A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be able to attend Valiocon 2016 for the first time. Although I've attended quite a few developer conferences with deep technical talks, this was my first designer-oriented conference. We flew out to sunny San Diego to get inspired by the great lineup of speakers.
Obviously on the technical side there was not a lot to learn on this conference, given it was a design conference. But what it lacked in technical content it more than made up for in inspirational talks, there were a lot of top-notch speakers. Even though it is a small conference, I heard someone say 150 attendees, the people there work for the big tech companies like Apple and Facebook and up and coming startups. That is something you don't often experience in a small European conference. Because it's a small conference, people are very approachable. You can attend someone's presentation in the morning and eat lunch with them in the afternoon.
The fact that it is hosted in sunny San Diego wasn't too bad either. The conference was closed with a party at Digital Telepathy which included a Street Fighter II tournament and a virtual reality experience with an Oculus Rift. It doesn't get much better than this. If you ever get the chance to attend this conference I can highly recommend it. It's a memorable experience. Even though I felt a bit like this as a developer surrounded by all those designers:
The general level of talks was high, but these were the talks and speakers that really stood out:
This was the best talk of the conference, meditation has been something I've been wanting to get into for a while and the talk gave me the push I needed. In the Q&A Luisa mentioned how she got started with meditation. Although I've been reading up about mindfulness and I'm convinced that it's the way to slow down I didn't really know what to do to get started. But Luisa mentioned headspace. It's an iPhone app that helps you meditating, their 10-minute lessons are free and are a perfect way to get started with meditation. Another great resource she mentioned is the Good Life Project, an excellent resource to learn about how to live a life deep of meaning.
Don't leave before you're done
Rushing through things seems to have become to norm. Complete the project as fast as possible to be able to move to the next project. Read as many blog posts or books as you can. But when you're always rushing, you'll start losing control. It's better to take your time and finish the things on a steady pace without rushing. The end result will be better and your mind will be much more at ease.
Less is better
There is always a meetup to attend, a todo to finish or a project to work on. But it's better to let it go and do less. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is a real thing and makes you feel that whatever you do, it's never enough. Just accept the fact that you can't do everything and you'll experience JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out). Remember, less is better.
There is no there
As a developer you constantly want to get better. If only you could learn that language you'll get to the next level, you'll get "there" where you want to be. Six steps to Programmer's Zen perfectly summarizes the problems our profession is confronted with and how to handle them. Just keep it mind that as your skill grows, your expectation will grow. So once you get closer to where you want to get, you unconsciously have moved "there" a bit further. It's the journey that matters, not the destination.
Jason is the founder of TEKSTartist and had an inspiring story about how he hustled his way into launching the project. There were two things that stuck with me. The first thing he talked about was having a drug dealer mentality when launching a new project:
Give it away for free and they'll come back for more
Just as a drug dealer he suggests at first giving your product away for free. If it's good enough people will come back, willing to pay for it. This is a good way of getting your first clients. Keep in mind though that eventually you want people to pay for your product or services, tell that to your customer or this can be a slippery slope. This has to be a conscious choice on your end, don't let a new client force you to work for free because it'll be good for your portfolio. If someone suggests that you should,j be decisive and let them pay for what they ask you to do.
You don't get what you don't ask for
This is so simple but it's 100% true. People are afraid when they have to ask a favor or an extra effort from another person. But often people are glad to help and the request is much less a burden than you thought. Most of the time it gets even worse when you take time to think about it. You'll go over all the scenarios in your head and you'll always think the worst-case scenario will unfold, so you will get scared of offending the other person and won't ask. This is hardly ever the case. So ask away!
Ben is the co-founder of Rally Interactive, an interactive studio based in Salt Lake City. He sees projects as stepping stones, getting you to a higher level with each step. That's why you should take on projects that are outside your comfort zone, it will help you grow. One of the projects he showcased was the National Parks app they made for National Geographic which was really impressive.
Prepare on external APIs failing
Even though the app was a big success, like all projects it had its problems. One of the takeaways Ben mentioned was: prepare on external APIs failing. They developed a fully functional app with bells and whistles but once an external API was down or responded slow the whole app would hang. You need to prepare for this case, your app needs to keep working.
Having hard conversations is hard
Every project has hard conversations, but you should never postpone them. Even though having hard conversations is hard, bite the bullet and handle it or it will only get worse. Or to quote Mark Twain: "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day."
Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something
Starting is hard and almost nobody is good at the beginning. But starting is the first step, once you start you're on your way to get better and eventually become good at it.
One life is too short for doing everything
This is something I struggle with from time to time and is related to FOMO. You just need to choose in life, you can't read every book, learn every technology and work on every project. Choices need to be made. Each day I try to become a better developer but all that comes second. I never compromise on spending time with my kids. Even though I constantly want to learn, my kids always get priority and I make sure I spend time with them every day.
It's never too late to start, it's never too early either
Together with Corinne Alexander's advice, now is the best time to start with that project you've always wanted to start. Do you want to learn something new or pick up a hobby? Just do it! But keep in mind that life is too short for doing everything. It's all about balance!
Don't disregard your limitations
Listen to your body, don't work excessive hours and go for a walk outside once in a while. Otherwise your limitations will catch up on you'll be forced to take a break. Whether if you want to or not.
It's not what you have, it's what you do with what you have
Talent is one thing, but effort is at least as important. You should never compare yourself with somebody else, even though that's really easy said but much harder to practice. There is always somebody better in the world, it's what you do with your talent that's important.