hckr.fyi // thoughts

Burning MVP Bridges (and Other Tales)

by Michael Szul on

I used to blog consistently. At peak, I was probably producing one high quality blog post a week on technology. I also co-produced one podcast and completely handled another. Then there were the video tutorials. This wasn't even peak output. There was a period of time when speaking engagements were also thrown into the mix. I was certainly a core content producer on the Interwebz, gaining traction in technology circles, and I was even a Microsoft MVP.

That award started to bother me.

First, after a time, I felt chained to the content—being forced to produce more content and higher quality content in order to live up to that stature. That was my own fault and not Microsoft's.

The first thing to go had to be the speaking engagements. The amount of time wasted on a PowerPoint or demo for multiple track conferences that gave you 10-30 audience members… or if you're lucky, a single track conference that netted you 150 or so… I remember driving home at some point while my phone was blowing up with all the local events that I could have been going to with my family instead of catering to a boxed in audience on a Saturday—most of whom would forget what the hell I was talking about and find it later online.

Conferences are about the culture. If the conference doesn't have a culture (re: DefCon, HOPE) it really doesn't need to be an in-person thing. The best parts of any conference are the hallway sessions anyway.

The other part of speaking engagements that nobody tells you about is that most people up there aren't experts. I once sat in the audience where the speaker was a women maybe a year into her job. She went over her team's technology stack and then ended with "don't even try to fold in these things" referring to ClojureScript and other front-end(ish) technologies. I'm unsure how she qualified as a person to give a talk. A talk at a conference that you paid money to go to should be by an expert that you trust or be an anecdotal story/narrative about a given situation. The latter lends itself to novices, which is fine. But I didn't spend 20 years in the industry to hear a talk by someone 1 year into their job. That would have been better for a community meet-up.

The reason this is a problem is that speaker selection committees are seldom experts and most of them are looking for a way to sell the conference, which puts marketing over reality… which happens most often with any marketing. I once sat on a speaker selection committee and I was the only person out of 5 that had an actual job (and experience) in programming. The rest were content managers, designers, and librarians. This isn't a dig at the latter categories, but it just means that the ability to evaluate the authenticity of the proposed talk is at a disadvantage when that talk is about programming.

There was once a time when a very large company gave one of their very large conferences and during a panel on chatbots my name was on a slide and I was given a shout out by that team for my community work. This conference then holds regional conferences the rest of the year. I submitted to speak at my region's version of the conference. I was rejected in favor of a novice chatbot developer and an Office 365 developer. Think about that. The team that built the technology acknowledged my contributions in a global conference. The regional conference selection committee rejected my talk.

Conference speaking just wasn't panning out. I was getting tired and jaded, so I stopped.

I kept blogging and podcasting though; however, I slowly started to disengage from the Microsoft MVP program and community. Fun fact: I almost worked for Microsoft. They wanted me to manage one of their SDK teams, but we couldn't come to terms on location. I wanted to be remote, but they wanted me to be in Washington. Fun other fact: I applied for a remote position with a team that works with that team and the hiring manager of the previous position introduced me to the hiring manager of the new position and recommended me. The hiring manager of the new position asked for dates/times to talk, so I sent them over. I never heard from him again and my application was form rejected. This, of course, was despite being an "MVP" in the technology that the job was for.

So that's now double jaded. I eventually stopped plugging Microsoft technology and even stopped contributing to the community effort. I felt like I was being used for free work and free advertising… and I probably was.

The blogging and podcasting and videos turned from things to keep me in an MVP program to a solid look at the state of technology. It even had a cyberpunk flair to it.

Ultimately, I burned myself out though. Too much content and I ended up having an existential crisis of "what is all of this for?" before ending all my media endeavors.

For the longest time, I had a line item in my daily tasks for "writing" just after lunch. I've crossed it out every day as I've failed to put my fingers to the keyboard. It look me a long time before I recovered from that experience, and I'm only now just getting comfortable with returning to the world of ideas on the Internet.

A lot of this pain has to do with the productivity guru focus on cultivating a persona. Many Internet companies abandoned the idea of a "handle" in favor of "real names," which made your public and private lives collide. If you were a knowledge professional, an online presence was understood, and the Interwebz proliferated with the multi-level marketing-like mindedness of the Tim Ferriss' of the world. Go ahead and send him $50 for his book How to Get People to Send You $50 for a Book.

Unfortunately, the technology industry nearly requires some form of online existence, whether through LinkedIn, GitHub, or some avenue where they can "test" your hirability before deciding to reel you in or put you back on the shelf.

I don't know what the answer is, but I know it's not burnout. Work on getting better. Work on enriching your knowledge and life, and by all means, feel free to share it on the Internet. But realize that you don't live on the Internet, so posting to Twitter shouldn't dominate your life. Go for a walk instead.