Chris Heinen

Chris Heinen: Full Stack Developer. Skydiver. Adventurist. (#17-18)

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Our Guest Today: Chris Heinen

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.

In October 2014, Chris Heinen 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.

skydive leland bendel 1024x683 1 | Feisworld

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. 🙂

To learn more about Chris Heinen, please visit his website:, or follow him on Twitter or Instagram.

Do you enjoy this podcast? If so, please leave your comment below and share the podcast with your family and friends. Your support will keep me on track and bring many other unsung heroes to this podcast.

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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]

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Part 1

Intro 0:00
Welcome to the phase world podcast, engaging conversations that crossed the boundaries between business, art and the digital world.

Fei Wu 0:17
Welcome to the face world podcast. This is your host Faye Wu. On this podcast, you will meet a variety of people who are extraordinary at what they do, including Caleb Brown, who’s an artist, user experience designer, Chun Li, who’s a renowned Chinese artist, Michael J. O’Malley, Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award martial artist, Matt Lindley, Director of Innovation and safety in nitrile, Ralph Peterson, Jr, who is a professor at Berklee College of Music, American jazz musician, Barry Alexander, Chairman and CEO of Alexander bueno, international, and many, many more. And in addition, via these episodes, you’ll get to know my guests through their experiences, interests and influences. Each episode has a web page associated with tactics, tools and ideas you can use. My guest today is Chris Hainan. Chris is a full stack developer, a skydiver, and adventurist. Originally, I had wanted to name this episode. Chris Hainan, a developer with his heart opens to the skies. But later I decide on something which punchier right to the point of who Chris is, when searching for the definition of adventurous via Urban Dictionary. This is what I found. And adventurous is someone who would climb mountains, jump out of planes and die below the surface of the water in the search of adventure. So this couldn’t possibly be more accurate description of Chris. In October 2014, Chris and his wife took on a trip to Nepal for trekking, they hung out at tea houses on the Himalayas, stopped over a stumble 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 dissimilarities. Chris is also a fan of domestic travels. He recalls, South Dakota and Utah are some of the most beautiful places he has ever visited. As a full stack developer, Chris is an expert in both front end and also back in development. In part one of our conversation, Chris helps answer the question. To those of you who may be contemplating to become a developer, how do you get started, Chris speaks to the possibility for people who are interested in technology and development to also be self taught. Also to remind them that in addition to the resources on and offline, you really need a personality to learn to create and constantly seek out new information. Remember, the technology is always changing. As a struggling developer very early on in my own career, I asked Chris about how he conditions himself to stay relevant and also to get unstuck as a digital project manager, a pm, I wanted to ask Chris about what makes the best most ideal project managers so make sure you tune in and this is going to be an awesome episode with Chris Heinen.

All right, welcome to the show, Chris. Morning. Yeah, so over here we it’s October 28. In Boston, believe it or not, it’s, it’s going to be in high 60s today. As one thing we talk about very often is the weather.

Chris Heinen 4:09
It’s toasty good biking weather.

Fei Wu 4:11
Did you back to work that I did back to work today? Yeah. Actually, I should ask the other question. What day didn’t you back to work?

Chris Heinen 4:18
Only when it’s like ice and freezing rain out? Yeah. Otherwise I try and bike as much as possible. Wow.

Fei Wu 4:25
Did you ever bike in the snow?

Chris Heinen 4:27
We’ll see this winter. I had to put some like studs on my tire so I can make it but I might give it a shot.

Fei Wu 4:32
Nice. Nice. Awesome. So we you know here at Arnold, everybody has heard the story. Not everyone. But yesterday. I remember on Monday I witnessed dozens of people approaching you asking you about your very exotic adventure that you’ve just taken on and returned from your two and a half week trip. So actually to save you time for the next two to three weeks where the next year. Do you mind giving has like sort of an overview or kind of your experience during the trip. Where did you go? Sure. Yeah.

Chris Heinen 5:06
Well, it was a trip to Nepal for trekking and then on the return flight home, we did a stopover in Istanbul for three days. Just kind of enjoying the culture enjoying the food. After after a couple of weeks of tracking only having rice potatoes and lentil soup. It was nice to go to Istanbul and have some kebabs and shwarma and really good middle eastern food. Nice, nice. So yeah, we went to Nepal. Spent a couple of days in Katmandu drove up to the linetime region where we did about like 10 days worth of trekking in the Himalayas. It was a pretty a pretty relaxed hike. It was a teahouse track.

Fei Wu 5:51
I mean, I’m laughing because you haven’t relaxing.

Chris Heinen 5:54
Well, it’s relative. I’ve gone on. I’ve gone on other like hiking like climbing trips before where you’re going up to like 19,000 feet. And there’s lack of oxygen you’re constantly like uncomfortable because the altitude, a little more technical ice axes and crampons whereas this was you’re up in the Himalayas but you’re you’re not using any like technical equipment like ropes and ice axes and crampons Oh, interest is to just stroll in the mountains.

Fei Wu 6:22
Why didn’t you need the the special equipments?

Chris Heinen 6:25
Well, this trip we like intentionally planned it to do more of like a cultural kind of experience. I studied Tibetan Buddhism when I was in school. And we actually had a chance to meet the Dalai Lama, he came to our university and I spent like a whole year like learning about Tibetan Buddhism. So for me to be able to go to this particular region in Nepal. It’s one of the few places in the world you can see locals practicing Tibetan Buddhism. They’re basically like, crossed over the border from Tibet, Tibetan refugees, that are just living their daily life. So to see just normal people living their lives and kind of experience that that’s what this trek was for. For me, it wasn’t, let’s get to the tallest mountain in the world, it was, let’s spend a week staying in tea houses, traveling with our guides and kind of immersing ourselves in their culture.

Fei Wu 7:19
Wow, this is fascinating. Probably half a million follow up questions. To kind of some, you know, one of the first questions I have is, I can imagine the build up of the trip as your coworker, I think myself along with a few other people have sort of heard your plan. How you imagine this trip would go. And so in comparison to what you originally had envisioned to your actual experience, like how much of that actually overlapped versus very different than what you anticipated.

Chris Heinen 7:53
I feel like life in general is never normally matched up with your expectations. For better or for worse. And in this case, it was definitely for better like we had an amazing trip my wife and I had an amazing time just kind of spending time with the culture. I think we were surprised by a lot of things because it’s so different from what we have here in the States. In both in Nepal, it’s completely different. And on the way back. Istanbul was still like a completely different country. I mean, I had never been before I prior to this trip, I had never been to a Buddhist temple, an herb into a Hindu temple. And I’ve never been to a mosque. And were able to basically like go to go to a country where or go to a region where everybody is Tibetan Buddhist, and then returned to Katmandu go to an area where like 80 to 90% of the country is Hindu. And then in Istanbul, it was 99% Muslim so, so different than what you get here in the States. So you didn’t really know what to expect and definitely was pleasantly surprised. Yeah.

Fei Wu 8:57
Why did you have to stop by over for three days? I think you mentioned yesterday

Chris Heinen 9:01
Turkish Airlines similar to kind of like Iceland air they they’re trying to promote tourism in their country. So what the airlines does, I’m not sure if they have some kind of relationship with the government or with like the tourist department. What they do is they encourage a stopover I think they require a stopover for at least one day. And we just kind of saw that as an opportunity to like stay for three days. Like I love middle eastern food. And knowing that we were going to be hiking for a couple weeks to have a couple of days to kind of adjust to the timezone and indulge ourselves. Baklava could be coming from a Buddhist country where there’s not a lot of meat to go to his temple and just have kebab was amazing.

Fei Wu 9:47
Yeah, but you still lost about eight pounds.

Chris Heinen 9:51
Well, the thing is like when you’re hiking at high altitude, it’s it’s tough on your body. I mean, you burn lots of calories, but then all So like I’ve experienced kind of loss of appetite, because you’re always like a little bit you’re trying to control like, you don’t get altitude sickness, there’s that fear of altitude sickness you don’t want to get, you’re always like a little bit dizzy, like a little bit nauseous. So like, for me, like, I definitely like lost my appetite a little bit, I definitely like ate enough to have energy to hike. But when you’re having like, potatoes, rice and lentils twice a day, for 10 days, it’s easy to lose your appetite.

Fei Wu 10:29
I’m thinking if I were to go, I probably lose 2025 pounds, because we will touch you know, touch point on skydiving BASE jumping, rock climbing all these like sort of very extreme sports that you do. And if you feel dizzy, and I can only imagine myself be vomiting like 10 times a day, I do want to touch base on your travel experience. To summarize, you’ve been to the majority, I mean, 38 out of the 50 states in America, and then you’ve been to Canada, I’m looking the list of countries from Africa, Asia, Central South America, Europe. So travel seems to be a sort of a very important element or a factor in your life. Have you started at a very young age was that inspired by your parents award, you’ve done most of the travels as an adult.

Chris Heinen 11:23
Um, well, the kind of the big trip that kind of kicked it off for me was with my grandmother, when I was what’s been like 13 or 14, it was really important for her to see us, like the entire family enjoy the inheritance together while she was still alive. So she actually went through and she took, like all my cousins, aunts and uncles, the entire family on a trip to South Africa. There, we got to ride the Blue Train with Cape Town. Got to experience like a world very different than what I grew up in, you know, being in Cape Town, and seeing all like the privileged people that live in the city. And then two minutes outside of Cape Town, there’s corrugated aluminum shantytowns, like where people are dying to have clean water, you know, I remember seeing that and that just opened my eyes like, I was like, wow, there is a world very different. Like, I’m very fortunate for what I have. And kind of after that moment, like, I realized the importance of travel. And that what you can learn about people around you in the world, learn about yourself, like see the similarities and and how things are dissimilar. Now, and I just really enjoyed traveling after that.

Fei Wu 12:37
Yeah, I totally echo that. What’s interesting was, you probably know this, I grew up in Beijing until I was about 16. I came out here. And I think, obviously, I was not the first generation of students or, you know, people from China to come study in the United States. But I noticed one of the missions I had was actually bring a lot of my friends back to Beijing and actually travel around China with me, I can imagine half a dozen a dozen friends of mine from college from, you know, where I practice taekwondo. And everybody’s response was, Oh, my God, I was so different than what I had imagined, you know. And, obviously, they’re saying maybe, because I have a tour guide, but also for some of my friends who didn’t travel there with me. They’re also saying that is very different than what they’ve learned on the news, where they learn from their parents, even people in sort of their trusted network. Fascinating. And I love the fact that you’ve taken initiatives much beyond the trip with your grandma to go to other parts of the world. So obviously, we’ll take 10 episodes of my podcast, and we’ll go through each country, your experience your pictures. What are some of the, in addition to this? The South America Oh, sorry, South was an Africa, you said your

Chris Heinen 13:58
South Africa was kind of like the big first, like a kind of initial trip that I went with my family that oh, yeah, it was like out of the country and very different from anything I’d seen before. You know, they are done. Bunch of travel in South and Central America. Asia, once I’ve been to Japan, Nepal, most recently, Europe, Turkey, was on the return trip on this most recent vacation, which is kind of like Asia, Europe at the same time, depending on what side of the river you’re on. So that was really, that was a really interesting city. But yeah, just try and travel as much as possible. Like in college, did a couple cross country road trips. I spent four weeks traveling across the country, sleeping and sleeping in the trunk of my car for four weeks kind of checking out different states, which I definitely recommend anyone if they can do a trip across the country. You realize how huge America is to just be driving straight for three days. And just keep going like seeing the terrain change from oceans of Plains, to farmland to mountains to desert, going to Utah, and all of a sudden you’re in Mars, it’s like red cliffs. It’s just a amazing country to drive through.

Fei Wu 15:15
Yeah. Well, I’ve actually known some of my friends have also done trips across the country. And it’s really amazing. And I feel like that’s a, that’s also a theme or behavior for people after they graduate from college to take two, three months off. And literally take one car with two three of their friends. So they could go in rotations and just find a motel whenever everybody feels tired. It’s very, very adventurous.

Chris Heinen 15:42
A lot of people focus on traveling internationally or getting outside of the country. There’s so much domestically to see that you could you could spend years just traveling around the United States and be completely happy.

Fei Wu 15:53
That’s fascinating. What since you’ve been to many more states than I have, and I imagine myself i i feel like I’ve gone around sort of the ocean line of like, you know, New York and the only spot I feel like I haven’t been to is sort of Oregon, Seattle. But my job has taken me to, you know, many parts of United States what, what are some of the states were a state or a city that really surprised you?

Chris Heinen 16:21
Hmm, I mean, South Dakota definitely exceeded my expectations. And I didn’t really know what to expect while driving through there. I guess I thought it would be just cornfields. But like Southwest, like like kind of the southwest corner of South Dakota, like some of the national parks there are really beautiful like going to the Badlands and being able to just kind of walk around the entire park there’s no guardrail. So just kind of wander off into the hills did some caving there to like some of the caves are really amazing. Mount Rushmore is completely lame. Don’t believe. But the Crazy Horse monument that’s just down the road is is unbelievable. I doubt I’ll see it completed in my lifetime. But that was amazing monument. I mean, it’s still in progress. Basically, Rushmore could fit in the armpit of this monument. It’s so big that they just like stripped an entire mountain. And they’re making this gigantic sculpture. That was beautiful. And the Devil’s Tower is pretty close to that area. It’s really just like, an interesting spot that I wasn’t expecting in the United States. Utah is beautiful, too. That was something I wasn’t expecting. Going to Moab with some friends. I didn’t really know what to expect. And you you roll down these, these canyons there is close to the size of the tall skyscrapers in New York City. Wow, there’s just these bright red rock, you feel like you’re on Mars?

Fei Wu 17:50
Yeah, it’s fascinating because one of my first jobs first clients actually brought me to Arizona, Scottsdale Arizona. And I actually my mom was traveling with me at the time, it was so different than everywhere else I’ve seen in the States, and especially being living in New England for so long. You’re so used to the tutors and sort of the red bricks and, and all of a sudden the senior changes completely. One of the things that really scared me was I was still relatively new to driving, especially four to six hours at a time. And I remember there was a gas stations every two to 300 miles

Chris Heinen 18:31
at a time it just right.

Fei Wu 18:33
Exactly. time it just right. So thank you so much for sharing with us your travel experience. And if our audience hasn’t had the chance to read the blog post, and to get sort of this, how do I say this into a peek sneak peek into who you are what you do, and maybe difficult, kind of difficult to guess what you do professionally. And I do have a little map here of your career. And you know, sort of, as you mentioned earlier, 180 degree turnaround. So you’ve gone through a lot.

Chris Heinen 19:11
A couple one is 90 years and one single career chains. Yeah,

Fei Wu 19:16
yeah, absolutely. And the latest, you know, the role that I’ve known you and is a senior developer here at Arnold worldwide. You know, I feel very privileged to have worked with you on a number of projects. You are very different than a lot of developers. I’ve known previously my career now again, I’ve worked with developer actually was a developer myself, say the past eight years. It really opened my eyes to some of the attributes that developers you know, I whom I met didn’t really have before. So I’m very fascinated about sort of speaking with you about your experience. So jumping into that, and I promised my An audience that I will leave shownotes. So they know exactly when we start talking about development as a career. And if you could give us a sense of the type of developer you are, there’s so many different types, you know, software, and many others front end back end, and give us a sense for, you know, who you are in this role?

Chris Heinen 20:20
Sure, um, well, I guess I would be what they call like a full stack developer, meaning that I can do kind of like the gambit of development ranging from front end work to kind of like more traditional back end work to System System Administration, working with servers to kind of set up a website. So kind of like the full range. And, you know, I didn’t start my career up planning to do that. It’s just kind of naturally happened over the years. With my interest, and kind of every little bit of the process, I’ve gradually learned everything. And with that knowledge, I can kind of tackle the entire project helped lead projects. You know, at one point, I was also a start up my career as a graphic designer, too. So I can talk to designers, I kind of understand their perspective. So having that that wide range, I think this really helped me,

Fei Wu 21:13
give us a sense, I’m familiar with these terms. But I would imagine, you know, here sometimes when you talk to a county marketing team, what exactly is front end versus back end developer? And, you know, what, how would you explain that to your, like, eight year old nephew, cousin?

Chris Heinen 21:32
Well, front end is more like the visual aspect of the website. So when a user logs onto website, and what they see is kind of like the front end. So that’s anything from, you know, fonts to images to animations. I mean, that’s part of it front, actually, front end is what is considered front of has changed quite a bit. Because some of the languages that are associated with the front end like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, which have traditionally been kind of like the user facing like visual side. I mean, it still exists as like the visual side. But things like JavaScript have come a long way. were initially JavaScript was something that could handle different click events or handle animations on a page. Now, you can build out really intense single page applicate applications using that same language. So it kind of like the line between front end and back end has kind of blended at this point, where you’re using a language JavaScript, which is traditionally, you know, you think front end, but you’re almost like a back end developer at that point, because you’re working with really complex AJAX calls, you’re communicating with servers, you can even build like a server with JavaScript. So it’s kind of it’s kind of blended.

Fei Wu 22:54
I agree. I’m just working with you on a project very recently, I was exposed to an Angular JS JSON, JSON or whatever. That’s node.js. Yeah, exactly. And it’s fascinating. How, you know, having studied computer science, when I was in college, compared to all the tools, bells and whistles that now developers have access to back in the day, we just spend months kind of developing, it’s, it’s crazy, and almost make me think that now is a better time to be a developer. Who knows. So I think that leads to my next question is, you know, now, sort of, you know, in my early 30s, I’ve, you know, probably not knowing from my previous career of mine, I’ve always had the drive to help influence going to educate and just really help junior people grow in their career. And some of my friends are still in school much younger than I am. And many of them approached me, asking me, you know, what is it like to kind of develop a career as a developer? And I’m hesitant these days to answer that question, because I haven’t been a developer for a long time. So really good to have you on the show. What is your advice to people who are starting out in this path? And potentially people are still in school, you know, school, you know, undergrad or even graduate school? What, what is your advice? And what should they even what should they be doing? Right now while they’re still in school?

Chris Heinen 24:33
That’s a good question. I was very fortunate getting started to have some really good mentors. You know, this, I didn’t go to school for computer science. I’m not a wasn’t a developer. I went to school to be industrial designer, and just kind of stumbled across web development. And it turned out it was something I really enjoyed. But I benefit from having a lot of mentors that kind of helped me. along that path kind of pointed me in the right track. actually show me the right languages to learn. So I think probably the best advice is if you’re looking to get into a career in web development is find a good mentor. And if you’re lucky enough to have someone who’s developer in your group of friends, pick their brain learn from them. If not, one of the great things that I did get kind of getting started was, I took advantage of meetup groups. When I was living in New York City, there are so many different technology meetup groups constantly going on. And a lot of the times, they wind up being just like recruiting feeding frenzy, with a couple of people talking about technology. And then 90% of the people at these meetups are trying to recruit and snag people out of the developers out of that Meetup group. So it’s good way to find job. But it’s also a good way to kind of network and meet people try and collaborate trying to like a hackathon. And there’s so many resources online to kind of teach yourself as well to that it’s, the industry changes so much every single day, that taking a computer science class and having something printed in a book, by the time it’s been printed, it’s already dated, so. So it is very possible for you to be self taught. A lot of developers I know are self taught. And you have to be like, if, if you’re planning to just go to school for it, and then stop, you’re going to be dated, and you’re not going to have you’re not going to be competitive in the market, you have to be have the kind of attitude and personality to want to learn, create, and constantly seek out new information, because it’s always changing.

Fei Wu 26:41
This is great advice. Really awesome. Who were some of your mentors, and you know, I’m sure there are many and names that may not even echo in your brain right now very thankful to them, were they potentially even in school with you at the time where they kind of from your circle of friends who were professional developers at the time, they were

Chris Heinen 27:02
from my circle of friends, and it was actually they were some of my skydiving friends. So like, actually, this, this could be a good point, too. I think one of the biggest things that’s that’s helped me out, kind of advancing my career and getting to where I am today, in addition to like, all the friends that I’ve had, is get out of your comfort zone. You know, in college, you’re gonna have a very limited set of friends that you can kind of use and learn from. And they all have very similar experiences, what you have mean, you come from different towns, but you all have like, very similar experiences. I was lucky enough, when I started skydiving, to get immersed in a completely different group of people really interesting, adventurous, smart people. I mean, you have this you have this image of what a skydiver is, you think of like Point Break, like, oh, do plane. But realistically, like in order to do a sport like skydiving, you need to have the money to be able to jump. And there’s there’s skydivers that are just you know, getting by working in the sport kind of getting by, and that’s what they do. That’s their life passion. And then there’s people who are really successful in their careers, and they have money to do a sport like jumping out of planes. So getting out of I started skydiving when I was in school, to be able to leave the campus and meet all these new interesting friends that I never would have encountered otherwise. That is what kind of took me to the next level, like I was able to meet, you know, developers that were already well along in the career that were able to mentor me like Eric Lubao. Dave home, you know, these are all fantastic developers that I was lucky enough to kind of have mentor me pointing in the right direction.

Fei Wu 28:57
If I may quickly interject and just agree. Why am I so agreeable? This is one point, I really just lit up part of my brain to let you know that I felt exactly the same way when I went to Northeastern Boston. I call it a city school. So yes, we had a campus. But when you go to school in the city, that all your peers, friends kind of quickly disappear into the city have their own things to focus on. And you know, one of the questions we’re going to ask you in the end, which everybody seems to have the same answer towards what would you say to your 18 to 20 year old self, the theme is relax, just chill and relax. And when I was in school, I was very nervous. I didn’t have a lot of confidence. But turns out I wasn’t alone now, you know, 810 years into my career asking people everybody was pretty freaked out and thought very little of themselves. And so instead of what I did was very similar to you. Was I started doing Taekwondo when I was still a freshman in college. At my taekwondo school, I had A pleasure to meet very different people, you know, doctors or lawyers and business people, artists, a whole spectrum of people, many of them are older than I was, when I was 18. Most of my friends were 28. I mean, exactly 10 years old. And I was, and I felt, you know, this was a I feel. So, you know, in a very foster very safe environment, I was able to learn so much more and kind of leave my own anxious self behind. One of the example was, I was a developer. And that day, I was so ready to transfer out of the college because I didn’t think I was cut for it. And to your point, I couldn’t get through the 1000 page nonsense, Java book, and I couldn’t soak myself in to the classroom, I felt pointless and waste my money, honestly. And I went to taekwondo. And I remember this, Christina, she was 28. And she said, Fe, but what if you’re a developer with a personality? We have you understand your interest in business? What if you can work with people, I literally that 32nd conversation, changed my mind. And I withdrew my application to switch out of General Studies or School of Business, I forgot. And I persevered through, you know, four or five years of schooling computer science. And until today, you know, I can call myself a technical PM, project manager to be able to do things that a more generalists might not feel as comfortable taking on. So there’s a long way of saying that there’s a huge benefit to breaking out of your comfort zone. Oh, yeah. You know, getting to know more people, people who are diverse, be interested in different cultures, different domains. It’s so that on to I think that’s a core of the advice if nothing else, that

Chris Heinen 31:48
it’s an easy way to like to find that group, if it’s something you’re passionate about Taekwondo, or for me skydiving, yeah, you’re with a group of people that all share the same passion. So it’s almost like you have instant friends. Yes. And you’re comfortable. And it’s a great environment to learn. And then, like, I mean, I learned a lot more from those friends and kind of figured out who I was getting out of my comfort zone than I would have had, I just kind of stayed in my dorm room and hung out with the same group of friends. Yeah, all the same age, from basically the same middle class, upper middle class background going to college like, yeah, so I would definitely recommend that get out of your comfort zone.

Fei Wu 32:29
And proximity is another interesting observation, unfortunately, and it’s very famous business person’s name just escaped my mind. But his story was coming from lower middle class, and he decided to work at a golf course, and instantly had access to people who are portfolio managers. And he became later on, you know, became one of the most successful sort of investors in this country. And I think it’s, it’s really interesting, even if you’re going for skydiving, training, having fun, but not to overlook the conversations that you may be having on the way, maybe not after you jump out on the plane, by the way, that JavaScript. So this is really fascinating. And sorry, we say so long. And that question, you know, what are the next part is, again, I want people to be able to learn from you even beyond this conversation beyond this blog post. And I’ve come to realize that not everybody is as active as some of the others on social networks, honestly, myself included that I’m not crazy about Facebook or Twitter. But if people were to learn from you to follow you, or you on any particular channels that you think you’re sharing out your knowledge.

Chris Heinen 33:52
Like taking photos, I have an Instagram account. I tweet and frequently I spent I spend so much of my day working with social media that when i get i I’d rather just go bike riding or do some woodworking or rock climbing. Yeah, so in my life No, as a as a plumber watching a movie. There’s, there’s enough time on digital devices that it’s it’s nice to, like, unplug sometimes.

Fei Wu 34:18
Oh, man. I know I think you just revealed why I oftentimes want to kind of stay away from social channels.

Chris Heinen 34:27
And if it’s something that I’ve I’m looking to teach and connect with people. I rather do that in person. I read I used to when I was in New York City, I used to hold seminars and I used to teach web development. And that’s how you connect with people. You know, the audience that you get on Instagram and Twitter, you know, it’s, it’s not the same you don’t have that connection. And as soon as your your your posts or your tweet isn’t at the top of the queue, it’s forgotten. So I would I would I would recommend human contact and actually reaching out to people. Yeah, if you want to, if you want to learn.

Fei Wu 35:09
Yep. Yeah, exactly. That’s a really good recommendation. I actually know developers, I think that’s kind of a counter intuitive response that you had. I know, developers who are day in and day out, professional life, personal life, are always plugged into the wall. And I for the longest time I struggle with that concept is and you know, for me, too, I want to go for a run, I want to go to yoga, I want to go to Taekwondo, you know, putting on a dobok and start practicing, you’re integrating with my body, just not even going to a gym to run on a treadmill, I don’t want my life to be attached to any devices, you know, whether it’s a laptop, or a treadmill, or things along that line. So, you know, I do want to talk about however, the ways that you condition yourself. That’s one of my favorite questions, conditioning, and we’ll talk about physical conditioning later, but conditioned yourself to be a developer. And the reason is that I really struggled. This is years ago, and oh, six, or seven, I struggled to be a developer, to be that person to have the download the beta version of everything, stay on top blog about them, criticize them, or promote them, Cora, and I felt completely exhausted. Having to do that go into every meeting, and some new gadget, some, you know, acronyms will show up. And I will know what they meant. And you know, as a 20 to 23 year old that was very intimidated by by that. So now, how do you condition yourself in two ways to stay on top of the latest and greatest? If that’s the right way to determine that? And also, when you when you get stuck? What are when you get stuck, like what are the some of the places resources you will go to? You know, and I’ll stop actually, that’s a long loaded question already.

Chris Heinen 37:05
That sounds sounds like an interview question. What do you do when you get stuck on a problem? Where do you what’s what sources do you use?

Fei Wu 37:12
You’re really good at that.

Chris Heinen 37:15
I mean, I mean, there’s, I mean, probably like 90% of my day is spent on like Google and Stack Overflow. It’s amazing. Like, what you can find what people contributing to the community. There are so many really talented developers out there that give back to the community. Whether it’s Stack Overflow, answering questions, open source projects that people are contributing to. There’s a wealth of information out there. And like you said, it’s constantly changing. There’s always the hottest new library, there’s like, oh, Marionette, and backbone, and Chupacabra, and like, whatever the the hot new name is going to be. And to keep up with that, because there’s so many different fads, you can’t really keep up with everything. I mean, you do your best you follow blogs, you follow the news, you fill out, follow the forums to figure out what people are working on at that moment. But the fact is, it’s constantly going to change. So one of the things that I found that only really comes from just experience working on projects, because that’s when you really learn, you can do tutorials, you can read articles, but when you’re actually working on a project and problem solving, that’s where you retain a lot of information and a lot of knowledge. And with that, you get experience. And I found that it’s it’s not about knowing everything, you’re never going to know everything. It’s about knowing the right questions to ask. And luckily at your fingertips, you have things like Google that if you can ask it the right question, it will give you the right answer. And that kind of just comes with time, the more projects the more times you beat your head up against a problem. The more time something breaks or works, you find out the right questions to ask. You understand the different programming languages a little bit better. So you can ask specific questions that will return the answers that you’re looking for. And at the very beginning, you don’t know what you’re looking for, because you’ve never encountered the problem. But over time, it gets easier.

Fei Wu 39:18
Yeah. So, so funny yesterday, I must tell my audience that you contributed significantly to face where I write about my interviewees and shared show notes and all that jazz. One of the things that I really struggled big time with is the WordPress theme, which I love. This flawed design of, you know, basically, you can’t even see the homepage button. And if I might quickly articulate the process then they before I spend about I spent a few hours and I’m no expert in CSS. I knew that before I got started. But I said to myself, Well, I’ve been working for eight years, I’ve come across a lot of big, small challenges, I’m going to condition myself to get through this problem. And I realized, to your point, I was asking myself a lot of the wrong questions. And as I was getting more and more tired and frustrated, I stuck around, I’m like, I need to get this result and done. And over time, they became less and less productive. So, you know, again, loaded question, but I was wondering when you get when you truly get stuck, or what is that sort of timeframe that you say to yourself? Okay, it’s been two hours of an honest problem. Should I go out for a walk? Should I talk to someone else, and people don’t know when to stop? Right. And that’s, that’s interesting. And I know that the gentleman who wrote Black Swan and anti fragile. Oh, cool, who remember sname later on, but he said that walking is a daily routine, and not just once. He doesn’t multiple times a day. And he’s one of the greatest, you know, sort of authors mathematicians of our time. And he’s like, he thinks so much more efficiently when he walks. So anyway, what is your routine and conditioning, I get stumped. On bike ride,

Chris Heinen 41:19
I’m much quicker to ask for help. When I’m working on a project, it’s great to be part of a team where you have a lot of really talented developers around you. And don’t have an ego, if you have a question or if you’re stumped, ask them around you. It doesn’t regard doesn’t matter whether they’re junior or senior, you know, everyone has a different perspective that’s is different than yours. And it’s valuable. So I’m very quick to like, ask for help ask questions. If I get really stumped on something, there is a point where you’re not productive anymore. If you’ve been working for 14 hours straight on a problem, the quality of that time at hour 14 is garbage, you’re not going to figure it out. So go home, like rest, have a life outside of work, you know, have have a balancing work and life so that we can come back the following day and be refreshed and figure it figure it out. I mean, that’s happened several times for me where you’re, you’re stumped on a problem. You can’t figure it out, you go away for a walk and come back and you figure it out in 10 seconds. Yeah, it’s it’s just kind of how our brains work. You can you can work at high speed for hours and hours and hours and expect to just brute force,

Fei Wu 42:37
figure it out. Don’t beat yourself up,

Chris Heinen 42:38
don’t beat yourself up,

Fei Wu 42:39
I’ll be one of the things that I learned from James Altucher is be gentle to yourself. I think most of the time, we are so harsh. And our brains are wired in a way that we’re constantly looking for problems, tactics resolution. And sometimes it’s really important to give yourself a break. You know, in our industry, and many others,

Chris Heinen 43:04
I think, not just a 10 minute walk, like I encourage not actually having a life outside of work to do the things you’re passionate about. Spend some time you know, if you’re into running, go for a run, if you’re an artist, do some art do something that’s not staring at a screen. In order to really help you focus when you get back to work.

Fei Wu 43:27
It’s great and we you know, we have a lot of your you don’t just have a single hobby, you have a ton. So I think that’s really fascinating to kind of touch base on then I have one last one last professional related questions is, oftentimes when you’re not a tech lead, or even when you are you tend to work with a project manager, you know, in this case, you know, I’m a digital producer, what are some of the important qualities of a producer or project manager that could really help you to perform your very best? And I think that’s important and I don’t you know, we talked about this briefly before is like the sort of the it’s a one way conversation oftentimes is when you know marketing account team will potentially either influence a job description or they determine or describe what what is a really awesome developer but what is how does the reverse of the conversation response come about?

Chris Heinen 44:28
So what makes a good digital producer, project manager, project manager only the best project manager best manager leader in general, is the one that you don’t even realize they’re there things just run smoothly. You are able to tackle your tasks and you don’t even realize they’re there.

Fei Wu 44:48
They know to get out of your way as well. You know, it’s

Chris Heinen 44:51
yeah, it’s it’s it’s needed. It is getting out of your way but it’s also just kind of shielding you from the chaos of like the the client and the Paul tickets and everything else that takes place. shilling developer, giving them the tools that they need to do their job. So that they can get heads down, finish what they need to do play their role, and not even know what else is going on around them. Kind of reminds me when I went to school for product design, industrial design, you know, the teacher would always say that the best is not you don’t see the best design, you don’t recognize the best design, it’s where you have a flawed design, the ergonomics are off, or something is off, that you recognize it and you complain about it. But good design doesn’t get the compliments. So a good project manager or digital producer isn’t gonna get the compliments because they’re like a ghost, behind the scenes, making sure you have everything you need to get the job done

Fei Wu 45:45
when the things go sideways. So they’re the first

Chris Heinen 45:49
when there’s any friction, then it goes right on digital producer, and I do not envy that charge.

Fei Wu 45:55
You Yeah, I, I agree. I feel like it’s something I keep reminding myself of, what can I do. And I feel like the core of my job is to enable other people on my team to do their very best. And also to acknowledge that oftentimes, we work with constraints all day, every day, you know, these are the tools that you have right now. Sometimes that’s budget, sometimes that’s timeline. For me, this is maybe perhaps my recommendation to other project managers is to, you know, be put yourself in their shoes as well. That’s one and two is really to trust their instincts. You know, at the end of the day, I know as project managers will have interest or experience in possibly in design development. But still, one examples I could think of is, I think in a way that you really save one of the projects we worked on together by finding the iPad IP Ed database from the National Institute of Education, one of the most significant feedback, after you’re able to find it, and we have infinite access to these data that’s completely unbiased. The client said, Wow, this is amazing, because now we don’t have to worry about legal approval anymore. And the client also said, this is something we’re very familiar with. But that’s not the information and the tools that were given upfront. So you’ve done your research and immediately became very compelling and very promising. So in that case, I think it’s important to really trust your instinct. And that also just shows honestly, that you’ve done your research, do your homework, whether that was Google stack, overflow, StackOverflow. And you found the solution. So I think that’s really important. So yeah,

Chris Heinen 47:49
that’s, that’s a good point. I think, you know, if you as a like project manager, producer, try and, you know, it’s your baby, you want to protect it, and you have a particular vision for how it should be, you’re not going to let the professionals that are working with you do their jobs. And you know, this project you’re talking about started out very different, you know, but with the feedback of really smart people on our team, we were able to kind of steer in a different direction, I think we turned out with a better product product, that how we just stuck with what was initially discussed at the beginning kind of grew. And by staying flexible, and empowering the people on our team that have specialties to do what they specialize in, you know, you walk away with something better than what you started out with?

Fei Wu 48:35
Absolutely. Sometimes I think that they go too deep into risk taking. I think people need to condition themselves to be comfortable with certain amount of risks, right? I think we take risks every day, you know that when we get on the bed, even when you’re so in bed, right. So I think that’s important to really challenge some of the ideas and to be collaborative. And then trust other people. And it’s hard. You know,

Chris Heinen 49:00
trust trust is important, especially if it’s, if it’s your baby, if it’s if it’s the project that you came up with, and your concept to let it go and let it let it change and let it become something different. It’s a hard thing for a lot of people, regardless of you know, whether you’re a developer or a designer, like it’s hard to have your baby turn into something else. But when you just have to trust that the team of people you’re working with, know what they’re doing, and have great ideas that can contribute. You know, it’s, it’s better to have five brains than one brain. Yeah. You just kind of have to trust your team.

Fei Wu 49:38
Absolutely. Otherwise, you could be a one person, company, right and

Chris Heinen 49:41
BROZEN company, you’re gonna kind of Outcast the people you’re working with. Motivation is gonna drop off because now it’s not. You It’s not each person’s product product, you know, it’s, it’s your product, it’s the manager’s product, and no one else gets a piece of it. But as soon as you get involved, like each member gets involved, and they feel like it’s their own Oh, you’re gonna get a much better end result.

Fei Wu 50:03
So that concluded part one of my conversation with Chris Hainan. In part two, Chris speaks to his passion for jumping out of perfectly functioning planes. In his own words, it’s a moment of Zen. That’s when we’ll talk about skydiving as a form of meditation. So don’t miss out and I’ll see you in part two. To listen to more episodes of the face world podcast, please subscribe on iTunes where visit face that is f e i s wo rld where you can find show notes links, other tools and resources. You can also follow me on Twitter at face world. Until next time, thanks for listening

Transcribed by

Part 2

Intro 0:00
Welcome to the phase world podcast, engaging conversations that crossed the boundaries between business, art, and the digital world.

Fei Wu 0:17
Hi, everyone, welcome back to the face world podcast. Remember that this is a place where you can discover stories of everyday hero from martial artists to designers, actors, speakers, authors, and all the show notes, tools and resources are readily available on my website at FES You’re now listening to episode number 18. I guess this is conversation part two with Chris Heinen. In this part, Chris opens up about his adventure from ROTC to skydiving to rock climbing, and many many more. Chris also speaks to the fear you had during his first skydive. Now keep in mind that he has registered now over 1200 skydives. That’s not a number I could possibly imagine, I have personally never anticipated skydiving ever in my life. And perhaps after this interview, just like me, you will see the skydiving crowd slightly differently than you did before. I hope you all enjoy this conversation with Chris. But make sure you don’t skip out on part one either. That was a much longer interview right before this, where Chris open up a very authentic exchange on how he became a developer where he seek for help. And you certainly give a lot of credit to his mentors out there. I hope they’re all listening to this podcast. So tune in and please welcome party with Chris Heinen.

So very glad that it took us actually little less than an hour to talk about your travel your work. And you have a line of hobbies and sports and that has been sort of a recurring theme throughout. How do you stay even keeled balanced, creative as a developer, quickly touch base upon the list of hobbies you have before we dive into the individual ones or the ones that excites you the most skydiving BASE jumping, rock climbing, fly fishing, cycling, kiteboarding wood working, and the fact that when you got to the beginning of your career you went to I think it was a scholarship with Army ROTC. And I think it’s really fascinating not to mention in skydiving you’ve taken he brought it to a whole new level to actually be a coach. So which one of the hobbies I see skydiving at the very top? How did you get started and you have a really intimate group of friends. Your wife is very involved as well.

Chris Heinen 3:12
new podcast session. But yes, I started out. You know, growing up I was you know ever since I was six I imagined myself going off into the military. That was my career path. Ever since I was six I was gonna be an officer Special Forces Navy SEAL like, I was like so gung ho I just wanted to be like in the military. And I ended up doing ROTC in college. And through ROTC as a freshman, I was sent to do advanced training Army Airborne School, which was which was amazing experience. You know, I did really well my freshman year, as kind of like a reward for doing so well as a cadet, they decided to send me to the school as a freshman, which they don’t typically do. And it wound up being one of being the thing that probably got me out of the military. Not because I had a bad experience. On the contrary, I had like, just like a life changing experience. skydiving, through Airborne School. I got hooked on skydiving, which kind of got me into civilian jumping. I got my civilian license. And the people that I met, you know, going back to what we talked about before, you know getting out of your comfort zone and meeting people from all walks of life, different ages, that really opened my eyes to what was important to me. You know, you’re in skydiving, you have people like I said that this is their living and they do it like they’re just getting by jumping out of planes because they’re passionate about it. You know, people that are ex military, you have Type A personalities that own their own companies. You have like the full range of people and just my experiences with such such amazing people and I’m kind of opened my eyes to what was really important to me. And I’ve been living my life since the age of six with a very focused goal for what I wanted to do. I never stopped to think about like, what really makes me happy, like who am I, and art creating, teaching, you know, making things was something that was really important to me. And I had been overlooking that. So I kind of like took a step back looked at my life. And that’s where I changed my path to being industrial designer from being an engineer. I ended up getting out of ROTC becoming a skydiving coach part time during the summers, and eventually started along a path of being a creator and a teacher. And I couldn’t be happier.

Fei Wu 5:50
That’s an amazing journey, I must ask overcoming fear. You never mentioned that I think you’re too comfortable. But I was wondering the first time when you practicing skydiving with another coach was was fear any part of the equation? I know you’ve done so much do you remember fearful or

Chris Heinen 6:12
definitely at the very beginning, there’s some fear there because you’re putting yourself in a extremely stressful situation, and you’re not sure how it’s going to turn out. But over time, you get more and more confident with the equipment yourself. The people around you, there’s a great deal of trust of the people that you’re you’re jumping with. And that kind of adds to that bond and that kind of community that you find in skydiving probably in Taekwondo. That like trusty it’s hard to find elsewhere.

Fei Wu 6:42
How many times in Are you feeling like it’s just like put on your shoes or something. I mean, you know,

Chris Heinen 6:48
it starts to feel normal

Fei Wu 6:51
normal walk into your living room and I

Chris Heinen 6:54
have around like around 1200 skydives. So it did get pretty normal towards the end, uh, you have to be careful, because you don’t want to get relaxed. I mean, it is a very dangerous thing that you’re doing. And it’s very easy, you’ll see people just get very relaxed with it. And that’s where you have a malfunction, you have an issue. So you have to be like, very careful and vigilant like with what you’re doing. But at the same time, that fear of oh my goodness, I’m jumping out of a plane subsides that’s and that’s not what’s what it’s about either like that adrenaline rush isn’t what Skydiving is about. It’s more the the community and kind of that that Zen moment of nothing else existing except for small movements in your body to move through the sky, fly through clouds like it. Amazing, it can’t it’s you can’t describe it to anything else,

Fei Wu 7:50
I typically try to get that feeling through yoga, or running or swimming,

Chris Heinen 7:54
yoga or rock climbing, like, like just doing meditation. It’s funny to think of skydiving as a form of meditation, but it absolutely is. And it’s, it’s like a means of like, it’s meditation on steroids. Because your body is almost going into like a fight or flight, flight, fight or flight mode. And you have this like heightened sense of awareness of things that are going around you, you’re not worrying about work, not worrying about traffic, you’re not worrying about traffic, not worrying about like, there’s gonna be a lot of traffic or you’re not worrying about like relationships or anything. It’s just you in the sky and nothing else. And I’ve definitely got that sensation from other sports and experiences. But I will say with skydiving, there’s nothing like it.

Fei Wu 8:47
Wow, I you know, when people meet you in person, actually, it didn’t really surprise me after finding out that you’re very intuitive. And I do see someone like you who would come across not just simply brave, but some of them meditate, you know, and be at ease with things and be comfortable with yourself. Even through you know, your professional life. That in turn actually makes my job much easier. But I was wondering as a coach that you’ve taken other people onto this plane strapped on, like, behind your back, I’m maybe describing like,

Chris Heinen 9:22
well, that would be that actually being an instructor. So there’s like there’s different there’s a whole process in order to get certified in skydiving. You’ll have your tandem instructors, that instructors coaches, there’s a whole series of different people that kind of help teach you to become a safe skydiver teach you the basics. And I would like what I did, in particular was I would do video work for a competition teams. And then I would also do coaching, which is I never actually have anyone strapped to me, which is a lot of pressure and I have a lot of respect for them. Those that can do that because you have a lot more weight and you have, it’s difficult to steer your landing with like an extra like couple 100 pounds, you’re responsible for someone’s life because they’re strapped to you. For me, I was a coach, I was a coach. So I was not strapped to the person, what I would do was kind of safely teach someone how to jump with another person. So at this point in the their kind of process to become a licensed skydiver, they already jumped out tandem. So they’re attached to somebody and they know what it feels like they’re not freaking out. So the next step is then they jump on the instructor that kind of holds on to their side. And that instructor teaches them basic maneuvers, how to turn getting comfortable in the sky. And after they’ve gotten comfortable. And they show that they have the ability to control terms and deploy their parachute. I would work with them to safely jump with another person. So I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the there’s a James Bond movie where he like jumps out of the plane after somebody else and dives down to them and they meet up in the sky. Yeah, that’s, that’s similar to what I would do. I would teach people how to exit the plane after myself and teach them to dive down to me, dock on me slowly approach, turn, just safely jump with somebody else. And once they have were comfortable enough jumping with other people. There’s a couple other qualifications, but at that point, you become a licensed skydiver.

Fei Wu 11:34
So how do you actually make that happen without getting overly technical? One of the fears I always see like for people who never try even tried skydiving before I am scared to death, I completely open about the scared to death. One of the things I would imagine, right like, one of the fears I had is like somebody approaching me with a parachute, one of our parishes get tangled up, malfunction. How do you teach people to kind of approach you without all those crazy things that happen around you?

Chris Heinen 12:04
Well, the the initial, so there’s different. So you’re describing getting tangled up in a parachute. As a coach, we wouldn’t be that we wouldn’t be that close to each other under canopy This is in freefall. So we would jump out of the plane and meet up just by controlling your subtle movements in your body. So in terms of I mean, we could do a whole nother podcast on body flight. But it because there’s there’s so many different disciplines within skydiving different types of control. Yeah, I could, I could talk to you for hours about that.

Fei Wu 12:34
I know what you mean, I every time, my taekwondo friends and I get together with their spouses, their friends, and everybody’s shaking their heads just like stop talking about TK D already. But it’s passion,

Chris Heinen 12:46
but control in the air. It’s on the physics level, it’s all about drag and controlling drag and surface area. So you can can train and also like kind of the pitch of your body. So just by controlling the angle that you’re facing, or which way you’re kind of shoulders leaving, these kind of subtle movements will allow you to move across the sky, you make yourself big, there’s more drag, you move slowly, you get into like a tiny little cannon ball, you’re gonna fall a lot faster. If you do a pencil dive and it’s basically the surface area of the bottom of your feet, you’re gonna go over 200 miles an hour, wow, on your belly, you’re gonna go 120. So there’s a full range of speed that you can accomplish, just by changing the angle of your body. And with experience, you’re able to have better balance to do that. And things become more natural, like you understand, without thinking how to move your body to get to a certain place in the sky.

Fei Wu 13:46
I feel like there’s a really interesting philosophical side to all this as well. The reason I think, of course, you have to go through training in order to do to do all this, I can imagine, we’ll have another podcast, but I can imagine a lot of the actions and decisions are counterintuitive. You know, when it’s How would I describe it? I’m not I’m not a great snowboarder or skier per se, I’m very passionate about snowboarding. But I noticed especially when my body tenses up, when I start to freak out when I go faster than I should be going. That’s when I go even faster. And that’s that’s the same

Chris Heinen 14:25
thing like any any sport, you’re going to have that you know, the most important thing I feel like in a majority of sports is Breathe, relax, because as soon as you get tense and you get tight and stiff, that’s where if you’re snowboarding start going fast. You’re skydiving, you’re gonna go into this uncontrollable spin like you need to find a way within yourself to relax and breathe even in in a tense situation.

Fei Wu 14:51
Especially maybe perhaps especially when an intense situation Yeah. So just getting one of the things I slot someone like yourself, you’re comfortable with their little fear when you work with people very new to skydiving. Is there ever a moment where you play that shrink? You know, psychologist the role? I want to talk about that for a second. Yeah.

Chris Heinen 15:16
Because, I mean, I had great coaches that kind of taught me to relax, you know, I, my afff instructor. So, you know, it’s describing the process of doing a tandem where you’re strapped to somebody. afff is where you no longer, you know, physically strapped to the person but they’re jumping with you. during that phase of, you know, maybe had like 10 jumps at the time. I always remember, you know, being really tense and nervous and scared. I remember being in freefall with my instructor. He just looked at me hit me this this instructor, he’s got 1000s of skydives. He’s very comfortable. And he sees me tense, nervous, and he just flies up to me, it looks me right in the eyes. And in skydiving, you use hand signals, just like you know, scuba diving, you can’t talk to each other. So you have to use hand signals to like, there’s a relaxed hand signal, there’s like different, like more legs, you know, move your arms. So he came, he flew up to me, gave me a relaxed hand signal, and then proceeded to the hand signal, he call it eating plunk, putting fliers right in front of me. And he just pretends like he has a big bowl of like plum pudding sitting there smiling, completely relaxed, maybe laugh. If you can imagine being in like, extremely such a stressful situation, and someone’s able to make you laugh. Instantly. As soon as I laughed and smiled. Like, everything was fine, I was stable, I was relaxed, I wasn’t rigid, like you like snowboarding or you start going fast. I was loose and relaxed. And like that was that helped me and I would always try and teach people the same thing when I was coaching. You know, just relax, have fun, you’re jumping out of a plane, this is awesome. This is like you’re doing something that not a lot of people will who are fortunate enough to be able to do or whatever want to do because it’s insane. And it’s fun, like have fun, relax, smile. And as soon as you can relax and smile and enjoy what you’re doing. You’re able to accomplish a lot more you’re not tense, you’re not fighting it, just kind of relax and go with it.

Fei Wu 17:26
This is amazing about the eating plum pudding thing, maybe that’s a we could do a little recording that gesture with our projects go sideways, maybe we should just walk up to people at their desk essentially doing that.

Chris Heinen 17:38
And that’s and that’s like, like life lessons from skydiving, like just relax and like whether you’re stumped, right to try to write some code, or, you know, you’re going cycling or you’re doing some kind of hobby and you’re getting stressed out. Remember, you’re like, relax, have fun. No, you’re not going to be able to accomplish the task at hand. If you’re stressed out tense, like worried about it, you just relax.

Fei Wu 18:02
Just relax and relax. One of the things I realized maybe challenging the relaxed during skydiving, is you know, people have the tendency of closing their eyes when they feel like something you know is going to happen like a very horrific event these

Chris Heinen 18:17
times don’t close

Fei Wu 18:18
your eyes. You got to keep your eyes definitely required to keep your eyes open at all times. But I oh man, one last question about skydiving. How do you lose your sense of sort of your spatial awareness? You know, do you because how much of that could you control looking I don’t even know which ways up or even down anymore, right? You’re looking?

Chris Heinen 18:44
Well the ground. It is because there’s I mean, there’s different orientations that you’ve got to have to like you’ll sometimes I’ll be on my belly so you can look down at the ground. Other times I’ll be standing on my feet, or on my head. So I’ll be upside down. So the world the earth is below you and the sky is above you. So your whole perspective has changed. Now there are so many different ways you could be flying and disoriented. And there’s very few points of reference to unless you have clouds. There is no real point of reference to see how fast you’re going or the ground at that point. It’s it’s so far away that visually, like people who have fear of heights aren’t really afraid because it’s like, it looks almost like a picture. It’s like it’s so far away. Like if you were to be in an airplane at 30,000 feet and look out the window, your heart’s not gonna start beating fast because you’re afraid you’re gonna fall out and and like falling off a ladder. It’s so far away that your brain doesn’t even register height at that point. So your brain not being able to register height. No real points of reference. It is it can be disorienting, and you can lose track of how high you are where you are in the sky. If you’re drifting. You have to look out for other areas. Traffic, other planes flying in the sky. There’s a lot of things you need to be aware of. And it just kind of comes with experience, you’re able to increase your awareness. And you have tools such as altimeters, and audible devices that will beep to remind you, if you’re at a certain altitude. There’s there’s devices that will help you. But it just takes time to get comfortable in that environment.

Fei Wu 20:22
Yeah. Fabulous. Thank you so much. And I’ve taken a lot of your time, but really interesting stories. And the audience is interested in skydiving, especially people who are so fascinated, but may or may not try in the short term, we might dive into that topic even more so. But before I wrap up, I was wondering what are the next extreme sport, you know, you’re interested in sports, diet, or anything along that line, we’re lifestyle experiments that you’re thinking about or planning, we’re not planning at this moment.

Chris Heinen 21:01
I really enjoyed woodworking. I spent a lot of time last winter, doing some woodworking, building out furniture for for our house. I’d like to continue doing that, you know, you spent so much time looking at a computer screen. It’s nice to actually use your hands to build something. So that’s one of the things I’m really looking forward to this winter is building more furniture, trying to increase my skill use fancier woods, that I’m not afraid to ruin. Yeah, just building things. That’s, that’s most important to me.

Fei Wu 21:39
And where are you getting your supplies from?

Chris Heinen 21:41
various places. I mean, I have some lumber yards near where I live. And I’ve kind of built up a whole tool set. So I have all the tools I just need the materials and the time.

Fei Wu 21:54
Yeah. Great. Well, thanks so much. I’m gonna ask that question. Even though I told you other people’s answers, what would you look back 10 years or so to say to your 18 to 20 year old self? What is your what is your advice to yourself?

Chris Heinen 22:09
My advice to myself? Well, at that point, I had many expectations for how life was supposed to be what I was supposed to be the career I was supposed to have. Just relax, know, like, life is full of expectations. And the never going to quite align with reality, for better or for worse. So stop spending your time expecting something to happen wanting something to happen, and just let life happen. Because I’m in a very different place right now than where I was when I was 18. And I’m really happy and it wasn’t through plan. So stop planning and just start living your life. Yeah.

Fei Wu 22:49
Great. Thank you so much for your time. This is super fun. And I hope we do a another part of this again.

To listen to more episodes of the face world podcast, please subscribe on iTunes where visit face that is f e i s wo rld where you can find show notes links, other tools and resources. You can also follow me on Twitter at face world. Until next time, thanks for listening

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Lead image ©2012 Evan Warner
Skydiving image ©Leland Bendel

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