Will "the Mighty" Strohl

Someone Asked Me, “Why Do You Speak?”

At a recent event, one of the people attending asked me why I do what I do.  We were at the after event social party, and had just finished going over a lot of the volunteer things that I do.  The fact is, I really do not realize how many things I volunteer for until that question is asked (or another like it).  I indeed keep myself pretty busy, especially in the DotNetNuke community.

So, I really haven’t answered the question yet.  And I do not think that I effectively answered it when I was asked either.  The question ate at me, as I hadn’t really reflected on it in a while.  I just set myself in motion, and I have been going non-stop for a long time now.  Before I can effectively answer that question, I need to really explain what brought me to the point of making the decision to speak.

Point A to Point Now

My career in my current profession began many moons ago, in a technical support position, supporting WAN and LAN environments, mainly  focusing on software, hardware, and networking infrastructure.  Before that point, I was a Marine, where I learned how to tinker with websites from a friend.  Websites soon consumed my personal life.  Every possible moment when I was home from work, I would be tweaking my web pages, and learning new techniques to do so.  I made every possible effort to learn those new techniques.  However, in those days, there were very few blogs out there, so a lot of time was spent browsing various websites, and investigating the source to see what the developer(s) did to create specific effects and behavior.

During my tenure as a technical support person, I was tapped to build a web-based help desk ticket system, to replace the custom built VB 6 application that was currently in production.  It was to be built in ASP 3.0, and I had up to that point only managed static websites.  The success from my first ASP website soon led to managing the entire Intranet.  The final Intranet consisted of an ASP.Net 1.1 website, a customized version of the iBuySpy Portal.  I did pretty well.  I received all kinds of compliments, and through my efforts, a position was created specifically for my expertise, being that the rest of the developers were main frame or mid range server programmers.

The previous position led to a position managing 42 websites, and over 70 webmasters.  There, I officially implemented DotNetNuke.  Up until that point, all my DNN experience had been on offline websites.  I also upgraded my .Net skills to include version 2.0. 

My webmaster position eventually led me to a Lead Developer position, and then my current position as a Technology Director.  Whoa!  Those are a lot of steps.  It seems that I got there pretty quickly.  But how?  I mentioned my various skill sets, but I didn’t mention how I got them…

How Did I Improve My Skill Sets?

Most of my professional career was spent as the sole person knowing how to do what I do.  I was nearly always the only person with any true Internet and .Net expertise.  That also meant that my peers and superiors had to take my word as the law.  I had to be right, or eat my own dog food, and not in a good way.  If I was even once wrong or didn’t have an answer, I would lose all credibility from that point forward.

In order to prevent such an ominous and dreadful situation from occurring, I spent nearly all of my available hours reading articles and participating in forums.  I spent many, many, many hours in places like Experts Exchange, DotNetNuke Forums, ASP.Net Forums, and Tek-Tips.  I also invested in myself by buying various books covering subjects of which I had no one to turn to.  Many of the authors of the books were people that I also saw in the forums. 

There was another forum that I spent countless hours on that specialized in ASP, but had “sister” sites for other technologies.  I cannot remember or find it right now, but it’s design was safari or lion-like.

Please note that I used the word “participate” in relation to the forums.  I did not only ask questions, but I also spent a great amount of time trying to figure out the solutions to problems other people were having.  I learned so much about the various technologies by trying to figure out the solution other people’s problems.  Though there were certainly times when I found myself stuck, and the only thing that moved me forward was the assistance of some generous programmer out there in the world.

One of the in-person methods that helped immensely, were the live demos that I saw and participated in during code camps.  After seeing two years of code camps, I realized that I could also help people that way.

The Meat of the Question and Answer

If you followed along, while I have attended professional training at various facilities, the bulk of my knowledge has come from interacting with others.  I wouldn’t be doing what I do today if it weren’t for the community aspect of development.  In particular, interacting with speakers at a code camp about topics that I was not yet confident with have proven to be invaluable to my professional growth.  It was these speakers that inspired me to be more confident about the topic, but more importantly have inspired me to pick up the speaking torch to give others the same gift of confidence in themselves. 

In short, I speak at events because of what I know I am doing to help others.  When a person walks out of one of my sessions, I really enjoy the fact that they might go home or to work and try something that they were previously unsure about.  I might have given them that little seed of encouragement that was the key to their project.  I might have given them a reason to try harder, or perhaps even shown them how to fix something that has been dodging them for weeks.  Regardless to what the exact result is for each person, I know that i have helped them. 

It is not unusual at the end of a session for a group of people to speak to me afterwards.  It is through those individuals where I find out how well I did or did not do.  It is those people that give me the encouragement to step up at the next event and do even better.  It is the community that makes me want to speak.  We end up all feeding off of each other, like a biological circle of life.  I know how I felt when a speaker or community leader took a couple of minutes to answer a question I had and could not answer myself.  I enjoy giving those that ask, the same feeling that I had when reading or listening to that answer that i wished I had been able to just know on my own.

I hope that answers the question.  I really do LOVE to help people.  It is why I do what I do.  Are there other perks?  Sure.  But none of them are things that one could expect to receive.  Many people do not receive any of the perks that you might expect all speakers and visible community members to receive.  If you are in it for the perks, you’ll be sadly disappointed.  Just do the right thing.  ;)

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