Episode 6 - Matt Trask

Ben is joined by Matt Trask to discuss his path in to tech, why community matters more than code, personal finance, cycling, and Star Wars.

Ben is joined by Matt Trask to discuss his path in to tech, why community matters more than code, personal finance, cycling, and Star Wars.

Matt is a Senior Software Architect, Podcaster, API aficionado, and Cycling addict.

Links - 

Transcript -
Ben:
Hey, welcome to this episode of the More Than Code podcast. I'm really excited to have my good friend and co-host of the PHP Town Hall podcast with me today, Matthew Trask. How's it going, Matt?

Matt:
Hey, I'm good. How are you doing?

Ben:
Good, man. You are getting ready for Christmas. Is there Christmas music blaring?

Matt:
I mean, I guess because it's 2020, I'm having the hardest time getting into the whole Christmas spirit. I remember last year we went to... There's a band, JD McPherson. They did a whole Christmas bluesy rock concert. It was just perfect. I mean, there's nothing this year. I'm struggling to be in Christmas mood.

Ben:
Wow, that's pretty sad, because usually, Labor Day rolls around and you start the Christmas music.

Matt:
I started July this year, because it's 2020. The rules don't matter. But even going out to Target just is hard. Yeah, it's 2020. I'm sure once Christmas gets here, it will be cool. But even Christmas music can't bring me to the mood.

Ben:
Man, all right. So, tell us a bit about yourself for those who don't know you. Where did you grow up?

Matt:
Yeah. So, I grew up in Atlanta and I call Atlanta home, but I was actually born in Germany in a little town called Fulda. Back when I was born, there's East and West Germany. So, Fulda was in the west side. It's an American military base. Some dude... Back when I was working in a restaurant, I had that city on my name tag or whatever. He told me about there's a mountain range that runs North to South in Germany. The South of Fulda is called the Fulda Gap. Had anything happened, that was like the place tanks from either side would have rushed through. So, we're on a pretty, busy popular army base for the first couple years of my life. And then I jumped around at Kentucky, Atlanta. Now, I'm in Nashville, but I call Atlanta home for all intents and purposes.

Ben:
Nice. What brought you to Nashville?

Matt:
Well, I mean, a company by Jacques Woodcock, who's old, old, old friend of PHP Town Hall and old PHP community member. I was working at a startup with him living in Atlanta, working remotely back about four or five years ago. And then when that startup failed, he did his best to find all five of us jobs. It just so happened that the place that wanted to hire me was in Nashville. They needed me to move to Nashville. I really didn't have anything going on. I don't have a family or anything like that. So, I packed up, moved up here. It's been that way now for five-ish years.

Ben:
Do you plan to stay in Nashville?

Matt:
That's a conversation my girlfriend, Kieran and I have almost maybe once a month or so. We don't really know. My family's in Atlanta and South Carolina, my immediate family. Whereas her family is mostly on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. So, nothing's really tying us in Nashville. Her job is here, but she's also been doing it remotely for the last 8, 9, 10 months, how long it's been and has run into no problems whatsoever. So, we've thrown out moving to Minneapolis and Twin Cities. That puts us within a twoish-hour car ride to her family. Moving back to Atlanta, which puts us closer to my family.

Ben:
It's still a two-hour car ride.

Matt:
Do what?

Ben:
Still a two-hour car ride.

Matt:
I mean, yeah, it is. That's perfect. I'm just close enough that I can see my family if I wanted to, but it is such a pain to drive in Atlanta that, yeah, it's a perfect barrier to that. So, I mean, we thought about Atlanta, because what she does from work, there's a lot of opportunities out there too. So, we don't know. We're here until at least August of 2021. So, we'll have to make a decision at some point.

Ben:
So, I'm interrupting you from hitting your mileage goal. Tell us what the goal is and how your progress.

Matt:
I mean, not really interrupting me. I didn't start and then stop or anything, but my mileage goal this year was 2,500 miles cycling. I decided that if I reach that goal, the possibility of getting a new bike can be realized. I don't need any bike, but my bike got 6,000 miles on it. It's a good bike, but it'd be nice to have a bike just to hop on and ride around and then want to do deal the whole shoes, gadgets, that kind of thing. I'm sitting at 2,314 miles. We figured out that if I do 14 miles a day through the end of the year, I'll hit the goal. So, it's the Friday before Christmas, not a lot going on, quiet. So, I figured I would hop on and do it now, instead later tonight.

Ben:
Good plan. Are you more of the road biker? Do you ride at home, any of that?

Matt:
So, I mean, at home, I have that smart trainer. I can do a program called Swift, which is it's like a virtual reality world that with the trainer on Bluetooth, it acts like I'm riding on the road. But during the summer and when it's not 38 degrees outside, I'm usually out on the road somewhere. Mountain bike scares me. I know, Eric Barnes and some other people do mountain biking and it's super cool, but I'm afraid that one jump and I would break my neck or something. I don't really like to take a risk just getting hit by a car versus making a bad jump. Actually, getting hit by a car is way more likely to happen, but I also figured if I get hit by a car, an ambulance can get to me really fast. I don't know that works out logically. But in my head, it makes perfect sense.

Ben:
I was like the car might hurt a little more too.

Matt:
Yeah, probably. Yeah. There's a thing in Nevada, some dude was driving a truck. He was high on meth. He ran into a group of cyclists and killed eight of them and injured another five. I was just like, "Well, that could totally happen." Yeah. I mean, Nashville is cool in that we have a ton of greenways that are very loosely connected. So, I have a little bit of road to ride on and then I can hop on a greenway. And then barring someone is just being really dumb and getting their car onto the greenway, which does happen like maintenance and things like that. But barring someone, just being dumb and driving their car on the greenway, I can be remotely safe.

Ben:
Good plan. Alright, so tell us a bit. What got you into tech?

Matt:
Man, I got into tech because I needed health insurance. I'm just going to be super honest. I have a condition called congenital adrenal hyperplasia. I've had it since I was born. In order to stay alive, I have to take steroids daily. So, before I was doing tech, I was trying to make it as a musician. I went to music school. I was teaching guitar lessons at a few different places in Atlanta. I was bartending on the side just to make more consistent money, because teaching guitar lessons during the school year is super cool, because people are reliable and they'll show up with their kids and all that. But then once summer comes, kids go on vacation. They do camps. They become less reliable. So, the money, the income stream dries up that way. So, I bartend.

Matt:
And then it just got to the point where my doctor was... He wasn't yelling at me. He wasn't mad at me. But he was just like, "Look, I mean, you need health insurance for a lot of reasons, but also, I can't order the full panel of what tests we need done, because you can't afford to pay for all of them." I was like, "Okay, yeah, seems like a legitimate thing." I was sitting in between guitar lessons one day, just surfing the internet. I stumbled on a Reddit thread. It was like, "What jobs can you do from home that you don't need a college degree for?" Someone posted. They said, "My partner and I both work from home. We're both programmers and both make..." I think it's like more than $90,000 six years ago or something like that. I was just like, "Oh, okay, that's cool."

Matt:
I Googled around a little bit, found Code Academy, and just started learning the basics of HTML and CSS. A friend who does networking for a hospital down in Atlanta told me about a thing called Team Treehouse, where there's all video content, stuff like that. So, it just is a rabbit hole. I just fell face first into figuring it out. I mean, that's, from there, just HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and then it dumps PHP on my lap. I was like, "Well, okay, I mean, I don't know what PHP is. Seems cool. I can build a car with it. That's fun." And then, I mean, from there, it just kept opening door after door after doors. I found my first job on Craigslist, which is not the way to do it.

Ben:
Tell us about that? That seems like a nice way to get murdered or something.

Matt:
I thought I was going to get murdered. I mean, it was before the time where everyone built the job boards to prove their tech jobs or test out in different framework or something like that. Also, because when I was doing this, I was not at all plugged into the tech community. So, I had no idea, "What is a good tech job? What is not a good tech job? Where can I find good tech jobs? How do I vet tech jobs?", things like that. So, I just found this job. It was like 45 minutes or an hour commute from where I lived in Atlanta. They paid me $27,000 or something like that. Basically, I was just like a data entry person. It was a .NET job. All the websites are powered by some CMS .NET nuke, which wasn't really all that good. It was really weird to work with.

Matt:
And then, yeah, after eight or nine months or so, I found like a tech internship program closer to where I lived in Atlanta. They weren't going to pay me, but it was free to go to and they were doing the LAMP Stack. I was like, "Okay, this seems like a positive step forward," because at least what I thought it was, at least, it seemed like a more educational program. Yeah, I mean, I went back to the bar that I was working at. I worked at nights, doing this internship in the mornings to make money and things like that. Through that program, I met like AtlantaPHP. From that program, it was when I got into my first, I guess, real tech job working at a company in Atlanta. And then from there, I met Jaques and the rest is history, I guess.

Ben:
That's cool. I actually got my first full time programming job on Craigslist too.

Matt:
You didn't get murdered. You didn't get murdered.

Ben:
Yeah, I started out as an IT generalist. I lived in Alabama. There's not a ton of tech jobs there. So, I fixed computers and servers and printers. I also program the internet or something like that, right? It was general. I had a couple jobs and then I got a job off Craigslist, just small time programming all day, every day. Yeah, changed the course there. Because before that, I wasn't sure, "Do I want to do programming? Do I want to do networking?" I wasn't sure what I wanted to do.

Matt:
I mean, Craigslist gets a bad rap, but without that first tech job, I don't know where I'd be today. I don't know how plugged in I'd be to the communities I'm into. I don't know if I would have ever met you or Phil or anyone else. So, all it is I'm pretty, thankful I got that first job. It definitely got my foot in the door. I'll go to the Nashville Software School and speak every so often. I always tell them, "Your first job is probably going to suck."

Matt:
It's probably not going to be like the glamorous Facebook-esque, where you have a chef that cook you breakfast, lunch and dinner and nap pods and the latest and greatest of Mac books and things like that. But I mean, it's all about getting your foot into the door and plugging into the communities, get that first paycheck and experience. After that, it's almost downhill, depending on who you are and what you've done.

Ben:
Yeah. So, you've had a good career now. Thinking back on it, what's the project you're most proud of?

Matt:
The project I'm most proud of is all the community work I've done, because codes are going to get rewritten at some point in all these projects I've worked on. At the job I came to Nashville for, my sole project was building an applicant tracking system, which is super cool. I learned so much both about the framework we used, which is Laravel, but then also, we use Vue.js and I learned tons about that. So, it was really cool to struggle my way through that project. But I'm sure at this point, my commits have been rewritten and overdone by people who are there now. But in 10, 15 years, I think the efforts I put into the community, all that stuff is still going to be around and people are still going to remember my name.

Ben:
Great answer. All right, most important question, Star Wars or Star Trek?

Matt:
Okay, Star Wars, done. No question. I mean, Star Trek is cool. I know there's some hate for the newer movies, but I think they're fun to watch. But I've always been Star Wars junkie, just like injected straight into my veins. I watched the latest Mandalorian episode this morning before. So, we have an 8:00 meeting every Friday partly because one of the other teams on the meeting is from Belarus. So, it's the end of their day, our day, wraps up the week. So, I wake up at 6:30 to do everything I need to do in the morning. I have an hour to watch the latest episode before I go into that meeting.

Matt:
Twitter spoiled the episode for me this morning. So, everyone is just like, "How great the episode was." I was like, "I don't care." Yeah. Twitter is just going to be Twitter.

Ben:
We're all adapting to 2020, right? I know you work remotely, but a lot of people are just pretty new to this. So, tell us a bit about your experience working remotely? What's your setup at home? Do you have screens, keyboards, things like that? Get a little nerdy with it.

Matt:
Yeah, I mean, so I was working remotely from August of last year until now, but it's funny because when I tell people that, I went to the dentist the other day. She's like, "How are you coping?" I'm like, "Well, I was working remote before all this happen." So, working from home was hard. My ways of getting away from work were going out with friends and going out to dinner, not to sound like an alcoholic, going to a happy hour with friends and just hanging out for a little bit or even just wandering around. Target is socially stimulating for me. Even that, not really having that's been really hard.

Matt:
My setup, so I have a Jarvis standing desk that the company I worked at before my current company, they laid us all off and then they sold the assets in the office. We all had these awesome standing desks. So, my old co-worker, Cody threw one in his truck and then drove it over. So, that's really nice to have, because I'm able to stand up at certain times. It's pretty awesome. Let's see, I'm on a MacBook Pro. This is the 2019 edition. I still have like the butterfly keys that everyone hates that I don't really get the hate for, but they're fine. And then it's not the M1. Although I am looking to get one of those. Keyboard-wise-

Ben:
Have they solved the Docker issues on the M1 yet?

Matt:
I thought they have. Wait, I don't know.

Ben:
That's probably the main hold out for me.

Matt:
Well, this year, I got the newest Apple Watch and the newest iPad Air or whatever. So, I traded in my old ones. I have $300 in Apple credit. So, it's like, "I might just buy one of those Mac Mini M1s just to see how it is." Neither the Apple stores in my area have them apparently, so I can't just roll up and get one. The quickest they can get into me is January 6th, which is pointless, because if I really wanted to, I could just drive to Atlanta, pick it up in Atlanta, and drive home in one day and have my M1 Mac Mini.

Ben:
I get that, right? I really want this thing. I can't get it for a week. Never mind, it's dead to me.

Matt:
Yeah, pretty much. I could totally buy it, have my dad go pick it up, ship it to me. I would still get it quicker than Apple was going to get it to me. So, I keep refreshing the site thinking that their supply chain issues are going to be fixed. It's going to be, "Oh, we'll get it to you tomorrow." Instead, it just keeps adding days. It's the wrong direction. You want it to get closer. But let's see, keyboard-wise, I have one of those Keychron K2 mechanical keyboards. I think I have red switches. I'm not nerdy enough to know the difference between the color switches. I just know that I have reds. They're loud.

Matt:
My boss hates it, because I'll screenshare and I'll be typing. He's like, "I can hear your keyboard." It brings me great joy that it annoys him, which is terrible because I like having my job. So, don't fire me, please. And then let's see, I have an LG monitor. I just walked into Best Buy. I bought one. It's nothing amazing. Then the last big thing that I use is these headphones, which is the Sony WH-CH700Ns. They're semi-noise cancelling. They're not the greatest, but they get the job done. That's all I can really ask for. That's really the work stuff.

Ben:
So, you're probably one of the biggest advocates for personal finance in tech or at least in our little circle of tech that I'm aware of. What got you into financial independence and finance in general?

Matt:
Oh, man, that's a good question. Well, my parents aren't going to listen to this. I got into it because my parents did a terrible job of arming me with knowledge of basic financial principles. I remember they had me open an IRA. They're just like, "You need an IRA." To my credit or my benchman, you can look at it either way, I didn't know what an IRA was. So, I didn't know to stop and say, "What is an IRA?" I just assumed it's something everyone has and I got to have one. So, let's just do it. I had no idea, "What was the advantages of having an IRA? How does it work? Are there limits?" I had no idea what's an IRA. And then funny enough, because teaching guitar lessons was me being a 1099 employee. I ended up having to cash out my IRA back then, because I had to pay taxes. I wasn't making enough. It was bad.

Matt:
So, then once I saw my salary just exponentially increasing from where it was a year prior and all this stuff, it was like, "How do people manage their money?" I have no idea. I found an article from Mr. Money Mustache. I think it was the shockingly simple math to retiring early. Nothing about it was amazing to me in terms of I switched my entire lifestyle that very minute. It definitely pushed me down the hill of, "What is my money actually doing? Where's it going? Where should it be going?" Obviously, back then it was going to credit card payments, because I was dumb. It was not sitting in high interest savings accounts, which is where it should have been.

Matt:
So, from there as, everything else I do is somewhat on the financial independence subreddit and just gleaning information from there. Just from there, it's just become a snowball. It's one of those things where I look back at my high school, my four years in American high school, I learned German, I learned Spanish. I learned how to do video production. I learned statistics and algebra. Outside of talking to Sebastian Bergman and a few of the other Germans that I know and being able to swear in Spanish, I have yet to use any of that information. What I really wish I had was a course in financial education.

Matt:
I mean, obviously, you have your checking account, your savings account, but then what is a money market account? It's something no one ever really told me about. What is an IRA? What is a 401k? How can you use those in tandem to take advantage of tech sheltering and things like that? What are stocks? What are equities? I mean, not option clips, calls and things like that, that's a little advanced for high school, but at least knowing you're about to get a job at some point. You're probably going to get a 401k. What are the advantages of that? So, not knowing any of that, it just became a mission of mine to just learn as much as possible and make up for it.

Matt:
Like what I did with programming, I just found the entry point, which was another podcast called Listen Money Matters. I mean, they cover everything from basic investing, real estate. And then they do interviews with people Mr. Money Mustache. They did an interview with the founder of Betterment, things like that just break up the content. I just, same thing with programming, just anything I could get my hands on to learn, to read, I did.

Matt:
Now, it's been so beneficial to me that I can't hoard this information to myself, other people need to know this. So, I'm not the best person to talk about it, but at least, I want that conversation to be started and let other people hopefully do what I did, which is learn enough to get curious and then fall down that rabbit hole and hopefully become at least somewhat financially literate.

Ben:
I think that's a great goal, getting people more interested in personal finance. We were talking about a tweet earlier this week, where someone said, "We should really have something like an intro course to personal finance when people come into tech." I really wish I would have had that, right? I don't think I had a bad financial education growing up, but I didn't have a good one either, right? I especially didn't know the details. I know you should save. I know you should invest. No idea what the details of that actually meant. For a long time, I just blew what I made, right? I was making six figures and still living paycheck to paycheck, which is sad.

Matt:
It's amazing how many people... It's not just limited in tech, obviously, but I think tech has really shone a light on this problem, because so many people, I mean, go from my situation where you're bartending, making just enough to get by and take maybe a vacation a year or something like that to making high five, low to mid-six figures. You have no idea what to do with that.

Matt:
Yeah, I mean, the other problem that comes with that is people will leave other money in their checking account too or their savings account where you're getting 0.01% interest or something like that, instead of moving it to an IRA or even just a high yield savings account. The amount of people who don't even know that stuff is amazing, but so many people come into tech with little financial information, get that six-figure salary, but then wonder, "Why are you living paycheck to paycheck?", hoping that they're going to get that million dollar buyout, instead of setting themselves up for success.

Ben:
Those are real problems, I think, when I first got into tech too, right? There's so many stories of four years I was getting into tech, my startup got bought, and I'm a millionaire, right? So, I just assumed that was going to be the path for everyone in tech. And then I felt like, "Maybe that's not the best way to plan for your future." Most of us were making enough money that we could set ourselves up for success either way, right? You win the startup lottery, sure, but if you don't, you can still be successful.

Matt:
Yeah, I mean, with the right moves, managing your money, you don't need to have the startup Cinderella story where you've worked for four years and walked out a $2.5, $3 million success story. I mean, I hate to sound like patronizing in a way, but you seem to know the basics of buy index funds and just keep shoving money in there. Don't touch them and take advantage of the 401k and the IRAs that are offered. As long as you can live below your means and not have to buy a new Tesla every single year to keep up with change and all that stuff, you'll be okay. It'll work out for you.

Ben:
Much less stress that way as well.

Matt:
It really is. I'm some adjacent to some of the indie hacker circles, where I'm watching some people scale a one-person micro-SaaS and then they sell it for a couple thousands somewhere in the five years. I'm like, "That'd be really cool to do, because that would obviously, accelerate my financial plans. But then I'm also weighing the downsides, which is well, I have a full time job on top of trying to build a product and eventually do customer support and things like that. Is that payoff worth it versus just staying the course I'm on, investing and just living below my means?"

Matt:
It's a trade-off that there's no right answer for anybody, but I think tech has also glamorized the whole startup Cinderella story, or the one-person SaaS success story, the point where too many people are willing to go down that path without thinking, "What are the downsides to that?" I think that's something that needs to be talked about a lot more on whatever media sources that are out there.

Ben:
Yeah, one thing I wouldn't say I regret, but it's something I would probably do differently is just all the time and energy I put into side projects or side gigs or whatever over the years, because for years, I probably didn't work less than a 60-hour week, maybe 80-hour a week to count and everything right, podcasts, all that. In hindsight, some of those don't pay off. It's nice to have a little more financial security now, but was trading my 20s worth it for 5% more money? Probably not.

Matt:
I mean, that's the question that I think a lot of people need to ask themselves. I mean, that also segues into also the whole mental health aspect of what the tech industry is turned into. Yeah, I mean, I wonder how many people are going to get to their 40s and their 50s and they're going to be burned out and tired but not anywhere near where they need to be retirement wise, because they were chasing pathway A instead of doing pathway B, which is just invest and live below your means path.

Ben:
Yeah. I'm not quite advocating for people not to work hard, right? I just think you should probably be realistic with where your effort has the most ROI, right? So, you can probably increase your income more by just focusing on your career and your next job bond and things like that than you'll make on a side project. I think it's about being smart with that. I'm not an advocate for working a ton of overtime, but I'm realistic in that all the time I put into this career is part of why it's worked out so well, right? So, I think you just have to really be honest with yourself on where your time is best used and what you enjoy.

Matt:
Oh, definitely not. I don't want to not advocate for the indie hacker, one-person SaaS thing. I mean, a lot of really cool products that have changed lives had come out of that camp. But like you said, I think a lot of people would do really well, if when they come to that fork in the road, really sit down and crunch the numbers and say, "It'll be less stressful for me to just figure out how to increase my income through working really well at your current job, job hopping a little bit, not buying a new car every single year, that kind of stuff," versus the 60 to 80 hours a week on top of your day job, on top of trying to raise a family, on top of all the other stresses that life wants to throw your way.

Ben:
Totally agree. So, what will be your next job after tech?

Matt:
Kieran has... I mean, both of us love coffee, how it would be fun to open up a bike coffee shop somewhere. It's like a meme at this point where you go on a big group ride, the route you pick has a coffee shop somewhere. So, you can stop, rest for a little minute, socializing. I mean, if you're climbing up 1,000 foot hill, it's hard to talk while you're also trying to labor your way up like a 5% grade. So, it'd be really fun to have a bike shop, coffee shop melt, where cyclists can come in, stop for coffee. If they need to buy tubes or parts and things like that, they can do it all in one fell swoop. That'd be really fun. But I mean if money didn't matter to me, finding out a way to be a photographer in a national park system would be my absolute dream job, I think.

Ben:
That's a cool job. Do they actually employ people full time for that or is it more like a market freelance thing?

Matt:
Yeah, I have no idea. I think it's probably more on the freelance side, but even still, figuring out a way to get paid to get the national parks and take pictures would be my ultimate dream job, I think. You get to see some of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth. You get to be away from a computer, which is a dream of mine at this point in my life. It still has a creative aspect to it, because the whole composition of photography. The most famous picture out there of national parks is Ansel Adams' tunnel view of Yosemite and the way it's shooting right down to Yosemite Valley. You can see El Capitan, the Three Brothers, Half Dome. The way that that photo is composed is just pure brilliance in my opinion.

Matt:
I'll never ever, ever composed topping that, but just the thought of trying to and being creative with the angles. I mean, you go on Instagram, you go on Twitter, you go on wherever. There's so many photos of these things floating around like in the Grand Tetons of Acadia and all that stuff. Yeah, it makes you get creative with how you look at different things too. So, I think that's ultimately the job I would leave tech for.

Ben:
Love it. All right, what is your favorite drink or cocktail?

Matt:
For non-alcoholic purposes, black coffee is my go-to. And then I guess, water. I have four or five of these liter Nalgene bottles that I keep around and I just rotate through them. It's so good. That was one of the biggest hacks I figured out for conferencing was I remember the first few conferences I went to, I get so freaking tired. Especially when I was young in my career, trying meet people like you and Cal Evans and everyone else and trying to inject myself into the conversations. I go to my hotel room at night and just be like, "Oh man, I am dehydrated and tired. I have no idea how I'm going to do this for two more days."

Matt:
Once I figured out to bring a water bottle in conference, it is game changer. So, I'm a huge advocate for that stuff. Drink wise, I had a trip, not a physical trip, just like a little bug, where I was obsessed with Negroni's for a little while over the summer. I don't know why. It's Gin and Vermouth and Campari. It's not bad. But for some reason, I was like, "I really want this drink." I made it happen, but usually, whiskey or bourbon, I'm not overly picky on that stuff. But either over ice, on the rocks, or I have something like make a Manhattan if I want to be fancy. I'm not really fancy.

Ben:
So, what led to you organizing a conference? How was that experience? Would you recommend it to others?

Matt:
Oh, God. I think I want to an excuse to bring 32 of my favorite people in Nashville. I was like, "What's the best way to do this? It's a conference." I think also, part of it was a starry eyed ambition to be able to say, I organized the conference. Part of it was a way to give back, because without conferences, my career would be nowhere near what it is today. So, I was like, if I've been so lucky with conferences, maybe if I organize one, it'll open a door for someone else to not follow my path, but hopefully get luckier than I am. So, I figured, "Why not? It'll be a great idea." It was way more work than I anticipated. I got scammed out of a Bitcoin. We both lost a couple $1,000. All said and done, the rat race for trying to find sponsors was absolutely brutal.

Matt:
I definitely won't do it again, but I look back on that memory and it's one of my proudest achievements to say, I helped organize a PHP conference that, for all intents and purposes, was successful. I measure success like we had great feedback from the speakers from what I saw. Every talk was well attended, which I thought was a great thing, because every time you organize a conference, at least in my opinion, there's always one block of conference talks, where I'm like, "No, these don't appeal to me. So, I'm going to take a nap or sit in the hallway or do something else."

Matt:
But every time I looked in the room, every talk was really well attended. We had no code of conduct violations, which was my biggest fear of the entire thing. But I know, a lot of people got to make new friends, great new connections, business or personal. While I'll never ever, ever, ever do it again, I absolutely am proud to say that I did do it at least once.

Ben:
It was a very great conference. So, I'm glad you did it.

Matt:
I'll Venmo you for that compliment later.

Ben:
What is your approach to work-life balance?

Matt:
I don't know, because my work-life balance is terrible right now, which is funny, because I work for a company that is very big on work-life balance. In fact, Jerred, the CTO of the company, who I work for, him and I are very close. We trade thousands of Slack messages a week. Half of it is work related. Half of it is just want the blog to be fine. The other half is we're both cyclists. We both watch the Pro Cycling stuff. So, half of it is just trading cycling and running tips and things like that. He joked today when our meeting had absolutely nothing about us, nothing related to our part of the project. He's like, "Now, it'd be a great time for you to hop on the Swift and knock out your 14 miles." I was like, "No, no, I should totally stay for this meeting." Yeah, it's really hard for me to make that switch.

Matt:
I give Kieran a lot of hard times about it, because she'll stay up late working and stuff like that. Oh, you should put your phone down. Don't do it. Don't do it. I'm on Slack, checking in on things overnight, because we have employees in Japan and Pakistan and Lebanon. I want to make sure I can remove blockers for them, but they'll tell me to go ride my bike or something like that. I'll use Slack statuses and tell people what I'm actually doing. So, my current Slack status says, "I'm doing a podcast with my friend Ben and then I'm getting on my bike, but I'm around if you need me anything."

Matt:
Otherwise, I mean, because we're so at home these days, I'm within an arm's reach of my computer that I will definitely work past the 5:00 mark of the day, but at the same time with everything going on, there will be an hour or two during the day where I don't actually do any work. I might watch something on Netflix or watch YouTube or something like that. So, I really try and balance it out that way. When the weather's nice, I will absolutely take my bike out. I'll have my phone with me. I have my watch, so I can get Slack messages. But I definitely make it clear like I am on a bike.

Matt:
Unless I can fix it from my phone, you just need to be patient. So, I'm not really great in that regard, because last week, I did stop on this. I was on the side of a road on my phone in a server trying to finagle something. So, I'm not great in that regard, but I know my limits and I know how far I can be pushed until I break. My job is really good about it, because they also know I'm a huge mental health advocate.

Matt:
So, when I made a request for having a week after Christmas in between New Year's off and I was like, "I need to fix my burnout," they're just like, "Done, yes. No questions asked, take time off." They're going to kick me out of Slack that week. So, I can't even walk into Slack to post into our memes channel or anything like that. So, I'm terrible at it, but my company is good enough that they pulled me along, if that makes sense.

Ben:
Yeah, you're fine. I've always thought of this as work-life integration, right? I don't have great boundaries and then for the same reasons you described, right? I'll jump on Slack or whatever and all the night. Yeah, I think as long as you have that balance that could go ride your bike for an hour and the day, if it was a nice day and no one cares, right? They're just trusting you that you'll make sure everything's okay. That's always been fine for me. Although, I will say at this job, it was very much like an office environment. So, even that we went work from home, it's pretty much dead after 5:00 until the Berlin folks come in. It's been incredibly relaxing, mostly because there's nothing for me to reply to. So, I don't feel the need.

Matt:
I mean, I think your phrase of work-life integration, I think, is a way better way of looking at it than work-life balance, because... This is like the far left progressive me coming out, until we get universal basic income and start eating the rich and all this stuff, we're going to have five days, 40 hours of work that we have to accomplish in order to get our paychecks. There is no real way to balance that. Instead, you can find healthy integrations and finding a company that respects your time after work. Jerred will send me a Slack message at 6:00 at night. If it's anything work-related, he prefaces it with this is not important.

Matt:
So, when I see the push notification on my phone or watch, I just see from Jerred, this is not important. And then I know, "Okay, I have a message waiting for me. That's cool. He has told me it's not important. So, I could look at it if I wanted to, but he's not expecting me to look at it." So, because of that, I can keep doing whatever it is I was doing. I might be cooking dinner. I might be cleaning. I might be reading a book something else.

Matt:
So, I think it'd be really cool if we could start changing a conversation from work-life balance to how do we integrate work into our lives, especially because even though Facebook and Twitter may or may not be going back to their offices, I think for a lot of us, this is a new normal, working from home. It's going to take a lot of adjustment for a lot of people to figure out how to have healthy boundaries around work and personal life now that work is in their kitchen or in their bedroom or in their another part of the house.

Ben:
Yeah, that's a great point. I think especially working from home, there's real cycles to work in life, right? There might be a couple months where you have a big project and you do need to work extra and that's fine, right? You're excited about it. You're making progress that is not draining to work extra in those times. There's times where your life needs extra time and work has to give a little. As long as you really respect those cycles, I think you can avoid burnout. But when you try to do both at once, it can be pretty hard.

Matt:
Yeah. So, I mean for instance, I think it was Wednesday night. So, on one of our main projects, our database servers is your standard EC2 Instance with MySQL running. That database has gotten huge and unwieldy and it is incredibly slow, especially when it comes time for the company to run billing reports. The application does resident management for apartments. So, they have to run billing to get rent and all that stuff up and ready to go for the first month. So, they're noticing these massive timeouts.

Matt:
So, Wednesday night, we made the switch from the EC2 Instance to RDS with both read and write connections, really nice stuff. I mean, shout out to Laravel for making it so easy to do read and writes and stuff like that. But I mean, we're on from 6:30 until about 9:30 or so at night working to make sure that not only did the data migration goes smoothly, but also, all the reports look good. Making sure there's nothing missing from the UI that was mission critical. And then also benchmarking, so we could get SQL brownie points from the main company. So, I stayed up late to work on that.

Matt:
So, now I know, if I take three or four extra hours today to ride my bike, go podcast, not work, they know I put in those hours. They're fine with that trade-off. They respect my time, because I gave them a little extra earlier in the week. I think that's probably the hardest part with older companies moving towards this whole new model as well is trying to balance respect for the work and respect for the employee all in one go.

Ben:
Yeah, great point. All right. So, related to this, I guess, what are you struggling with right now?

Matt:
I mean, work-wise, so here's a new project we run. It's like all micro services. It's all Kubernetes. Wrapping my head around that is daunting to say the least, because I'm not really an ops person. I understand Docker and I've used Docker, but I mean, this is like the Major Leagues of ops and I'm playing like Double-A ball, if that makes sense. I am years behind the curve and all this. I'm trying to understand not only that, but this setup has just been absolutely brutal, because we have different environments for different... I'm managing two different services, one by myself and one with Jerred.

Matt:
I'm trying to remember which context I have to use to go into which environment and which namespace each one belongs to. It just has been absolutely brutal. It has showed me how bad my note taking is, because this could have all been solved weeks ago if I just took notes and prepare notes or something like that. I didn't, and now I'm paying the price. So, it has definitely shown me that my note taking ability is terrible. It needs to be a lot better. That's the biggest work problem. On a personal level, I've struggled with anxiety and depression pretty much all year to the point where I got a therapist. It was a game changer to just my entire outlook on life.

Matt:
Just having someone to talk to is well worth... Actually, the amount I pay him to listen to me complain for an hour about things is so much higher worth than how much I actually pay him for a session. I mean, we run past all kinds of childhood trauma, teenage trauma, all this stuff. I mean, I'm still hanging out with it, because part of the problem is Nashville loses sunlight at 4:30 in the afternoon. So, I cannot describe just how brutal that is. I know it's coming every single year.

Matt:
So, I figured it out. It's still jarring that I'll be working, I'll be working, and I won't really notice it. And then 4:30, I'm like, "Oh, it's 4:30. I'm done for the day." I look outside and it's pitch black. I'm like, "What just happened?" So, dealing with all of that adds to the depression and anxiety and things like that. I mean, I can't advocate it enough, find someone to talk to, because it makes sense. It's so much better.

Ben:
The time change really hit me harder this year than it ever has as well, I think, probably because I just feel so stuck, right? I couldn't go to the coffee shop and work. So, that's going on. So, getting outside has been very important to me. And then you get outside and it's dark and cold and just feels miserable.

Matt:
The time change can be really hard, because like you said, being stuck inside, but also because we had such a mild summer here in Nashville, instead of having the usual three months of 100 degrees of heat index. Because it is so mild this year, our winters actually got really brutal. I'm waking up to temperatures in the 20s, which I'm sure for a lot of people, it's like, "We're down to 20 degrees. We're used to it." But if you're in Nashville, that's not something we're used to. So, it being so bitterly cold has hit me really hard too, because, I mean, we were talking about it last night.

Matt:
We want to go pick something up for dinner. We want to cook dinner. I was like, "It's so cold outside. I don't even want to walk to my car and wait however long it's going to take to warm up the heaters and all that kind of stuff." All that's added to just my never ending struggle with anxiety and depression. It's brutal, but it's something that's worth talking about. Because if one person hears this and acknowledges their own issues and they get the help that they need, I mean, that's worth the price of being open, I guess.

Ben:
Definitely. So, what is your production function? What drives you to do what you do, both at work and the side projects you do? What makes your output or your work different than others?

Matt:
At work, I guess a lot of it comes down from I want to live up to the amount of trust and I guess, expectations that I hold for myself. Even though I know that Jerred and the rest of team don't have as high of expectations for me, I decided that I hold myself to a standard that's way higher than what is humanly possible. I want to make sure I work as hard as I can to get there.

Matt:
In terms of the podcasts that I do with PHP Town Hall, APIs You Won't Hate, doing things like OpenAPI.Tools, struggling with managing the League's fractal package, that is purely me just wanting to give back to the community that has given me so much. I'll never ask for money from that stuff. I won't say no to money, but I'm not going to push the whole sponsorship thing, just because other people giving conference talks, you getting me a ticket to a conference at one time you did four or five, six years ago that I don't remember if you remember, but it's still...

Ben:
They'll remember that.

Matt:
So, we got to talk about this, because this is a seminal moment in my life. Yitz showed up after the pack. Chris had gone home. Larry got back to the hotel. Ed had got back to his hotel, but you were still there and Yeets was still there. It's like the first time I've ever actually met you. I remember I don't know what we're talking about. It's just we get talking, talking, talking. Finally, we all went our different ways. The next day, you like DM me on Twitter and you're like, "Hey, man, I talk to the organizers of this conference. There's a ticket with your name on it if you want it."

Matt:
That's always stuck out to me, that you went to vet for me. You didn't know me. You didn't know what I was going to do. I could have gone to that conference and start throwing shit. That just stuck out to me. Between that and other people who have done other things for me behind the scenes to help me out, I won't name names, but there was one person, Sunshine, two years ago, they bought my plane ticket for me. They didn't have to buy me plane ticket. They didn't have to do anything really, but he had points. He bought me and he's like, "Hey, here's the deal, you're going to find..." I think it's Fort Lauderdale, not Miami. So, you're going to have to figure out how to get from Fort Lauderdale to Miami, because that's super easy because they have a train.

Matt:
I was like, "This is amazing. How can I repay back?" He's like, "You're not going to pay me back. You're going to pay it forward in some shape, form or fashion." That's just always been my goal with the podcast, with the open source work, with me offering to mentor people is just to somehow try and meet the actions of other people who have given me so much. So, that's where the drive really comes from. That's why I'm so willing to burn myself out in a way, because I know a conversation can change the world for somebody else. Even if I'm burned out, it's going to mean a lot to them.

Matt:
So, I will figure it out. I will figure out how to hide that burnout for an hour on Zoom, so I can talk to this person or I will put a charge on my credit card that I know I shouldn't do all in the name of helping open a door for somebody else. I know one of the latest examples was at SoutheastPHP. Somebody who is coming to the conference wanted to sponsor ticket for somebody. I remember I was trolling around on Twitter. I saw this junior developer. She's just getting started. She wanted a free ticket to, I think, Midwest PHP. I was like, "You seem like a perfect candidate for this. Going to two conferences in a year is remarkable for just about anybody who's not the speaker, but I really think it's going to open doors for you."

Matt:
She's like, "That's great. Let me see if I can afford it." I remember the person who bought the ticket also said, "I can't pay for all their travel expenses, but I always go in halfsies on a hotel room or something." I was like, "I'll cover the other half of your hotel room." I had no business paying for this expensive hotel room, but I knew it was absolutely worth it for this woman to come to this conference. I saw firsthand, some of the connections she made with certain people.

Matt:
I don't know how they panned out, but just the fact that she was able to make those connections was worth the how much money it was to cover her hotel room. So, that's where a lot of my drive comes. That's why I'm willing to get on Slack after hours or well before the time I'm supposed to be on is, because if I can remove a blocker from one of my teammates or if I can open a door for somebody else, ultimately, that's like my main goal.

Ben:
I love it. That's a great reason to be motivated.

Matt:
It is. It can be tiring at times and little financially detrimental at times too. But I mean, I make enough money. I can pay off a $600 credit card in one fell swoop if I really wanted to. The person who I paid the half of the hotel room for, I mean, that's $600 may have been her rent while she's trying to learn how to program. Yeah, it's worth it ultimately.

Ben:
Yeah, good point. What's the point, right, if you can't help people along the way?

Matt:
Yeah, I mean, so many people before me have been helped along the way. They helped me along the way. It's the ultimate form of giving back. It's not going to really cost you a whole lot of money to have a conversation with somebody for an hour. I may lose an hour of work, but like I said, my job is really cool about respecting my time and I respect their time. When I am working, I am working. If I can have an hour long conversation with somebody to jumpstart their career, that's well worth the hour of work I may lose.

Ben:
All right. Last question, what are some games, books or podcasts you would recommend?

Matt:
I mean, I'm the worst programmer, because I'm not like the biggest gamer in the world. I play Civ5 a lot, only because it's a game I can play on my computer and I don't have to connect to the internet. So, it's incredibly engrossing with the strategy and everything. So, I'm not going to set it and then go lose an hour on the internet. So, that's really one of the only games I truly play. I still play RollerCoaster Tycoon on my iPad, because throwback, I remember going to my grandparents' house back when they had a Windows 95 machine. He had the old school disk. That was fun.

Matt:
Podcast-wise, I mean, I don't know. Listen Money Matters is a great podcast to listen to, because it covers such a wide array of financial issues, that even if you know a lot about finance, you're still going to learn something new. But if you don't really know a whole lot about personal finance, you're going to crush this series and at least have a leg up on so many people.

Matt:
And then on top of that too, the other one that I really like is the Mad Scientist. His whole claim is he spent years reading all about the tax laws and tax loopholes, tax shelters, things like that to really finely tuned an investment strategy that will cost you a significantly less amount of money than if you just wheel and deal like the majority of people are going to do. He is very sparse with this podcast, but he has a really extensive backlog, really good interviews, really good information. So, it's like the two biggest podcasts that I can recommend. The other ones are How I Built This, which is super cool. I think a lot of people should know about that one, because it's, I guess, MPR podcasts and gets a lot of publicity.

Matt:
Books wise, I would say five different books right now. Really bad. I mean not to get too political but like, I got this one book called, The Soul of America by Jon Meacham. I mean, tech has a very liberal slant. I think a lot of people would look at the current outlook of things going on, you'd be so down about the current state of certain things. His book just really details like, believe me, this is not the worst that's ever been. We fought out of worse. It's got to be okay. This is a really good book in that way. I think the biggest book that's had the biggest influence on me is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. That one gets thrown out so often and so ubiquitous to leadership.

Matt:
But I think even individual contributors and non-tech leaders can learn a lot from that information, just like how to approach somebody when you have a problem. A good one is how to approach like a hotel who's not giving their money back right now, because they obviously want the money to keep the lights on while we all weather this storm. His book gives you information. How can you purchase a hotel with maybe having the possibility to get your money back? Different things like that, how to approach your boss and say, your project is a total dumpster fire, but it's going great and how to blend bad news and good news and complements all together. I think those are two really good books.

Matt:
The other one is Psychology of Money, which we've talked about before, by Morgan Housel. It's really funny, because his first story, I think, it's like a tech story. The first story he talks about is some guy who made it rich in tech and rode to a restaurant where Morgan was a valet. There's one out there with a new Porsche every month or something like that until finally, the dude ran out of money. I was like, "Well, that's a great way to start a book about psychology and finance." So, I think those are the three books I look back on and I'm like, "Those are the ones that really helped me through such weird times."

Ben:
Alright, thanks so much for your time today, Matt. It's been great talking to you.

Matt:
Thank you for having me. I was super honored to be included on this podcast. It's super cool.


2020 Ben Edmunds