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Life lessons from Scott Hanselman to Millennials

Antoine Meunier's profile picture Antoine Meunier on

This post is part of our Customer Interviews series. Every once in a while, I dig deep down in the confines of our database to find the most interesting projects, products, and companies built on top of DNSimple by our customers.

I recently had the chance to hop on a call with programmer-speaker-blogger-podcaster Scott Hanselman, a man who really needs no introduction. If you're not familiar with this fascinating character, his blog is where it's at. Otherwise his hilarious Twitter account should cheer you up.

Scott has been one of DNSimple's most vocal advocates over the years, which admittedly made it a rather daunting task for me to interview him, especially since, as an interviewer himself, he has likely been on both sides of the table a thousand times or so. So as soon as Scott's face appeared on my screen, I went totally off-script and decided to go with the flow instead. What followed was half an hour of uninterrupted time to ask whatever I wanted to one of tech's most interesting men.

Since our conversation was entirely off script, Scott and I talked about a lot. I've distilled the best out of what we talked about here. In a sense, you could consider this Scott's life lessons for Millennials.

On the concept of experience

One of the first things that we started talking about was the concept of experience. I was initially a little nervous interviewing someone as well known and experienced as Scott, especially considering he's had almost as much experience in tech as I've had in life! Scott had a great response, "Age doesn't necessarily indicate experience. It indicates age. Nothing more. We are all amateurs. There's a bunch of cool stuff that you could have done at 25 that you couldn't do today. 20 years of experience could mean 20 new and interesting years or the same year twenty times… which would then mean that you and I might have the same level of experience."

Age doesn't necessarily indicate experience. It indicates age.

Scott also mentioned the importance of history and the fact that by having more years in tech definitely gives him a sense of historical context, but that doesn't mean much when it comes to ability to execute and do things. We came back to the concept of history later in our conversation and how important it is to understand the context in which we find ourselves.

On time management and not wasting it

Although Scott tried to deflect my question about experience, I knew there was something to his great success, so I pressed him on it. Specifically, I really don't know how he's able to manage having a great career, being interviewed regularly by people like me, and still keeping a happy family together. Even on the day we spoke, Scott was sorting out details of an upcoming trip overseas and he still found time to slip in a call with me! Scott says the simple fact is that "it's about being responsible with your time usage but also by not wasting time."

He related a story (that seems to happen pretty often for him) about getting an email from some random person on the internet who's heard of him before asking his advice. He did a quick mental estimation that writing a response is going to take him 10 to 15 minutes to write a good answer, thus leaving him with only "32 potential random emails" he can answer in a day. Obviously he doesn't want to be mean to the people who sincerely want his advice, but he also can't devote 1/32nd of his day to everyone who comes to him, so he usually writes a blog post and sends the link to the person initially asking for advice.

On the importance of studying history

After our brief digression into the concept of time, we turned right into the importance of history (This was a particularly philosophical call). My interviewee made the point "that a lot of young people forget history." He said it's important to remember how things work and the fact that "we are all standing on the shoulders of giants." As a way into the history of our own field, he recommended Charles Petzold's Code. "It's a wonderful narrative piece of history that explains how everything fits together."

On recognizing real innovation

One thing leads to another, and we quickly jumped from the past to the present. This next story I'm presenting verbatim, since it's so amazing:

"When Microsoft came out with MVC, there was a lot of excitement about it and people where talking how it was like rails: 'Oh, Microsoft copies Rails'.

One day I found myself in Mälmö, Sweden – at the mayor's house, of all places – we're having dinner and ask this old guy sitting next to me:

  • 'What do you do?'
  • 'Oh, I invented MVC.', he said.
  • 'What do you mean MVC?'
  • 'Yes, you know the 'pattern'. I invented it in 1973.'

Turns out, he invented Model View Controller as a concept. The guy's got a freaking Wikipedia page. The young people have forgotten this 75 year old Scandinavian guy who invented this model that Rails, Django, Microsoft and many others use.

I think we just forget stuff like that."

Something to keep in mind the next time you see a new revolutionary framework that people have supposedly never seen before.

On the recipe of success and the illusion of life plans

Of course, we couldn't look at the present without also addressing looking back at our personal histories. I asked if Scott had any real plan to how he was going to get where he is now. Scott's answer was simple, "Nobody plans this and our life plan is not going to work out the way you thought. I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm making this stuff up as I go along."

Apparently, my question is a pretty standard one for him. But his response is really valuable as someone just getting going on my own career: "Well I just kept running forward, there was no plan or strategy on how I was going to do this stuff. Sorry I can't give you a recipe. Hindsight is 20-20."

On accepting that there are no absolutes – life is a hybrid.

"Take Microsoft for example, they are changing strategy because they are realizing that life is a hybrid. If they thought that you should have a Windows phone and surface and 'you should do things the Windows way.' That's not reality. Reality is code switching.

So I've got a PlayStation, an iPhone, a Windows machine that might SSH into a Linux machine talking to Redis, talking to MongoDB and talking to a SQL server. All of that stuff is reality and when companies realize that, they will get things right."

On the future of the web

Having taken our turn with the ghosts of internet past and internet present, I decided to ask Scott what he thought of where the web may be heading in the future. Scott's wishlist:

  • A web without plugins. Specifically, we had trouble connecting via Skype, but he'd like to see stuff like webRTC take off.
  • Less competition in basic software layers. More agreed standards.
  • Continued strength of internet consumers to mold the internet to serve us best.
  • SSL everywhere. Encryption and privacy are things he expects to become even more important.

On helping others

Scott left me with some important words for moving the web forward personally. "It seems like people have a tendency to achieve something and then turn around and point back at the people behind them in line and say 'I've got it, you don't get to come around and code anymore'. I want you, the 25 year old, to be successful. Your success doesn't take away from mine." So, let's make an effort to make things better for everyone, especially those new to the web, so it will continue to be an awesome resource for many others ahead of us who will be standing on our shoulders.

As I was talking with Scott, I couldn't miss on geeking out on his arcade machine lurking in the background of the video.

Wait a minute, is that an arcade cabinet in the background?

"Yes, I built it. You can go and Google it. (I've got a 7-part series about how I built it)

It's easy to build; it took me about three weekends!"

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Antoine Meunier

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