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Allen Helton for AWS Heroes

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Be an enabler

I'm an enabler.

Let me explain. Some of you might see that word and think of it negatively. While it's true that being an enabler often refers to encouraging others to do bad or self-destructive things, like lending money to someone you know who has a gambling addiction, it doesn't always mean that.

You can enable people to empower themselves, too. Encourage them to take the risk they're too afraid to commit to or provide them with an opportunity they couldn't normally get on their own. Get them out of their comfort zone so they have a chance to learn and grow. This is the type of enabler I am.

Where it started

I had a really hard time mentally when I turned 30. On top of being a milestone birthday people generally associate with "starting to get old," we were two months into the COVID lockdown, meaning I wasn't able to get much reassurance from friends or family that life wasn't rapidly passing me by. Instead, my wife and I ate pizza in the yard watching cars drive by. I had a lot of time to think about what I was doing with my life and decide if I was happy with the diversity I had and the opportunities I'd fallen into.

To be honest, the answer was no.

Don't get me wrong, I've lived an absolutely blessed life. I've had the opportunity to do what I want, when I want, for most of my life. I've traveled all over the globe for both fun and work. I've competed on world stages for running, triathlons, and obstacle course racing. I've had content I created go viral. As far as the highlight reel goes, my life is awesome.

But it was safe. At 30, I had been at the same job for 9 years, climbing the corporate ladder in a large enterprise in the software engineering department. There was no risk. It was cushy. I rarely, if ever, woke up with a rush of adrenaline wondering what the day was going to bring and how I was going to be pushed out of my comfort zone. At the time, cushy felt nice. But 30 did something to me. I needed something else. Something more. But I didn't know what.

Where it needed to go

What I needed was a mentor. Someone to tell me, "What are you still doing here" or "Why don't you go try X, Y, and Z?"

At least, so I thought. Throughout my career, I've had two amazing mentors - Mike and Mark. I attribute a lot of who I am today to these two. They've steered me in the right direction time and time again and provided me with advice that I hold near to my heart. Mike and Mark… thank you.

Buuuuuuut that wasn't always what I needed. At a certain point, I felt like I hit a glass ceiling. I could see where I needed to go but there was no way for me to get there. The advice I was getting wasn't bad, but it wasn't helping me grow in the way I wanted to grow anymore. I was ready to take a risk.

Historically I've been a risk-averse guy. Everything I chose to do was a well-thought-out calculated risk. Once something passed a certain threshold, my internal voice would say "Don't do it. What if you fail? What if it leaves you without a job? You have a family that depends on you having a job." And I would listen to that voice. It made some good points.

What I actually needed was an enabler. Somebody to simply tell me "Yes. Do it, I'll go with you." I needed to be pushed past my doubts and into the unknown with someone I trusted who would go along with me, regardless of the risk. To me, this differs wildly from a mentor. A mentor gives you fantastic advice from their past experiences and helps you from a comfortable position. It's a tremendous way to grow and learn. An enabler is someone who understands there's risk or that what you need to do is going to be uncomfortable but says "Hell yeah, let's do it!"

They aren't just "yes men" though. Not every risk is worth taking. But they have your best interest at heart and are willing to do everything they can to back you up and get you there.

Be comfortable being uncomfortable

Andres Moreno was my first enabler. A close friend I've had for over 10 years and trust beyond measure. If you've met me at re:Invent before, chances are you've met Andres too. We're always together... for good reason! I can't tell you how many times he's told me "You should go talk to that person" or even something as simple as "Why not?" We always walk around enabling each other to be uncomfortable. Ultimately it was his nudges that gave me the courage to leave my cushy job for something completely different.

I was a full-time enterprise architect who did content creation as a hobby project. I had been named an AWS Hero as part of my fun content creation, but it scared me to death considering doing it as my job. In my head, moving to developer advocacy was a career change. Not only was I going to be not building production code or planning long-term technical strategies anymore, but I also wanted to go fast. I wanted startup. When I told Andres about Momento, he said "I will be sad to see you go, but you need to do it."

So I did.

And I love it. I took a tremendous leap of faith and couldn't be happier. I've learned so much in the past year and have built so many strong relationships that have been genuinely life-changing. Now I get the opportunity to be an enabler for hundreds of people in tech - AS PART OF MY JOB!!

To think, all this because I had someone help me recognize and realize I wasn't doing what I really wanted. And they gave me the courage to go out and do it.

Pay it forward

I am always willing to be an enabler. I love helping people get out of their comfort zones and encouraging them to live the life they want to live. This is about more than just your day job. It's about finding out who you are and what makes you happy. It's about learning and growing in completely new ways. It's about you.

It's hard to take risks by yourself. Self-doubt always rears its ugly head and dashes your confidence, leaving you questioning if something is the right move or not. There's power in numbers. Get an enabler to ride along or pave the way to an opportunity you couldn't reach yourself. You're helping them as much as they're helping you. Trust me.

Over the past year, I've surrounded myself with as many enablers as possible, and what a ride it has been. Find the people who encourage you to do hard things, say "why not", and are willing to ride along with you. You'll find the journey is just as fulfilling as the destination.

That's the end of my story. If you walk away from this with only one thing, I want you to take an inward look at yourself and figure out if what you're doing both in and out of work is making you happy. Are you getting the thrills you need? Do you even want thrills? Maybe long-term job security is what makes you the happiest. Find who you really want to be and find the people who are willing to go with you to get there.

Thank you to all my enablers, you know who you are. You really have made me a happier person.

Happy coding!

Top comments (5)

benbpyle profile image
Benjamen Pyle

Nice write up buddy. It's amazing to watch you grow and I always appreciate how you enable others to find and explore their own path. I like reading honest and introspective pieces like this.

Well done!

allenheltondev profile image
Allen Helton

Thank you Ben! You know the feeling is mutual, my friend :)

linoespinoza profile image
Lino Espinoza 🇵🇪

This is such an inspiring writing, Allen!

When I met you in Nashville last year, you were open to listening to what I had to say about my cloud journey. I connected with you quickly because you are a good mentor and have the tools to help people grow.

Hard work pays off! I like that phrase, and that is what you have been doing for the serverless community over the years.

allenheltondev profile image
Allen Helton

I really appreciate that, @linoespinoza! I'm super happy that you made that loooong trip and that we connected at EDA day! I look forward to working together on a number of things in the future :)

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel 🕵🏻‍♂️ Fayard • Edited

That's well written and you are absolutly right.
Very often people already have the solutions, and we shut the fuck off with our advices.

Validate people's existing ideas, very often that's the one little thing they need to jump in the cold water.

I just subscribed so I hope you have more articles like this coming :)