Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Who I am

Since graduating in 1993 with a BSCS from UC San Diego, I have worked in a variety of jobs for Hewlett-Packard, where I'm currently the Chief Architect. Lucky enough to be in on the ground floor of web development (I once said to a colleague, “Cool, the HTML table spec is finally out!”), I’ve had a pretty varied career (magazine article publishing, patent filings, trade show presentations, various certifications earned, etc.) as I’ve developed expertise in that area of software engineering. My current responsibilities deal with the technological direction of hundreds of HP web sites (including and all its country/language variants) which collectively handle millions of daily page hits. There are certainly those whose resumes are more impressive, but I’d like to think my body of work holds up pretty well.

Over the course of my experience, I’ve worked with engineers from all over the world, over 400 like-minded nerds in all. What I noticed, and what is the focus of this site, is that the best engineers all have a similar set of skills and that those skills have little to do with the discipline of engineering itself. Instead, what seems to get people ahead in this industry is a mastery of so-called “soft skills”. Things like the ability to accurately estimate the duration of tasks so that reliable schedules can be created, or being capable of communicating technical concepts in terms that can be understood by marketing folks or upper management. Although a baseline of engineering knowledge is a must, it’s these other things we don’t learn in school that mean the most when it comes to raises, stock options, promotions, and other work rewards.

I am by no means all-knowing in this area, but I’ve learned enough over the years through mentors, books, and the old standby of trial and error to be able to pass on things that might not be obvious to someone about to leave school, just starting out, or struggling to find a way to advance. More on this can be found in the Why Soft Skills article or subscribe(by reader or by email) and see for yourself the kinds of things that are important to your career that you may not have crossed your mind. My goal is for material like this to be part of a university curriculum some day, but as long as I continue to enjoy it and my subscribers grow, I'll continue to write about it here for free.

Since New Year's Day '94 I've been happily married to my amazing wife Susan, who gave up her own career to stay home with our energetic and creative daughter Noelle in 2002. Although we currently live in Camas, Washington, which is a suburb of Portland, Oregon, a wide variety of circumstances have allowed us to reside all over the country including San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Dallas, Colorado Springs, and Riverside, CA. Blending my obsession with the NFL and Susan's Louisiana upbringing, we're huge New Orleans Saints fans. Many of my articles reveal a lifelong admiration for Disney theme parks and occasionally demonstrate an addiction to Lost. Unsurprisingly, our big family vacation every year is to Walt Disney World, although the picture shown here was taken at the top of Diamond Head in Hawaii over Thanksgiving '06.


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posted by Pete Johnson @ 2:44 PM   0 comments

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