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A few years ago I was asked to be the keynote speaker at a South African university conference and speak to their software engineering students. It was the first time I had been approached to keynote, and so I spent some time with the organisers to understand their goals, and what to expect from the audience. The university had reached out because they knew me years before when I used to give entertaining, yet deeply technical talks on Microsoft tech - things like Server AppFabric, WCF, T4 templates and other technologies who have moved from cool to the farm where old tech goes to live out its end-of-life.

The university had hoped that I would bring that same wow and tech to the event but I had two issues with it. First is that the tech I was using then was the least entertaining piece of tech, a small thing called Java, and so I felt the wow I could bring would be limited. The second issue is, that this is a keynote - there were plenty of wonderful speakers during the day doing tech and only tech. The lack of diversity in the content spoke to me and I realised that I had been allowed to do a talk I have always wanted to give.

Early in my career, I found the amazing The 23½ Rules of Thumb talk by Jim McCarthy who in the early 90s did a talk for Microsoft Consulting Services on what it takes to deliver software projects, based on his time leading the Visual C team. I watched it over and over again, getting insights that no one I worked with had and it kicked started a lot of my thinking; to this day I rewatch it every year still. I would encourage everyone to watch that talk, not only for the guidance but to see the difference in shipping software on disks vs. the cloud has made (something we can only see in hindsight) and also the sparks of ideas he brings up, which later were solidified by others as Scrum. It is wonderful, and I always wanted to do this sort of talk…

So that’s what I proposed and very quickly it was agreed and I was asked for the title… uh, I didn’t even know what I would say, let alone what the title should be… so on the spot I came up with 14 things you need to be a successful software developer. Why 14? I have no idea, but I knew I wanted a number and I knew that if I took Jim’s talk, I felt like maybe 10 could be dropped or combined with modern thinking (but wasn’t sure), so that made it feel close enough to be right… and often close enough is good enough.

This led me to a few months of planning content, trying to come up with ideas and pitching it to trusted advisors… before doing it as a keynote, to a major success! Then it was done at the Developer User Group, then Microsoft asked me to do it at the Azure event, and then I was asked by an attendee of that to give it to their employees and more… in fact, a year later the university came back and asked for it to be done again! It has been one of my most successful talks.

It has been a few years since I had that amazing run of presentations, and I have some new experiences that might influence that thinking. I also want to push to write blog posts a lot more; and so with that in mind, I have decided to try convert this into a series of posts where I go into each part and see how it lands with a different audience. Hopefully, this is something that would excite and inspire you, or if not, I hope it challenges you and if you wish to get a view of it sooner, join my Patreon… not really, but you can view the slides I last used here.