Out of Office Hours: A summary of my experience.

A few weeks ago Dustin Senos shared an idea: creating dialog between newcomers and people working in the tech industry. The idea became known as Out of Office Hours. If you haven’t read Dustin’s original post on the impetus behind the idea, take a moment to do that before you read on.

All caught up? Good!

Why I Volunteered

I signed up for a number of reasons of which I could write long boring essay’s about and maybe turn them into think pieces with subtle jabs at mobile phones and millennials, but I’ll just summarize them instead to save us both the pain.

Reason #1:
I had read Jacob’s original tweet storm and had honestly been thinking about just tweeting that I had some time to talk if anyone was interested. Dustin brought a structure and a sense of validity to this that I never could have, so when I saw Dustin take action, it was a no brainer to get involved.

Reason #2:
Greg Storey. Greg was gracious enough to have a chat with me sometime in 2008 or 2009. I always look back on that conversation as a (rather large) stepping stone in my career. If I could provide the same stepping stone (however small it may be) for someone else, then I wanted to pay it forward.

Reason #3:
We’re all just winging it. There is no formal degree for half of the things I do. I’m learning it on the fly just like those before me, and those coming up behind me. The more I can share the stronger the industry becomes.

Reason #4:
I like to hear myself talk. Ha, jk jk. Or am I jk? What if I wasn’t? Would you keep reading?

Reason #5:
Our industry is tight knit, and kind and open and I want it to stay that way. The Out of Office Hours program is a great way to keep moving that forward.

Ok, let’s jump into the stats. I’d make an infographic that would be all shiny, but also flat with just the right amount of heavy drop shadow to make certain stats really pop, then I’d design a logo for the entire thing but I’d likely quit halfway through and never ship it. So instead, I’m just going to do a bullet point list and hope that you like it. (I mean, let’s be honest, I am posting this on Medium which is like half the cred right there)

Stats

When I signed up for Out of Office Hours I opened up a 4 hour slot for a week thinking that I would get 3–5 people. Things got out of control pretty quickly and I ended up with 23 sign-ups.

Number of people I spoke with: 21
Number of people who flaked: 2 (and with a good excuse)
Number of women: 5
Number of people of color: 11
Youngest person: high schooler (!!)
Longest distance: Ireland
Number of students or recent grads: 4
Number of people looking to make a career change into design: 6

Themes

There were a handful of recurring themes that repeated throughout the conversations I had. These are a few of the major ones that stood out and some brief thoughts on them.

What is your process?
Fair question and one that I repeated the answer to so much that I plan to write a post about it soon. This is a great question to ask because there is no right or wrong process and we can always learn something new to improve our own process, no matter how new or old it is.

How do you develop empathy for the user?
This question made me feel like everyone has been reading the same article that no one had the answer to. Or maybe it’s just a cliché question (to me at least). My answer usually consisted of two things: leave your ego at the door–you can’t empathize with a user when you think you already know the “right way” and second I think of my wife who is the worlds most novice web user.

How do I stand out to hiring managers?
Great question here. This came mostly from the students or recent grads, but also from folks who were looking to make a major shift in their career path. I spoke a lot about soft skills. Can you show up on time? Can you communicate well? Do you work well with others? Are you a team player? Skills can be taught, but working with a jerk is no fun for anyone (that’s me quoting myself which unlocks some boss level somewhere). I encouraged folks to speak about those soft skills as much as they do their hard skills (is that a term?)

Above and Beyond

There were a handful of folks that I talked to who were developers and were having issues getting past the code challenges that most companies use as an intial barrier to weed out candidates; exactly the stuff that fat was talking about. While I can code, no one has given me repo access in quite a while and I didn’t feel like I was able to provide much in regards to the questions I was being asked. So I reached out to my friend and co-worker Chris Winn who is in charge of hiring new devs at Creative Market and asked if he would be willing to share his thoughts on what he looks for in candidates. Chris was gracious enough to open his calendar and with a quick email intro I passed 3 people over to Chris for some Out of Office Hours. Big thanks to Chris for jumping in to help!

Next Steps

Mentorship is something that everyone wants, but no one wants to actually do. It’s hard work, and it’s a lot of time. For example: I gave up multiple hours this last week (a week of vacation for me and my family) to talk to everyone. I’m not saying that to toot my own horn, but to point out that in order to mentor or serve others, it requires sacrifices. It is rewarding? Yes, of course. It’s rewarding on a deeper level of connecting with others and hearing stories of their journeys and the paths that have lead them to where they are today. I’ve told everyone I spoke with that my door (that’s like codeword for email or DM) is open anytime and I hope to keep in touch with everyone.

Thank You

First and foremost thank you to Dustin for taking action on an idea. Secondly, and equally as important, thank you to everyone who signed up to talk with me. The initiative you showed to make an appointment with a total stranger in order to grow in your profession is admirable and in my mind puts you well on your way to success.

I plan to open up more Office Hours in the future and I would encourage you that if you’ve got something that you can share with others (you may think you don’t, but trust me you do) that you sign up at Out of Office Hours yourself.

If you’re curious to read more, Harold Emsheimer shares his thoughts on his experience here and Noah Levin shares his thoughts here.

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Creating dialog between newcomers and people working in the tech industry.

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