Monday, 18 June 2018

MARTIN BEEBY - DIRECTOR EVANGELIST AT ORACLE

Meet Martin Beeby, the director of Evangelist at Oracle who began his journey as a web developer when he was just 16 years old after discovering he had an interest in the web. Martin turned his interest and experience as web developer into a career where he now travels around the world speaking to fellow developers about new tools, products and languages. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Martin about his journey and personal development. 


Runako: So I’m intrigued, did you always know what you wanted to do with your life?



Martin: Not Really, I discovered the web when I was around 16 and worked on it as a hobby. Gradually teaching myself. My career developed out of a hobby. I became passionate about the web and learning how to prepare for it. I never thought I would be able to make a career out of it. I think I had some sort of abstract thought that I wanted to be an architect when I was 16. There was a drawing board in Argos that I really liked, and I remember leafing through the magical book of dreams that is that is the Argos catalogue and seeing this drawing board and thinking, yeah, I could be an architect, that sounds good. I was always really good in school, I think I have quite an academic brain in many respects, but I went to a bad school. I was always the kid in school that had the ‘you could do better’ conversations with teachers and most of my inner self didn’t really believe that. It was kind of like - Yeh okay, I think you just have an opinion of me.  I always had it in my head that I was smarter than some of the kids in the class, but I was never going to be the academic one. But one day, I got involved in computers and it was very much at the beginning of the internet. Back in the day when the computer room was a room in a school that you would go to and if you were lucky you’d get an hour to go on the computer. The computer rooms were basically some machines, some computers and some teletex which was our information. I remember someone showing me AOL chat and someone telling me that “this guy that we are talking to is in America and I was like Shut. Up. No way, that’s not true. We were only allowed to connect to the internet for like 5 minutes through some dial up system, but we had to disconnect because it was too expensive. So, I guess I got really interested in this concept of communication, the internet and the fact that I could speak to someone across the globe. It was revolutionary and if you’re young today, it doesn’t seem revolutionary, but it really wasn’t that long ago – less than 10,000 days ago speaking to someone in another country was not common practice. That moment was incredible. I started learning about websites, building websites and copying websites and stuff. I was doing this from the age of about 16.

Runako: So, you were self-taught?


Martin: Yeah, it was an interest that turned into an intrigue. The web was the only thing, especially in that time which you could be interested in and learn more about. Up to about 2005, everyone was self-taught because there wasn’t such a thing as university degrees or college degrees about I.T. Everyone was self-taught and that was how people learned to do it.

Runako: So, you didn’t need to go to university in the end?


Martin: No, I did go to university, this was just when I was 16. I started building websites and I built a website called beebs.co.uk but I don’t own it anymore. So, friends could send text messages from it. You probably don’t remember this but texts used to cost 30 pence to send and I found a slightly hacky way of sending messages for free. I put this thing on my website where people could type in a number, type a message, press go and the message would go to that phone number.


Runako: Wow. That’s cool. Kinda wish I grew up in that time to appreciate it more!


Martin: Yeah a few people in my school started using it and I was in a night club 6/7 months later and someone came up to me and said “I use a website called beebs to send messages” and I said yeah that’s me. I was now being introduced as the guy that made beebs so I felt subtly famous in this world. I did wonder how many people were using it. Anyway, so I completed my A-levels and did really bad because I was obviously at nightclubs and stuff. I didn’t do well but I somehow through clearing got into Middlesex University which is actually weirdly the uni that I wanted to go to because I wanted to go to London. If I didn’t get into uni, I was going to go with my plan B which was to join the navy. I knew nothing about the navy, I knew nothing about the application process, I just had it in my head that if I really screw it up then I’ll just do what my grandad did and join the navy. But I managed to get into uni. For the first few weeks of university, I felt that I didn’t deserve to be there and that they’d check my grades and send me home. During university I was still doing web stuff and I was making a bit of money on the side just building websites for people on the side. I worked for a company back home building their website and doing their background stuff.


Runako: So, what did you study?


Martin: I did Management with Marketing. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and I was alright at business studies and I felt that, that would be something ‘generalist’. I remember not really handing work on time during my first year of university because I didn’t think my work was good but I realised that actually, if you work at something and you get things done, even if its done and its not the best work you’ve ever done or seen, it’s still done. It’s really obvious stuff, but it’s something that I didn’t really realise until quite late in my life. Getting stuff done is better than not getting anything done. Even if you don’t think it’s the best idea or work, seeing it through it completion is the best thing that you could ever do in your life – choose the things you’re going to work on carefully and then when you’ve made that choice, make sure you see it through even if other opportunities come up or you get bored of it.  


Runako: What was your first job after university?


Martin: IT AID Europe, a small, now none existent IT company. This was where I honed my craft as a developer. It gave me the opportunity to work on hundreds of websites and applications – from document management system to robots that calculated the coefficients of friction for training shoes. I was with IT AID for about 4 years then I moved to a much bigger company, got a bigger salary. I still look back upon those 4 years as being the time where I learnt the basics of everything. I learnt how to be a developer, I learnt about customers and what they want. I also learned how to listen to a customer. At that time I wasn’t just building websites, I was also programming. After I’d had a few years’ experience, I joined another company as a lead developer. I got better and better at what I was doing so I started a blogging about what I was doing and that got the attention of the wider development community. Then I got an email from someone saying, hey, have you ever considered doing what you’re doing for Microsoft and speaking about it. I didn’t realise what they were talking about at the time but it turns out that it was a developer evangelist role which is the job that I do today. So instead of developing software all the time, I build proof of concepts or I take new technology and I play with it then I write about it, I blog about it, I produce videos and speak on stage about it.


Runako: That sounds interesting. Does that involve a lot of travelling?


Martin: Back in the day, I was doing it just locally. I was doing small talks to 20-30 people, blogging, videos and stuff. So gradually I worked for Microsoft for about 8 years, built up my reputation.


Runako: wow and so what would you say is your biggest achievement or something you are proud of?


Martin: Being able to speak in front of large audiences. Public speaking was never a strong point for me. I lacked confidence; I now routinely talk in front of large 1000+ audiences at events all over the world.


Runako: So, have you written a book by any chance?


Martin: No, books are very time expensive. I started writing a book when I was a Microsoft, but it got cancelled. But yeah so speaking at conferences, writing for magazines and being featured in magazines was what I was doing at Microsoft and then recently I moved to a company called Oracle and they are the world’s second largest software manufacturer and they have about 130,000 people. I do the same job as I did at Microsoft but I’m the director of developer Evangelist, so I work on strategy not just the execution and whilst I still speak all over the world – places like Dubai, Dohar, Norway, next week I’m in Denmark. So, all the time it's travelling, speaking to people.


Runako: That must be fun, travelling all over the world.


Martin: Yeah, it’s good but its less glamorous than it sounds and the same Hilton hotels. When I’m not travelling though, I get to work from home. I have my office at the end of my garden so that’s good and I can work on my own schedule.  


Runako: And what challenges have you faced in getting to where you are now and how did you overcome them?


Martin: I'd say the most significant challenge I faced was myself. I was born in a small town with minimal expectations, most of the barriers were of my own construction. I didn't have much money, and I didn't grow up in the greatest of areas, but I had a loving family and parents and teachers that wanted me to get ahead. I am dyslexic which is something I didn't learn till I was 20. Being diagnosed helped since I realised I wasn't stupid and that some of my problems, lack of concentration, poor spelling and unwillingness to read were in part due to that. Once I discovered my dyslexia, it was a lot easier to find coping mechanisms to solve some of these issues which had held me back for the majority of my life.


Runako: What is one thing you would say to your younger self?


Martin: Don’t Get Jealous Get Better I have a little motto on the wall of my office saying "Don't Get Jealous get better". I use it as a reminder of a positive life change I made a few years back. So far it’s been a great lesson. When I started working at Microsoft 8 years ago, I encountered something that I’d never really experienced before at work: people that were genuinely better at my job. Before then I’d only worked in small teams, and while there were people as good as me, there were never really those that completely blew me out of the water. That changed when I joined a big company. Now I would regularly encounter better developers, better communicators and better speakers. As someone new to this phenomenon of no longer being amongst the smartest in the room my initial reaction was to fight. To point out the inadequacies to peers of other people’s approaches. While secretly being jealous of the apparent ease that they could do things that I found hard. I’d invent excuses as to why I wasn’t as good; I’d talk of opportunities that they had. I’d speak ill of them in the hope that I could convince people that I was better than they were. A former manager pointed it out to me in a 1:1 meeting. They said something like “You’re not very supportive of successful people” my initial reaction was defensive. I argued that I didn't like people who cheated their way to the top. Over the next few weeks, I thought about my career and realised that I had often tried to scupper other people’s success through some crazy notion that I was more deserving of success. I’d be snarky on emails and ask intentionally tricky questions in meetings. Good managers often raise mirrors to ourselves. Looking at my actions objectively taught me a lesson about my character. Since that meeting, I have always tried to keep that part of my ego in check. It’s a prevalent trait in software developers and one I have subsequently noticed in others especially those that are new to big teams. What I try to do now is notice those that are doing things better than me and figure out how they do it so I can get better myself: Turning a negative personality trait into a learning opportunity. What I have found is that you become more supportive and a better team player. As your horizons broaden and your network increases in size, you are going to discover people that are better than you at certain things. Part of growing as a developer and a person is accepting that. Don’t get jealous get better.


Runako: I definitely agree, I think jealousy is a waste of energy and it's really good to try and learn from others. So I'd love to know what success means to you?


Martin: Success in life for me is providing for my family. I have two young children, and it's been good being able to give the things that I wasn't able to have as a child. In the same way that my parents were able to provide things for me that they didn't have access to. Making life better and giving them more opportunities is what success looks like to me. I hope that my children will be able to provide opportunities that I wasn't able to provide for them. Gradual, incremental improvements.


Runako: And who would you say inspires you?


Scott Hanselman, Now he might not be a household name, but honestly he is one of the people I look up to most and who I continually evaluate myself against. I guess you could say he is the best in the world at developer evangelism and he is indeed someone who I model myself on. I've been able to work with him sometimes over the years, and I'm always amazed by his output, attention to detail but most importantly his humanity. In large corporations, people can often become faceless and lose their personality. He has managed to avoid that, he's very successful while also being humble and very personable. What advice would you give to students starting out? Finish things. 95% of People start ideas and projects but never finish them. Struggle through, get it done before you take on the next challenge. Finish a project and seeing it through to completion is where you will learn the most. Life isn't about having the best ideas or being the best at something. There are plenty of people with great ideas who have died desolate and penniless and a line of people that will have more raw natural talent then you could hope for. So don't waste time waiting for the best idea, or worry about not being the best in the world at something. Instead, work on the ideas and share them with people. Work at being better and see your ideas through to completion. Gradually you will develop better ideas, and you will undoubtedly be better at delivering them.



Runako: And so, with all your experience, what advice would you give to young people starting out?


Martin: I would say, finish what you start. 95% of people start ideas and projects but never finish them. They have lots of experience starting things but little experience in finishing things so the reality in anything you do is that most of the learning comes from actually delivering and getting feedback on it. Finish a project and seeing it through to completion is where you will learn the most. Life isn't about having the best ideas or being the best at something. There are plenty of people with great ideas who have died desolate and penniless and a line of people that will have more raw natural talent then you could hope for. So don't waste time waiting for the best idea, or worry about not being the best in the world at something. Instead, work on the ideas and share them with people. Work at being better and see your ideas through to completion. Gradually you will develop better ideas, and you will undoubtedly be better at delivering them. I became passionate about the web and learning how to prepare for it. Should have been: I became passionate about the web and learning how to create for it.


I hope this inspires somebody out there.
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