.
State of the ’log…
I guess we’re breaking new ground here.
Via crossover, you’ve been a participant in this podcast.
There you go. Well, now you’re here, and now you’re our sole focus. I mean, we’re just here to talk to you…
Oh, my goodness. Alright.
You’ve had all of 17 minutes to prepare your thoughts… I thought of course we should talk about human skills, because this has been a focus of yours over the last few years, one that I kind of watched congeal, to a certain extent, into a formalized thing…
Hey, I’m still holding out. Maybe we’ll partner on something in that too, you know?
Okay. Well, tell us about this, and give us the old partner pitch.
Alright, here we go. So big picture, this is something I’ve been interested in for a while; it’s something I’ve been starting to bring in pieces of to JS Party, which is really this idea of like “What are all the non-technical skills that factor into success in the tech industry?” And we see this with engineers a lot; folks, kind of – your first couple positions, junior, mid-level, maybe even into senior, you’re riding entirely on your technical skills. And then at some point, those skills, you kind of tap out, where it’s like, the skills that got you there are no longer we’re going to determine your success. They’re table stakes. It’s not to say they’re not important anymore; your technical skills are still important, but they’re not enough to keep advancing or keep having more impact, or however you want to measure yourself.
And so there’s a whole swath of skills, from personal effectiveness, to one on one interpersonal effectiveness, to one to many interpersonal effectiveness, that drive your impact from there out. And that might be “How do I manage my own emotions?” That might be “How do I have a hard conversation with somebody?” It might be “How do I bring along a cross-functional partner and try to get something to happen there?” But there’s a whole bunch of different things.
So as I said, I’ve brought some of that content into JS Party, but for a while I’ve been noodling on “Could we do a podcast specifically focused on this, specifically focused on all the non-technical things that go into success in tech?” And we were talking about this a little bit last year, but this was also tech crash, and recession, or whatever, and so y’all didn’t have the bandwidth, and I said “Well, f-it.” You know, I had, at that point, left my previous job, for other reasons… But I was like “I have a bunch of bandwidth. I’m gonna see if I can get this thing off the ground.”
I had this idea of wanting to not just do another long-form interview podcast, because as much as I love talking, and talking with you all, and interviewing people, there’s so many of those. And so I wanted to see, could do something that’s a little bit more kind of topic-focused? Each episode would have a topic, cut in pieces from multiple interviews. Well, it turns out if you want to do that, you need a whole bunch of interviews upfront to make that happen. And so I started going and interviewing people, and stumbled on why people ship long-form interview podcasts - because it takes a lot less editing to ship those interviews, and there’s good stuff in there.
So since roughly the beginning of this year, I’ve been shipping interviews with people, leaders in technology, about non-technical skills that go into success. And I’ve been shipping those interviews on YouTube, and doing a little Substack newsletter that summarizes them. Now, I am still holding out that someday I’m gonna pull these things together into an edited form of the podcast… But since I’ve started a new job a little over a month ago, the timeline on that has slipped out far enough that I’m waiting for y’all to come back around and say “Hey, maybe we could do something together again.”
Oh… The ball is in our court, Adam.
He’s just teasing out some content and just waiting for us to bite on that content.
That’s a hard pitch right here, Jerod.
[00:09:44.26] I mean, we’ll see. I could do a trailer for you all… I’ve been doing these interviews – I have shipped at this point 25 of these interviews, on the order of an hour long… And I think at this point I probably have enough content to slice together for an episode, or like a season. So maybe 12 episodes, or something like that… But there’s enough scatter that I don’t know how much beyond that. But I don’t know. We’ll see. Right now I’m super-busy with other stuff, so I’m just kind of keeping the interview train going, and building up this content library, and eventually it’ll turn into something a little bit more edited.
Where would you find it on YouTube?
Let me see if it actually shows up in search. Human Skills…
Oh, it’s called Human Skills?
It is called Human Skills, but the audience is still pretty small. I think I have like 100 subscribers, or something like that.
Well, a lot of competition for that term…
There is. So if you go to – you know, where you can find me easiest is the Substack. So humanskills.co.
And that includes links to the YouTube videos.
Gotcha. I immediately clicked the “No, thanks” button.
Which is what I do when I go to Substack. I wanna close a loop on one thing real quick… So we did ship one episode from – and it was our first anthology, Jerod.
So the one I did was Hacker Stories from OSCON, All Things Open and Node Interactive. Because we had gone to Node Interactive in Austin, I went to All Things Open roughly around the same time, and I think you went to OSCON in Europe.
And we were early in our Spotlight/going to conferences and bringing back content phase… So I think we decided to like munge it all together.
So we did that.
We didn’t know what we were doing. We were trying to figure out what to do.
We were early days. So… It’s overwhelming going to conferences and getting so much content.
Conferences are back now though…
Conferences are back. We’re going to conferences. We have three this fall. We just got back from Strange Loop… We go to All Things Open two weeks from now…
And then we’re also hitting up KubeCon/Cloud Native Con, because they’re not into brevity over there… For the first time together, Adam and Gerhard and I, which [unintelligible 00:11:51.27] gotten together.
That’s in early November. So we have three events on our calendar. Are you hitting up any conferences, Kball?
So I’m going as just an attendee to Lead Dev West Coast. I’m talking with the folks at [unintelligible 00:12:08.04] about doing some sort of interviews or something at Elevate, which is another engineering leadership style conf… We’re trying to figure out what that might look like. I’d love to get back on the road to JS conferences and doing interviews, or live panels, or other things there.
Yeah, conferences are back in full force… And it’s fun, and it’s irreplaceable to just be with people, talking about these things non-digitally… It’s really cool.
Human skills… This is a phrase that you’ve been on – it sounds like everybody’s on it on YouTube, at least. I’m curious –
Simon Sinek is on it at least. I mean, he’s a pretty big human skills person out there.
You’re in good company. So a lot of competition there.
It reminds me of an old Mitch Hedberg joke, which goes something like “Every book is a kid’s book, if the kid can read.”
Every book is a children’s book if the kid can read. [laughter]
And that makes me think about human skills… Because aren’t all skills human skills, if the humans are humans?
Yeah. So I’m pushing this as a phrase, because I think the sort of nomenclature of hard skills and soft skills has set us back. And the words that we use shape the way that we think about things. People think, “Oh, hard skills. Yeah, that’s challenging. I’m smart, I’m going to do the hard stuff. I’m going to do hard skills. Soft skills - that’s easy, weak. I don’t need to touch those things.” Right? And not everybody feels that way, but I think there’s a solid set of people who have taken that nomenclature, and then become disdainful of this whole set of non-technical skills, that are actually extremely impactful.
[00:13:46.13] The other part of that is soft makes people think fuzzy, it makes people think undefined, where they’re often very definite tactics, and concrete things that you can learn, that will increase your effectiveness and your impact. And so I’ve been for a while trying to push – instead of talking about hard skills and soft skills, let’s actually call them what they are. One set of skills is technical skills, skills for dealing with technology and technical problems, and one set of skills is human skills, things for dealing with humans. And those humans might be ourselves, or they might be other people out there… But there’s nothing hard or soft about one or the other, it’s really about what is the domain that these skills are relevant for.
That hard and soft divide, I think, is very real. And I had a boss, who I appreciated in many ways; he’s passed on now. And he used to always say – he very much valued engineering and hard technical problems, and then he used to say “Well, we’ll do all the hard work, or whatever, and then we’ll give it to the arts and crafts people”, which was like such a condescending way to refer to a group of skills… And that was more like a design versus dev thing, which is very much a divide, and has ire on either side, for reasons of lack of human skills, and tribalism, to a certain extent, over the years… And I would always raise my hand as the engineer who’s like “Hey, it’s not like arts and crafts are lesser…” I mean, first of all, that term makes it sound like it’s something that children do in their free time at school, or something… But unfortunate that there’s this divide between hard and soft, just in our heads, that is like leftover baggage from, I would say, the past, but maybe even the present. And I do think that words matter, and I think human skills is a better way of framing it, and one that I’ve adopted just from talking with you. I used to call them soft skills, and I know what that means to me, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be a soft skill… But I think that a human skill tells a better story.
What is the actual definition of soft skill and hard skill? What does it truly mean, and how have we conflated it to mean something else?
Yeah, so as I understand it, it actually came out of an old military sort of training regime… And they said hard skills literally meaning technical skills. I don’t know why they chose the word “hard” for that, but hard skills meaning like rigid, and interacting with technical things. And soft skills was everything else.
Just a useful distinction that turns into, I guess, more connotation than denotation over time.
Yeah. I mean, I think technical skills is a useful connotation. And if you want to call it hard skills - I don’t, in theory, have a problem with that, but I’ve seen the downstream impacts of how people then take those words and shift them. If we were really able to say “Okay, they said hard skills, and they were just using that as a bucket, so let me divorce in my head how I think about hard and the other ways that’s used in language, from just this is defining that bucket. And similarly, soft - okay, that’s just defining this other bucket”, then there’s no problem. But one of the things about humans is we don’t do that. We don’t have hard and firm boundaries in our heads. Things leak between different areas, and so other connotations that come into soft versus hard leak into our thinking about these buckets of skills.
ChatGPT gave me a definitive answer… It actually broke it down into definition, examples, and assessment for each. I won’t bore you with all the details, but do that on your own. I just said “What is the meaning of soft and hard skills?” and got back what I got back… But basically, it seems like teachable abilities; things you have to go to school for, formal education, a foreign language… Things that seem to take rigorous training and on-the-job experience; things that you have to seemingly intentionally do. That’s what it seems to me. And then the soft skills are less tangible. Basically, it’s fungible, it’s blurred. You’re not really sure how to define those, and so they just end up being soft.
But I’m gonna pick a bone with that a little bit… Because I think that a lot of things that get bundled into this soft skills arena, around communication, around empathy, around emotional management - they are actually very definite… Like, humans are not all consistent to the level of computers, but we have a lot of patterns about us.
There are learnable, tangible things that you can teach, that you can learn…
…you can practice… And so – I mean, that’s another reason why I want to bin them under human skills. And a lot of what I’m trying to do in the interviews that I’m doing and with the podcast there is like break down to tactics that you can apply, even if you don’t understand why this works, and see increased effectiveness.
It does say that they’re often referred to as people skills or interpersonal skills. I think that’s obviously less brandable than human skills. I agree with your nomenclature that you’ve chosen… I agree. I think empathy is a practice thing. It’s something you can learn to do. It’s something that can come natural, but it also can get improved upon with practice, and I think intentional practice. Considering my involvement in the founding of Brain Science, despite its status right now, the podcast - that was a lot of my thrust; it was like “There’s so much to our human brain that connects us, more than divides us, regardless of race, color, creed, geolocation, language barrier, whatever it might be.” We’re all still just humans, and we all have this thing above the rest of our body, like the most important organ; like, if your brain does not operate, nothing else you do can be you. Like, you are only you because of what your perception is through your own life with your brain. And so I was like “Well, I think we’ve got to discover that more.” We have to improve who we are by learning more about our brain. I think that’s kind of what you’re doing, in a way, but in a different niche and subset of that, essentially.
Totally. Well, and there’s kind of three different levels you can tackle this on. So you can tackle - here’s a mental model for how I think about some domain; how I think about empathy, or how I think about something. There’s “Here’s sort of a strategy I can take for approaching it. Here’s my big picture.” But you can even break down to micro tactics of this is a thing you can change behaviorally, that will impact how you are perceived.
One really tiny example, that I love because it is so tiny and concrete - in English speaking communication, if you ask someone a question that starts with the word “why”, they will instantly feel more defensive. “Why did you do that? Why did you choose to do that?” Instantly, you’re like “Oh, I’ve gotta defend my choice.” If you change your phraseology to say, “What were you thinking that led you to do that?” It’s immediately perceived as more neutral, even though the information that I am asking for is exactly the same. So if you can systematically remove “why” from your vocabulary when you’re asking questions… And then you can, in a targeted way, reintroduce it when you want to have a little bit of that impact, or make this a little more cutting. But if you can just make that tiny tactical shift, it will instantly make the people that you are asking questions of feel less defensive, which will usually result in you getting better answers.
For sure. Yeah. We talked about mindset a lot, too. There’s a certain – you have a superpower in your choice. So your choice is your individual superpower, and your choice to change your phraseology, so to speak, whenever you speak to people, is part of that superpower you have. Mindset I think is a big thing. It brings to mind Jocko Willink’s thing where he says “Good.” So if you have a bad thing happen to you, he’s like, rather than think about the negative of it, he says, “You broke your leg? Good. What’s the positive from that?” I’m paraphrasing his bigger thing, but you know… You’ve got to run two miles? Good.
One of my direct subordinates, one of my guys that worked for me, he would call me up or pull me aside with some major problem, some issue that was going on… And he’d say “Boss, we’ve got this, and that, and the other thing…” And I’d look at him and I’d say “Good.” And finally, one day he was telling me about some issue that he was having, some problem, and he said “I already know what you’re gonna say.” And I said “Well, what am I gonna say?” He said “You’re gonna say “Good.” He said, “That’s what you always say. When something is wrong, and going bad, you always just look at me and say “Good.” And I said, “Well, yeah.” When things are going bad, there’s going to be some good that’s going to come from it. Didn’t get the new high-speed gear we wanted? Good. Didn’t get promoted. Good. More time to get better. Oh, mission got cancelled? Good. We can focus on another one. Didn’t get funded. Didn’t get the job you waned. Got injured. Sprained my ankle. Got tapped out good. Good. Got beat? Good. [unintelligible 00:23:02.13] Unexpected problems? Good. We have the opportunity to figure out a solution.
That’s it. When things are going bad, don’t get all bummed out, don’t get startled, don’t get frustrated… If you can say the word “Good”, guess what? It means you’re still alive. It means you’re still breathing. And if you’re still breathing, well you’ve still got some fight left in you. So get up, dust off, reload, recalibrate, reengage, and go out on the attack.
It’s a reframing, a redesign, so to speak, of how you look at different things. I think it’s a – I’m down. I mean, Jerod and I behind the scenes, we were totally for this. I think the challenge - and this is not a longer roundabout to say no… But when you get into a position when you’re creating so much content like we do, across the board - and Kevin, you know this, because you’re a part of the larger Changelog podcast universe - is that to remain focused, you have to say no to certain things, to keep the things you have on the rails as a yes.
Yeah. No, I don’t judge you all for saying no to me.
I know you don’t. I know you don’t. And so I totally believe in this. And a bigger angst I might have is getting into the details of how you’ve delivered this. You were so motivated that you literally went out, talked with other human beings about this idea of human skills… You took their time, you took your time, you took up digital space with bits and bytes of audio, you took your time to edit it, format it, and refigure it and put it out into the world. And what was the result of that? What was the result of that effort? How do you measure the result?
It’s a great question.
I think about this for us, too. This isn’t scrutinizing, it’s more like, we get so motivated by these things we care about. We do something about it, and we put it out there, and we want this feedback from the world. What was that feedback?
Yeah. No, it’s a great question, and it’s one that I’ve asked myself, because if I’m honest, the audience for this has stayed pretty small. I find myself getting a tremendous amount of value out of these conversations. And so in some ways, the thing that has kept me going is every time I have one of these, I learn something that I then can go apply in my work. And I’ve had other people tell me, “Oh my gosh, I learned so much from that.” I have maybe 100 subscribers on YouTube right now… Like, it’s tiny; a little more than that on Substack. But you know, in the podcasting world you don’t get much feedback.
[00:26:04.13] With 100 people I’ve hardly had ten of them independently say “Oh my gosh, I’ve gotten so much value from this. Thank you for doing this.” 10% of people giving feedback on something like that - I mean, early audiences are more passionate, but also it’s creating value for those folks. So long as it’s creating value for me, I want to keep going forward.
I think there is a question in my head of like “How big is the audience for this type of stuff?” Is the audience small right now because it’s undiscovered? Or is it small because actually most people don’t care? I don’t know the answer, but I am continuing to publish interviews every week. Caveat - I skipped this week, because my wife is traveling, I’m single-parenting, and editing is a lot of freaking time. I didn’t realize how much time y’all saved me editing JS Party… Man, it’s a lot. And so I’ve got a backlog of things that I just need to get to editing, and I haven’t had time… But anyway, that’s a long about understanding of – I mean, and some of this comes to “Why do I keep doing JS Party?” Some of it is because other people like it, but also, I get a lot of value out of every conversation that we have. It helps me think; it helps me shape my thinking and it helps me learn about stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to learn.
Yeah, for sure. You’re probably remote, right? You go into an office now, so I’d imagine that JS Party is part of your community. It’s part of your interpersonalness.
It’s a requirement, in a way. It’s like meeting up with friends, but instead of [unintelligible 00:27:29.18] friends. And in the evening, it’s a podcast, and you’re talking about work-related matters that interest you. And you get a chance to lead, too; you get a chance to –
…be an MC, and bring the topic up, and carve out that thing, and make it not just useful for you, but it also has an audience, so you get to transplant those ideas to other people as well.
Absolutely. No, podcasting is one of the most fun things I do every week. And certainly the most fun thing I do that can be called work.
Amen to that.
I wonder if it’s a packaging thing. This is, I think - Jerod, it’s something that you can help me with here too, is that in a lot of cases the idea is the thing, but it’s how you package it and share it with the world is the whole other thing. We have long-form content through some brain power of Jerod primarily, clips form in the world and they go out on YouTube, and Twitter, and other places, and in some cases not even a show that he’s on or I’m on. It’s Practical AI and you’ve got this person on that speaks of patenting, or trademarking, a billion whatevers, and with music… That whole one, Jerod - it’s blown up; that clip was less than two minutes, on Practical AI. It was about – tell the story, Jerod, with this one, because I’m butchering the specifics… But it was – it blew up. It transcended our audience and went to mainstream, and many places. It was on Reddit, it was on TikTok, it was on Instagram, and a lot of places where there’s commenting back and forth about this subject matter… And I think packaging is a big part of helping your content live. It’s how do you package it, how do you deliver it to the world… And because we don’t have a lot of time, when we’re first beginning to learn how to create content and deliver it and edit it and package it, we sort of take some perceived easy roads, because we don’t want to build the infrastructure for it, or whatever it might be… But the way people want to consume it might be a whole different way. Like, if you did the same content in a different package, would it transcend the 100 on YouTube, or several hundred on Substack, is the rough thing I’m trying to say. But sure the story, Jerod. What’s that gigantic piece of Practical AI content that just blew up? What was that?
So we had a clip from Damien Riehl, who’s a programmer/lawyer… So anybody who operates at such intersections has a high chance of being interesting, or having an interesting thing to say, or having done… And he told the story of the time that he and a friend decided to brute-force the creation of 471 billion melodies, write them to disk, copyright them, and then submit them as evidence as prior art in IP legal cases. And that changed the landscape of intellectual property in US court systems, because everybody could refer to this as prior art and win, when they previously would lose, being sued for copying certain melodies and stuff.
He tells it much better than I do, he tells it in 60 seconds, with a nice rhythm to the way he speaks… He’s done TED Talks, so this is a guy who’s told that particular story many times, and can tell it very compellingly…
And has crafted the way to tell it.
And he told it in a way that has a twist ending… Because this entire time you’re thinking this guy’s an evil villain, because he’s a lawyer who copyrighted a bunch of stuff, and you’re thinking “And then he sued everybody into oblivion.” Because that’s what lawyers do. And no, he took it all and put it in the public domain.
[00:36:02.24] And so the last minute you have a reveal… Which was very compelling, and made everybody want to share that, because their mind was blown. Plus, certain people in the comments didn’t listen to the whole thing, so they still think he’s a villain, and then they were getting arguments in the comments about “You didn’t actually even watch the whole clip, you didn’t pay attention”, blah, blah…
Which of course then surfaces it to more people, because controversy is how you make things go…
Yeah, exactly. So then the controversy… I ended up having to delete a few; I became a moderator suddenly, because…
…two particular people really just descended into not just name-calling, but really, really nasty name-calling, and so I just was like “This is ridiculous.” You know, it’s the scale of the internet; law of large numbers and all that. So the packaging was there, interesting, it crossed multiple thresholds… It was both musical, it was intellectual property, it was programming… It wasn’t actually AI, but it was on a show called Practical AI; that was part of the arguments, like “This isn’t AI. They just brute-forced it.” It’s like, of course it wasn’t. But anyways…
Like so much of what gets called AI, sometimes…
So that was that clip, and that’s a situation where you can retrofit all the reasons why it was compelling, which I’ve kind of just done for you all. But also, it’s the internet, baby; you just never know what’s gonna happen. Sometimes a thing blows up and the algorithms love you, and you can’t possibly reproduce that, even if you try.
Totally. Well, in my head there’s a phrase that I love from back when I was a startup co-founder, which was you work hard so you can get lucky. You show up every day, you ship stuff, and someday maybe you’ll get lucky, you’ll get that flash.
I think you’re right, Adam, about packaging. And right now, I frankly don’t have the time to experiment with it, but I’ve had it in the back of my head, like “Do I pay somebody to come in and experiment with this and do things with it? Do I partner with somebody?” But also, I’m getting so much value from just having the conversations for me, right now, that it doesn’t feel urgent. It doesn’t feel like it’s a problem that I have to solve right at this moment. I’m having these great conversations, I’m building this library of content, and I’m continuing to ship every week. And when I have bandwidth or funding or whatever to invest in exploring more packaging, maybe I’ll do that.
Well, on the other hand, a blog post that I have never written, but I titled and think about writing, is called “The Changelog has never gone viral.” And it’s not me complaining about the fact that we’ve never gone viral, but like our podcast, The Changelog, which has been around for 14 years now - we’ve had shows that are more popular, shows that are less popular… We’ve had blog posts and stuff that make it to Hacker News, we’ve had clips that go viral… That one’s Practical AI, so the Changelog still hasn’t done that… But throughout all these years - I mean, we haven’t had our viral moment, Adam. I mean, maybe we never will.
We just kind of slow and steady it, and we just keep putting out what we think is good content, we hope is good content… And it is what it is. I mean, I think that should be an encouragement. Of course, it does mean that you sometimes have to play the long game. But the question is, how long do you continue? When do you stop? And if you’re getting intrinsic value yourself, Kball, you have to judge that. You can also measure impact in a couple of different ways: breadth and depth. And so you’re demonstrating depth of impact with your human skills conversations, because the number of people you are reaching, you’re reaching them in a deep way; a way that it reaches them enough that they will tell you. And that’s actually a pretty high threshold. Because most people will just listen to your show, and never talk to you your entire life… Until you see them at a conference, and they’re like “I’ve been listening to you for years.” And you’re like “How come you never told me before?” You know?
Yeah, no, absolutely.
[00:39:55.24] So the people that do tell you, it means that you’ve actually – there’s a few different kinds of people, of course. Some people just tend to be more communicative on the internet, and so they’re the kind of person who will email you. But then there’s also the fact that you helped them enough that they felt compelled to email you. And that’s depth of impact. So if you can get both breadth and depth going, now you have a hit. But if you have one or the other, I guess I personally would take depth over breadth myself… Even though numbers games appeal to our dopamine things; you guys can probably help me with the brain science on that. But that could keep you going until you just slow and steady build up a base. I mean, that’s what we have done. We’ve never had a viral moment with the Changelog. I think the very first time we had the React team on the Changelog, years and years ago, I think that show did probably outperform like double the shows around it. It was a very successful episode. But not like you see with YouTube, TikTok, Instagram kind of virality. Podcasts just don’t do that, unless you have an existing audience. MKBHD - millions of followers on YouTube; starts a podcast - he immediately has a huge reach on his podcast. That one went viral, so to speak, because that’s just him extending his reach.
Yeah, you can do the cross-channel thing. Absolutely.
Yeah. But starting from scratch - I mean, most podcasts never have 100 listeners. I was just telling Richard Feldman this the other day; most podcasts never reach 100 listeners. If you’ve reached 100, and you’re still kicking, that’s success.
Yeah, for sure.
Yeah. Well, and as I said, I’m still getting a ton out of the conversations. I once before built a newsletter up on frontend development, and I built it up to probably around 4,000-4,500 subscribers, something like that… But I got bored.
I was a subscriber of yours.
Yeah. Well – thank you…
Thank you… [laughs]
This was ZenDev, right?
This was ZenDev, yeah, which was – I was doing consulting and some training, and… You know, it clearly created value, but I eventually canned it, because I got bored with the content. And I’m nowhere close to that with the Human Skills interviews. And I think there’s a whole swath of things I might explore around writing for this as well, and that’s an untapped arena here… But to me, the creator piece of it - something I learned from that experience is this has to not just be something that I think other people want to read, it has to be something that holds my attention. Every time I’m editing an episode, I’m listening through it and I’m like “Oh, yeah. Oh yeah, that’s great. I’ve gotta try that. That was a great idea. Let me pull that in.” So as long as I have that experience, I’m gonna keep going.
Well, share some nuggets of wisdom with us. What have you learned so far? Our listener’s probably sitting there, thinking “I would like some human skills.” You did the why one, which I appreciate. I actually work with a coach – I coach with a coach in basketball, who asks an interesting question, in that vein, when a player executes a play either improperly, or not the way he was coached to execute it. He will stop, and sometimes he’ll be yelling and stuff, because he’s a basketball coach, but he will also just say “What did you see?” And really, what he was asking was “Why did you do that?” That’s what the natural thing – like, “Why did you do that? That’s not what you’re supposed to do.” But he says “What did you see?” And then that child will replay what he saw that made him come to that decision, and it’s a very constructive moment that I’m gonna start copying, and ask him, “What did you see?” So I liked the reframing of why questions into other forms. That’s another example of that being effective. What else have you learned? Give us some nuggets.
Alright, so a few different things… Let’s see what are some good ones. So one super-fun conversation that I had was actually with Shawn Swyx Wang.
Never heard of him.
Swyx is an interesting guy, as you all know. He’s seeing a lot of success right now in the AI space. But I think of him as somebody who’s extremely productive, right? He gets so much stuff done; he’s always executing. So I asked him about that, and his reaction was “Everyone asked about productivity systems, and we can talk about that. But productivity is for people who don’t have leverage. So let’s talk about leverage.”
[00:44:12.14] And first off, that switch of “Here’s somebody that I perceive as extremely productive, and he tells me “You know what - productivity is not the right thing to be optimizing for. You may see me as productive. I don’t see myself as that productive, but I’m productive on the right things.” And so that was a brain switch.
And then we talked about what are the things that can create leverage for you as an individual; like how do you do personal leverage. And one thing that he was talking about is he said “Code and content both give you tremendous leverage, because those are things that you do once, and they can be shared, and they can do all these different things.” So they have abnormal power in terms of leverage. His highlight, he says “They’re permissionless.” You don’t need somebody else’s permission to write code or to write content, as compared to forms of financial leverage or other different things you might do, where you have to bring other people along. So I thought that was interesting.
He also talked about kind of being pointy. Figuring out a thing that you are particularly good at, leveraging that, and sometimes – he said “You want to resist being put in a box, because you contain multitudes, but people want to put you in a box, and so you may as well help them.” So if you become known for something, leverage it; leverage the heck out of it. Use that to go.
So if you have your viral episode of, in this case, the brute-forcing mechanism - like, are there ways that you can leverage that further? Certainly, this gentleman that you’ve interviewed is leveraging the heck out of that.
People love that. He takes it and he runs with it. Are there ways you can do that? Things like that. So I think those were pretty interesting areas.
Yeah. To go one layer deeper, [unintelligible 00:45:52.22] permissionless factor… Damien and his colleague didn’t ask anybody for permission to brute-force whatever billion number of melodies. They just did it, wrote it to disk, which makes it copyrightable, and then, on their own whim, with no permission from anybody else, gave it to the public domain. And so that now is high-leverage for him to be on podcasts, share that story, be on TED, which is a stage that everybody would love to be on if they’re a speaker. They required zero permission to execute that mission, essentially.
Permissionless leverage meaning – when you say leverage, you mean more output than input? Much higher output than input?
So I think the way he described it – I mean, let’s see if I can find a place to quote him…
I was skimming it with you when you were talking there, so… If you go to that page and search for the word “leverage”, there’s 31 matches?
31 matches of leverage on this page for your interview with Shawn.
Well, and that’s – I will note, this is what I do… I listen through these interviews, and I try to pull out a theme that I can then wrap up in the newsletter for it. And for some folks – if you like some of what Shawn said, you should go listen to that whole episode, because we didn’t only talk about leverage, but it came up enough times that was the theme that I pulled out. His definition of leverage, he says “Impact over effort.” And some people would describe “You want to maximize impact while minimizing effort”, and he’s like “No, don’t do that. You don’t want to think about minimizing effort. You have a fixed effort budget, you have some amount of effort… What’s the highest impact things you can do with that amount of effort?” So that’s thinking about work that’s going to scale.
Another place that came up in that conversation is thinking about where in an organization do you want to work? Different code in different parts of the organization have different amounts of leverage. One could think about this a little bit in terms of “Are you writing a feature or are you writing a library?” As you see people moving up in their careers, often they’re writing tools for other developers to increase their impact, increase their leverage, things like that. You can also look at what is valued within the organization you’re in, and make sure you’re working on things that you will see value from, because the organization perceives their value.
[00:48:08.23] So that’s like front office versus back office kind of distinction, where the people who are generating the revenue, their perceived value is higher than the people who are reducing the costs, right? The two levers that software can pull in any organization is increase revenue, reduce costs.
And of those two levers, if you want to be perceived as high-value, and survive layoffs and whatnot, you may be just as high-value in the back office reducing costs, but if you are on the generating revenue side of that equation, you’re going to be perceived as higher value. It’s just the way that we think.
Yeah. Though it varies some by organization as well.
A startup in particular usually doesn’t care much about reducing costs, because they’re trying to hit frontline revenue and they say “We can reduce costs later. We’ve got to show that there’s a business here.” A mature business might actually care more about reducing costs. And you’ve got scale such that a change will have a bigger impact, and you can tell that story.
So that’s one domain we could talk about… I’ve gotten a lot of value from interviews with people about management, because I work now largely as a manager. I still am in code. The lovely thing about being –
What are you coding?
What am I coding?
Yeah, like what tech are you using? What stuff are you working on? Get nerdy for a second.
Oh, get nerdy. So this is a simple SaaS app. We’re actually migrating right now from a purely Next-based system to one that’s just React on the frontend and a Rails app on the backend.
So you’re going off of Next.js?
Why? Oh, you don’t want to talk about it, or…? [laughs] Too big of a can?
This contains multitudes.
We’ll leave it right there. That sounds like a good upcoming JS Party episode, where we can dive deeper into those details. But you were trying to go somewhere else, and I derailed you… So we can move on from that.
…with Stephen Haberman… I’m blanking on his name.
Tell us what was wrong with his ORM, Kball. You don’t like it.
No, I did like it.
[laughs] I know, I’m just trying to get you to –
That episode called “The ORMazing show.”
[00:51:53.16] And it was ORMazing. And it was great. We dove really deep into some of the cool stuff they do with that ORM, and it is awesome. And there’s some things around sort of speed and paralyzation and the ability to do things that are really, really cool. It works async out of the box in a way that Active Record doesn’t. However, as a developer, where I don’t need all those optimizations, and I’m just purely optimizing for productivity, and having all these different things, it’s not quite as easy.
Fair enough. Well, we were trying to drive towards more human skills. You were talking about some of the stuff that you’re working on… I’m curious if you picked up anything on communication, because I think it was our episode with Kris Brandow recently, Adam, where we talked about the difficulty of engineers - I won’t to say explaining themselves, but really advocating for their positions and their decisions. Specifically, he was talking about how to justify a refactor, or the difficulty of talking about technical debt when you are trying to define things in like numerical terms… And I think I said to him “Communicating is hard”, and I was about to qualify it, and I just stopped, because I realized that’s just a true sentence.
And sometimes especially hard for engineers. And so have you learned any communication – because I think that, in terms of leverage, I think if software developers can be better communicators, then that takes you to the stratosphere, doesn’t it?
Yeah. So there’s a few episodes that went pretty deep on communication in different ways. So a couple that I will point to - one was with my good friend, [unintelligible 00:53:32.19] 15 years ago, and we’re still regularly in touch. He’s just a wonderful guy; has risen up in leadership, so he’s now doing an independent consulting thing, but before that, he was leading an engineering org with a couple hundred people in it. We talked a lot about communication, and one of the things that he really talked about was kind of having in mind, when you go into a conversation, who is the person you’re talking to, what tools do they have, what leverage do they have, what did they care about, what does success look for them? I mean, fundamentally, it’s about empathy. Starting from a place of – I forget who said it, but somebody else who I interviewed said it; your job – I think it was Lea Kissner who said this… Your job is not to say your thing. Your job is to say whatever it takes to get the other person to understand your thing. And that I think is where a lot of engineers fall down. Because we want to say our thing, and we say it in the terms that matter to us. “We need to refactor this because it’s terrible, and it’s causing all these bugs”, and whatever, whatever, whatever. But if we’re talking to a business stakeholder, we need to say what we’re trying to say in a way that matches what they care about.
So maybe they care about revenue and customer renewals, and you can say “Hey, our systems as they are right now are really hard to maintain, and they’ve got all this stuff going on in them that results in all of these bugs. And that’s causing customers to not renew, because they have a frustrating experience. My proposal is we invest a bunch of time to clean this up and rewrite it in a way that prevents or dramatically reduces those bugs from going out, and we think that will impact customer renewals.” And so what we’re doing there is we’re framing the thing that we’re talking about in terms of what the person we’re talking to cares about. And that I think is the big – I mean, there’s lots of pieces of that, and there’s a how do I do that, how do I understand what this person cares about…
And honestly, the first step there is just to put in a little work, building a relationship; have a conversation with them before you have to sell them on something. Understand who is this person. What are their challenges? What are their frustrations? One of the things that I suggest to engineers all the time is like if you’re interacting with customer success, or someone else, and you interact with them in a ticket, and you have never spoken to them face to face, reach out to them and be like “Hey, we were just interacting in this ticket, and I realized we don’t even know each other. Can we set up 30 minutes for a coffee date and just get to know each other a little bit?” Because if you don’t have in your head who is this person and what do they care about, it’s almost impossible to effectively communicate with them.
And over time, you can build up kind of categories that will be less perfect than if you know this person in particular, but you can know “Okay, people who work in Customer Success usually care about this set of things. People who work in sales usually care about this other set of things.” And so you can kind of use that as a proxy if you don’t have that pre-existing relationship. But to get that, you still need to build relationships with individuals in those positions.
Adam, you convince people of things all the time. How do you do it?
Ask questions, listen way more than I pitch… I think that you can’t really present an idea to somebody unless you understand what Kevin’s talking about, their position, their challenges, what they truly care about… Even what they believe is true. Because you might have the knowledge and the depth and understanding as someone that has value to offer, but unless it can be received, then it’s dead on the vine. So I find that there’s a maturity level to people we help through particular things that we sell. So in a lot of cases, I’m just asking questions. Where are you guys at? What are you doing? What’s working? What’s resonating? Do you work with podcasts before? Have you sponsored content? How comfortable are you in creating content? How valuable is it to your organization? Do you really care to reach the world’s developers, or do you care to reach a UX-centric audience? What are you trying to achieve? Who are you trying to speak to? What titles, even? I might even be like “Hey, if you’re trying to reach iOS folks, don’t advertise with us, because it’s not that we don’t reach them… We don’t reach them in large swaths that get you value. So why even sell them something we can’t really give them value in?
I like to ask a lot more questions than I do with the menu, so to speak… Because what we have to sell is pretty finite. It’s not challenging to present the menu, and we can get super-creative, but unless they will see value in the meal, so to speak, they will get comfort in the appetizing nature of what we offer, then it doesn’t make any sense to give them the pitch and it just doesn’t make any sense.
[01:00:00.00] And I’m super-relational, too. We will often talk to folks 20 minutes, maybe more, just about what’s going on. Or even the growth of our organization; just relating, so to speak. So I like to ask a lot more questions than I offer a pitch. And I don’t like to present the menu. I never start a call with “Here’s what we sell. Do you want to buy it?” It’s never like that. It’s more like “Where are you guys at? What are you doing? How are things working for you? How high-priority is this?” Budget’s always a factor, obviously. How much are you investing into this? What’s a good place to begin for you? What are you comfortable with? And I think that translates to many things, not just a “I have something to sell/you buy it” scenario. It’s more like “I have an idea.” For example, what you said, Kevin, you said “I have ideas of how to change things for our organization for the better. But before I present them to you, what are the challenges you’re facing? What do you care about most? What are you dealing with right now?” Because if I can solve something, and it matters to you, but something else is much higher priority, I’m not going to bother you with this presentation of my idea, because it’s premature, or you’re not ready to hear right now. I need to know more about what you care about before I can say “I can actually solve your problems.” You have to know the person to some degree, or know what they’re dealing with, to truly present some value.
Yeah. I interviewed with Mark Freeman… I don’t think I quoted this piece of it in the newsletter, but he’s a data scientist. That’s his background. And he talked about, he will have conversations with all the main stakeholders in his organization, and basically be like “Hey, not making any promises about what we can do, but I’d love to know what problems do you have, that you think data might be helpful for?” And he’ll have that upfront. And he’ll gather this whole list of “Oh, this person is interested in these things related to data. This person is related to that”, whatever. And then when he’s got all that, now he sees something he wants to do, he knows “Oh, that’s connected to this thing this stakeholder wanted. Let me go and pitch them, so that now I can get buy-in, and an ally, and somebody to help make this happen, because I know the problems they’re having, and I can now connect the things that I think we should be doing with problems that are being felt elsewhere in the organization.”
I think a lot of this really begins with being - back to the human skills, being the best human. I think that’s probably why you camped out there. I think there’s a lot of – just a lack of emotional intelligence, and even self-regulation and self-awareness, to be the best human, to offer the best value for an organization. Like, I just think that’s a norm in society. A lot of us live unhealthy lives in many respects, whether it’s relationally, whether it’s exercise, or health, or food, or sleep… All these things. Then you’ve got like the news, and the constant cycle of negativity out there… I think we live in a very stormy atmosphere, at least here in the US, particularly. Probably it’s a global situation, but I can’t speak globally, because I’m not at all different places in the world. But I think that we deal with a lot of stuff to make it challenging to show up as the best version of us every single day. And I think that plays into a lot of dysfunction into organizations.
So just having things that help people be better human beings, like reading certain books… Or even with you, Kevin, you mentioned - while you have not amassed an army of subscribers, you have amassed a lot of things that give you value in the product itself. And I’m sure there’s a lot of people that you’re influencing through the content that you’re creating, and the things that are interesting to you to pursue, that make it valuable. I think that’s a super-big challenge. So that’s why I like the idea of human skills; we just haven’t found a way to package it in a way that really makes sense to carve out together, in a sense.
Yeah. It’s all good.
What are your thoughts on that? What are your thoughts on the immaturity of individuals, and emotional intelligence, and best selves etc?
[01:04:01.10] Yeah, I mean, I think it’s hard. I think we have to give ourselves a little grace. Every person out here is dealing with something. They’re dealing with challenges. There’s a lot of stuff going on at a societal level; you never know what somebody is dealing with at home, dealing with other different things.
One of the things I try to do in all of my kind of interactions at work is give people permission, essentially, to just be people, and be human. I remember I had a get-to-know-you conversation at my last job with someone who was new there… And we just started going off on books. We were talking about books, and it was fun, and we were talking about books we like, and going, and we get 25 minutes in and she goes “Oh my gosh, we have five minutes left and we haven’t talked about work at all. Did we screw up?” and I’m like “No, it didn’t screw up. We’re connecting as humans. This is great. That’s okay.” And I think especially in the remote-centric environment, we need to make explicit the work that goes into connections.
Honestly, I love a lot of things about remote work, I love not having to commute, for one, but also, I love being able to work with people all over the world and have it not be a problem… But the challenge with remote work is a lot of the kind of natural relationship building that happened around the edges if you’re all collocated in an office doesn’t happen. And so if you want to create relationships as human beings, you need to go out of your way to make that happen. I do it by scheduling one-on-ones with random people - or not random people, but with everyone, essentially, and like just putting in time and energy to that. As a manager, meetings are part of my job, so I can do a lot of that. If you’re an engineer, maybe you do one of those a week, where you’re just like reaching out to somebody and you’re like “Hey, let’s connect. Let’s just talk about stuff, and be humans together.” There’s lots of different ways you can do it. Some companies will have – I’ve heard it called Mandatory Fun, where it’s like “Oh, we’re gonna do this fun thing together.” And there’s pros and cons to that, but the underlying idea that relationships are a part of work, they are an important part of work even if you are not a manager where relationships are explicitly part of your job. For engineers, having relationships at work, knowing the people that you are serving and interacting with, will help you do your work.
And so conceptualizing part of my job is to make sure that I’m building at least some amount of relationship with my team, and my stakeholders. And I’m going to explicitly put in time and energy to make that happen. And that relationship is a human relationship. It’s just like, I want to get to know these people, you know? That’s okay. We just need to make it explicit, because it’s not going to happen in the lunchroom and at the watercooler the way it does if you’re in an office together.
But what if you don’t like people? I mean, that sounds snarky, but I think that that’s a real concern for a lot of people. They’re like “You know what, I just don’t really like people. I don’t like talking to people. I don’t care what they’re doing. I know that maybe that’s selfish, but that’s just who I am right now.” What do I do?
Are you asking for a friend, Jerod?
It’s very rare that somebody doesn’t like anyone. I know a lot of engineers who don’t like interacting with people who are not engineers.
But usually, there’s some engineers that they enjoy interacting with. If you don’t enjoy anyone that you’re working with, I would recommend trying to find a new job. Now, caveat - not everybody can do that. You may be in a position you can’t, or other different things. But honestly, you deserve to like the people that you work with. That’s my opinion. You deserve, as a human being, to like your job, and to like the people that you work with. And within the constraints that you have, whatever they are, if that is not true, I think you should feel justified in looking for a new job.
Or be required to.
[01:07:54.08] I halfway agree with that, yeah. I agree that you should definitely feel justified in looking for a new job. I don’t know about deserving to like the people – like, sometimes… I don’t know, it depends on what you mean by deserve. We can probably bikeshed that. Probably not worth it. But i definitely agree that if you don’t like any of the people that you work with, logically, you should be probably searching for somewhere else to work.
Yeah. I mean, you’re not gonna love everyone. People are hard. There’s gonna be some people who rub you the wrong way. But if you don’t like anyone that you work with - that sounds terrible. Why would you do that to yourself?
I think it goes back to the fundamentals of the human being, too. If you’re someone in the world - and I get it, there’s a lot of people who are just curmudgeon; they just like less people. There’s introverts versus extroverts, and there’s a lot of studies around the different traits and characteristics that come with people who ebb and flow through that spectrum… But I think if you’re generally a person who doesn’t like anybody, or a lot of people, based on what Jerod said, I think there’s something going on internally.
Yeah, there’s something that’s not – I wouldn’t say normal necessarily, but if you’re someone who doesn’t like the people you work with, or people… You said people in general, Jerod; is that what you mean by that? People in general? You don’t like people, so therefore “I just want to do my job and not interact”?
Okay. Well, that’s cool, I suppose, to some degree, I guess, if you want to be that person… But you’re gonna be less valuable to an organization, because you’re hard to work with. You’re “an a-hole.”
You’re gonna stay right where you are, basically. And if you’re okay with that, then that’s what you do.
Totally. And you may go through periods in your life where that’s what you want, right? Like, it’s okay to choose to say “You know what, I am happy doing my work on my own. I don’t want to interact with any of these people. I don’t care if I advance, I don’t care if I have greater impact”, all these other things; that’s totally legit. It’s okay to say that. But know that you’re saying that; know that that’s a choice.
If you want to advance –
Don’t wonder why you’re not advancing.
…if you want to have greater impact… And honestly – well, it depends on who you are. But for me, if you want to have more fun, find the people that you like interacting with. Figure out how to interact with them more. Find the people that you maybe could learn to like to interact with, and figure out how to interact with them in a way that’s going to be fun for both of you. Relationships are fundamental to impact in organizations.
Now, coming all the way back to the conversation about Swyx… This isn’t to say there’s no way to have impact without having relationships. You can write some killer code, you could write some killer articles. As a lone wolf, there are ways to do that. It’s a lot harder, in my opinion, to have impact inside of an organization if you don’t invest in some relationships.
So if humans skills, to a certain extent, are a means to an end… If my end is I would like to make more money, what’s your advice there? So I’m an engineer, I make X dollars; I’d like to make more than X dollars. How do I do that inside my organization? What do I need to do? What do I need to say? Who do I need to talk to? How do I position myself, etc? What’s your advice?
So it’s gonna vary based on where you’re already at right now. And this is actually something that’s come up for me, because one of the things I was doing this last year is I’m working as a coach; I’m coaching engineers. I’m still coaching some engineers, even though I have this full-time gig, which is why I’m busy and haven’t been shipping more podcast stuff. But you may be in a place where you need to transition from solving problems to defining problems. So this is often a transition that happens somewhere between mid-level or senior, and then high senior and staff engineer.
Up to a point, people are essentially saying, “Here’s the thing we need done. You’re very junior, here’s the thing we need done; we’re going to break it down into tasks. You do tasks.” Okay, great. Higher level, “Here’s the thing we need done. Break it down into tasks and make sure it happens.” Okay. A level up from that is starting to say – you need to be identifying the things that need to be done, and figuring out how to convince people that those are the things that need to be done.
[01:12:04.13] So some of the skills that go into that is just starting to observe where are the friction points, where are things not working, whether it’s on the product side, or the team side, or something else, and figuring out how to package together something to improve on that. And that packaging - you don’t necessarily have to be the one who knows the answers, but you might be wrangling the people who know the answers, where you’re like “We keep having the bugs of this type. And they’re impactful, they’re causing us user problems, we’re losing money, whatever, whatever. We need to solve that. I think if we get this really smart engineer and that really smart engineer in a room together, then they will make that happen.” You kind of bring that together and make that happen. That is increasing your impact, even if you’re not the one solving the problem. And what you’ve done is you’ve identified the problem, you’ve labeled it and presented it to the organization, “This is a thing we need to solve”, and you’ve gotten together the people to make that happen. So that’s kind of moving up the value hierarchy, and you can keep going.
You can look at these job-level charts, and they’ll talk about these different things, and they’ll talk about scope of impact. That’s what you’re trying to optimize in most organizations to move up the hierarchy. And that’s moving up the hierarchy, whether you’re deciding to go into management or you’re going up the hierarchy as an engineer, you’re increasing the scope of your impact. And usually, that involves moving from solving problems to identifying problems, moving from working on a single project to working across projects, moving from interacting with people on your team to interacting with people across teams, or upwards in the organization.
That’s good advice right there. I think I’ll take that. So if you’re listening and you take that exact advice, and then you make more money as an end result, maybe let us know.
Or subscribe to Kball’s Substack or something, you know.
Or just send me a thank you, or a hello. You don’t even have to send a thank you; send a “Hey, I heard you and it sounded cool. I appreciate you.” Those go a long way.
And if you really want this human skills project to be repackaged into tight, well-formed, musical, edited, amazing podcast episodes here on a Changelog podcast, definitely let us know, because maybe that would be a way of convincing Adam to turn that no into a yes. What do you think, Adam?
I don’t think it’s my yes or no here, Jerod. I think it’s just –
You know where we’re at… To give some credence to that, we’ve tried to reduce our footprint to some degree by not producing so many podcasts. We went horizontal versus vertical… And I think this year we’ve seen many dividends be paid back to us in the feedback loop of just creating, because we’ve gotten more vertical with the Changelog in particular. This show, Changelog & Friends, this show has given us some room to play, I would say, maybe room to wiggle a little bit, that isn’t just “It has to be a serious interview, a finite project, has to equal X amount of minutes.” This gives us room to explore a bit. And I think the rhythm of Monday, Wednesday, Friday has really paid well to us.
I think I’d be happy having you back here frequently on this show, talking about human-related skills, or finding ways to have you kind of co-host in some cases, versus like a dedicated thing. I think you’re going to be better off, to some degree, on your own, with your own Substack, maybe even TikTok, where you’re sort of like going one to two minutes and you’re pulling –
I might be too old for TikTok, we’ve gotta say that…
I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
Adam pushes everyone to TikTok, that’s his move.
I’ve gotta try it, actually.
[01:15:49.00] The most innovative content happening out there, in my opinion, the proving ground is happening in virality, as well as consumability on TikTok. Like, there is a lot of remix… I just think it’s a proving ground for a lot of great things. It’s not the only ground, but I think there is a lot of people on that platform, and it’s rewarding to those who can find ways to present certain things in a way that people want to consume them. I think the algorithm rewards you well as well. I think a hub and spoke, multifaceted approach is the right way; maybe long-form or clips on YouTube, maybe very personal things on TikTok… I mean, a newsletter is still very great… I think you’ll see some dividends be paid to you, if you – even in this case here, you’re exposing your idea to a larger audience. Like, do this again, but on a whole different podcast.
Go on a little podcast sprint. Mention your love for JS Party, of course, mention your desire for being a better manager… You get to talk about the organization you’re in, you get to share more thoughts around your choice of Rails versus a React backend, or a Node backend, you get to share all these different things, and then you get to also supplant some human skills in there as well. I think that if you put a little more effort into that, versus just the content itself…
Now, keep in mind, you’ve got a family, you’ve got a full-time job, and so you might be like “Adam, I’m not going to do that. I don’t have time for it.” And that’s okay. Because sometimes we just create just to enjoy, not to go viral or to get big.
I always think like “What’s your goal in this? Do you want this to be a big thing?” Because if you want this to be a big thing, like 10,000, 20,000+, well, there’s a whole different playbook to enact and engage in. And if you want to remain not so much “small”, but achievable, something that you can easily keep doing while keeping your full-time job, while maintaining your balance your family, then where it’s at right now is perfect. Literally perfect for you. And at some point maybe it gets bigger.
One of the things that I’ve seen is that I as a human being operate best in sprints. So I will have times when I’m pushing really hard on this, and I’ll have times when I’m stepping back. And it’s just keeping the background publishing going, and sometimes we’re pushing hard, but… I mean, I love hanging out and talking with you all. I love going on and talking with other folks. And as I said, I do this because I’m fascinated by it. There’s so many layers to how we can do better as human beings interacting with human beings. And yeah, I love it.
Well, thank you guys for having me on. This has been super-fun. That felt like a bit of a wrap-up, so I’m gonna just jump on it… This was super-fun.
Yeah, man, wrap it. You’re a podcaster, too. He’s like “I can feel a wrap when I –”
I mean, we can keep going, but I can feel a wrap coming a mile away.
No, wrap it up, Kball. Wrap it up for us.
[01:18:51.07] Well, and I will say, to your point, I feel like all of my interests are aligning at this point. So the new job is a platform for coaching. I’m working at a company that is doing both direct to consumer and b2b, coaching, and especially coaching people in the tech industry right now, that we’re expanding, among other things. So that aligns, the podcast aligns, the stuff we talk on JS Party aligns. It’s all coming together in a great way. So I appreciate the ideas. Adam, I know you’ve thought a ton about this, and I’ll keep picking your brain for how to make it go more… But it’s also, like, these are all things that are, to your point, bringing me into the world. This is what I love at this point.
Well, it’s good too that you say that you haven’t become bored with it, yet at least. Because that’s half the battle with being a “content creator”. Somebody who curates ideas, funnels them into a piece of content that’s distributable, to not be bored with the thing itself. Because that’s a sad place to be, really. It’s not good. It’s not good. Change it if you can.
It’s not good…!
So HumansSkills.co is where people can go to subscribe to the Substack. And that also has the YouTube videos in it as well, plus some pros from you, and some quotes from the content etc. Some deep-dives… It seems to be about 40-ish minutes per interview. Is that roughly the rhythm?
Yeah, typically I’m talking with folks for on the order of an hour, and then there’s some editing, so it ends up somewhere between 30 to 40 minutes, and a couple of them get close to an hour.
I would encourage you to pull some of those clips out, personally narrate them, and share some of them on TikTok. Two minutes, three minutes or less… Bring in some closed captions, so to speak, so that you can read as well as listen… There’s a lot of cool things that you can do on there, and it’s permissionless. I think TikTok is very permissionless. And you can watch the trends, and the platform encourages remix. So “the best artists steal” kind of aspect - totally cool there. Steal the best ideas, steal the virality ideas that go well there… And I bet you you’ll reach a different kind of audience that cares about human skills, that also happen to be in software-related cultures. And I think that’s kind of where you’re at right now; you’re kind of in a coaching, not just “We’re a dev environment only”, we’re sort of in a place where you do b2b, you do direct to consumer, as you’d mentioned, you have a chance to be a manager and be somebody who coaches and educates… So I think that’s a great place to be, but I would encourage you to check it out, and do some play.
Alright. From your words to my brain. We’ll see what happens.
Yeah. And then come back and let us know how it worked out, and see where it goes from there. What else, Jerod? Is that it?
Come tell us the story of your viral TikTok that you created.
Yeah. Is that the show? This is the Friends, this is it? Right now, this moment?
That’s it. This is it.
Okay. Bye, friends.
Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚