When I talk to folks who are extraordinary engineers, but who are struggling to extend their impact, the #1 recommendation I give is to find your voice and communicate. And just keep communicating. There is no substitute for practice.
And, it turns out that the sort of folks who really excel at app compat can sometimes struggle with this, as there are far more introverts than extroverts in the troubleshooting and debugging realm.
There are a couple of notable exceptions, which I wanted to call attention to, because they’ve really found their voice and are broadcasting loud and clear.
I met Gov back in 2006, and he (along with Robert Paige) quickly demonstrated that not only was I not as smart as I thought, but indeed may be one of the dumber people around (certainly in that hallway in Building 27). Now, Gov has a background in teaching, so he is no stranger to talking. But when we first met I didn’t see him doing this as much. I’ve always thought he was phenomenally smart, patient, and interesting to listen to, so I started volunteering him every time there was a speaking opportunity. (I think this was the first time we were on video together.) It seems as if he likes it – because now he has his own freaking show:
The great thing about this show is that the real Gov really comes through. The room is dark, just like his office. If, instead of having a monitor behind them, he had 5 monitors in front of him (4 containing hex, and the 5th containing some science fiction show – is it Stargate? – I forget), then it’s not that dissimilar to having a real conversation with him. Except he has far, far more empty soda cans on his desk. In fact, it’s incredibly strange to watch him sitting at a clean desk…
I honestly can’t remember when I first met Andrew virtually – we coexisted on various technical email aliases for a long time and gradually built this mutual respect for one another. Earlier this year, he started writing fairly consistently for MSDN Magazine and sharing his passion for automating difficult processes, taking a little-known but powerful concept of extending tools such as the Debugging Tools for Windows in deliciously geeky but still approachable ways. If you are interested in really stretching your debugging skills, or just understanding the debugger platform better, then they are absolutely worth the read:
What’s interesting from a historical perspective is that we originally thought that dbghlp.dll was the critical component we were shipping, and that cdb / ntsd / windbg were supposed to just be demos of what people could do with the platform, and then there would be healthy capitalistic competition for who could build the best debugger on top of this. Well, it turns out that people would rather that the debugger be free for a given platform, and mostly people aren’t interested in buying debuggers (though there are some, which fill in some whitespace areas for the sdk / ddk provided tools). But extensibility was always at the core of the platform, and though debugging at this level is mostly a dark art practiced by very nerdy people, the strength of the provided tools and the platform I still believe is one of the massive competitive advantages that Windows holds over other platforms.
What is your strength / passion? Do you like to talk? Do you like to write organized articles? Do you like to write interactively on forums? No matter your medium, it all improves with practice. And there are folks who are shining pillars of how that practice can pay off in terms of massively magnifying their impact. If you see / hear / read something and think to yourself “I could totally do that, probably even better than that person” you are likely to actually be correct. Why not do that in 2012?