Presentation: Becoming an Outlier



10:35am - 11:25am

Day of week:


Key Takeaways

  • Hear concrete activities and skills that transform average developers into outliers.
  • Learn approaches to changing your luck surface area as a software developer and why it matters.
  • Consider the importance of focusing on the things that you can control and less on the things you cannot control.


As a developer, your image and your mind are your product. So to get what you’ve never had, you must do what you’ve never done with these precious tools. If you want to make a bigger impact, raise your income, and code with purpose, join us. This session is about making a paradigm shift in how you manage your career.

We’ll discuss concrete activities and skills that transform average developers into outliers. You’ll learn why developers can't afford cable, ways to improve your “luck surface area”, and techniques to compress your career through accelerated development. Prepare to think about your development career in a whole new way.


What’s the motivation for your talk?
This talk really began as a painful experience of me learning that maybe management wasn’t the greatest fit for me. It was the story of me leaving a job that I really liked, effectively for the money. You can guess how that story ends: probably not well. If the only reason you are doing something is for money, you might want to rethink your motivation, and to rethink whether it is a good call.
So that’s how this whole talk starts off: me being very honest about a rather painful year in my life and the lessons that I learned coming out of it and me coming full circle back to being a full-time developer again.
Could you give me an idea of some of the lessons you learned through that experience that you will talk about?
The first thing that became very, very clear to me was that the things that made me really good as a software developer had nothing to do with being a manager. In fact, they ran exactly counter to me being productive as a manager. See, I had a team that I felt was very, very successful. We wrote really good software and I fixated almost exclusively as a manager, on the technical quality of our team’s execution, making sure that we were delivering on time and doing good work. But the problem is, being a manager is not necessarily your whole role. In fact, in the organization that I was in, it was much more about playing politics well and doing a good job of promoting your team, building relationships with other teams, and making sure that you are partnering with others. I really blew it because I thought that I could continue to act like a developer and more or less be in the trenches with my team focusing on the software. That was no longer my primary role. So I blew it. I learned the hard way.
There’s a phrase in your abstract that covers ways in which you can improve your "luck surface area". Can you expand on that?
A few years ago Jason Roberts published a blog post about increasing your luck surface area. It hit me hard. I found it really useful in the development space to think about your "luck surface area" and the ways that you can improve. Luck surface area can be measured like this: the more people that know that you are passionate about something, the more people that will potentially leverage that. So if you are really awesome at Javascript, the more people that know that, the more chances that you are going to have to be invited a part of really exciting, challenging projects.
This doesn’t sound like a revelation. But so many of us don’t think about the fact that we have to be deliberate about self promotion and that it’s not necessarily selfish, because if no one knows what we were good at, what are the chances that anyone else is going to get to benefit from our skill set? So to me, it’s something that everyone should value: making sure that other people know what they are really excited about, what they want to do with their lives, and what they are currently really good at. So that is part of my focus in this talk: showing people concrete ways that we can increase "luck surface area" by making sure that others know our passions.
What are your key takeaways for this talk?
So, if I were to sum it up, the message that I am portraying is that success really comes down to being other-focused rather than self-focused. That really comes down to consistently spending our time on things that matter to other people. It’s about get up and being more strategic than we typically are. I have to think about how much of my day is spent on things that only I care about versus things that others care about. When you do that, there is this really interesting thing that happens when you shift that bit in your head.
Once I started thinking more about others, I started to see my life improve. What you start realizing is people are likely to compensate you better. You are likely to be more valued. People are likely to appreciate you more because you are thinking more about others and this is, to some degree, the foundation of capitalism. Sure, self interest that drive capitalism, but it’s adding value for others that helps ultimately raise all ships. So my hope is that all of us can spend more time adding value for other people and less time in merely passing the time. There is this recognition that if we can get to the point that we think about software as an art, rather than merely a slog, as a work-life separation, then it totally changes the way that we think about work and it changes our motivations and it changes our excitement and our natural drive to get it done. For me, writing software is art. So I don’t get up thinking, how little can I do to get paid? Rather, I think, how much time do I have in the day to get to leverage this really awesome opportunity to create something that never existed before?
What do you feel is the most disruptive tech in IT right now?
The good news is that there is probably no right answer here. I will speak to my expertise which is Javascript and say that the amount going on a Javascript is overwhelming and that is exactly why I am there- because I am someone that loves learning and loves change and loves seeing constant improvement, and that is exactly what I am seeing in that space. I did a course on React and Flux that was published back in August of 2015. Then just a month ago I published one on React and Redux, because everybody had more or less moved from Flux to Redux. I had barely published this course and already people are talking about mobex which may be the new hotness. I am reading about it now and looking at it and go, well yeah, this does look pretty interesting.
I love being in a realm where we are constantly questioning other’s ideas and looking at other tools and frameworks and saying, how can we continue to innovate and make life better? Javascript was a very rickety foundation, but to me, we have built a palace on top of it all that is amazing. It is a lot of fun to do development in Javascript today and I will tell you, back in the days of Netscape and old IE, it was not. There is a never-ending stream of disruption going on in the JavaScript space, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Speaker: Cory House

Software Architect @VinSolutions, Author @pluralsight

I’m fortunate enough to love what I do. I’ve been in Kansas City designing and implementing web applications for over 15 years. As founder of Bitnative Consulting, I enjoy solving problems in a wide variety of environments and languages for small businesses, large corporations, and the government. I’m a Microsoft MVP in C#, ASPInsider, Member of the Telerik Developer Expert program, and author of multiple training courses for Pluralsight. I’m passionate about building rich custom web apps using the latest technologies. While I focus on web development, I recognize there’s no silver bullet technology. I’m a believer in using the right tool for the job. I find creating rich, responsive apps that make life easier for others is its own reward.

Find Cory House at


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