Building Expertise in a Year

Carolyn sent this to me this morning.

It is pretty incredible to see his improvement every few seconds as the video progresses from month to month over the course of a year.

Initially, it also made me feel a bit lazy. This guy throws everything over the course of year to be an expert at table tennis. What do I do in the same amount of time?

But I realized that it isn’t that I don’t do anything, I simply move from subject to subject and get to a level of understanding about the topic at hand. Then I make a conscious decision to keep going, or switch my attention to something else.

The lesson in both paths: Never Stop Learning.

20 Years

Today is an anniversary of sorts. 20 years ago today, I agreed to terms on my first freelance web development project. Two days later I was laid off from a seasonal sales job, so you could so the timing was fortunate.

It is crazy to think that 20 years ago I embarked on a career path  that didn’t really yet exist. Domain names were expensive, and in fact it would be almost another two years before I purchased this domain, sh2.com, and even then I think it was like $70/year and monthly hosting was in the same ballpark.

There is still a camaraderie among developers, but much of it is more formal now. Back then, we’d lug our desktop computers over to someone’s house or swap 3.5″ floppy disks with something we were working on that we thought was cool. And getting anything of any substance sent through email was nearly impossible. True personal “websites” were few and far between as hosting was expensive. Many of us made do with tilde accounts from our ISP (I was at probe.net/~hartley). Today, there are beer && code and meetups for every language under the sun, cheap hosting and domains, laptops that are light as a feather and wifi – or cellular data – almost everywhere.

A year and a half after that first freelance project, I joined a large international ad agency, replacing a full web team from one of their diversified companies in New York City. Consolidation of the ad industry moved me along to the small shop I’m at today.

I’d like to say I made the right career decisions along the way. Prior to the ad agency job, I resisted joining an Omaha-based web shop that had a meteoric rise followed by a spectacularly hard crash a few months later. In 98, I turned down a job offer at Netscape, three short weeks before the position was eliminated in the merger discussion with AOL. In January 99, I turned down a job offer from Excite which would have also been eliminated 10 days later in the acquisition by @Home. Not to mention the handful of startups for which I put time in after hours, and the calls from recruiters that came on a daily basis.

Some days I feel like I took the comfortable track – I certainly didn’t intend to stay in Omaha this long. I never really sought the spotlight even though I could have made a name for myself with my knowledge. But the things I gained along the way have more than made up for it (especially my wife and kids). I might be grounded and happy, but I still dream of moving on and taking that uncomfortable step in to the unknown to seek the challenges that inspire me.