Scott Hanselman

Advice to my 20 year old self

December 06, 2019 Comment on this post [29] Posted in Musings
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A lovely interactionI had a lovely interaction on Twitter recently where a young person reached out to me over Twitter DM.

She said:

If you could go back and give your 20-something-year-old self some advice, what would you say?

I’m about to graduate and I’m sort of terrified to enter the real world, so I’ve sort of been asking everyone.

What a great question! Off the top of my head - while sitting on the tarmac waiting for takeoff and frantically thumb-typing - I offered this brainstorm.

Avoid drama. In relationships and friends
Discard negative people
There’s 8 billion people out there
You don’t have to be friends with them all
Don’t let anyone hold you back or down
We waste hours and days and years with negative people
Collect awesome people like Pokémon
Network your butt off. Talk to everyone nice
Make sure they aren’t transactional networkers
Nice people don’t keep score
They generously share their network
And ask for nothing in return but your professionalism
Don’t use a credit card and get into debt if you can
Whatever you want to buy you likely don’t need it
Get a laptop and an iPad and buy experiences
Don’t buy things. Avoid wanting things
Molecules are expensive
Electrons are basically free
If you can avoid want now, you’ll be happier later
None of us are getting out of this alive
And we don’t get to take any of the stuff
So ask yourself what do I want
What is happiness for you
And optimize your existence around that thing
Enjoy the simple. street food. Good friends
If you don’t want things then you’ll enjoy people of all types
Use a password system like
and manage your digital shit tightly
Be focused
And it will be ok
Does this help?

What's YOUR advice to your 20 year old self?

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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December 07, 2019 18:01
I absolutely agree to all these points Scott. Very well written.

- Golden rule in life: Be kind and respectful to anyone, online and offline, always! The CEO is not a better human being than the guy cleaning the toilet. Respect anyone and build up a network, and sometimes you might even find out special things, for example that the woman who is cleaning the stairway has awesome C++ skills, but she likes cleaning stairways more than programming C++! :)
- The more successful you'll get, the more haters and naysayers you'll see. Your time is limited, don't waste it with the negative persons.
=> Surround yourself with friends and people that give you energy, and not with those negative people that absorb your energy.
- If something looks impossible for you right now, always remember that it is NOT impossible. Every developer cooks with water. Believe in yourself and never stop learning.
=> EVERY top expert started with zero knowledge!!!
- Try to understand other ways to do things. Quite often - if not always - there's not THE ONLY WAY. And learning other ways will increase your horizon.
- Ask anything. Never be afraid of asking questions
- Start a blog!
- "If you can avoid want now, you’ll be happier later" => What can help to avoid want now is to take the price of the product and donate that exact amount to anything you want to support to make this world better. This avoids the want and even increases your happiness more.
- NEVER, NEVER, NEVER ever put your career in front of family, friends, and yourself. Find a good balance.
- Take care of your health. Sleep enough, eat well, take breaks, do some sports. You have only one body, one soul, take care of it, nothing can be more important. If you're not doing well, take your time, no meeting in the world is more important that your health.
- THE LIST: Write down everything that is important in your life, everything that makes you happy. If you would have only 1 week left, what would you do? How would you spend your time? Order the list by importance and focus on the top three in your life!
- Try to put something positive into every day. Example: Sometimes you'll have a bad day at work. If you then work for 16 hours and sleep for 8 hours, there won't be anything positive in those 24 hours. But if you put in a lunch with a friend, a phone call with your mother, etc., also such a day can have a positive thing in it. "Live each day as if it were your last" means to me that you should try to put into every day something positive! It's the little things that matter in life.
- If you have a job where you earn enough money to live and to feed your family, don't take another job just for more money. Focus only on the content. Is it what you want to do and what makes you happy? Think about all the hours you spend at work. If you have the chance to spend these hours with something you love to do and get even paid for it, always prefer this over a job that pays 10 times more, but that doesn't make you happy.
- Finally, this one might be only valid for me: Don't stop skateboarding, because when you continue at the age of 38, you won't be 20 anymore. :-)

December 07, 2019 18:26
Planning your life is a good thing to a certain point. In the end, John Lennon was right: life IS what happens to you. Not only what you plan. Take it as it is: it will be different, but it is still a hell of a run!
You don't need to be strong all the time!
When you are down and blue (yes, you will be there too) try to remember you are strong and will eventually be bright again and again.
Enjoy the little things: sounds very cliché, but when everything things seems to go wrong, the little things will save you.
December 07, 2019 18:29
Great advice. It's easy to let your digital life get out of hand. The benefits of keeping it tight are tremendous and I echo the sentiment.
December 07, 2019 19:43
- It's okay to be wrong. It's okay to say, "I don't know." You will be wrong a lot and not know a lot. Eventually you will be wrong less and know a few more things. When that happens, don't forget that you'll still be wrong a lot and still won't know a lot of things.
- You're capable of more than you think you are.
- Helping other people learn and get better can be super fulfilling.
December 08, 2019 0:30
I would include President Obama's advice on cancel culture that he recently gave on college:
December 08, 2019 16:07
I read your whole post with the sunscreen song in the back of my head
December 08, 2019 20:05
Wear sunscreen
December 09, 2019 4:48
I wouldn't avoid the negative. Fear is a friend if it keeps you from the edge of a cliff.
P.S. I'm getting out of this alive.
December 09, 2019 14:45
@Byron Adams: It was meant to avoid negative people. If you want to do something, there will be people who say you can't, you're not smart enough, you're not strong enough, you're just not good enough. Avoid these people and find those who believe in you. I think neither Scott nor I have written that you should avoid things like fear, it's really more about negative people, naysayers, haters, people who don't believe in you.

Personally, I strongly believe that EVERY human being has at least one skill where that human being is better than all other 7.999999999 billion people out there. But sometimes negative people can block that maybe unknown skill and it will never touch the surface. Find out what you're really good at, what you enjoy, with what you want to spent your time with, and then find supporters and not enemies.

Now, as you write about fear: There are many things we associate quite often with negativity, like fear or nervousness. But in fact, these are really positive things and you should not try to avoid them or be afraid of them. With fear, some of your senses will work much better. If you're a bit nervous, it can also be positive. I've given more than 100 conference talks so far, and I'm still nervous when I do one. I really enjoy doing it, and I also enjoy that little nervousness, as I think it let's me perform better than without it. The nervousness really pushes me to do it as good as I can. It would be weird to me if that nervousness wouldn't be there anymore.
December 09, 2019 17:23
Life is there, in a Springsteen song. When in doubt, look for it.
December 09, 2019 19:22
Do no thing and nothing is left undone.

December 09, 2019 19:58
"Take out a massive loan, and buy shares in the following companies..."
December 09, 2019 20:51
"Jeff: You don't really wanna go into radio as a career."
December 09, 2019 22:14
Throw away your bank statements, tweets, and facebook posts. Keep your love letters. That's all. The rest will fall into place.
December 10, 2019 0:06
...manage your digital shit tightly...
Would be good if you could do some current articles on how you manage various aspects of this these days. I used to have it under control ten years ago but seems like the more options that became available, the less control I had of it. I'm familiar with your articles on backups and some of the things you do there but would be good to hear additional details.
December 10, 2019 3:56
Collect experiences, not things.
December 10, 2019 3:57
Nobody stands as tall as when they stoop to help a child.
December 10, 2019 13:47
do good
December 10, 2019 13:47
thanks thats nice
December 10, 2019 16:05
These are beneficial pieces of advice for all the young people who are at the start of their career. According to me, I'd like to say my 20-year-old self to follow ambitions and believe in my strengths. That times, I have an idea to start a business in a software development field, and now I manage a successful company with more than 150 dedicated employees. My absolute faith and insistence have helped me to share great knowledge with all these wonderful people. Of course, I met different people in my way, but with time it is becoming easier to reveal who is a friend and who is a stranger. I wish for every young and ambitious person to put the best foot forward your dreams and goals. And the one important thing - always be honest to yourself and the people around you. Our world is fantastic, and everyone can take from it all that they want!
December 11, 2019 15:17
Ohhhh road trips! Totally agree that food always tastes so much better when it’s packed for a road trip! Hope you’re having a nice time 🙂

December 12, 2019 1:02
No need to social network - too negative - too much wasted time.

Avoid distractions and things which continually interrupt you - Facebook, twitter, spotify, instagram, tiktok, email, overly text friendly friends, ...

Reduce you tech usage in daily life - most of it is not needed

Get down to less than 10 text messages sent or received per day

*importantly* When considering something - purchase, app, social network post, etc. - frame it in what your 1920s great grandparents would do - Would they buy it? Would they post newborn baby photos by the dozens in the international newspapers?

Ask "Would this scenario be the same if the gender was switched, the races were switched, the political affiliation was switched?" before coming to an opinion.

Ask "Would this be reported to the same level of national news if the demographics were changed?"

aka - avoid only news which you agree with

For developers, "Is this new technology better enough than what we have to justify using it?"
"Is this technology just a rediscovery of older technology?" (gRPC vs 1982's IDL RPC files).

December 12, 2019 16:45
-- Get used to the fact that your favorite programming language/tool/environment will invariably be discarded/ruined/obsoleted.
-- Learn to do things the hard/complicated way first, THEN find an easier way to do it, or create the easier way yourself. The more you understand what it's really doing, the easier it will be to find or make a reliable shortcut.
-- Nobody in any of your workplaces is a friend when it comes to business decisions. They may honestly feel bad when they fire you, but it's not going to stop them from doing it.
-- Document everything. You really won't remember it when you need to.
-- Create something, even if it's terrible. The next one will be better, and you cannot buy experience from Amazon.
-- Nobody likes to be made to feel ugly or stupid. While you may consider yourself safe from offending in one category, it's easy to offend in the other without even being aware that you're doing so.
-- Learn when to keep your mouth shut. Realize that even when you may be absolutely right, it's rare that saying so will help the situation.
-- Don't over-solve the problem.
December 13, 2019 11:06
Hey Scott,
Really enjoyed this post. Thank you for such a wonderful post. keep such great work.
December 13, 2019 13:29
So well written!
December 17, 2019 19:24
Thank you Scott. That was really enlightening.
December 19, 2019 4:04
I disagree strongly with "discard negative people". This is an extremely selfish thing to do. Many negative people, particularly those with mental illness, are very rewarding to know and be around. Sometimes they center you; ground you. And many negative people need friends. If we all "discarded negative people", I imagine suicide rates would increase. Obviously, it's a case by case basis. But many negative people are not dicks at all. Sorry, but bad advice, unless you want to be a solipsistic, overly ambitious individual who casts aside anyone who is not helpful to them. Not a good thing to say at all. Try to be a positive person, but accept others how they are.
December 20, 2019 3:27
1. Acts of kindness for the sole sake of kindness are far more impactful than you can ever know, in ways you'd never expect.

2. Guard your kindness and generosity. Keep it secret, keep it safe. Treat them like a deadly weapon. Only bring it out if you intend to use it, and only use it when it is absolutely necessary. Aim True, never from the hip.

3. There is no wrong doing you have done, or ever can do, that deserves you be punished for ever. Others may never forgive you as is their right, but there will always come that moment when it is time to forgive yourself and let it go.

4. Remind yourself every single day to be kinder to your self above all else.

5. There is no such thing as Karma. Nothing ever just happens even if it can appear that way. The only thing that will make a real change is action. It may help, it may make things worse but it will always make things change.
December 20, 2019 3:30
Good points...

Not all are mentally strong to handle negative people. for such mentally weak, who are positive we don't want them to jump into negative bandwagon. Such ones should better discard them till they become strong...

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.