Author spotlight: Jason Helmick - PowerShell MVP, motorcyclist & passionate learner
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We don't let just anyone be an on-staff author, but if you're anything like Jason Helmick, you'll make the cut. This Microsoft MVP has an undeniable thirst for knowledge and love for teaching that touches everything from his courses, blog posts and books to his daily interactions with other IT pros. He understands the key to success in this crazy world we call Information Technology and he can't wait to talk to you about it. What can you learn from this talented technologist? Get to know our very own Jason Helmick.
You have over 25 years of experience in the IT industry. How’d you get started?
As a kid starting out with an original IBM PC, the computer bug bit me early. I enjoyed figuring out how things worked and starting building my own computers. I've always had a love of learning, but my ravenous focus on technology kept growing.
I also began to realize that my true passion wasn't just learning about how to solve problems with computers, but helping others achieve the same results. As soon as I learned something new, I wanted to share it with my friends. Over the years, my skill with technology led to consulting and full-time work as a system engineer, but my true joy was helping customers understand the technology in a way that empowered them to achieve better results.
As my career progressed, I focused on learning how to be better at teaching and communication overall and spent much of my career as a teacher. Today, I'm very fortunate to have my dream job at Pluralsight. I spend my time authoring new content, as well as speaking at conferences.
Tell us about your favorite conference to attend and your favorite to speak at.
I enjoy attending the large conferences such as Microsoft TechEd and the new Ignite. There is much to learn, but I find the floor activity - meeting people that I follow on Twitter and discussing technology with the people that invented it - is really the value for me at those large conferences.
When it comes to my favorite conference to speak at, I like the ones that aren't so crowded, my favorite being TechMentor. At large conferences, the speakers are shuffled quickly on and off stage and trying to find them later in a crowed of 20,000 people is not possible. At the smaller conferences, you get time to talk to a speaker, have lunch with them, maybe hangout after the long day and have dinner. I speak at those because it gives me a chance to learn from attendee's the technologies and problems they are facing. I really like the personal interactions at these conferences.
Speaking of personal interaction, what do you love most about teaching and sharing your knowledge?
For me, the root of my passion is simply to help others. If not in technology, I could have been a firefighter (but I'm afraid of fire) or a paramedic (blood makes me sick). I tied my love of learning (everything that I can) with my passion to help, and I've had the most wonderful career in technology.
But it hasn't always been easy. Here's a funny story: I didn't want to write "Learn Windows IIS in a Month of Lunches." I had written several books in the beginning of my career, but it's very hard to write an entire book. It's a huge time commitment when you're also trying to maintain a full-time job, and it can negatively impact your family. So when I got opportunity to write about IIS (something I know very well from an administrative view having worked with it since NT 4), I just didn’t want to invest the effort.
Over a meal and a few drinks, Don Jones asked me about the book. I said I wasn't interested. I should have realized that this was a set up. He unleashed his response with a smirk: "You have experience and knowledge on administrating IIS that could help thousands of IT admins, and you refuse to share it because you don't want to be inconvenienced to work a little harder? I'm embarrassed to know you." That's all it took. It reminded me of my passion and desire to help others and I happily wrote the book.
So you’ve written “Learn Windows IIS in a Month of Lunches,” contributed to “PowerShell Deep Dives” and written for TechNet Magazine. But how did you become a Pluralsight author?
I begged, pleaded, offered my soul. All kidding aside, I really wanted to be an author for Pluralsight. I was already authoring videos for Microsoft, CBTNuggets and Lynda.com, but I wanted to settle down with a company known for its culture, passion of learning and desire to help others learn. Pluralsight accomplishes all this at the highest of standards and constantly pushes to improve. I had several friends that worked for Pluralsight, so I had the inside scoop. And one day Don asked if I would be interested. I signed the employment agreement before the end of the day!
What’s it like to be an on-staff author? What’s a day in the life of Jason like?
Being an on-staff author means I can devote myself to focusing on my Pluralsight courses. Having been an independent contractor for years, the constant pull and tug of several different jobs can be distracting.
I normally work seven days a week. Not because I have to; because I want to. It's not always long days. Sometimes its shorter "clean-up" days organizing the next steps in my courses. I get plenty of free time, but my days always start the same: Coffee, email, Pluralsight. Toward the end of the day, I spend time with my family and doing my favorite hobbies, which include learning new things, sometimes for Pluralsight, sometimes just for myself.
When you get frustrated or stuck, how do you unwind?
Let's face it, everyone runs into this. You can't just wish your frustration away. If I'm having trouble recording video or building content, I first switch to a different task that takes me away from the focus on the course. That might be clearing some emails, writing an article or some other leftover small tasks. There are times when that's not enough.
Being an author is a solitary job, working in my office with little human contact, so one of my favorite tricks is to leave the office and find someone that I can bore with conversation! It could be my wife, my dogs or having lunch with a friend. I also find that if I'm having problems focusing, a good jog around the block a few times can settle my brain.
Describe your “happy place.”
On my motorcycle, traveling down a country road, all day long.
You’re a Phoenix resident. What's the most interesting thing about calling AZ home?
Arizona is the land of one season - hot. We go from "kinda hot" to the full unleashing of Hell's fury. I often wonder why I live here as I like the other three seasons, especially a winter's snow. The only answer I have come up with is that I never have to wonder what the weather is going to be like tomorrow.
What do you love most about what you do?
Learner/teacher - in that order. I have the best job!
Share some of your most memorable career highlights and why they were so special.
Getting the chance to work with Don Jones and have him mentor me and become a better teacher, author and technologist. This not only allowed me to meet some of the most respected people in my field, it gave me the opportunity to teach a video series on PowerShell with the inventor, Jeffrey Snover. My passion and love for helping others was spotlighted when I was awarded my first MVP for PowerShell.
I've had many career highlights, successful projects and cool technology-based solutions to help businesses, but nothing compares.
If there’s one thing you’d like everyone to do or stop doing right now in terms of security, what would it be?
Having worked in IT for a very long time, there is one thing I wish that people wouldn't do: When I come over to help you with a problem, stop offering to give me your password.
What are the top three qualities you think every successful tech pro has?
- Desire to learn
- Desire to help
- Desire to improve
What advice would you give those who are trying to get started in the tech field or who want to advance?
Learn as much as you can about as many different technologies as you can. Look for what everyone is talking about on Twitter and blogs so you know where to focus. Don't get locked into being "The xyz guy/gal." You need to know a lot about a lot to be effective in IT ops today.
If you could be good at anything non-tech related, what would you pick and why?
Playing guitar. I've played guitar most of my life and really enjoy it, but it's been hard to find the time to truly study the instrument and music.
While Jason's first guitar album might not be hitting iTunes any time soon, you can stay up-to-date with all the IT master has to offer!