Of Shoulders and Giants

Our industry is young. So much so that almost no one I work with has any sort of education in it. We all came in sideways, often accidentally.

So when Randy Floyd Jr commented on my last article, and my (mild) impostor syndrome went “what? seriously?” I decided to explain how I got to where I am today, and that I think it was a group effort.

Prolog

1998, Southern France. I am on a 3-month contract writing a thesis to finish my M.Sc. studies in IT. I am here for personal reasons, essentially to restart somewhere far away after what at the time felt like the worst broken heart in the history of mankind.

2 years later, I am working as a C developer at a small start-up. My job is to develop software for Palm OS, specifically a writing system called “Octave”. I also handle an alpha test, documentation, a web site, and our internal hardware and network.

Another 2 years later and the start-up is dead, fallen with so many others in the turmoil of the “Dot-com bubble” burst. I don’t know it, but this is the end of my short-lived career as a developer.

If you ask me today why I studied IT, I can only say that I never really thought about it. I loved my VIC-20, my C64, my C 128, and then my first PC-XT. I learned BASIC, Pascal, and C, spend time figuring out how to do networking once Linux came out and then with Windows for Workgroups 3.11. It just felt like the thing to do.

Sometimes, I tell people that I went into IT because I am very, very lazy. Being in IT as a means of automating as much as possible so I can do less? Maybe. Sometimes I even think it is because I like sci-fi, and maybe I felt like I could create a piece of a good future. But that would be stupid.

By the end of 2003, I am married and my wife is almost done with her doctoral thesis. I am trying to start a small company, and I have at this point sent job applications to almost every company in Sophia Antipolis.

In 2004, we move to Manchester in the UK. A head hunter has found me, and I am starting a job in support for a company called Hyperion. I am supporting a pretty complex BI toolset.

The work is surprisingly fun and diverse, until Oracle buys Hyperion.

At that point, in 2007, a colleague suggests me to a friend at Omniture, mainly based on “He wants a new job and he might know Javascript”

And that, kids, is how I entered this industry.

Technology vs the Why?

The guy at Omniture was Holger Marsen. I didn’t know him at the time. And just to make my point about changes and luck, he left the industry in 2015 to make chocolate and to teach sciences.

I started on 1/1/2008. A couple of people stand out from back then, such as Paul Davison, who interviewed me, André Urban and Holger Hug, who taught me all they new (“Fusion” was big back then), and David Sigerson, who was the first to spark an interest in the why? and the business aspects.

In 2009, I met Adam Greco for the first time. I had read all his articles, and so I was seriously awed. I believe he is the best our industry has from the point of view of didactics, along with Tim Wilson, of course.

I changed roles in 2009, too, becoming a “Solution Specialist” within the CSM team. My role was to help the CSMs with retention. I spent time speaking to random customers, suggesting next steps or stuff they hadn’t yet thought about, all using whatever Adobe applications they already had. That was fun!

I also got parachuted into situations where customer basically had had enough, for whatever reason, and then fixed the reason. That was very interesting, and a really good learning journey for me!

Both kinds of assignments also helped me understand how insignificant a technical solution is when your counterpart doesn’t see why they should use it.

I’m naturally inclined to (over-)simplify things. My brain looks for abstraction, or for connections. It does that highly efficiently, so most of the time I do not realise. But I can take something someone told me and translate that so it makes sense for someone else’s situation.

I also realised that the less I talk, the more people solve their own issues and riddles, simply by explaining what it is that bugs them.

These two traits helped me be very successful, even though I often felt I wasn’t doing that much, really.

Outlets

As part of this role, I started to blog about analytics, first in German (webanalyseaufdeutsch.de, now defunct), originally translating Adam’s articles. Then I discovered the severe lack of information for developers and started this blog.

By now, I am unable to remember at which point my colleague Axel Schäfer and I started organising the Analytics content for the EMEA Summit, but it must have been around that time, too. I do remember my main stage 2-minute presentation in Battersea in that tent, when the network stood me up under the watchful eyes of Brad Rencher and 2500 other people. Horrible.

Time passed, stuff happened, families grew, a house was bought.

Then, in 2014, Niels Jensen managed to convince me to go back into Consulting. The rise of the right in the European elections in the UK made the decision easier for us, and we left Manchester for sunny Switzerland.

In Basel, I was the first non-AEM employee in the office. My colleague Vincent Guer joined as a Campaign consultant soon after, but that was it. Everyone else was working on AEM in some form or shape.

A lot of what I thought I had learned about “analytics vs web development” turned out to be communications issues, and/or lazyness on my part. The clichée of thinking out of one’s box is somewhat true, in that understanding what happens on the other side of the wall can make you better. Nay, it will!

I started evangelising internally.

No idea why I did that, but I guess I was chasing my own demons, or looking for the skeletons in my own closet. Simplicity in the face of a complex system, data quality, always thinking about the reasons, those became really important for me.

Some a lot of that can be seen on the blogs, of course.

Impostor Syndrome

And that is it, really, in terms of credentials!

I have never learned marketing, and I did one single course in statistics when I was at university. I passed that particular test because it was open book, and at the time, ex-students would pass on their books to the next generation. They were so used that they opened on a bunch of pages when you put them on the table, so all you had to do was find the right page for the next question in the test, answer, repeat.

I haven’t even learned Javascript, officially, and even though I called myself a programmer briefly, my skills in that area are mediocre, at best.

Darius Zumstein got me into teaching in 2016. I’m doing 1 – 2 days per year, not a lot. When I recently told my (adult) students that I obviously had impostor syndrome, they didn’t want to believe me.

But I do, mildly, and I think it has almost nothing to do with what you do and how you do it.

What seems to help me is to concentrate on specifics.

I am, for example, convinced that I am good at understanding what people mean when they say something. Better, usually, then anyone else listening to the same person. And I am good at repeating what they said in a way that others understand, too. I often “translate” on calls.

There are other things. I have watched out for them, actively, and slowly managed to get used to the fact that yes, I do those things, and yes, they are good.

This gnaws away at the foundations of impostor syndrome, very slowly, hopefully.

And maybe I do not have to get rid of it, anyway.

Here is the thing: our industry is young. We still operate like a small group of like-minded people, and that makes all the difference!

When André and Holger showed me around, so to speak, they started off this long journey, and there are so many other people on the list of people who helped, that in the interest of fairness (I know I will forget to put your name), I can only put a very small sample. These are some of the people who taught me something. A lot of these names hide more than one person.

Wolfgang, Holger, Paul, André, David, Adam, Thomas, Meryll, Sarosh, Chris, Jim, Bret, Andreas, Klaus, Steve, Matt, Ben, Justin, Jamie, Mukesh, Jan, Julie, Rob, Jenn, Axel, Shawn, Feike, Senol, Jeff, Rudi, Joel, Aaron, Tim, Corey, Niels, Jen, Kerstin, Doug, Brandon, Jeffrey, Jason, Randy, Corby, Clelia, Anna, Daniel, Nicolas, Darius, Stefan, Cleve, Michael, Urs, Diego, Zoran, Viddy, Emily, Kjell, Nancy, Marisa, Nicole, Marko, Ben, and, last but not least, you!

Does anyone on the list care if I wonder whether I’ve got the right to be here? No? Then why should I?

What I do know: I like doing this, and I like how we support each other, and that makes me glad I ended up here, with you beautiful people.

6 thoughts on “Of Shoulders and Giants

  1. Hey Jan, Great post, it is great to know that you went through almost the same cycle as me(minus the university bit) I started in support then networks moving on to be a web developer then slid into Analytics, best move I ever made, I have yet to meet the giants Adam or Rudi, but have met Holger.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Read this article while in the background my phone coincidentally played “In my life” (not the original, but a Johnny Cash cover version). What a context. Jan, we are such lucky bastards to have you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Perhaps your lack of “formal” education in this field is the reason you are good at it. One of my biggest frustrations with the majority of consultants is they want to follow “the script”. That being what someone wrote in a textbook or other documentation and which they “learned” from. But that’s all they know, they never had to figure things out for themselves through trial and error, or experiment until they got it right. They just follow the rules someone else wrote for how to do things in a neatly set up environment.

    So when clients come to them with problems they struggle going outside that script. They don’t have the flexibility to look at the situation and custom design a solution to the clients particular circumstances and infrastructure. You on the other hand can do that, as that is how you learned so much of what you now know. Learning the hard way can be extremely valuable.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. And we are glad that you ended up where you are, with us – regardless of impostor syndrome or not. We like you exactly the way you are and look forward to many years ahead. Thank you for this article and as always: your own words that help other people understand better.

    Liked by 1 person

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