There are some phrases that come up so often that I tend to reject them as if they're "dirty" or have some negative connotation. "Networking" used to be one. Before I had ever attempted to go to a user group, I used to hear people laud them as opportunities to network, and it left me with this feeling that the main reason to go was to sell yourself. But once I started going to a few, I learned that the focus is just going, talking to others, sharing a few stories, learning something new and coding together. Networking is a side-effect, a byproduct of everything else, and it just happens when you're (deliberately, purposely) engaged at a user group.
Another one is "finding your niche". It seems so limiting. What if I pick the wrong niche? What if I choose a language or framework and find that I'm unmarketable? That's what I worried about. I don't think it was an unreasonable concern, but I wasn't thinking about it in the right way. Erik Dietrich wrote a great article last year titled, What It Really Means to Niche Down. My favorite quote - the real "ah hah" moment for me - was this:
"Do you know who Troy Hunt is? He’s the guy that can fix your group’s security woes. Do you know who Bob Martin is? He's the guy that will help your team clean up its messy code. Do you know how many years of Node.js either one of them has? Me neither."
Erik linked to that post in another post he wrote more recently, and it really got me thinking again. Time has convinced me that "niche" isn't about limiting yourself. It's about realizing what you're truly interested in, what gets you excited in the morning and keeps you up later than you should be - and sharing that with the world, making them realize what you have to offer.
Like networking, finding your niche is just a side-effect of realizing what you want to focus on and what drives you. I'm sure Troy Hunt enjoys learning about security - in writing and speaking about it, it's become his niche. Not just Wireshark or n-factor authentication, but security in general. That's not limiting at all. Similarly, I'm interested in the Pi. If I had a question, I might consider someone going by RaspberryPi Guy who's published dozens of videos on all aspects of the Pi. That's his niche.
You could even say other aspects of your life are your niche. Have a family and kids? If it excites you, share your journey with the world - parenting is your niche. Help out with a user group or training new programmers? Share it - mentoring could be your niche. Same with robotics or car repair or homeschooling or.. one of a thousand other things.
So I guess the real challenge is to do some introspection, and decide what it is each of us really loves to do. What can we imagine doing even when we don't have to? What excites us, so much that we wish everyone could share in the same excitement? What drives us forward?
Half-way through my 30-day challenge of blogging daily, and it's the first time I've written in 5 days. Things are going well. Seriously though, every time I think about giving up (and there have been a few) I run across a helpful piece, like this podcast with Seth Godin, or this post by Ben Baran called Four Reasons Why Leaders Should Write More, and I get back to it. My goal is to become more comfortable with blogging in a more frequent and informal manner. My other goal is to not take 60 days to do 30 days of blogging... *sigh*