Every once in a while someone asks me, “How does one go from being just-a-developer to presenting at conferences?” When I hear this question, a little voice inside my head asks, “Why are they asking you?” And then another voice says, “You idiot, it’s because you made that trip from just-a-developer to conference speaker.” So now we have an admission that I hear voices in my head. (Is anyone surprised? I thought not. Moving on…)
A disclaimer: what worked for me may not work for you. I can hear you thinking, “Why not, Andy?” Well, because you are not me. Before you get in a huff about that, let me assure this is a good thing. Trust me. And it will likely work more in your favor than you realize.
How I Did It, by Andy Leonard
This may sound strange. The first thing I did was decide I wanted to do more with my career. This didn’t come naturally to me. My beautiful bride, Christy, encouraged me.
Next, I asked people who were already speaking at conferences how they did it. Most ignored me. But a few responded and told me I needed to increase my credibility in the technical field of my choosing. Awesome. “How do I do that?” I asked. A good way to start is by helping others. Awesome. “How do I do that?” I asked again. By posting answers on forums and by blogging.
When I asked these questions, most forums were hosted on usenet (Remember usenet?). I didn’t fare well in the forums; I am not sure why. I quickly found blogging to be awesome, though. I cannot locate that first blog site – I can’t even remember where I started it. Shortly afterwards, I set up VSTeamSystemCentral.com and started blogging there. Here’s a link to my first blog post there.
Around the same time, I asked if I could present at the Jacksonville Florida (where I lived at the time) SQL Server Users Group. I learned of a Code Camp in Jacksonville and submitted a presentation. It was accepted! And, I was fortunate enough to work for an established icon in the SQL Server field: Brian Knight. Brian was writing a book on SQL Server 2005 Integration Services and was looking for co-authors. It was very good timing: I had recently been published in Visual Studio magazine and at SQL Server Central.com.
Of all the opportunities, being an author of the Wrox book Professional SQL Server 2005 Integration Services made the biggest difference in my career.
After that first book was published, things picked up considerably. But I didn’t stop there. Frank La Vigne and I restarted the Richmond SQL Server Users Group. I participated in organizing the first Richmond Code Camp. I was asked to help write two other books. I became a consultant. Each step built on the previous work, and I was awarded SQL Server MVP.
Was I Just Lucky?
I have had this discussion with friends. My answer to “just lucky” is, “No.” Was I lucky? Absolutely; I was more than merely “just lucky.” Allow me to explain.
I found myself working for Brian Knight, an established author and expert in our field. He asked me to help author one of the first books published about SSIS (I had
offered begged to help earlier but there were no openings on the author team until later…). Most first-time authors receive several rejections before being published, and I was asked. That was fortunate.
But I had already started publishing: a blog and a couple articles. This is why I say I was more than merely lucky. I was writing. I caught a lucky break on the SSIS book and then I worked my butt off to bring that writing in. My chapter on Team Foundation Services was one of the first published on TFS. It may have been the first, I’m not sure. You may not recall this, but TFS 2005 and SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 were all slated to be released together in November 2005. We started writing under that assumption, and then in September 2005 Microsoft announced TFS would not ship until sometime in 2006. That put a wrinkle in the plans for the book because we wanted it on the market before TFS was scheduled to be released. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that chapter was nearly cut from the book and that I saved it by rewriting it (and reworking the demos) in a marathon 40-hours-straight writing session immediately after Microsoft released a TFS CTP in October 2005. So “lucky?” Yes. “Merely lucky.” I don’t think so.
Can I Do This?
If you are asking yourself, “Can I do what you did?” The answer is not only, “Yes;” it’s “Heck YES!” You can probably do it better and in less time. I can hear you thinking, “Are you just being falsely modest?” No, I am not. I say this because there are a bunch more resources out there nowadays than there was eight years ago. There’s lots more software out there, and more people using the software who have great questions about how to use it. Am I being modest? Maybe, but it’s not false – I promise. I’m a chicken-farmer with an Associate’s Degree, folks. C’mon. If I can do this I know you can.
Great question! Go to the free blogging site of your choosing (there are several out there, WordPress.com is one of the larger choices). Start a blog today.
“What Do I Write About?”
My goodness, you are on a roll with the excellent questions! Write about what you know. Pick a problem you hit recently and write about how you solved it. If you haven’t encountered a problem recently, set up your blog and wait – you’re due for a problem any minute.
“But I Solved the Problem Using a Post By Someone Else”
So what? Did the post you found help with every single aspect of the solution? Some do, others don’t. Regardless, reference that helpful post in your post. If that helpful post walked you through every little part of the solution, write that. If there were things you didn’t understand and had to figure out from other helpful posts, write that (and link to the other helpful posts).
What To Expect
Will your email box fill up with requests to present at international conferences and write books? No. Not at first. You have to pay your dues and earn your chops (like everyone else). Is it easy? No. Writing is harder than it looks. Writing well is harder still. I find I am a much better editor than writer. So I wrote this blog post during lunch, saved it away in my drafts folder (I love LiveWriter!), and opened it later in the day to edit it.
There is some fantastic advice out there about how to write well and better. Search for it. You will find it. And you need to learn how to find things for yourself, so consider this a homework exercise.
Where To Start?
At the beginning. For me, the beginning was writing.
Just write. That’s one way to get started.
PS – Some friends recently took this advice and started blogs. Check them out: