Episode 068: How to Build Your Personal Brand | CloudSkills.fm

Mike Pfeiffer on March, 27, 2020

In this episode I catch up with tech industry legends and fellow published authors Dan Wahlin and Tim Warner about how to build your personal brand.

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Full Transcript:

Mike Pfeiffer:
What’s up everybody. Welcome back to another episode of CloudSkills.fm. On this episode doing something a little bit different. I’ve got two guests this time. It’s Dan Wahlin and Tim Warner. On today’s episode we’re talking about building your personal brand. This is going to be a lot of fun. So, want to say what’s up to Dan. Dan, how you doing?

Dan Wahlin:
Doing great. Yeah, it’s always good to talk with you, Mike, and I get to officially meet, like we were saying with Tim, the famous Tim Warner. So, I’m excited about that, too.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Good to see you, Tim. How are you, man?

Tim Warner:
I’m feeling chipper even at this time of the day here in Nashville. We’ve got blue skies and full Sun, so that makes a big difference. Happy to be here.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Awesome. It’s awesome to have you guys here, and this is a timely topic based on things that are going on right now. A lot of people are looking at the online landscape a little bit differently, right. Time to maybe double down on some of the personal branding and do some things that they’ve been planning on doing and haven’t had so much time to do in the past perhaps. But, this is stuff that all three of us have spent a lot of time working on. Maybe we could start with Dan, and maybe we could … What was the big transition for you, Dan, of going from just being a regular developer and getting into like actually branding yourself and putting yourself out there?

Dan Wahlin:
I needed a job. No, that actually wasn’t it. No, I kind of got started in a weird way. So, in college I had this idea to build, I called it Quick Link Cyber Mall. I have no idea why that was a good name. It probably wasn’t a good name, actually, in hindsight. But it had like a tiger logo, or something. That’s how I learned the web, was my earlier kind of years in school. As I was doing that, you know you start to learn some stuff but you go, “Huh, wonder if anyone else would benefit from this?” So, I submitted to a site. I’m trying to remember, as[inaudible 00:01:57]day.com I think it was called. Wasn’t that R.O.K.S., I believe, owned it, or maybe later R.O.K.S. owned it.

Mike Pfeiffer:
R.O.K.S. Publishing. [crosstalk 00:02:06]

Dan Wahlin:
You know back then one of the reasons I submitted, now keep in mind I’m in my 20, yeah early 20s, at this point. By the way, I’m only about 28, so everybody knows that and we could spread that rumor. I’m actually about to hit 50 in like two weeks, but anyway. So, I submitted this article and it actually paid really well back then. You guys may remember back in the day it actually paid super well to write. So, it went well. It got some decent feedback and all that and I said, “Hey, you know what, why don’t I do more writing?” Keep in mind I had never done any of this. So, it was kind of just one of those let’s just see how this goes, and since I was able to make some money, that’s a bonus.

Dan Wahlin:
Well, from there, and the reason I want to point this out for people considering building brands is, it was a little bit of a risk to put myself out there because, especially back in my 20s. If Mike, or Tim, you guys would have been like, “Hey, Dan, your article sucks,” you know. I don’t know in my 20s if I would have taken that as well as now I would just probably laugh and go, “Okay, that’s cool. Good feedback.” I think that’s the number one thing was I put myself out there. It was a little bit of by chance I put myself out there, but I did.

Dan Wahlin:
From there I had a book offer, not a book offer but book company contact me. Back then … Well, it was a little bit harder to write a book I’m going to say then it is today. Today there’s a million opportunities. Back then was a lot smaller subset of publishers. So, I was like shocked thinking I’m going to make tons of money. I didn’t, by the way. I think I made 5 cents an hour, but that really helped with … Because the timing was right when .net came out, and my book came out right before then. It’s called XML For ASP.NET Developers, is what it was called.

Dan Wahlin:
So, to wrap this up now. I’ll let Tim chime in here, I think the number one first step is you just got to be willing to put yourself out there and realize that, yeah some people are going to hate on you, and you’ll get to a point, which is where I’m at now, where that happens, I don’t want to say daily but probably weekly. Now I just kind of … Honestly I feel kind of bad for those type of people that just whine the whole time. They complain, complain, complain, and I don’t take it personally. Let me switch over to Tim. Give us your thoughts on how you got into it.

Tim Warner:
Yeah, sure thing. A couple themes when I look back over my career thus far. It’s been about 21 years. The two primary themes, I think, are one, the power of professional networking, that just about every opportunity I’ve had in my career, whether it’s a full-time salary position, or a book, or teaching a course somewhere, has come not by formally applying necessarily but knowing somebody who knowing somebody, and then the next you know the opportunity manifests itself. So, for me I don’t look at branding as a way to try to be famous, or feel important, it’s just been a natural progression of my career that I know how powerful it is, community and being with people who are in the industry, and being known by these people. Word of mouth, I guess, is another way to say it really, word of mouth.

Tim Warner:
So, I got a question from someone on Twitter just this afternoon as a matter of fact, and he said, “I notice that you tend to brand all of your links, TimW.info instead of whatever the long link is.” He’s like, “Why do you do that?” I thought about it for a second, and the reasons are, number one, I want the link to be easier to know, to remember, instead of one of those honking long microsoft URLs, it’s something compact. I also said I want people to remember my name, simple as that, not because I think I’m better than anybody else, but by someone remembering my name that’s an opportunity potentially for us to do something together, either professionally or personally. I don’t mean to sound like some kind of opportunistic shark. Banish the thought, no. It’s a career, and like we were talking before you started the podcast recording, Mike, now more than ever I would imagine some people are thinking about how can I maximize my career prospects? How can I go to the so-called next level?

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, there’s a lot there that I’d like to touch on that you guys mentioned, but for me I think what it was for me 10 years ago was trying to really understand, or come up with a way of how I’m going to stand out compared to everybody else? I’ve had hints up into that moment. So, I worked in systems, and did a little bit of development, and stuff, but I was working in the corporate lifestyle and sitting in a cubicle. So, I think my first foray into getting into all this was a lot of what Dan was saying, picking something, putting a blog out there and kind of getting started that way. I think one of the things that really resonates there was thinking about, “Oh, this might be a risk.” Sometimes when you’re putting stuff out maybe your employer may not be super hot on that. The one thing I’ve noticed talking to a lot of people is usually you tend to overthink that a little bit. You tend to overthink, “Oh, am I going to get busted for doing this?” You’re really just contributing and that’s, I think, pretty important.

Mike Pfeiffer:
But, there’s a couple things I’d love to touch on. Number one, Dan touched on haters, and you’re going to get a fair amount of pushback eventually when you start putting yourself out there. I think that that just, you’ve got to focus on the people that you can help and impact with whatever it is you’re doing. Like Dan was saying, you kind of feel sorry for the haters because they’re literally … Nobody that’s happy is going to sit there and hate on other people online. People that are getting stuff done, that are excited, and having a good time they don’t spend their time complaining about other stuff. So, you got to remember that although there will be some haters the far majority of people that are going to get a positive impact of what you might be sharing outweighs that big time.

Dan Wahlin:
Totally. To chime in there, in all fairness I won’t call it, I don’t know if hatertalk’s a word but we’re going to make that into a phrase now, but there’s been plenty of what I’ll call constructive criticism that, again, maybe in my younger years I took that maybe a little bit with a little offense, but now I go, “Well, if they think that maybe I do need to work on that part.” For instance on some of my Pluralsight courses, I’ve had different people suggest different things. Initially I’m like, “No,” but I just had one, somebody wanted a …

Dan Wahlin:
You both can chime in one this, too, but they wanted the code to be a begin and an end, but I was only given two hours for this course so there’s only so much you can do in two hours, and so I had to respond that, “Hey, I think that’s a great idea but I can’t show every line of code to get you from begin to end. It’s just not possible but,” I said, “I’ll pass that feedback along.” I already have actually, to my author success person there. I think that’s a good example where there was good feedback. It may or may not turn into anything, but you need to be open to it. Then, there’s the stuff you talked about, Mike, which is just over the top, just hating.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Totally.

Dan Wahlin:
Yeah, and the funny thing is is when you’re singing online what I’ve noticed, to your point, constructive criticism usually comes from a real person and actual like hate negativity comes from somebody with a fake avatar hiding behind a fake name. They won’t reveal who they actually are. So, usually like the really nasty stuff, which is rare, comes from an anonymous person.

Dan Wahlin:
The other thing I wanted to touch on what Tim said was that branding … This is not about vanity or popularity, this is about leadership really, and being top of mind. If I’m constantly seeing Tim in my feed every single day talking about Azure, and I’ve got an Azure question, well probably pretty likely I’m going to go to Tim to ask that question. There’s no cost for you to get in the game and just share what you’re working on and then start to kind of like brand yourself as the solution for something. I think that’s a big distinction. This is not about popularity, or fame, or follower counts, this is about having something to bring to the table that maybe somebody else doesn’t.

Tim Warner:
I’m grateful to have the skillset I do, and I’m super happy to share. It reminds me of a couple things, actually, about I don’t know how many years ago Don Jones, who has a nice brand himself, gave me advice like … I’ve always historically been an IT generalist and he suggested that I specialize, because when you think of PowerShell you normally think of Don Jones, and that’s what he said. He said, “Specialize so that when somebody thinks of a particular technology, or stack, your name is what comes to mind.” That’s important.

Tim Warner:
I want to speak about risk for a minute, because both of you mentioned that, and I’d just like to chime in that in my experience risk doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I mean, I admire the heck out of you, Mike, leaving a salaried position to start CloudSkills. I mean, that’s some real entrepreneurial taking a big risk. I’m always risk averse. I’ve never gambled a single penny in Las Vegas and I’ve been there for business I don’t know how many times.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Good man, good man.

Tim Warner:
But, that risk aversion is just … I mean, it’s worked for me, and a quick example of that was about five or six years ago I was leaving a job and, again professional networking, I just was chatting with, of all people, Don Jones, who had just gone to Pluralsight full-time, and that became a possibility. I was doing pretty well as a contract author, and I thought about it.

Tim Warner:
I thought, you know if we’re just talking about the Benjamins I could make a heck of a lot more money just going it alone and just … I know a lot of people that do Pluralsight courses full-time and do other things and they’re fine. But I’m thinking, Well, we’ve got, at the time, a very young child. Our daughter was probably two then. I really have, I guess, a personal need for stability in terms of predictable, recurring income, and benefits, and those sort of things. So, for me it works out to be a full-timer.

Tim Warner:
But, then on the side I take little risks, I guess, in an entrepreneurial way that don’t jeopardize my work relationship with Pluralsight, of course, but still satisfy that baby, or that little entrepreneurial spirit I have. I’ve always wondered about you in that regard, Dan, because I always think of you as an entrepreneur.

Dan Wahlin:
I try. Well, and Mike you’re in the same exact boat. Mine was a little bit forced, to be honest. Back in the tech bubble I worked for a startup, and this will talk to your risk, because I came from a family background where my dad was very risk averse. He just always had a full-time job. He was a golf course superintendent, which was great because I got free golf. He did that his whole life, and he was pretty much a genius at some things that I think he should have done. I tried to push him, but he just wasn’t interested, which is fine. So, I kind of came up in that mindset, as well, of, Yeah, I’m not going to take a big risk because that’s not a good thing and this could happen.

Dan Wahlin:
I agree with what you said, though, Tim, and I think Mike, once we get over to you, I think you’ll agree, too. There’s no reason you can’t have a full-time job right now and start doing something on the side. You could write an eBook. You could publish a real book, which I’d recommend just go it alone on your own, because I think you’ll make more money, actually, over a publisher. You could do video courses. There’s many companies out there doing that, obviously. I have a little bit of a preference maybe towards Pluralsight.

Dan Wahlin:
What happened with me was in the tech bubble I worked for a startup. It was super, super fun job back then, but one day I walked in, some people can relate to this, and they offered me like I don’t know how many thousands of extra shares of, of course, nothing because it wasn’t even a company yet, but that’s what they did. I’m like, “Okay, cool,” and literally the next day I got a call. Sorry, we’re going under. But here’s the kicker. So, what I had done, though, was the startup was a little bit risky, because it was a startup and this is back in the '99, 2000 timeframe. You just never knew with companies, so I had started doing training on the side, and I worked it out with the startup that I’ll come work for you for this salary but I need one week a month. I’ll still work while I travel but I need one week a month where I can travel. I worked for a company called Global Knowledge back then.

Dan Wahlin:
When I, I guess you could say, got laid off, because I did, it wasn’t a big deal. I had to travel more but I had this as a backup now. So, now what was just a side gig because my main gig for gosh a couple years, I think. During that timeframe I started my own company. So anyway, Mike, on the risk averse, you already mentioned this, Tim, you went from, like you said, the corporate jobs to what you’re doing now, which I totally respect, by the way. So, tell us about what your thoughts on that.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I’ve always been kind of a real big risk taker. This actually is not my first company. My first company ever was a very small local mom and pop consulting firm in Phoenix that we started in 2003, by the way, which is a long time ago now. But, going back to what Dan was saying, we were doing that when we still had regular jobs, so it wasn’t like I quit my corporate job initially. So, I kind of worked my way into my first consulting business. We were just … At that time we were trying to brand the company, not ourselves, so we got all of our customers back in that era from search engine traffic, because the way that we set up our website, and stuff. So, I didn’t spend a lot of time there doing any personal branding but I started to think about it, and some of the things I learned during that timeframe helped me a few years later when after I sold my ownership in that business, went back to corporate, and then decided again, I’m going to change things up.

Mike Pfeiffer:
So, I think for me … I’ve never worked anywhere longer than about 3-1/2 years. Jumping around over the last 20 or so years from job to job and doing different things, I think, has given me a lot of different insights, and I’ve been able to use those in my personal brand. I think picking a niche, kind of like what was talked about earlier, like what is it that you’re going to be known for, is an important thing. I think in terms of branding you got to be careful because I see a lot of people out there where they’re like, "Hey, I’m the AWS guy, or I’m the Azure guy, or I’m the SQL server guy, or gal, and Microsoft and all these other vendors love to change names of stuff, and things like that, right?

Mike Pfeiffer:
So, what do you guys think about that, like picking a niche, because I think one of the friction points is people don’t get in the game because they’re worried about picking the wrong thing, or maybe they don’t feel like they got the expertise yet. Dan, or Tim, what do you say to that where somebody is like, “Oh, I’m not sure if I should get into this because I’m not the expert yet,” or “I’m not sure which niche to get into.” Do you have any tips on that for somebody?

Tim Warner:
Well, rather than a specific piece of advice I always do give the suggestion, follow your interest, aptitude and, what would the third one be? Passion I guess, and let that be your primary decider. I still consider myself an IT generalist because I’m just so insanely curious about everything. I can’t imagine being really siloed in my skillset. I have some friends here in Nashville. We have so many huge multi-hospital conglomerate companies and the IT people are siloed into these little tiny silos where they’ve got this area of responsibility and they can’t go outside of their sandbox. So, in some ways with Azure I feel like the luckiest IT professional on earth because I’m officially, I guess, in a specialty, but the Azure ecosystem is so big it’s almost impossible to get bored. There’s so many shiny objects, so I’m able to take advantage of being a specialist and a generalist at the same time.

Mike Pfeiffer:
That’s what’s awesome about cloud, man, is because the cloud itself you could just pick something in there, right. What about you, Dan, what do you think about that in terms of somebody picking a niche.

Dan Wahlin:
Yeah, first off I like the general idea and I kind of did that myself, because when I, like the book I mentioned, my early articles I mentioned I got into, and stuff like that, back, if you guys remember, back in … Now, I’m really dating myself, but '98 through about 2000, well probably through about 2004, XML, XSLT, they were super hot back then. So, I was kind of … I started out as sort of the XML guy, and that’s why that first book was on that.

Dan Wahlin:
But, kind of like Tim said, I think one of the keys to success here for anyone, and since I know Mike a little bit better than I know Tim … Tim, you said it but I know Mike believes this because we’ve talked, you kind of have to have that passion for learning. If you have a passion for learning, like you get bored easily, which I do, and you want to experiment with new things, whether it’s tech or not, it doesn’t really matter, I think that really is … If I had to pick one thing that what is like key to success, and if someone asked me that I’d say, “Well, number one you got to have that passion to keep pushing forward.” We all know those, I don’t know, corporate types that they work on one thing, and they’ve been doing that for 20 years, and they don’t want to change. I could have never done that.

Dan Wahlin:
Second thing would be persistence. If you think you’re going to put a blog post out there on your niche technology, let’s say you do, and you look at the traffic, maybe you’re using Google Analytics, or something, and you see that 10 people visited, a lot of people, I think, at that point go, “Oh, it’s not worth it.” Throw in the towel. Unfortunately, it takes time. I mean, it just does.

Dan Wahlin:
When I first started out, well, I didn’t even have a blog until maybe, I don’t even know, 2003 maybe, something like that. But, it was very, I guess, disheartening, because every conference I applied to talk at I got denied back then. Different … There wasn’t really video back then, but different other avenues, sometimes, “Nope, denied.” It’s just like frustrating. But I want to do this. So, that’s why creating that personal brand’s so important, though, because then when you do really find something you want to do, whether it’s doing, Mike, what you do with CloudSkills, or what I do with training and consulting, or Tim with videos, or whatever else you do on the side, that sets you up for that.

Dan Wahlin:
For me personally, I’ll let you guys chime in, during this whole virus scenario we’re all going through, which is affecting everyone, honestly that’s been a lifesaver for me because I have different avenues I can go. I think of it as a mutual fund. So, anyway I’m talking too much now, so let me switch over to you guys.

Mike Pfeiffer:
No, that was awesome. I love that. There’s a couple of really big things there, just wanted to touch on real quick, and I want to kind of get Tim’s idea on something, as well. But, the consistency is so underrated. If you’re going to start something, if you want it to actually get seen over time, like you got to stay in the game. I love what you said there, Dan, because a lot of people bail because, “Oh, I only got one like, and nobody’s reading it so I’m out.” It doesn’t work that way. You’ve really got to be consistent and decide, all right I’m going to try this for a long period of time. You also have to like not get delusional, so if you’re doing it six months and it’s still crickets, then it’s like, “All right, I got to maybe promote it more a little bit.” So, that’s a big piece of it, is just consistency.

Mike Pfeiffer:
But, also what you said, Dan, like right now there’s so many people taking their foot off the gas because you can’t go anywhere so it’s like, Netflix and chill, or Netflix marathon, or whatever it is. That’s awesome, I love like watching movies, and stuff, but if this was ever rattling around in your head and you’re still listening to this episode at this point, you’re probably interested, and this is a great time to instead of streaming Netflix, or playing video games, or working out in the garage, and cleaning up that thing, get your blog set up and decide what’s your first piece of content.

Mike Pfeiffer:
That kind of leads me to my question for Tim, and also would love to hear from you, Dan, on this. Building these things, books, blogs, videos, whatever it is that you want to do, how much does that affect your ability to communicate with other people and leverage that content later down the road. What I’m getting at is how much does that work that you’re doing right now to support your personal brand actually end up helping you later on down the road where you may not even realize it was going to?

Tim Warner:
Yeah, that’s been the story of my career, really. In some cases it’s initiated by me. Historically I’ve been a fan of blind introductions. I’ve had so many opportunities pop up because I send just a blind introduction with no motivation. I mean, one example that I can think of from maybe back in 2006, or so, there was a CBT Nuggets instructor named James Conrad and I thought he was really cool so I sent him a fan letter, basically a fan email message. The next thing you know we’re talking on the phone and we became friends, and the next thing you know after that I’m a CBT Nuggets trainer. So, some things happen organically like that.

Tim Warner:
Regarding the consistency, what I’m reminded of is a number of years ago began professional networking, turned into a personal friendship. I was having lunch with Jeff Hicks, who most people associate with PowerShell, and I asked him … We were talking largely about what we’re talking about right now. I was like, How do you do what you do? What do you do? He was really stressing consistency. He said, for example I spend a few hours on every Friday, or Sunday, or whatever, going looking at tech articles and curating a bunch of stuff, and then staging in Hootsuite my Twitter feed for the week. Putting in the reps, as you say, Mike. I really took that to heart, and I still continue that to this day, just that consistency. It turns into a habit. Anything that you do, what is it 21 days or more, it’s much more likely to be a persistent habit. With the Pluralsight videos I can almost do videos with my mouth taped and my hands tied behind my back, so I’ve been expressing myself on YouTube, and it becomes more organic over time.

Tim Warner:
If you have some, if you’re open to connectivity from people, you see LinkedIn, you see the spam from barracudas, but you see legitimate context just appearing there, or via email. It’s crazy. You don’t even have to overthink it, you can kind of just let your passion, and your genuineness, put that into your content and then stuff just tends to happen. At least that’s been my experience. I hope that makes sense.

Dan Wahlin:
Absolutely. I love your CBT Nugget example. That’s awesome. Mike, I mean, how many people do you know … Tim already said because he did the opposite, but how many people have reached out to you personally in some just nice way, kind of like you said almost like a fan letter type thing, or just a nice way, and next thing you know you’re like kind of friends with them. I could name at least five or ten people I could think of off the top of my head who I’ve never met in person actually but who … I was just testing out, I got a new camera setup. You guys can’t see it over here, but little Nikon thing and I’m going to, hopefully, start live streaming some stuff. One of the guys that I know, and he’s just very positive. He always has, if anything, constructive or just praise. Of course, praise is always nice, but he’s not always that way.

Dan Wahlin:
He jumped on … I was only on maybe 30 seconds just to test out the camera real quick. He jumped on and I’m like, “Oh,” I won’t say his name. I won’t embarrass him, but “Oh, I see you’re on.” I’ll tell you I can’t say I’ve really tried that with people I look up to, maybe I should, but if there is someone you want to emulate, maybe it’s Tim. Reach out to him because if you do it in a nice way and not an abuse of time way. I also get that, and I’m sure you guys do, too. I think at least a couple times a week it’s like, “Can you look at this project?” I can’t, I just don’t have time to do that for everyone. I feel bad but I just I can’t. That’s probably not the way to start the conversation, because now you’re asking for free time, and when I say time I don’t mean 15 minutes, I mean hours.

Dan Wahlin:
But anyway, I just wanted to throw that in there that I think what Tim said is super, super important because you could instantly go from not knowing anyone to knowing someone in your area who’s really known, and next thing you know you could get some ideas, some advice like Jeff gave you, Tim. That’s an awesome story. I love that.

Mike Pfeiffer:
That is really good. I’ve had that. I’ve been on both sides of that, actually. So, right now I’ve got people in our community that are, actually, right now publishing stuff on the CloudSkills blog which was have a guy-

Dan Wahlin:
I’ve noticed that, actually. You’ve had quite a few lately.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, we’ve got a lot of people getting in the game for the first time, and I’ve also been on the other side of that, so when I was trying to decide 10 years ago, How am I going to get outside of the corporate structure and kind of have a little bit more visibility, it was getting into user groups, and professional networking, to Tim’s point, and to your point, as well, Dan, just by talking to other people. Once you start socializing next thing you know opportunities start popping up. Hey, you’re interested, do you want to work on this with us? Sure. Blog post goes up as a guest post. Next thing you know your own blog is going.

Mike Pfeiffer:
That’s what I did, and consistently blogging once a week, nine months later I get a book deal, and that was like hockey stick for my career, right, just kind of everything changed for me. So, yeah, 100%. It’s a lot about getting outside yourself and connecting with other people. I really believe in the whole process of building stuff, not only to serve your knowledge but to give somebody else something to latch onto, because those things can start conversations, as well, which was a good question for you, Dan. You mentioned live streaming. You’ve done tons of stuff, podcasts, prerecorded, hardcore produced videos. You’ve done live stuff. You’ve done like true conferences and classroom training. What do you think is … You know there’s YouTube, there’s all kinds of stuff. What’s a good place maybe for somebody that’s listening to start do you think? Or, does it even matter, just like pick something that you’re comfortable with and go?

Dan Wahlin:
Yeah. Let me address that, but you just touched on something that really got me thinking. I don’t remember the book, but it basically said, If your goal is to be successful, let’s just say financially for example, that to pick something that is, number one, a passion of yours but that number two, and I don’t think every passion leads to success, by the way. I’m not one of those believers of follow your dreams, because I don’t think every dream is a good maybe way to go. I think you said, Mike, earlier, you have to be realistic and at some point after 10 years go, “Maybe this wasn’t a good idea.”

Dan Wahlin:
Anyway, I do think, though, for the things that you do love that you want to try, which I’m all for, the second piece of advice I heard, and this wasn’t even for developers, I think it was for real estate, or something like that, was do something that adds value to others. If I remember right this was maybe a real estate book on how to buy and flip houses, or something, and his concept, if I’m remembering the book right it’s been a while, was that if you’re adding value to whoever your target audience is the rest just flows.

Dan Wahlin:
You’ve already given, both of you, examples. I just got an email today. I haven’t heard back yet, I did respond, that goes to Tim and Mike’s point from, I don’t know this person, someone in Microsoft Research, and they have a project that they, I guess, want possibly promoted, kind of like dev advocacy. I don’t know what they mean by that yet, maybe mean, “Hey, Tim, can you just do some videos for us in your spare time,” and that may be what it is, I don’t know. But, the reason they reached out is because of the area this targets, this project targets, and it is kind of one of my niche areas. Anyway, so I totally went tangent. Now, I’ll circle back to your question, Mike, real quick.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I love that, though. That was great, and I really agree with what you said. I think that was important too.

Dan Wahlin:
Yeah. There’s just so many folks out there that, I think, do it the right way, which is, Tim, I know you add value because I see your stuff on Twitter, and I follow it and I like it. Tim’s a very positive guy I can tell, and now that I see you in person and talk, he is a positive guy. On Twitter I just couldn’t get that vibe. But, my whole point of that is I think there’s also the crowd that what makes me the most money, and if it hurts someone in the process I don’t care. That’s not going to end well for anyone. Either A, you’re going to be super lonely in the long run or B, you’re going to go to jail. I don’t know, something. You know what I mean? Pick something that you’re passionate about but that also helps others and the rest, I believe, takes care of itself.

Dan Wahlin:
Now, going back to your question then I’ll wrap up. I think … Like, let’s take video because all three of us have done a lot and then, Tim, chime in here. I think jumping to something like maybe Pluralsight as your first thing might be a little too much of a jump. They have a pretty rigorous process you go through, and if maybe you’ve done training before, or you’ve been in front of audiences a lot, you could probably pull that off, but if you haven’t I think where you should kind of hone your skills is either A, do local meetups. Start with the speaking, and you already mentioned, I think, Mike, that on how you start doing user groups and stuff. B, ask if they can record it first off. That’s always good and here’s why. Because if you’d like to speak at some of these bigger conferences … I’m going to say these days compared to the old days it’s pretty easy to speak at a conference. There’s just so many conferences. Back in the old days it was just a handful and I got rejected a lot. Let’s just put it that way.

Dan Wahlin:
If you can get a recording out there, either that you do in your home, or from a user group on like YouTube, well now it’s really easy to share that with not only conferences, but now hit up Mike, hit up Tim, and say, “Hey, what do you think of this?” We’ll give feedback and then take it to the next level and, yeah, I think you can make money off it. Absolutely, whether it’s Pluralsight, or something that’s maybe a little less rigorous that’s easier to get up would be like Udemy. Lots of options out there nowadays. So, that’s kind of my thoughts on how to get started, though.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I love that. I agree man, the Pluralsight stuff is awesome but, man, it is like high quality, and you’ve got to put the work in. My first course took me like two months to do, and I could probably crank one out now. If I had nothing but time to just do Pluralsight only I could probably crank one out in a couple weeks, but two months, man, was like my very first one, and it is a lot of work. So, I agree, like getting in and starting somewhere else is a good place to start.

Mike Pfeiffer:
The other thing that you said that I really love was all the points you’ve made about passion, and I think … I worked with a guy in the beginning of my career. I still know him and he still works in IT, but he kind of got into it just because it was good for the money and he’s never been like, “Oh, I love to get up in the morning and go to work.” Kind of like I’ve always kind of had that feeling for the most part, and I don’t think that he’s really got to enjoy that. I think doing it for the money sometimes only that’s going to make the whole personal branding conversation we’re having hard. You may be doing well in IT because it’s good money, but now that you’ve got to work nights and weekends to promote this thing that might be harder to do.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I think to frame that concept, and I want to ask Tim about this. It sounds like, Oh, now you want me to do all this work outside of the day job, right, but a real important way to think about this is your career versus your job, right Tim?

Tim Warner:
Yeah. I guess I’m filled with stories and stuff. Aren’t we all? That’s a good thing, but I think of what my late Grandpa Cook used to say. It was one of those things that you hear something from an adult as a boy and even though it goes over your head you know it was profound, and it was. He’s like, “Timmy, if you find work that you would do even if you weren’t getting paid for it then you know you’ve found your right career.” That was one of the things that I didn’t understand at the time, but I sure do now.

Tim Warner:
I wondered if I could turn the tables and ask both of you guys a question that’s really on my mind in terms of adding value. Because all three of us are writers and teachers it’s easy to go down that rabbit hole, and I love that, but I’m thinking what about people in the CloudSkills audience who are an IT professional. Let’s say a person is a mobile App developer. They don’t have interest, aptitude, or passion in either writing or teaching. They recognize that’s not their skillset or their interest. How can that person build their brand absent speaking at conferences, or user groups, or publishing a blog?

Dan Wahlin:
I think that’s an excellent question because we have kind of focused on videos, or books, or teaching, stuff like that. Well, if you’re in that field and want to do … Let’s just say you want to do side stuff, so Mike is employed full-time at company ABC, but he has decided that he would like to moonlight and maybe there’s an agreement there that that’s okay. Let’s just pretend. How would you do that, because in that case, obviously if it’s stuff you’re doing at night, or on the weekends you’re not training, and if you don’t have any either aptitude or just desire to do writing or videos I think that kind of then gets into, all right, project work or consulting more than likely. Me personally I think one of the best ways to do that is get a good blog out there and also get some just …

Dan Wahlin:
Keep in mind that when we say video, because I do think video these days … I mean, it’s a no brainer, right. There’s a reason YouTube gets whatever they get everyday in views. Even if you could put little five-minute kind of … I call mine Tech Five, like take five, but Tech Five. Don’t steal that, by the way. That’s mine. But anyway, even if you could in your blog take a concept that’s a little harder to explain and visually show it, either an animated … Do I have to say GIF, guys or can I say GIF, because it’s GIF. Come on, I don’t care what the creator says, but anyway. Even if you did something like that to take a concept that’s really hard to understand, boil it down into super digestible images, for example, or maybe a video.

Dan Wahlin:
That alone can get you enough people spreading it that all of a sudden your brand kind of raises up a notch, and then you keep doing it. You mentioned, guys, the consistency, and I mentioned persistence. Next thing you know people start to knock on your door without you even having to go out. Now, that takes a while but that’s where I would start. So with that, I’ll turn it over to Mike.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, I love this question. I think for me, in addition to what Dan said, is become an open-source contributor, even if you’re not a developer. If you’re a developer it’s easy because you go to GitHub, set up a sample application, put your little OSS license in there and now, boom, you’re an open source developer, right. If you’re not a developer it doesn’t matter, you can still go and set up a GitHub profile and build repos that have documentation. You can contribute in the open source by going and contributing to documentation for Microsoft, who all of their documentation’s in GitHub; Amazon who all of their documentation is in GitHub; Google Cloud, who all of their documentation is in GitHub. You’re seeing a pattern here. So, you don’t have to be a developer to get into that game.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I was talking about this a couple weeks ago, as a hiring manager if I open your resume and there’s a GitHub profile link at the top, I’m going straight to that first thing to see what it is that you’re doing when you’re not on the clock, because that’s going to tell me, just like Dan was saying, “Do you have any passion at all,” and if you do that’s going to tell me as a manager, “Hey, maybe I could give this person something and they’re just going to run with it and I don’t have to babysit them.” So, for me GitHub is a place where I would double down 100%.

Dan Wahlin:
You know, real quick, Mike, I want to mention that sign, that people can’t see it but I think it’s so applicable to what we’re talking about. So, you all can’t see it but he has a kind of a framed, I don’t know, what is it a poster or something like that?

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, this is actually a framed poster from Startup Vitamins. It’s a website that sells cool posters for startups, or has quotes from startups and stuff.

Dan Wahlin:
Anyway, it has an infinity sign, a kind of a multicolored one, and then it says, “Experiment, fail, learn, repeat.” I guarantee if I say, “Hey, Tim, did you experiment, and then fail, and then learn and repeat,” that’s the whole key here. I think that’s what some of us, like when I did that first article I think back to that and go, “Man, if I had not written that single one article,” because there was a good chance of failure on that. It was the first time I’d ever done something like that. That would have changed the whole course of my career, literally, because the whole reason the book publisher found me was because of the article, and then the whole reason some stuff that happened at Microsoft happened was because of the book.

Dan Wahlin:
It just all goes back to this one point in time where I go, “Well, I’m glad I did that.” So, I guess my point of the poster I really like … I need to get one of those, that’s nice. I’m going to put it right behind me just you have, because I want to be like Mike. But, my whole point is we all fear either people not liking what we do, or making a fool of ourself. I don’t know about you guys but I’ve done that on multiple occasions in like training where you just have to sit back and go, “Okay, forget everything I just said. I’m an idiot. I screwed up.” But, my point is failure now I truly don’t view it as a bad thing. We don’t have time to go into it, but I could give many stories of failure stories. In fact, I just finished a book. Who’s the guy that writes, oh, Dilbert, Scott Adams. He has a book out on, I don’t know, something about like everything I did was a failure but that led to the successes, or something like that. That’s not the title.

Dan Wahlin:
He goes into … It’s a really good book. I highly recommend it. I’ll have to look it up while you guys are talking. He goes into how the failures he had, and he had a bunch he goes into, literally he never would have done the Dilbert comic had these not happened. Since then he’s written several books, and he’s a super smart guy, actually. Don’t avoid something because you fear it because, boy, I would be … I don’t know where I’d be if that’s how I lived.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Yeah, that’s why I have the poster. It actually has a lot of meaning to me, and that’s why I put it in here. This pattern of doing this, experimentation, and embracing failure and stuff, that’s what I’m trying to get software teams that I’m working with for the last couple of years to actually embrace. To your point, like the failing is the data and without data and understanding you’ll never get to experiment anything. I always quote Jeff Bezos. When I worked at Amazon he did a talk once and I heard him. He had a quote and he said, or he said this and it just like really hit me. He was like, It’s not an experiment if you know it’s going to work. That’s why Amazon is always trying all this wacky stuff, because they know over a long enough timeline any business will fail, might be 120 years, but any business will fail over a long enough timeline. So, that’s why once they dominate books, they go into like buying Whole Foods and doing grocery stores, and they’re all over the place, because they’re just constantly trying stuff out.

Mike Pfeiffer:
That’s kind of like last several years how I’ve tried to look at it, is like this is just an experiment. Some, the failures, a bigger impact than others, but really looking at the data and not judging yourself about it and just being like, “Oh, what happened, it worked, it didn’t work. Let me try something else now and go again.” That will keep you persistent. Just like Dan was saying, if you can just measure the feedback and then take another shot at it to me that’s persistence. You just keep getting up. It’s like that Kung Fu movies, right, where the guy like gets hit in the face and he’s got blood. He just looks at it and he’s like, “Let’s go again.” He’s like, “Bring it on.” That’s kind of what I think about when I think about that.

Dan Wahlin:
Tim, what … I wanted to ask you because you’ve done a lot of training, and all that, over the years. Tell us, where would you be had you not learned from your failures and just quit right up front?

Tim Warner:
Yeah, no doubt. I remember back in 1999, I was … I’ve always been in IT. I’ve always combined the industry work with teaching. I was teaching tech courses in Syracuse, New York, which is my hometown. During my lunch break one day I was just puttering around to different tech publisher’s websites. I’m not a dev but I’ve gone to R.O.K.s, for instance. I just found this publisher in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I just sent them, “Hey, I see that your website says you’re looking for authors.” I had absolutely no expectation of anything happen, but it turned into, who knows, a conversation, and then I wrote a book. But this particular book was on the Windows NT-MCSE exams and guess what happened, literally less than a month after the book hit print, Windows 2000 certifications and the NTs are all retired.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Oh man.

Tim Warner:
So, my book became obsolete literally within a month or two of publication. So, that was crushing, but I’m proud of myself, just like you’ve been saying, Mike, I got up. I was like refused to let that write off, pun intended, the idea of writing professionally, and the publisher was still more than willing to work with me, so I said, “Let’s try a different tech.” Having that little library of books caught the attention of much larger fish in the publishing world, and it just goes from that. Never give up, but be realistic, as you guys have both said several times. Never give up, but I have to reach a point, either on my own or from advice from trusted others, I’m not, actually, that good at this.

Tim Warner:
I mean, I look back when I was in college. I went to college studying biology, fully committed to getting into med school and being a family doctor, I mean every day for four years my whole deal was getting into med school. I didn’t get into med school. Why? Probably because I respect science, I like it a whole lot but I’m, honest to god, I’m not very good at it. So, it worked out well. In retrospect I’d been playing with computers since the Commodore 64 and before that, so …

Dan Wahlin:
Well, and you know what-

Tim Warner:
… take that for what it’s worth.

Dan Wahlin:
You know what you just illustrated, Tim, is also an important point, and Mike has this, as well, is … Now, my wife may not agree with me on this one, but I’d have to go ask her. You’re humble. You don’t … Like you said, Mike, it’s not about … Building a brand is not about … Honestly, I could kind of give a crap about Twitter followers and all that, not the people, I mean the numbers, because ultimately 99% of those people I don’t really know, and 99% of those people may not ever interact with me that much anyway. But, that 1% may, like you found on CBT Nuggets, and all the other stuff, you never know. By the way, we’ll have to talk later, Tim. I have a similar story. I did biochem, so similar story but that’s another topic.

Mike Pfeiffer:
One of the things that I was going to say … First, Tim, that’s a cool story, man, about kind of getting back up and getting back into book publishing even though you pretty much lost after one month. That’s awesome, Dude, because that would have been an easy time, especially back then as hard as it was to write books, to just give up and walk away. Yeah, so that’s really cool.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I kind of want to end on one last thing. I think for me this is one of the biggest pieces to the success. Before I get into that, just to address what Dan just said about the follower count and stuff. I think that’s a real good warning for anybody that’s getting into personal branding is don’t let that follower count get connected to your self-esteem. I see that a lot out there. That’s like treacherous. It’s about adding value first, like Dan was saying. That’s your measuring stick and forget the follower count. Even, celebrate the high followers but don’t let it impact like how you feel about yourself, because some of these social platforms are having the conversation and not showing follower count because of that. There might be one day you wake up and they don’t show how many followers and it’s all about the comments and engagement, right. So, that’s a huge one there, so thanks, Dan, for that.

Mike Pfeiffer:
I guess on kind of ending this I’d like to get both of your point of view here. To me, like all these things have worked for me, all of these different strategies and tactics and stuff, but I don’t think I would have been able to pull it off without mentorship, having lots of different people around me over the years to lend a hand. I remember when I was writing my book, my first book was when I first met Dan, and I remember … Dan, even today, but even back then 10 years ago, he’s like this legendary developer guy, book published, book author, and stuff.

Mike Pfeiffer:
But, seriously, he took the time out at the end of a day one day when everybody else had gone. I thought I was the last guy in the building but he was there, too, and he spent like half hour just giving me tips about publishing and things to think about. There’s just been so many examples of that for me over the years of having mentorship. I’d just love to hear from you guys, maybe start with Dan. How big is that about getting around other people that are doing what you want to do?

Dan Wahlin:
I saw someone on Twitter today, which is pretty appropriate with everything going on, said something to the effect of, “You know you’re smart when you realize how dumb you are.” I totally agree with that statement, because I think the more you get into your niche area, or the more you get into whatever it is you want to blog about, or do videos, or consulting, or whatever it is, the more you realize you don’t really know. If you’re not willing to learn from others, and find a mentor, you may do all right on your own, but I think you’re going to do … It’s very safe to say you’re going to do much better if you have that kind of mentorship, if you will.

Dan Wahlin:
There’s a particular person, which both of you guys probably know. I won’t, again, say names, but a group of us kind of convinced him, sort of like Twitter attack, I guess, like “Hey, you’re genius at this. Why don’t you do a book?” He’s doing an eBook on a particular technology now. Mike, you know who I’m talking about, I think. Tim, you may, too, I don’t know. I’ve read some of this guy’s blog posts because he already does have a blog, and he’s a really good writer, like he’s very good at what he does, actually. Now, he’s reached out, I know to a couple of us just to get feedback. What would you do here and here? I’ve had a couple DMs with him, direct message scenarios.

Dan Wahlin:
To be honest, I’m helping in an extremely small way and thanks, Mike, for hopefully I gave one piece of useful advice back in the day. I guess I’ll wrap up with, Yeah, get somebody you respect and whether it’s just emulating kind of what they’re doing … I don’t mean copying, because everybody has to do their own thing, I mean emulating some of the things. You mentioned Don Jones. I’ve never been a PowerShell guy and I knew Don Jones was a PowerShell guy. That’s how good he is at the brand that he’s created, and that’s not an area I work in at all. So, if that was my goal was to get … Tim, you’ve already done this, but to work in that field Tim would be a good person, or Mike, or Don to kind of emulate what they’re doing. So, yeah, I agree.

Tim Warner:
Yeah, I think of Isaac Newton. He supposedly said, “If I can see farther than others it’s only because I’m standing on the shoulders of giants.” That is deeply meaningful to me because mentorship can be formal and/or informal, and I’ve done and do both. There’s a very practical aspect to it, which both of you guys alluded to just now, and it ties back to what we discussed even earlier yet about following passion, but how do I know if my idea is kind of nuts or if it’s just genuinely objectively not a very smart thing to do? Oftentimes I can’t really trust myself reliably. Well, maybe not always, but a good portion.

Tim Warner:
That’s where a trusted mentor, someone you respect a lot and you respect his or her life, opinions, et cetera, they’ve been extremely helpful to me not go down rabbit holes that I’m grateful now in retrospect I didn’t go down. So, it’s practical and it kind of ties in with things that I think I read in a fortune cookie the other night, but they’re also deeply important to me, things like, Pass it on; always teaching, always learning. Those are important to me. I just want to be a conduit, I guess, essentially. If I learn something good I’m more than happy to pass it on and, as Dan said, sometimes it takes root. You never know and it’s awesome when it does.

Mike Pfeiffer:
Sure is. Well, I’ve really got to say. I appreciate you guys coming on here and continuing to do what you do, which is deliver the goods, deliver the value. This has been awesome. I already know that we’re going to get tons of great feedback for this episode, because there was so much valuable insights brought to the table. So, Dan Wahlin, the legend, thank you so much, Sir. Tim Warner, appreciate you very much. Everybody out there listening, check the show notes, make sure you’re following Tim and Dan. Make sure you connect with me if you want to, and above all, get out there, get in the game, start contributing and, hopefully, these tips have helped you. We’ll you guys on the next episode of CloudSkills.fm.

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