Chris Heinen: Full Stack Developer. Skydiver. Adventurist.
When searching for the definition of "Adventurist" via the Urban Dictionary, I found out that: "An Adventurist would climb mountains, jump out of planes and dive below the surface of the water in search of Adventure." This couldn't be a more accurate description of Chris Heinen.
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- Stream Part 1 here and Part 2 here
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In October 2014, Chris and his wife took a trip to Nepal for trekking. They hung out at teahouses in the Himalayas, stopped over Istanbul to experience its unique culture and food before returning to the States.
Chris feels very fortunate for what he has. He realized the importance of travel as a venue to learn about other people around the world, to understand similarities and differences. Chris is also a fan of domestic travel. He recalls South Dakota and Utah as some of the most beautiful places he's ever visited.
Other than begin an adventurist, Chris is a full time, full stack developer at Arnold Worldwide. I had the pleasure to work with Chris on a number of projects. I invited Chris to speak to my audience about his journey to becoming a developer after a few career switches.
Front-end vs. back-end development have started to blend together. Is now a good (possibly the best) time to be a developer?
Chris gave much credit to his mentors who set up his success as a developer. If you don't have mentors in your immediately network, make sure that you take advantage of meet up groups.
"Not all of meet-ups are great, but they can be good ways to find jobs and to meet people. You can participate in development hackathons and learn in a group environment as well. There are many available resources online. Don't just rely on taking a Computer Science class. By the time a book is printed, the information is already dated."
Chris speaks to the possiblity for people who are interested in technology and development to be self-taught.
"You need the personality to learn, create, and constantly seek out new information. Technology is always changing."
"Get out of your comfort zone!" is such an important element to success. Chris emphasizes one of his key takeaways while he was still in school:"When you are in college, you tend to have friends who have similar experience, anxieties because you all have the (more or less) the same starting line." Instead, Chris left his campus and started skydiving, where he met an awesome group of very diverse people who were well along in their careers, including senior developers who quickly became his mentors.
I call this technique "proximity-based learning from extraordinaries" that enabled Chris to learn at a speed that doubled if not tripled the speed of his peers.
As a struggling developer very early on in my career, I asked Chris about how he conditions himself to stay relevant and to get unstuck:
I spend 90% of my day on Google and StackOverflow. Recognizing talented developers are around he world who're constantly contributing to the community. We truly have a wealth of information out there.
You also need to know that you can't just keep up with everything and retaining useful info is easiest when you are working on a project. It is not about knowing EVERYTHING, but knowing the RIGHT QUESTIONS to ask - it comes with time. The more often things break or work, you begin to find the right questions to ask. Over time, your questions become more specific. It can be tough being a rookie because you don't necessarily know the right questions for problems you have never encountered.
When Chris occasionally gets stuck for a longer period of time, he admits that he is much quicker to ask for help. "Lose your ego and ask your question to a senior or a junior developer. Remember that everyone brings a different perspective." You also need to know when you take a break. "When you working on a problem for too long into the 11th hour, your efficiency has been greatly reduced. Nobody can't work at high speed for hours - so don't beat yourself up!"
As a digital project manager (PM), I wanted to ask Chris about what makes the best Project Managers.
"The best project managers are the ones you don't even know are there. They shield you from the chaos: the politics and everything else that takes place. In other words, you don't 'see/recognize' the best design but only the ones that are flawed."
I saw an opportunity to supplement my own recommendations for Project Managers out there, together Chris and I summarized a short list of qualifying factors for good PMs:
- Trust your team and their instincts.
- Don't "baby" your project - let other professionals help make the product better
- Grow as a team, staying flexible, be willing take risks.
- (At times), learn to Let it go (even if means the project becomes something different - often times you walk away with a better product)
In part 2 of our conversation, Chris speaks to his passion for jumping out of perfectly functioning airplanes.
Since Chris was 6 years old, he thought he would be serving in the US military. Then he asked himself as an adult - "what really makes me happy?" The answers were design, teaching and making things with his bare hands.
1,200 registered skydives later, Chris is now comfortable and feeling "normal" when jumping out of planes but he never lets his guard off.
It's a moment of Zen, nothing else exists except for small movements in your body. Skydiving is a form of meditation on steroids.
Drag, pitch of your body allow you to move across the sky. "Pencil dive" lets you go over 200 miles an hour vs. diving with your belly is about 120 miles an hour.
In closing, I asked Chris what he would say to his 18-20 year old self. He replied: "Let life happen. Don't just hold onto expectations. Start living." Always with a smile. :)
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Part 1 Show Notes (Times Are Approximate):
- Tell us about your recent trip to Nepal and Istanbul! [4:00]
- How much of your trip is different than what you anticipated? [7:45]
- Who inspired you to travel the world and continue to take on exotic adventures? [11:00]
- What was your cross-country trip experience like? [15:00]
- What is the state/city in the US that surprised you during your trip? [16:30]
- Into Chris' professional life as a full-stack developer [20:30]
- How do you explain front-end vs. back-end development to your 8-year old cousin? [21:30]
- What is it like to develop a career in technology/development? What should students be paying attention to while still in school? [24:00]
- Who are Chris' mentors? Where do they come from? [27:00]
- How I echoed Chris' feedback on learned from people outside of school? [30:00]
- How does Chris condition himself to grow and stay relevant as a developer? [36:00]
- How does Chris get unstuck and get back on track? [40:00]
- Why is it important to have a life and passion outside of work? [43:15]
- What are some of the qualifications from a project manager to enable Chris and other developers to perform their best? [44:00]
- My recommendations for other Project Managers [46:30]
Part 2 Show Notes (Times Are Approximate):
- A list of Chris' adventures - from ROTC to skydiving, rock climbing, and many more [2:00]
- Chris speaks to the fear he had during his first skydive? [6:00]
- What is it like to be a skydiving coach vs. instructor? [9:00]
- How does Chris teach others to relax before/during skydiving? [15:00]
- Spacial awareness during skydiving [17:00]
- What's next for Chris - adventure, skills, etc.? [20:00]
- What's Chris' advice for his 18 to 20-year self? [21:00]
Lead image ©2012 Evan Warner
Skydiving image ©Leland Bendel