Our hosts discuss yet another book by Cal Newport, "So Good They Can't Ignore You". In this book, Cal Newport challenges the idea of "follow your passion" for work that you should do by calling this the "Passion Hypothesis". Kris, Toran, and Brandon discuss this and the other major points of the book, Career Capital and Deliberate practice as they reflect on their career journeys thus far. They also dream about the future and how what they learned from this book could help level up in their career.
ReferencesDownload MP3 (29.3 MB)
Toran Billups - 00:08 - Welcome to Developing Fatigue. I am Toran. Today, I'm joined by my cohosts Kris Van Houten and Brandon Williamss. And today on the show we're going to be talking about another book from Cal Newport, So Good They Can't Ignore You.
Kris Van Houten - 00:08 - Is he paying us yet?
Toran Billups - 00:23 - Yes. Yeah. You know, I thought about putting the aAa, Amazon affiliate links in the show notes because some of the podcasts do that. They're like, oh, this is helping fund the podcast aka my pockets
Kris Van Houten - 00:33 - That 35 we're going to make it for you.
Toran Billups - 00:38 - And I mean we might as well because I actually enjoy these books. Uh, if folks are unfamiliar, we did a book from Cal, uh, a few episodes back called Deep Work, also a great book. Uh, this one is a fair bit different and maybe to get us started kicking off what the book is essentially about. We'll have Kris read from the cover or whatever definition Kris wants to read from here. Where do you got Kris?
Kris Van Houten - 01:03 - All right. Listener, look at me in the eyes right now, which I know you can't do what we're going to try to figure it out back in 2012. This guy, Cal Newport, wrote this fantastic book that I just heard about for the first time about six months ago called So Good They Can't Ignore You. And if you happen to run around Youtube listening to random interviews with Steve Martin, uh, you might come across one from a 2007 where he was interviewed by Charlie Rose and he was being asked about, you know, how does someone become a great comedian? And Steve Martin and gave this really unconventional answer to that question, which was to be so good that they can't ignore you. And that kind of served as the, um, obviously the title of this book and this book. A long story short, Cal Newport really focuses on trying to convince you to not put so much of your focus on your passion, but focus on becoming so great at a craft through things like deliberate practice.
Kris Van Houten - 02:03 - And we'll try to go into all these as time allows. But focus becoming so great at a craft that you build up career capital a so that you can cash in on that capital to attain the life you want. And by doing this, passion will continually flow from what you do.
Toran Billups - 02:20 - That's interesting. I actually thought the whole passion hypothesis, which is kind of how the book starts off a, was the biggest revolution for me or the revelation I guess because I'm one of those folks that, you know, I grew up in the generation where my parents, maybe your parents said the same thing, like, oh, you know, don't do what I did, you know, working in this factory, go do something you love, find something that you love to do. And so I think our generation and maybe others before us grew up with that idea. And so when I read this book and he's like, yeah, that's kind of garbage, doesn't know, don't find your job by doing something, your hobby, what you enjoy. But as I read through the book, I sort of, you know, I was more amenable to the idea that maybe it is just getting really good at something that makes me love the job. And so there was a segment in the beginning where they were trying to still convince you of this and they're talking to like two different or I think it's probably 10 different administrative assistance and they're trying to say, you know, do you love your job?
Toran Billups - 03:15 - And one of the things that really stuck out in that survey he did was the number of years that someone was an administrative assistant. Often the longer they were doing it, the more they loved their job. And I think his correlation was they just got really good at it, you know, and, and I was actually kind of reflecting back on my own career and the programming and thinking, well, you know, I think part of what I do love about my job is just that I'm really good at it. And it's kinda like what you said Kris, about like the passion flows from that. Why does love being really good at it. And that kind of makes me passionate about it. So
Kris Van Houten - 03:48 - yeah. Brandon, do you have any examples that you can think of is like when you kind of fell victim to that whole passion hypothesis or are you just like the Yoda sage wizard in the back? I never felt victim to that. I do this stuff all along.
Brandon Williams - 03:59 - Yeah. I actually, um, so, and we've talked about our origin story and I thought I really wanted to do front end development like you guys. I, I, you know, I used to be a front end developer a little bit on the back end too and I was really pursuing that. I thought I was really passionate about that and then, um, you know, and then I kind of stepped into the world of Dev ops and didn't really like it at first, but, you know, because passionate my passion was front end development and I wanted to get back to that, but I was just, you know, putting in my time over in the Dev ops team. I'm just helping out as much as I could because that's my personality. Um, and so I feel like this book really rang true for me there because at the time my passion was not for what I was doing, but I continued that deliberate practice that he talks about in the book and I kept building up, um, kept building up my skills there
Brandon Williams - 04:54 - and so I, I really resonated with this book and the whole like, don't follow your passion because sometimes your passion is deceiving you and I don't, I don't know that I'd be, where am, I definitely wouldn't be where I am today, but I don't know that I would, um, be as fulfilled as I am today had I continued on in the front end world. Like I love the passion. I can hear like you guys are really excited about that, about the front end stuff. And you guys liked the deliberate practice there. There are pieces of the front end development that I just didn't like. I didn't like stretching myself. There wasn't, um, you know, it's, it's, you got to get comfortable being uncomfortable, but it wasn't, it's not something that I, uh, I don't know. It's just like I didn't really, I fell in love with something else. I guess. So. Sorry I'm rambling. Cut me off here.
Toran Billups - 05:48 - No, no, it's all good. I was just curious. So because you mentioned, uh, when you started doing more, you know, automation and things like that at first, obviously you didn't that stuff, but do you, do you actually believe this idea in the book that part of the reason you really maybe love your job today aside from other factors like the people and things is because you become really good at it?
Brandon Williams - 06:09 - Absolutely. Yeah. I mean I, I cranked out as many hours as I could. Um, you know, I was working 40 hours a week and then maybe working a little bit over time and then at night I would go home and be like, I gotta keep learning this stuff. I got to learn more about cloud formation, which is an aws tool. I got to learn more about dns. I got to learn more about, um, all the systems side of things and Linux command line and just practicing that. Like what does it mean? What does it mean to pipe together all these different commands? Um, and how do I,
Kris Van Houten - 06:39 - how do I read a man?
Brandon Williams - 06:40 - How do I read a man page, you know, just all these little things like I just wanted to, I wanted to get to that 10,000 hours as fast as possible. So.
Kris Van Houten - 06:40 - Gotcha.
Toran Billups - 06:49 - Oh, 10,000 hours.
Kris Van Houten - 06:49 - Different books
Toran Billups - 06:51 - or different. Kris, do you know anything about 10,000 hours. No, that's actually mentioned in, in the career capital. So you kind of briefly hit on career capital, but what is, you know, what's kinda like your working definition of career capital? What does it really mean in your experience?
Kris Van Houten - 06:51 - for me or Brandon?
Toran Billups - 06:51 - for you
Kris Van Houten - 07:08 - Oh man, you got me. All right. Um, so yeah, I mean there is this, this notion, which I can't remember the book that's referenced though. I've heard this analogy referenced across outlier or something. I think I've heard it mentioned like 100 different podcasts where it's like to attain mastery, you have to put in 10,000 hours of work and um, and that's just going to show like, you know, become a craftsman as something and just put in the work to become exceptional at it. And uh, you know, and in correlation to what we're talking about career capital, like what is that, you know, I kind of defined career capital is that value that you offer, whether that's your experience, your knowledge or whatever, various skill sets that you can offer to either a company and industry or an employer, you know, and how you can basically use that capital you build up over time, whether it's, you know, over years across your career. And then occasionally you can kinda cash those in for, for perks if you will.
Kris Van Houten - 08:05 - Uh, in the book, Cal highlights this one story where over this woman's career, and this is spanning across multiple jobs. She's building up capital even as she moves across different jobs and different companies to where eventually she's like, I want to become a full time remote developer. And I want to work from a totally different location, if I recall correctly. She like moved away and travel the world or something like that. And uh, but like, because she had that capital, the company that she worked for, she had built up such a reputation within that. They're like, well, we don't want you to quit. We want to keep you around. So yeah, we'll let you do this. And that's kind of the notion of what career capitalist. I wasn't sure if you guys had a different take on that or if you guys wanted to add to, you know, some examples of caching career capitalism, what that might look like.
Toran Billups - 09:53 - And I was like, Yep. And I was like, so, you know, I wrote that and they were like, Yep. And I was like, so do you want me to come work there? And like, Yep. And so that was kind of how it went. I mean, there, there haven't been a lot of interviews for me in the last few years, mainly because of this idea. He talks about sort of later in the book, uh, around career capital and cashing in where, you know, if you leverage this you get a little bit more control. That was your point, Kris, about the remote work and for me it actually I think does play a role in remote work for me, but it also plays a role in the employers. I talked to the teams that I have a conversation with when I'm looking for work. So that's a real example and it does certainly have its upsides, of course.
Toran Billups - 10:35 - Oh really?
Kris Van Houten - 11:14 - Where it's like I worked with their marketing guy and he just really appreciated how approachable I was and how much I was willing to help them out and kind of give them suggestions on his designs. And uh, even when it came to marketing, which is something I'm not too well versed in anymore. But because of that relationship I built with that guy to this day, he still approaches me as like, hey, you looking for work yet? Because I have to employers who are looking for someone just like you, like he's kind of become a recruiter for all these startups in the Cincinnati area. And he's like, always hitting me up. Like, dude, I would love to work with you again, please, please let me know if you're ever looking for work again. And so, um, you know, your reputation that you built up over, that's great. The number of jobs, what did that says? How you're able to communicate and how approachable you are can also be part of your career capital that you can use as leverage somewhere down the line. And so definitely keep the in mind as you work with other people.
Brandon Williams - 12:08 - So I want to ask you guys to talk a little bit more about how you acquired this career capital and that was something that he talks about in the book, um, the concept of deliberate practice. Like what did, what did that deliberate practice look like for you guys, Kris and Toran Toran related to that open source. What his concept of deliberate practices doing. Like I'm not, you're, you're trying to accumulate that 10,000 hours but you're not just, you're not just practicing the same thing that's easy over and over. His, his argument was that deliberate practices more. You're stretching yourself and you're taking on something that's new and challenging and really getting better at that. I'm the example he gave was a guitar player or who he kept trying to play faster and faster and faster and he's like, you know, I'm not getting there where somebody else who had practiced a similar amount of time just kept playing the easy things that he knew, but that, that's not deliberate practice.
Brandon Williams - 13:07 - So just comparing and contrasting those two types of those practice, that practice. Um, can you tell me how you acquire that, that career capital?
Kris Van Houten - 13:17 - Yeah. I mean I think of, as you know, as a programmer what is the equivalent of putting another plate on the barbell and so it's, you know, for example, I started digging back into react again, which I told you guys about a couple of weeks ago. And so it's like, okay, like I'm feeling like I got the basics of react pretty down. So like what's next? And then I just talking with you guys before we started recording, like digging into this new fangled thing called lambda functions. And so it's like putting another plate on the bar to challenge myself so that way I can kind of level up and keep more things that are new things in my head as technology is constantly evolving. And so it's, it's, you know, for me it comes in the form of listening to, you know, a few different programming podcasts and through those podcasts I hear about what's new in tech or you know, various newsletters that I get in my inbox and from that I can be like, okay, that sounds interesting. I'm going to, you know, flag that for learning about it later.
Kris Van Houten - 14:10 - And then when I had the time, when I feel like I'm ready to take on that challenge because it's something I want to dig into, I'll go back through and start learning it. And so it's a, for me it's kind of keeping this constant list and I quite literally have a list in evernote of like all the things I want to learn. I guess kind of start ticking away that list over time and it's ever growing. Some never gonna hit the end of it. But what about you, Toran
Toran Billups - 14:30 - I think yeah, I continuous improvement is the short version, right? So there's a lot of good examples in the book. A lot of good little comments. This one I was just reading from my notes was like, plateaus are dangerous and plateaus, meaning you kind of just get comfortable to, to your point, Brandon, you quit stretching, says plateaus are dangerous because they cut off your supply of career capital. So once you get comfortable and you're just kinda like, you know, I'm just going to hang out and I don't really need to learn anything new today. You know, I'm doing my job and I think that's what, you know, a certain percentage of the population does. It actually says knowledge workers don't know about deliberate practice and most avoid quote uncomfortable strain like the plague. That was in the book and to Brandon's point like there is actually later in the book when he kind of concludes around how do you do this? He gives some pro tips on how to get started to back to Brandon's question. For me, it was quite literally I built a product. I didn't have enough motivation at the time to just come up with a bunch of little examples or back in our day,
Toran Billups - 16:29 - and I did that for a long time. In fact, I actually did some kind of commercial products, built some iphone apps, android apps, windows phone apps if you're familiar with that way back in the day. And it was just really. I mean they made a couple of dollars at the time, but they really served as a platform to just get me my 10,000 hours sooner or to get me practicing every single day. Because in those situations I had actual paying customers and if something was broken, somebody would email me or be upset and want their money back. So I had a little bit more motivation than what you may come to every morning and say, ah, I don't want to do this today. You just kind of put it off to the side. There was something actually really driving me and I think that's the one of the pro tips and one of the things that they end of the book that Cal talks about is come up with a project small enough that you can complete it within a month. So if you're one of these folks just kind of getting familiar with career capital, come up with something that you can really challenge yourself but not for like a year straight, you know, give yourself being something, give yourself a timeframe that's sustainable and something you can just kind of spike out. And I think a month it was a kind of a good timeframe. So
Kris Van Houten - 17:29 - yeah, I was thinking about how something that I've kind of tinkered with here and there as I've kind of been bored or if I have a little bit of downtime, you know, if I'm just checking news or something at night, a Sunday you can do as an alternative. Maybe you don't have that list of things that you want to start digging into and maybe don't have the time to start digging into it tonight. Uh, something. I've also found it useful as they, there's a website and trying to think of the name, maybe you can put it in the show notes, but they're called like, it's called like cold coffee or something like that. Or Code Katas, which are basically just little exercises. You can go to this website, choose the difficulty level and it'll give you a challenge. Like, Hey, try to solve this problem and have all the tests pass. And suddenly his aims you could solve in like 30 seconds assembling. You'll be sitting there 45 minutes later, like how, how do I do this? And eventually you'll just give up and say see what other people have done. And it's like the simplest answer ever and so humbling and makes you feel like you don't know anything about code,
Kris Van Houten - 18:24 - but um, if you don't maybe have that list of things that you want to start digging into next. I encourage you maybe check out code caught as they haven't various different languages and technologies to, to a checkout, but just want to throw that plug out there.
Toran Billups - 18:38 - Yeah. I want to spend something over to Brandon on career capital too because one of the things I think it's more of a hard skill just that he does really well. Um, and I think I see this in a lot of developers, but I want Brandon to kind of maybe talk or highlight his command line skills because I know one of the things that really sets, I think people apart at some point of time in their career is they just get really efficient with their dev setup or their tooling. And I know this in particular with Brandon because I've worked with him, but you know, that's not something that comes for free. Right. Brandon? I think the other day I actually emailed you and I was like, hey Brandon, how do I port forward? You know, this is chrome through ssh and you were like a gimme two minutes. You're like, read the man page. You're like Toran. This is how you read a man paid. So what's up man? Did you dive into a lot of front end or sorry, a lot of command line tooling rather.
Brandon Williams - 19:27 - Yeah. Um, so I mean, you and I worked at the company together where we picked up then um tmux and iterm on it and just really
Toran Billups - 19:39 - damn man, that's like the definition of career path right there.
Brandon Williams - 19:44 - And we just really got our whole team got really good with that tool set. Um, and I just find myself, uh, find myself just continuing to use that because I've, I continue to get better and better with it. Um, and then also just my line of work where I'll, I'm jumping onto a, a server a lot of times and I know I have VI there, I know enough or we have enough of our configuration that is customized for our, our vm on my machine, but I can still, I know the commands mentally and I can drop down and just use VI and still be very, very effective. So just having that, um, that cross platform, ease of use for myself is I've found very valuable. Um, I'm also just not switching to the new editor, you know, while I've, well I've been using vm, you know, pie charm has upgraded. I don't even know how many times. And um, a lot of times I. Oh,
Toran Billups - 20:41 - you're not using vs code?
Brandon Williams - 20:42 - No, no. Using vs code. I'm not using that. Adam. I'm not using sublime. I, you know, during this time that I've been using vm, I just keep uh, you know, I'm the old, crotchety man that's, you know, with a neck beard that's just like, no, I'm not changing like this is, this is my tool. And I really believe that, like I've gotten very good with it. I continue to say, how can I do things even more efficiently? Um, is there something that I can do that would make this even faster for me so I can just continue to not think about that stuff. Um, and some of the guys that work have picked up the files that I use and so they're asking me like, how do you do that in like a hold on a minute. I don't even my fingers just know what to do. I don't even think about it anymore. And so like
Toran Billups - 21:25 - that's the definition of man. So good, they can't ignore you,
Brandon Williams - 21:25 - I guess
Toran Billups - 21:28 - like you just look like a boss on the command line.
Brandon Williams - 21:30 - And so that's, that's where I guess that's where I'm at is I've just, I've really, I really want to continue to even get better there and just using all the command line tools. Um, so I just put in a lot of deliberate practice, like you're saying there.
Toran Billups - 21:45 - Yeah, I know people. And maybe you guys do this, so talking about you, I don't know, but I know people that, you know, they literally go back through their Zsh fish or bash history, like from their command line, like every week they go through, they look for patterns of, you know, like the top 10 commands, they've kind of typed full length and then they come up with an alias. So they never typed that again. I mean they're that efficient and I don't go to that length, so maybe I'm completely blowing it on this deliberate practice. But I can say that if you practice something like this and you get really good at it, people are sort of amazed by it. And the real world experience I had from this was a at ember comp, 2015 or whatever. When I give this talk on test driven development people, you know, we're completely mesmerized by what I was doing in vim. No one really, as far as I know, no one was super stoked about the test driven thing. But every single person we're just like, oh my gosh. That was like watching Jimmy Hendrix at Woodstock and I was just like, what I was like, so what part of the testing thing to do,
Toran Billups - 22:43 - like they're like, oh, it was the vim thing. So it says like, you know, in that example it was almost a side effect, right? So the command lines that Brandon is talking about, vim is what people couldn't ignore because it was, it looked so attractive. Um, and I think there is some part of like programmers, they want to be so efficient that when you look at vim and the modal editing, although it's very, it has like a big scary learning curve. But man, once you learn it, I feel like it just pays dividends year after year. And I think the proof is you guys have picked it up and since probably not gone back to vs code all the time, although I'm not sure about Kris. Kris, what's up? What's your deadline?
Kris Van Houten - 23:17 - So, you know, I use vs code primarily for the type checking because I used to script a lot, but I have my Vim key bindings and VS Code. So I'm kind of straddling the line a little bit. I do have a lot of appreciation for Vim, Toran. I really do. But okay. I just liked the gooey VS Code. Too much to not use it. So
Brandon Williams - 23:39 - the worst of both worlds, I mean the best of both worlds. Oh, sorry. Just brain.
Kris Van Houten - 23:45 - We just lost half of our fan base, all two of them.
Toran Billups - 23:50 - So how do we, how do we wrap this podcast up? I mean obviously we love the book. We want to promote the book and Vim, we want to promote the book to folks that follow it, check it out. I think my brief summary would be that the book really challenged me and I thought that was kind of good. In fact, the idea is to kind of stretch and here are some ideas that maybe you don't agree with and in fact the beginning of it, this passion hypothesis was one that I really struggled, but I'm glad I read through the book. What about you guys? Is there any other big takeaways from the book or just plugs for the book you want to give out?
Brandon Williams - 24:21 - The delivery practice for me was just reminding myself that if I just practice the same then commands that I know over and over if I just practice refactoring code or writing the same tests over and over, if I just stay in python and just keep using the, the patterns of Python that I know and never stretched myself, um, I'm not gonna continue to become or I'm not going to further my expertise. I need to challenge myself and get comfortable being uncomfortable and, and continue to stretch myself so that, that one for me was really important because the 10,000 hours I, I've always thought you just got to put in your time. You just got to do the 10,000 hours, but it's not all 10,000 hours are not created equal. I don't want to be the guy that's just doing, um, you know, 2000 hours and then just practicing those same 2000 hours five times. I want to be the guy that's got 10,000 unique hours that's become that expert. So yeah,
Kris Van Houten - 25:20 - I think for me, for some reason I was going through this book, Mike Rowe came to my mind so many times, Mike Rowe is still the host of the old show, dirty jobs on discovery channel and you know, he, he has a lot of the same mentality. It's like, you know, I don't care about your passion, just do something and become great at it. Uh, you know, and so that's one thing I was thinking about because, you know, I've read more self help books and I'd like to admit, and one of the big mantras in those books, it's like we'll find out what you're passionate about and go do it. And this book is basically like ignore all that. Because I found myself kind of getting stuck on that. Like analysis paralysis. Like what's that one thing I'm going to be great at that's going to change the world. And in this whole time I'm becoming better and better as a programmer. And really programming is what I enjoy. Because over the last whatever, eight or nine years I've been doing it, I've, I've gotten to a point where I feel like I'm pretty good at it and the better I've gotten at it,
Kris Van Houten - 26:15 - the more I enjoy doing it to where if I make the mistake of picking up my laptop sometime at night and spike, I'm just gonna try this thing with us. Two or three hours later I come out of this coma, like what happened? But I just learned a whole bunch of stuff. And so that's one thing I, I went away from the book as like, man, like this whole time, like that's been my passion and a background just sitting there and while there's plenty of other things I can be passionate about, asset of programming, like programming is what has been that, that fire, that fire from that. That's just been something I'm, I'm really excited about still after all these years. I still enjoyed learning more about. So yeah, that, that is something that really resonated with me in this book. So.
Toran Billups - 26:55 - Awesome. Um, yeah, let's jump over to some big wins. Uh, I try and I tried not to, but I actually have a big win that is right in line with this book. I am, I related it related to career capital. I was actually finishing up this manning a book called Redux and action and it was funny, the very last chapter, so they mentioned some redux libraries that are non react redux and of course ember redux comes up in there and uh, kind of got some, some, you know, props for my documentation and the website and all those sorts of examples that I have up. So I felt pretty good, uh, lifted up that all the career capital I put into open source has paid off in some way. So good work. Yeah. What about you, Brandon? What, uh, what's your big win from the last week?
Brandon Williams - 27:39 - Uh, so last week I was at some training called Training From the Back of the Room and that's training trainers how to train and very Meta. But it was, it was really, really powerful. I'm just learning about the brain science of how I can really engage, um, whether it's a conference talk or whether it's a small internal training or whether I'm doing training for paid money, um, how can I be a better trainer and how can I help the people that are there to learn, walk away, being able to apply everything that I was hoping that they would learn during that time. So, um, I've just got all this, all these things, all these tips and tricks on how brain science works and um, it, it's really cool because I can apply it at work and then we homeschool our kids. So, um, I even see like Nicole's, I'm learning about some of this stuff through some of her other books that she's doing in her podcast and I see her working on that with our, with our son.
Brandon Williams - 28:36 - And I'm like, Hey, you're doing this. I understand what you're doing right now. And so it's just, it's just really cool because it, it, it's, um, it's gonna be such a big part of my life that I get to see it in my personal and professional life. So
Kris Van Houten - 28:51 - awesome in school you're put, be able to put those pieces in the chain together and see from a big picture. That's awesome.
Brandon Williams - 28:57 - Yeah. What about you Kris?
Kris Van Houten - 28:59 - I'm so, yeah, I know I've probably started on a couple of episodes now. Just been really digging into just different types of technologies. So historically been ember developer but been working in view for the last year, um, and lately I've just been trying to learn react again, uh, for the second time and you know, so I kinda got to the point where I finished a lot of documentation on react and now I just been trying to tinker around with the, creating an APP from scratch. I know a lot of these tools have like their own CLIs to like react has create react app or view as the view CLI. ember has an ember CLI and one of the things, one of the problems with those is that they do all the work for you. And so, uh, it's really to figure out like how is an APP put together on the front end when all those small bits and pieces are kind of taken away from you. And so one thing I've been trying to really challenge myself that the plates I've been putting on my bar on my on my bar was as it were, is trying to figure like how does this stuff work from the ground up, uh,
Kris Van Houten - 29:59 - I get how to write a view app, I get how to ride a react app, but like how do we get to that point and I want to know more about that process. So just really digging into that with some stuff I've been tinkering around with and it's just been really rewarding seeing that level of how apps are constructed and how they're bundled a little bit at a more in depth view than I had before. So that's been, that's been pretty cool this week. And I guess that's, that's my big one. I can take away
Toran Billups - 29:59 - big wins.
Brandon Williams - 29:59 - Cool.
Toran Billups - 30:25 - Love it. Yeah. Well we'll keep lifting each other up and we'll see you all next week