Learn how to grow a genuine following and land a career in tech
Will Johnson used to work for call centers and factories, but he managed to make the daunting career change into tech. This especially isn't easy when you're clocking in 12 hour days. To make time to grow Will was waking up early, staying up late, and doing stuff on weekends.
"It was very, very time consuming, but it was one of those things where like I knew if I got that one chance that all of this would be worth it."
In addition to building up technical skills, networking is absolutely critical for landing a roll.
"I knew that I had to network and meet people in the industry to advocate for me, because I knew that my resume wasn't going to have anyone beating out the door saying, 'Let's hire him.' Right? But as far as the process of building relationships was completely organic. There's not any strategy or networking books I've read. I just knew that taking people's advice, sharing things with them that they might find interesting, and following up with them was a good way to nurture a relationship with someone."
"Growth hacking" style networking is disingenuous and suboptimal. It's about building genuine trust and relationships with people. When you have real trust, there won't be fear when they take the risk of referring or hiring you. To build those relationships just help people out without an expectation of something in return. Chances are you might be the person they think of when they need a podcast guest, a role needs filling at their work, etc.
Find somebody who has a need, and try to fill that need, whether it's on Discord or Twitter or wherever, without any expectation of reciprocation.
Kent C. Dodds (00:00):
Hello friends. This is your friend Kent C. Dodds, and I'm joined by my friend, William Johnson. Say hi, Will.
Will Johnson (00:06):
Kent C. Dodds (00:08):
Well, I did ask you to say, hi Will, but hey everyone is good too. I'm excited to chat with you, Will, about community engineering and stuff. That's your title at Egghead, and I just think that's the coolest title. But before we get into talking about some of what you do with that, and in particular, some of the topics that we had discussed, I'd love for the audience to get to know you better. Could you just give us a intro to who you are?
Will Johnson (00:40):
Sure. I'm Will Johnson. I was a career changer. I previously worked in more like call center and factory work. Did a lot of self study on the internet and was able to change career into technical roles. Got the attention of Egghead, build a relationship there and is working for them for about a year and a half now doing community work. It's been quite the journey, and I'm happy of where I've ended up.
Kent C. Dodds (01:09):
Dude. That's awesome. I love hearing the stories of people transitioning into tech from other industries. What was that process like for you? I'd love to dig into that a little deeper before we chat about other stuff.
Will Johnson (01:22):
Sure. For me it was tough, because I was working at a factory. I had 12 hour days. They love making you work over time in those industries and stuff like that. So it was not a lot of time at home with my family. I had to cut out a lot of other stuff, whether that was watching TV, playing video games. And I'm not saying those things are bad. I just literally didn't have time if I wanted to make this move.
It was a lot of waking up early, staying up late, doing stuff on the weekends, going to meet ups when we could have them. So going to meet us, going to conferences, meeting people, asking questions. It was very, very time consuming, but it was one of those things where like I knew if I got that one chance that all of this would be worth it.
Kent C. Dodds (02:17):
Yeah. Wow. And that's what we call hustle. Right. Really working 12 hour days, and then trying to get yourself geared up for this transition. That's awesome. Really inspiring. Have you ever written about your story? Because I'd love to read through in more depth on something like that.
Will Johnson (02:41):
I did write a blog post on Dev2 and we can link that into the show notes where I talk about actual things that happened. And it was quite a lot, because it was a 18-month process from when I first said, "I'm going to break into tech" to actually doing it. It's quite a bit in there, and I can make sure I give you a link so you can link that.
Kent C. Dodds (03:07):
Yeah. That'd be great. I love those stories. Yeah. And so now you somehow got connected with Egghead. How did that happen?
Will Johnson (03:16):
Kent C. Dodds (03:16):
Will Johnson (03:43):
... because most of the stuff you linked was yours.
Kent C. Dodds (03:45):
Will Johnson (03:47):
So seeing that, I was like, "Well, what is Egghead?" And then I ended up learning about Joel, and then I ended up seeing that he had five kids, and he broken the tech when he was in his mid thirties. I was in my mid thirties. I was 33 at the time, and I had six kids. I had like just had my a three-year-old somewhere super close to that. I was like, man, he went through the same thing I'm doing. So let me follow him on Twitter and et cetera, et cetera. And then one time he ended up following me back, and I was posting constantly what I was doing, what I was learning. Then one time I got rejected from my job interview, and I had went on Twitter and was like, "Oh man, I feel like I'm ready, and I can't get anyone to take a chance on me." I wasn't angry, but I definitely wasn't in a good mood with that tweet. Right?
Kent C. Dodds (04:42):
Will Johnson (04:44):
And so he just responded and gave me some advice. He was like, "You should start writing or something... just start giving." I can't remember everything, because it was so long ago, but he had gave me advice, and then after that I started doing what he asked. I had started blogging, and make sure I'm posting those, and then I remember I had reached out and was like, "Hey, can we talk about this more in depth over Zoom about my career goals?" So yeah, we met over Zoom and discuss. He got to know my story a little bit more. And then we just kept building our relationship. We would talk about books, because he's a big reader, I'm a big reader. We would share book titles that we've read and stuff like that. And then eventually it led to me working for Egghead, really out of nowhere. I didn't even expect it. So that was crazy.
Kent C. Dodds (05:37):
Wow. I'm just really impressed. There were a lot of things that you did in the process of making this transition that were very proactive, and I don't know, would you say it was intentional or planned or was it just a natural thing were you build that relationship with Joel?
Will Johnson (05:58):
It was a little bit of both. I knew that I had to network and meet people in the industry to advocate for me, because I knew that my resume wasn't going to have anyone beating out the door saying, "Let's hire him." Right? But as far as the process of building relationships was completely organic. There's not any strategy or networking books I've read. I just knew that taking people's advice, sharing things with them that they might find interesting, and following up with them was a good way to nurture a relationship with someone.
Kent C. Dodds (06:38):
Yeah. That's great. It sounds very authentic relationship building, which I think I've had some people reach out to me in one-sided relationship, I guess, approaches and stuff, but it sounded like you're just more interested in, "Hey, let's actually build a relationship here." And it ended up working out really nicely with Joel. So Joel says, "Hey, you're doing awesome stuff. And it seems like you'd be a perfect fit for..." I'm guessing he had some idea or he'd been thinking about this for a while. And he said, "Hey, you'd be a perfect person to help us with our community." Can you tell us a little bit about what is the Egghead community, and why does a community engineer need to exist?
Will Johnson (07:35):
That's a really good question. But the Egghead community, it has two members, I guess, like two buckets. It's like the people who sign up for Egghead and watch the courses to learn. And then there's also the instructors. The community engineer exists to support and bring together those two parties. I create events and things and opportunities for those two people to co-exist. For example, if it's the learners, learning in a vacuum is normally what we do. Right? We do things where we have cohorts of people who go through... like the KCD Learning Clubs. People go through activities together with a common goal, but we curate the process. Like [Loro 00:08:32] , he works for Egghead as well. He does really good putting those together. But we have other material, even not Egghead material where everyone's working towards a goal, and they meet and discuss, so they can have questions answered and just not feel alone.
And we do other things. Sometimes we'll play games. We've played Among Us before. We've done book clubs on non-technical books. And we just do things to bring everyone together, so we can all enrich each other. And with the instructors, I do things that take them away from being, what's the word I'm looking for? Like unapproachable, right? Sometimes it can seem like, "Oh, they're an instructor. I can't talk to them." I make things that they can do, like having Egghead talks where we present a talk that they've made in front of a live audience, and they're there in the chat interacting with the people, and people can ask them questions about their talk in real time, instead of at a real conference, it might be this line of 45 people waiting to ask you something.
There's that. And then we do the Twitter chats and lives, like different events to just connect the people and the learners with the instructor on a more personal level to where it isn't just them giving them information from on this stage so to speak.
Kent C. Dodds (10:00):
Yeah. You've done some of this stuff for me. We did an AMA thing, and it was really interesting, a lot of good questions and stuff. And I see what you're doing all the time, and I'm guessing you're the person behind the Egghead IO account, or maybe there are a couple of people who manage that as well, right?
Will Johnson (10:17):
The Twitter account?
Kent C. Dodds (10:18):
Yeah, yeah. Sorry.
Will Johnson (10:19):
Yeah. Yeah. That's pretty much me and LinkedIn. All of that.
Kent C. Dodds (10:24):
Really, yeah. Wow. It's a lot of stuff. And then Egghead has a Slack and a Discord. The Discord's more for the external community and the instructors together. The Slack has just instructors. Is that right?
Will Johnson (10:37):
Correct. Yeah. The Slack is like more work-related, talking about courses and planning and stuff like that. And Slack is like water cooler for fun stuffs and jokes and memes, and you know. Of course people are giving the advice in there too, but it's just more casual.
Kent C. Dodds (10:54):
Hmm. Yeah. Yeah. Well, cool. Through your experience as a Community Engineer, one thing that you mentioned that you've learned is that you're better off getting... Or the best way to get what you want is to help other people get what they want. Can you elaborate on that and just expand on that idea?
Will Johnson (11:18):
Sure. If you want something, let's say let's talk real concrete, right? Let's say I want to be a guest on your podcast. Right? And we don't have any relationship. Right? If I want that, there's something I can do for you to get that. It can definitely vary, because you have a lot of stuff going on. But I'm sure not everything that you're doing, you want to do. You could maybe want someone to add a feature to your Discord bot, or something, make graphics for you. It's like something that you don't want to do that someone else can do for you to make your life a little easier. And that's a good way to break the ice, instead of, "Hey, Kent, can you help me with my career?" Or just come straight with the ask. It's like I don't know if you ever heard that jab, jab, right hook by Gary V.
Kent C. Dodds (12:23):
No. That sounds interesting though.
Will Johnson (12:25):
So it's like if you're a... When you think about it's like violent, but it's like the jab, jab, jab, right. You just jab, right, if you're in a fight. You don't come out with the biggest punch that you have. Right? You just slowly jab, jab, jab, jab, and then when their defenses is down, that's when you come with the right hook. And I hate saying it like that, because that sounds so wrong, but the same concept, right? It's like you do little things, you do little things, and now they trust you. Right? And then you can be, "Hey, could you do this for me?" Or something like that.
But really, I hate the right hook. I hate the ask. It's just because, I don't know, I just don't really like asking for stuff. I don't know why. Just habits, I guess. I don't know. But if you keep jabbing, people will eventually offer you something when you build that trust. You don't even have... I'm not saying you don't have to, but I haven't had to in my experience. Once I've continually offered people things and done stuff for them, they had always came through like, "Hey, do you want to be on my podcast?" "Hey, do you want to be on the stream?" "Do you want to speak at this event?" They've always come with the offers. That's what I mean. Like, if you want something, whether that's a career change, to get a relationship with someone, do something for them first, and nine times out of 10, you'll get the thing that you're seeking.
Kent C. Dodds (13:56):
Yeah. That makes a lot of sense to me. And just going along with this example of my podcast, I mean, clearly that's very close to home. I was thinking, "Okay, so where do my ideas for guests come from?" And it does come from people that I have a relationship with, that I've been following on Twitter, or we've been interacting in my Discord or on GitHub or something. Yeah. So if you don't already have a relationship with a person, then it's unlikely they're going to offer whatever it is that you'd like from them.
And a really great way to build a relationship with them is by offering to help them with things, no strings attached, like make a pull request. And in fact, there's one person, I won't name them by name in case that embarrasses them, but there's one person in this season that I'm talking with with Chats with Kent, who I asked, because we developed a relationship, and I just thought they were a really cool person, and I'm excited to have him on the show. And we developed that relationship, because they kept doing really awesome things for either my open-source stuff or just helping in my community. And so it was just a very natural thing for me to reach out to them and say, "Hey, I'd love to chat with you on the podcast." I totally agree with that.
One thing that I think it's good when you give things without expecting things in return. But sometimes I see people in like a work environment, and they're hoping to get a promotion, but they never talked to their boss and just let them know that I want to have a promotion. And you can end up doing things that don't get you any closer to your goal, because you're not communicating effectively. When it's a work situation like that, I think talking about that sort of thing works a lot better. Do you see any situation in a give and take or just a non-professional relationship where it is appropriate to ask like, "I've been doing all this stuff for you. I don't really expect anything in return, but this is something that would be interesting to me if that's ever interesting to you." Do you have advice on if somebody just keeps on doing nice things, but they never get what they're actually looking for? How do you get out of that wheel spin?
Will Johnson (16:26):
That's a good question. And so that's the thing. If you've built that relationship and done things... First of all, if they're like not reciprocating at all, not even... Let's say you make graphics for them, or you done something on their site, and they don't even give you a shout out. Let's say you've done that three times, then you probably need to cut ties with that person, because they're just not appreciative of the effort that you're putting in. But if it's keep on and seem nice, and you're talking back and forth, since you build that relationship, you can come to them and say like, "I would really like to..." And not even I've done a lot of things, can you do this? This would be like, "Hey, would you like to chat about my career, review my portfolio, tell me what my resume." Whatever thing that you're looking to get to help you get to your position, if you built that relationship, I feel like they wouldn't have any issue helping you out, because you've built that trust.
Kent C. Dodds (17:28):
Totally. And I like that you mentioned like you don't have to mention that I've done all this stuff for you, because that kind of puts them on the guilt train. And if it's a quality relationship, that's not where you want that... That just changes the conversation entirely. Yeah, I like that you mentioned that. And as you were saying that, I was like, "Oh yeah, I've actually experienced this a lot." People have done a lot of really helpful things for me. And then they just come one day, and they say, "Hey, I have this need, can you help me with that?" And I'm what? I get emails all the time or tweets or whatever, and I am way more willing to help somebody out when I already have a relationship with them. It's just more natural and easy.
Yeah. So, yeah. And you have that experience, like when you were introducing yourself, you mentioned how you asked Joel to talk about your career over Zoom. And that's not a small ask, right? For me, people can buy an hour of my time, I have it on my website, and I charge a lot of money, hundreds of dollars to get an hour of my time. But if it's somebody I have a relationship with, then I have definitely given people some of my time for totally for free, just because we're we're friends. And so yeah. Having a genuine relationship can get you pretty far.
Will Johnson (18:52):
Yeah. I agree, 110%, because I think someone else said it, I can't remember. I think it was Adam Wathan on his podcast. He said it's like you're, de-risking the other person. If they don't know you at all, that's a risk. And inherently, they may feel a little apprehension, like who is this person? What do they want me to do? And it's just natural human nature to not really... If something comes up that you don't know, it's natural to feel some fear, even though it may not be real or dangerous, it's just like what is this? But when you know someone, and you follow them on Twitter or watch their live streams, you know their personality or temperament, they have a good reputation. Right? You have that trust. It's a whole lot easier to just be like, "Yeah, sure." It's like the risk is gone, the fear is gone. That's why the relationships are so important. It's just making the other person less afraid.
Kent C. Dodds (19:54):
Yeah. Yeah. That totally makes sense as well. I'll have people ask me to be on their podcast and stuff, and if I know who they are, and I know that they're stand up people and whatever, it just makes it so much easier. Like, "Totally. Yeah. I'll be on your podcast." But if I've never heard of them, and I don't know their podcasts, then that email sits in the inbox for a while until I get a chance to go through the podcast, make sure that I'm okay being lined up with the rest of the guests that they've had and all of that. And so it just takes a lot more work. And if what you're asking takes a lot out of me, then I'm less likely to put that effort into finding out whether it's worth my time. Right? And yeah. So de-risking, I liked that idea a lot.
Oh, I was going to another follow-up to what you just said, but now it's gone from my mind. Oh yeah. What are some suggestions of ideas of things that people could do to offer? Because sometimes you'll see an open source project that this person's working on, and you're not sure how to contribute, or maybe they don't really want to review PRs on it or something, like they're done with the project or whatever. What are the best ways that you found to contribute to somebody without adding onto the burden, I guess.
Will Johnson (21:26):
That's a great question. There are several different ways. If you don't want to add to their burden, right, then you can take whatever you're doing, and put it on your platform. Let's say if it's a open source project that you think is really cool, right? You could create a YouTube series or an Egghead course about it. You can do a live stream about it, and tag them and let them know like, "Hey, I'm working through your open source library here on the stream." Because that gives them more attention, right? Whatever you're doing is like you're bringing attention and eyes to them, and they don't have to do anything. All they can do is if they have a bigger audience than you, they can retweet it, so people can see someone working on their open source project or send it to who they know. It's like, you could possibly get access to their network as well.
I'd say one thing just to recap that, if it's something that you want to do that adds less work to other person, put it on your own platform, whether that's Twitter, a blog post, stream, whatever you are on the internet that you own put it there, and then let them know about it. And again, remember the part of no expectation, like don't expect, "Yeah, they're going to retweet this and everyone's going to see it or whatever." Just go in there with the expectation that this can possibly lead to nowhere, but I like this open source project. This can... You never know who might be watching and see you later down the line. Just put it where they don't have to work, and don't expect anything, but make sure you let them know.
Kent C. Dodds (23:12):
Yeah. Yeah. I think that's a really great idea. And what about, let's say for me, I have my Discord community. I have my own YouTube channel, and people are asking me questions on Twitter as well and things. Are there areas where you've seen people rise within the community to really be a great help, and what are the things that they do?
Will Johnson (23:43):
Lately it seems, I mean definitely Twitter, Twitter has like... If you can be helpful on Twitter, you can definitely like build an amazing amount of relationships, because once it gets retweeted by the certain accounts, and it gets more impressions, and people see it and start to trust you, Twitter has been really wild to see how fast people's been coming to the community and meeting people. And what they're doing is basically... The biggest secret to Twitter, I think, that most people don't realize that it isn't about... What's the quote that I said? I think the best way to grow on Twitter, and not grow in a growth hacking way, but just to build more relationships, is to use it as a microphone for others, not as a speakerphone for yourself. Right?
Kent C. Dodds (24:40):
Oh, wow. That's good. I like that.
Will Johnson (24:44):
Basically, if people are talking about something, go on their tweets. Add something valuable, right. Not try to take the conversation over, but something else that'll make people go, "Huh? That's a good idea." That alone can help you build a relationship, because the person who tweeted it saw it, they were like, "Huh, that's a good point." Then the other people see it. And then they're like, "Oh, that makes sense." Whatever the case may be. A lot of people can see that value that you added to that conversation, then they can literally just have a snowball effect.
So answer questions, gives tips, and things like that, just ways to help other people, because there's always someone asking a question. There's always someone who need help with something. Even if... It can even be something simple, like, "What speed do you watch your podcast on?" Right? Are you listening to podcast on? You going like, "Oh, I started on 2X, and then I got used to it, and now I'm doing 3X." People be like, "Wait, what? You're doing 3X?" It's interesting, because 3X is crazy. But it's as simple as that. Someone asks a simple question, you responded, you gave them the microphone, even though you responded, you put the attention on them, and it allowed more people to see what you're doing. I hope that makes sense.
Kent C. Dodds (26:11):
Yeah. Yeah. That does make sense. And I love that idea of like focusing on using Twitter as a microphone for others. I think that that helps a lot. And I notice the folks who are on reply... When I tweet something, and I get a lot of questions about it, I don't always have time to answer those questions. But I noticed there are some people who will come in and answer the question for me, and I really appreciate that sort of thing. So there's plenty of opportunity to do that sort of thing too, and just contribute to the conversation generally. That's great. We're coming toward the end of our time. Is there anything else that you wanted to make sure we talk about before we wrap up?
Will Johnson (26:53):
No, not that I can think of. I think we covered like the main points of being helpful and looking for ways to contribute.
Kent C. Dodds (27:02):
Cool, cool. Well that leads us perfectly into our homework, because we want you to do that. So find somebody who has a need, and try to fill that need, whether it's on Discord or Twitter or wherever, without any expectation of reciprocation. That is the homework. Anything to add to that, Will?
Will Johnson (27:25):
Yeah. And just to give people something more concrete, and even if it's not technical related, like it could be does anyone know a good graphics program? Look for someone asking a question about something, and then just give them the answer to that question. And just like Kent said without any expectation. If that's something that you're not used to doing, give it a try today, and try to make it a habit, and then see what happens later.
Kent C. Dodds (27:57):
Oh, that's awesome. I love it. Thank you so much, Will. What's the best way for people to connect with you online?
Will Johnson (28:05):
Sure. The best place to be my Twitter account, which is WillJohnsonIO. That's my at. And then WilliamJohnson.dev is my personal site where I mainly been blogging about like Rails stuff, because I like Rails. Rails is cool. But I also have been diving deeper into React, so I will have some React content on there as well, if that's what you're interested in.
Kent C. Dodds (28:30):
Very cool. Actually, quick question, before we wrap up, are you also working on the Egghead platform too? Do you contribute there as part of the Egghead team?
Will Johnson (28:45):
It's not my day job every day, so I don't code every day. Most coding I do is on my own time. But I have, on the older side, when it was Rails we use. Now we use Next on the front when it was just React and Rails on the backend. I've put a few things on there that was made by me and designed by [Voita 00:29:09] .
Kent C. Dodds (29:08):
Voita, my goodness. For those who don't know, Voita is responsible for all of the design of my website, and Epic React, and Maggie, of course she's going to be on this season as well. She is the mind behind the themes and lots of that too. She runs most of that. But Voita's where rubber meets the road, and here's the design, you even implement it. It's amazing. And I just loved the Egghead team. All of y'all are awesome. So thank you for joining me. It's been a pleasure, and yeah, with that I think we'll just say tata. Thanks, William.
Will Johnson (29:51):
Thank you. See you later, everybody.
Kent C. Dodds (29:54):