Take Charge of Your Technology Career with Dan Appleman
Episode #5 Published Wednesday, July 22, 2020
This week, I talk with Dan Appleman about taking charge of your career. Among other things, we touch on getting started in technology, what to focus on when learning, defining success, being a generalist or a specialist, entrepreneurship and retirement. The show goes a bit all over the place, but contains lots of little knowledge gems.
This episode is brought to you by me. If you like this show and want to support it, please visit my courses on Pluralsight and buy my new book "200 Things Developers Should Know", which is about Programming, Career, Troubleshooting, Dealing with Managers, Health, and much more. You can find my Pluralsight courses and the book at www.developerweeklypodcast.com/About
Dan Appleman is an entrepreneur, author and speaker on both technology and career topics. He is currently the CTO and a co-founder of Full Circle Insights, a Silicon Valley marketing analytics company on the Salesforce platform. He is a Salesforce MVP and the author of numerous books including the best-selling book "Advanced Apex Programming". He also authors online courses on Pluralsight.com relating to the Salesforce platform as well as other technology and career topics.
Barry Luijbregts 0:17
Welcome to another episode of developer weekly. This week, I'm talking with Dan appleman, about taking charge of your technology career. Dan is an entrepreneur, author and speaker on both technology and career topics. He's currently the CTO and co founder of full circle insights as Silicon Valley marketing analytics company on the Salesforce platform. And he is a Salesforce MVP, and the author of numerous books, including the best selling book, advanced Apex programming. He also authors online courses on pluralsight.com, related to Salesforce platform as well as other technology and career topics. Welcome then you really are a living legend. It's an honor to have you on the show.
Dan Appleman 1:46
I very, it's it's funny, it's funny, you should use the word living legend. When I got into Salesforce. I was at a conference and you'll people who knew me from the Visual Basic days would come up to me and and there was like, Well, what are you doing with Salesforce? And there was the sort of undercurrent like, what he's still alive. So I don't know about the legend part, but living knock on wood still still with us.
Barry Luijbregts 2:10
Yeah, you've been doing all of this for quite a long time. And you've pivoted a couple times as well.
Dan Appleman 2:16
Anybody who's been in technology, as long as I have had better have pivoted more than once, because, you know, let's face it, the technologies I studied on and learned on and practiced for the first decade of my career are museum pieces. Now, literally museum pieces, I can go to the when I go to the local Computer History Museum in Mountain View. It's a real trip because I walked through there and said, Oh, I own that one. It's like, Oh, I wish I owned that one. And, and so yeah.
Barry Luijbregts 2:47
That's how it goes.
Dan Appleman 3:18
Well, um, so there, there were basically two reasons. One was I had just finished my finished my first Pluralsight course, on apex. And I was thinking, wow, you know, wouldn't it be great to write create a course that would appeal to, to everyone to every developer? You know, of course, like that would do well, and, and, and I think I know a few things about a career. So I proposed to, to Pluralsight. Let me do a career course. And their reaction was, well, we've never done anything like that before. I don't know if anybody would be interested in watching it. But I had a lot of faith in it. Because you Even when I would speak at conferences, I found that speaking truth about what it is to be a developer is all too rare. And if you do speak truth about what we're really experiencing as developers, that it resonates with people, and it's important, so I did that was my first career and survival strategies for developers now for technologists because I broadened it and, and I continued to do career courses ever since because I think they are you know, as you say, we tend to focus on the technology, but the career part is so important. Yeah.
Barry Luijbregts 4:40
Because technologies are transient. Like you said, you know, they they comment they go away. So you need something broader to actually keep you alive within your career and your your working life.
Dan Appleman 4:51
And and all of the career skills and soft skills. I call them multipliers because they take whatever technology skills you have They multiply, they increase the effectiveness of those skills. And they last forever, they don't become obsolete. So I think that thinking strategically about your career is important. And this is something that these are all things that I wish someone had taught me because I did not know, or do or think about any of this stuff. For the longest time in my career, I would sort of Corinne from opportunity to opportunity saying, oh, time for a new job, what's out there? I didn't think strategically at all. And I really, you know, looking back, if only somebody had talked about these things, it would have been, I think it would have been valuable.
Barry Luijbregts 5:43
Yeah, it's definitely not a topic that's been taught in school or a formal thing. So that that's lacking. But luckily, there's now resources out there like your pro site courses, for instance. I think when you talk about career, the first thing you should start Thinking about is well, how do you define success in a career? When is your career successful? When when are you happy with what you're currently doing? So how do you define success?
Dan Appleman 6:12
It's incredibly difficult. And, you know, it's really easy to say, Well, I'm successful, because I'm making more money or because I got a title or promotion or, or, or something like that. But, you know, how many of us really know what we want in life? Right? Yeah, we have opportunities and, and, and we follow them. But, you know, do we think about what is important to us? Do we think about, you know, things like work life balance and, and what we're passionate about, and, and all of these kinds of questions, and they're very individual. So it is important to take the time to think about those things. But that doesn't mean it's easy. It's not a case where you can go to someone and say, Hey, you know, well Think about what success means to you. And he sort of dropped blank because that that requires soul searching. And it changes over time. You know, things that I considered a success, you know, 10 years ago are maybe different from what I consider successful today.
Barry Luijbregts 7:16
Yeah, absolutely. I have to same thing when I was younger, I'm still pretty young. Actually. When I was younger, even, I found, I thought that I would be very successful if I had, you know, a nice car, nice house and a nice salary. But now I don't care about that as much. I just want to be home for my family for for dinner for my kids. That's how I define my success.
Dan Appleman 7:41
And as a technologist, that is really, really hard because everything in our culture says, you know, if you're going to be a software developer in technology, you have to keep learning you have to keep up we have this intense pressure, that any minute that you're not spending, you're reading a textbook or Studying or something like that is is puts your career at risk. And it's all too easy to sacrifice friends and family and, and hobbies and other things to that pursuit.
Barry Luijbregts 8:14
Oh, yeah, I definitely did that when I was younger as well. I just learned and worked into evenings and weekends open source thing there a side hustle there, just to just to keep up Really? Yeah, it's it's a lot of pressure. And actually, I got I got burned out. Like, five years ago, I had a burnout because of it. And because of that I had, well, first thing was to actually identify that it was a burnout. That was very difficult because I just stopped being productive. I was tired all the time. couldn't really get out of bed. didn't really see a reason to get out of bed. or sad. It just started crying out of nowhere. And then I just, my wife also said, well, you you're burned out. You're done. So I changed my life. That's Basically what I did as in, I changed how I worked, I stopped my current job, I was a freelancer, I stopped working for, for a company that was, was not fitting my purpose, because it was very frustrating to work there. I think that was a very big thing. And I had a little control over what I did. And I worked very hard. So I stopped that. And I started plural sites, and make Pluralsight courses.
Dan Appleman 9:26
And, you know, it's very brave of you to say these things, because, you know, it's not something that that most developers, you know, especially in, you know, still to this day, a lot of technologists are men, right. And that's a hard thing in most cultures for men to talk about. You know, and one of the, the, I suppose, more selfish reasons that I would like to see more women in technology, aside from all of the great reasons like opportunity and so on, is it might cause a little bit of a shift of that culture to to have a greater appreciation for Being Human as a technology worker, right, and not just a coding robot, a lot of us are. So this is something I noticed. And I noticed relatively early when I was on the speaker circuit, and I'd go to all these conferences. And you know, you've been to conferences, you know that a lot of the talks are about the latest technology, the newest technology, what's coming next. Right? And officially, everybody goes to these because we're so excited about the new technology, but I think, yeah, I think the unspoken thing and this is what I started speaking about in some of my sessions was, we're attending these things because we're terrified that we're falling behind. Right, and we're gonna miss something and it'll impact our job and, and so on. And it's okay to speak to that. Right, it's okay to acknowledge that and in one of the messages that you'll see in A number of my courses is that when it comes to learning technology, the bleeding edge, which is the newest technology is the last place you want to be, unless you are a speaker or a trainer, or someone who really makes their living. Talking about the very latest technology, you really want to wait, you know, six months or a year, because if you wait, other people will get rid of the bugs. Other people will be writing blog posts, it's become so much easier to learn it, it's more stable. The bleeding edge is a terrible place to be as a working developer, it's a very inefficient place to learn technology. So unless it's a technology like right now Apex where it is my job to be right at the leading edge for everything else. I wait a year. You know, I look at the technologies about a year old. It's it's just I wasted less time dealing with that.
Barry Luijbregts 12:01
Yeah, yeah, definitely Me too. I just, although some technologies I kind of have to get into as a Pluralsight author as well. And I'd like to get into like blazer, for instance, which is a new thing. But for production purposes, I stay away from it as well. And also just for peace of mind, because I don't want to deal with all that.
Dan Appleman 12:21
I went through when Microsoft came out with ole and ActiveX. And they took all the component models they had, they had a VB x component model for Visual Basic, and they created this whole new calm, ActiveX thing. And it took a long time for it to come out. And the reason was that they kept changing it. I mean, we build something and they break it, we build something and they break it. It was a miserable, horrible, terrible experience for people who were trying to adopt this new technology. It was, yeah, was that I think that's where I really learned that how awfully stressful and difficult the bleeding edges.
Barry Luijbregts 13:04
Dan Appleman 13:54
Barry Luijbregts 16:45
And then to create a strategy for yourself on what you're going to learn and how you're going to learn it.
Dan Appleman 16:51
Absolutely, absolutely. And, and more important, how to do it efficiently because, you know, we're all busy. You want time Hang out with your family. So anything you can do to learn more efficiently is worth it. And, and I'm a real believer in that and, and I've gotten much better at practicing it myself and really thinking about, Okay, I'm gonna learn this technology, how am I going to go about it? What's my strategy? What's my plan? How far do I want to go? Because, you know, you don't have to become an expert, you cannot become an expert in everything. So, one of the questions to ask yourself is how, you know, what is what is the point where, okay, I've learned enough of this. Let me move on and learn something else.
Barry Luijbregts 17:38
Right. And that's also the question of do you specialize in something or do you want to be a generalist more, right?
Dan Appleman 17:45
When I was going to school, everyone told me you should specialize, you should specialize and I said, No, I am going to be a generalist. And in the course of my career, I have at times had expertise in certain areas. Right. But at a certain point, the technology changes or you change. You know, one of the ways I got into Salesforce was, you know, I was I was in dotnet. I was an expert in dotnet. Right, very, very familiar with, with Edyta probably a deeper level than most people. And I've, you know, you talk about personal crisis. In my case, it was about the time that my father passed away and I sort of had this you know, what do I do with myself now, you know, and in the truth is that between that and I just wasn't having fun without net, it's like, they're adding new features and they didn't seem to be, you know, providing that much value for all the effort I was spending to keep up. And then I bounced into the Salesforce world, and it was fun. And I know there are people out there who think Salesforce and think most, you know, evil language in the world, or whatever it was, it was an enormous amount of Have fun. And I was meeting people who were really enjoying being part of that ecosystem. It was a very real sense of community. A lot like I had experienced in the early days of Visual Basic, a little us against the world kind of thing. And I just sort of said, this is this is fun. You know, I'm having fun in the Salesforce platform. I am having a blast in the Salesforce platform.
Pays well, too. But yeah.
Barry Luijbregts 19:32
That's also important. Yeah. But but that's, that's a very important aspect of anything that you dive into. It has to be fun for yourself. Because there's so much to choose from nowadays. The world of technology is just incredible. It was much, much smaller. But now there's so much. If you look at something like Microsoft Azure, for instance, that's not just one technology. No, there are like 150 services that you can become an expert in.
Dan Appleman 19:59
And plus then becoming an expert in just managing them on as your, your AWS is a whole other thing. And, you know, this is one of the things going back to somebody asking I want to get into a career in, in technology and technology's a hard career. And, you know, I didn't see that going into it originally. Because, you know, I saw that, hey, it's a career, I love technology. It's going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be interesting. I, you know, I'm, I'm as much a geek as they come. But what I didn't realize until much later is that the hard part of being a technologist isn't learning the new stuff. It's the fact that all the old stuff keeps going obsolete. And most careers don't have that, you know, like, if a doctor doesn't keep up. It's not like, the ways they treat people don't work anymore, right. Yeah. You know, most careers. Once you've gained the skill, the old stuff doesn't go away even as you're learning new things and But in technology, it is. So it's a hard career. It is, it is one that you have to resign yourself to learning, always. And in that stress of keeping up, so. So that's one aspect that people, you know, I don't necessarily discourage people from getting into tech. But I note this, you know, this is what you're getting yourself into.
Barry Luijbregts 21:27
Yeah. And it has to be in your nature a little bit as well as in you have to be a lifelong learner, maybe by yourself, or you, or maybe you get into that. But if you're not, then you're gonna have a very, very difficult time in technology.
Dan Appleman 21:39
But if you love technology, you want to learn it. So it's not that heavy lift. It's not that hard to do, right. But when people go into it just for the money, they discovered it, in some cases, that it becomes very costly because you're working for work and then you're also on the side in the evenings and other times struggling To keep up, and the money is costing you a lot. So
Barry Luijbregts 22:05
Yeah, and is the money actually that good? Because in your course, the hidden secrets of technology careers, you explained that people in technology careers starts with a high salary, but it typically plateaus quickly. Yeah, I've seen the same thing where graduates, they have their job interviews at car dealerships, and then they pick out the lease guy right then and there. And later on, they get stuck in their jobs because then they plateau. Can you explain why that is? Why do salaries plateau in technology quickly?
Dan Appleman 22:34
Why do salaries poplateau in technology quickly? You know, that's a tough one. But there is no doubt that you know, for most companies, if you want to go past that, you have to really continue to see salary increases you end up having to go into management and which is fine, you know, nothing wrong with management. But it is hard to you know, Unless a company has a real specific technology track, and, you know, part of it is because, you know, when when you've been, you know, working for, say 10 years? Well, the stuff you did five years ago is obsolete. So, you know, why shouldn't a company hire someone cheaper? Yeah. Right. You know, that knows the same things that you do, presumably, at least in the technology side. So, you know, there's a certain amount of that there's a certain, you know, there's definitely age discrimination in, in the technology field. But other companies recognize that there are advantages to hiring, you know, the older technologists because, you know, they're bringing other things to the table, especially those that developed the leadership skills and the managerial skills and the soft skills.
Barry Luijbregts 23:48
Yeah, because those are the skills that actually matter. You know, obviously, the skill in the technology matters as well. But if you can't think around it, then it's Have no use?
Dan Appleman 24:01
Barry Luijbregts 24:03
So you say one way of breaking through that salary plateau would be to become management, maybe a development manager or whatever, what have you. That's, that seems very difficult and quite a leap. Right? Because then you really stepped out of technology.
Dan Appleman 24:20
It it, you know, it's funny, because one of the things I really became to came to realize system the past few years, as I'm teaching about careers is that I actually am a rather unique character in terms of my career path, because, you know, I've held an awful lot of titles. I mean, you know, right now, I'm a CTO, and I've been an entrepreneur and a speaker and an author and manager and the VP of software development and all of these kinds of fancy titles, but most of the time when you meet someone who's been working in a career as long as I have, they will respond to exactly the way it is like, yeah, you know, I miss developing software. haven't built anything in a long time, right? they've, they've turned completely to management. But in my career, the one constant The one thing that I've been doing all the time without a break for four decades now almost, is building production software and shipping software. Right. And I say that because, you know, as someone who's in software development, you know, there's a big difference between somebody who's a hobbyist and someone who's shipping product because, you know, shipping product is is releasing things. That's the thing. And, you know, in fact, let's see to today is Sunday. I think my last I think, last week, I'm working on I'm working on a branch that's not going to be out for a while. Last Monday, I put in a commit into our code base, that will probably be in a release not This week, but next week, and it will go out to hundreds of customers, and they'll be using it. So, you know, I'm still shipping software. And I think that gives me a rather unique perspective of what it means to have a technology career. It's possible, but it's rare for someone to keep their head in the game, even while doing all the other crazy things.
Barry Luijbregts 26:22
Yeah, and I think for you, obviously, that's possible because you work for yourself, you're an entrepreneur. But for people that work in a company, it might be more difficult. And that will heavily depend on your company culture.
Dan Appleman 26:36
That is very, very, very true. And, but it also brings up the other thing when we talk about getting over that salary, plateau. Entrepreneurship, and, you know, I have mixed feelings about it. I couldn't go back now. And it's not for everyone, but it is accessible to everyone. And I created a course called, so you want to be an entrepreneur, which basically is, okay, here's, here's the deal, here's how to do it. And I note that, you know, in the, I think the 1800s, if you look at the United States, 90% of the population were entrepreneurs, they were all small, small business owners. It was only with the industrial age that we got into the whole factory model and employees and so on. So entrepreneurs are nothing special, anybody can do it. Right. It really is one of those things. Yeah, you're not not everyone's gonna be a super billionaire, whatever. That's takes luck and genius, but just, you know, you're an entrepreneur. You're a Pluralsight author, right?
Barry Luijbregts 27:40
And I have several businesses as well.
Dan Appleman 27:42
So, you know, what I'm talking about most, most entrepreneurs are like, you and I were small business small businesses, you know, or, you know, founders or co founders or, or whatever and, you know, it is possible to busts the plateau. You know, when I first took that first leap by working really hard and doing some consulting, my first year as an entrepreneur, I made about the same amount of money as I did the year before that. The year after that, I doubled it. And the year after that, I doubled it again. And it was like, whoa. Since then, there have been ups and downs. There was one year looking back that I probably should have applied for food stamps. I think that was I think that was during the.com bust during like 2000 to 2003. But that's the the secret of entrepreneurship is people say, Oh, that's so risky. That's so risky. And what they don't necessarily realize it's a different kind of risk. losing your job. You know, being an employee, if you lose your job, you've lost all your income. That's pretty high risk. At the worst of the.com bust, my income didn't drop to zero. It dropped a lot but it didn't drop to zero.
Barry Luijbregts 29:00
Yeah, plus, I think also, in the worst case scenario, you could also go and find a job. Sure.
Dan Appleman 29:06
You might not like it find the job. Yeah, you can find the job. You can, you know, you can write articles nowadays you can Uber well, or doordash. Because I don't think this is the other challenge right now, when we talk about someone getting new into technology is we always have to be very careful in terms of how we advise people based on our own experiences. Certainly, you know, since I have since, you know, my entry to technology was so long ago, the world has changed. And, and, and one has to be, you know, careful with one's assumptions, and really be thinking about what the world is like now for people and the challenges they're facing now. And right now, the challenge is particularly difficult, because we are now in entering this new reality we are experiencing everywhere on the planet. At a disruptive change, so people are working from home. This is a terrible time to be looking for work.
Barry Luijbregts 30:05
Dan Appleman 30:07
It is. One has to be careful, right, you know, in terms of giving advice, because one has to question all of one's assumptions.
Barry Luijbregts 30:16
Yeah, definitely. And especially, we might not be the most typical people to talk about this. Because we have very different careers and most developers that work for companies.
Dan Appleman 30:28
Well, you know, I did my time.
Barry Luijbregts 30:31
Dan Appleman 30:32
I did. I did my time. I was a cubicle dweller for a lot of years. So, you know, I, my, I started my first company when I was like, 31 or so. So the first more than 10 years of my career was, you know, small business and a startup but cubicle, you know, not a not a founder or anything like that just yeah, employee. So, you know, I remember that very, very well. And Of course, Now on the flip side, I've hired people, right? So I'm in the manager position and, and, you know, I try to keep a real eye and sense of what their experiences.
Barry Luijbregts 31:12
So as we come to the end of our conversation, let's talk about one more thing. And it is, to me your successful career is one that's also results in comfortable retirement, as in, you're done. And you have enough money to live when you're not working anymore, if you choose to not work, of course. So how do you go about it, you know, as an employee, you might put your money into a big bucket of 401k, or whatever that is in your country. In the Netherlands is similar. We also have a pension fund and usually, the employer also pays a little bit into that and you pay in depth into that yourself as an entrepreneur, you have to do it all yourself. What are things that you can do to make sure that you actually end up with a comfortable retirement?
Dan Appleman 31:59
well, You don't end on the easy ones do you?
Again, one has to be really, really careful because whenever somebody offers financial advice, they'll say, Well, you know, the stock market has done this for the past six years. And yes, this rule and all this kind of stuff. And right now I look at the US stock market. And you know, we are, we are massive unemployment businesses are shutting down every day. Every sign indicates that the economy is suffering. And yet the stock markets hitting new highs, it makes no sense to me whatsoever. And I know it doesn't make sense to anyone else. And the way I know that is because when I look at the news feeds and the finance pages, you will find exactly on the same page one person who's saying, you know, here's why this is the best time to invest them the other person saying get out of the market, get out of the market. Yeah, nobody, nobody knows. So but I question The concept of retirement in the sense, because if you're having fun, if you're doing what you love doing, and if you enjoy technology, why would you stop? Right? I mean, really, especially nowadays, when you can do stuff on the road, right? I mean, you can, you can go drive cross country, and in the evening in the hotel room, you can work on gigs, or you can work on articles or, you know, this is the this is the golden age of the gig economy and technology as well. Why would you stop? I mean, if if you are in a career, and you are looking and saying, I wish it was over and I was done and I could retire, then I would say you're asking the wrong question. What can you do now to create for yourself that income stream that will be fun that you will want to do You know, and and everyone will tell you that having purpose, when when you're retired, just retiring is a terrible thing. It's bad for your health, having a purpose, having meaning having, you know, something to keep your mind sharp, of, you know, I plan to do PluralSight courses, you know, for as long as they let me because, you know, it's fun, and I get to share my experience and knowledge and, and so on. And, you know, I'm probably will at some point stop shipping code, not because I don't want to keep up but because if you ship code, you're, you know, are responsible for it, and you have to maintain it and know that at a certain point, you don't want to have to do that. But articles, you don't have to maintain articles. You don't have to maintain, you know, blog posts, white papers, books, you know, can always write a book. Anybody can do this stuff. So, but in terms of the financial stuff, the other thing is, take the time learn personal finance, right? Just Learn it.
Barry Luijbregts 35:01
Yeah, dive into it.
Dan Appleman 35:02
You're all technologists, you can understand basic finance, you can understand this stuff. You know, it's not rocket science.
Barry Luijbregts 35:11
Yeah. So there's definitely no magic bullet, or investment strategy. There's no such thing. But I think the best advice here that that you gave is, why would you stop? If you like what you're doing. And if you don't like what you're doing, change it.
Dan Appleman 35:27
The best investment you can ever make is investing in yourself, whether it's your skills or your knowledge, or figuring out what it is that you love doing or your health. You know, even when I was still, you know, a starving student or having tough financial times. If I wanted to learn something, I just go buy a book on it, and I would never begrudge the money I would never think twice because you know, anything that you're investing in yourself. That's what pays off.
Barry Luijbregts 35:59
Yeah, that is amazing. And a great way to start doing that is to visit your Pluralsight courses and start learning.
Dan Appleman 36:07
Barry Luijbregts 36:10
All right, thank you very much for this enlightening conversation. I will link to all of your Pluralsight courses in the show notes as well.
Dan Appleman 36:18
Thank you so much for having me. I'm very excited about this. And I'm glad that you have found this project to work on as well. And I'm sure it's going to be very successful.
Barry Luijbregts 36:28
Yeah, I love doing it because it helps people.
Dan Appleman 36:31
Yep. And that's sort of one of the most fun parts of this, isn't it?
Barry Luijbregts 36:36
Absolutely. Okay. Thank you for listening and tune in next week for another episode.