This post was written in reverent memory of two colleagues who have passed away since I worked with them, Kieran and Howard. Rest in Peace.
Today’s post is written (in part) from PAX West 2021 in Seattle, which jives well with today’s topic: Enthusiasm. Much of the best parts of my life revolve around enthusiasm. Conventions like PAX, Star Wars Celebration, and BlizzCon are—more than just marketing events—celebrations of enthusiasm. My closest friendships are built around a common currency of enthusiasm for topics and activities. We talk often and at length about our favorite games, movies, TV shows, books, and technology. My preferred YouTube content is from creators with enthusiasm for literature, health, teaching, or just knowledge in general. The online communities I participate in are powered not by organizations but the enthusiasm of their community members. I remember my favorite time of year as a Program Manager on the VB team was MVP Summit because of how exhilarating it is to just be around others who are enthusiastic about programming in my favorite language on my favorite platform. I realize that though across a wide range of domains, at my core I’m an enthusiast. In fact, when Microsoft first approached me about interviewing for the role of PM of the VB.NET compiler back in 2009 that’s precisely how I signed my email accepting the invite. Not “Professional IT Solutions Consultant” or “Enterprise Software Architect” but “Visual Basic Enthusiast Extraordinaire”.
In the beginning of this year, I mentioned taking a break from social media to get some quiet, so to speak. I’m happy to say one of the words to tumble out of that quiet was this: enthusiasm. Not fandom. Not fun or favoritism. Not ego. Not even love or passion. I’d been thinking about my reasons for continuing to think about VB and in VB and those other words while certainly undeniable to various degrees didn’t feel super defensible to me as a case for why anyone else should care what I have to say, how I feel, or what I do. Not defensible to these imaginary critics, btw, but defensible to me. But unlike loving what you do, or having a fun job, or being a fan of your tools, I think it’s pretty difficult to argue that a life, professional or otherwise should be carried on devoid of or without regard to enthusiasm. That doesn’t mean that every single day I sit at my desk and laugh hysterically and post on Instagram videos of my saying “Isn’t this so fun!? My desk is the happiest place on earth today!” but there’s still a general enthusiasm (what defines and encourages that enthusiasm is a topic for later) for the field taken on the whole that I believe is absolutely worth fighting for.
While pondering this idea several people come to mind, some as counter examples, but I’ve decided today to focus on the positive. Specifically, two immensely respected past colleagues with inspirational careers who have since passed on and I’d like to talk a bit about how they’ve influenced my thinking on this topic.
The first of which is a man who I didn’t interact with very often personally but who was one of several role models for me at Microsoft. When I joined the Visual Studio (Managed) Languages team I was advised to get a few mentors and I did. My peer mentor’s mentor was a man named Kieran. Kieran said something that I’ve never forgotten and which I think summarizes what I mean when I talk about enthusiasm, “I always want to run those last few steps to my office in the morning”. And whenever I remember Kieran, that’s how I picture him, hustling to his office toward whatever the day’s challenges were. Not that every day was a trip to the amusement park but that, on the whole, he was going somewhere he very much and wholeheartedly wanted to be. That’s the example he set for other PMs and for me and his loss 3 years ago no doubt left the world dimmer for a lot of folks for a lot of reasons.
Another person who’s been on my mind is Howard. I worked with Howard a little over a decade ago in Chicago. When he joined the company I was then at, he was already in his mid-60s. He was the most knowledgeable person I knew about business process orchestration and far from thinking about retirement he was always thinking about what was next. His enthusiasm for his work was inexhaustible. I ran into him a few years into my time at Microsoft and he was still at it as of last year in his mid-70s. I think of Howard as an example of a long and wholehearted career. Sadly, when I went to look Howard up before writing this post, I learned he passed away late last year. I left my condolences with the family through a page they set up and I repeat my sympathies here. This loss to his family is of course beyond my comprehension and words and I will always cherish his time in my life as a respected, amicable, and resilient colleague and as an inspiration.
I could go on listing individuals near and far who “worked” in their fields in their 50s, 60s, 70s, or 80s and beyond, from Sir. C.A.R. Hoare in computing to Dr. Anthony Fauci in immunology, other members of public service, entertainment, and industry. I mention all of this to say… I’m 36 (37 in exactly 1 month). When I think about some of the brilliant and tireless minds I’ve worked with on the Roslyn team and the length of a career there’s a very real possibility that I’m not even halfway through mine. There could be another 40+ years of me giving a damn in the general vicinity of computers and programming in some form or fashion. How do I want to spend them? Rolling out of bed in resignation or running those last few steps?
Something happened to me, y’all. I once referenced fighting to stay on a platform, but I realize I’m in a fight for my very enthusiasm for what could be a longer period of time than I have been on the Earth. Will I be silent? Will I connect with others? How? Do you know how many times someone I know or who knows someone I know has contacted me and said “I want to get started with programming, where do you recommend I start?” and I genuinely just had emptiness in my heart and nothing to say? This has been true for several years now, at least 4. I lost something vitally important because I let externalities convince me that my own enthusiasm didn’t matter. That it was immature, trivial, or irrelevant. At times in the last 5 years, I’ve thought of myself as on a journey looking for the soul of something and this year I’m realizing that my soul is at least part of what I’m looking for.
What’s the impact if I give up on that search or if I bow out of that fight? The impact for me personally? The impact on others, or the lack thereof because I never share what I’ve learned along what has been a rich career (that’s not even half done yet). And this has made me think about what enthuses me about our industry and what definitely does not (and it’s not precisely a particular tool or product, btw). Anyway, in this time of silence I’ve resolved that while I might face a lot of criticism no one can ever tell me that it’s wrong for me to fight for my enthusiasm for the next 40 years of my career and my life. Not just as a clinically depressed person but as a human being I believe that’s however narrow the odds, that’s always worth fighting for!
P.S. My next post has been titled “Two Anxieties and an Unarticulated Need” but I’m on the fence on how soon to post it. I’ve been holding on to it for over a year and I’ve sort of lost track of whether it’s important to say it now. I’m leaning yes but thoughts change. I’m at least leaving you the title, so you know there is a next post. There’s always a next post.