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Michael Wolf Hoffman
Michael Wolf Hoffman

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Show Your Work: A Software Engineering Book Review

Show Your Work Summary

This weekend I read a short book that is well worth the time. It’s Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work.

What I love about this book is that it backs up a theory that I have long held to be true and I attempt to practice as often as possible. I don’t think that is my own confirmation bias this time, I think the ideas in this book truly are important.

Show Your Work talks about a lot of things, but one of them is that you should teach to learn.

I will go over some of the key concepts of this book in a moment, but the main idea is that you have something to teach anyone. You don’t have to be an expert to put your work onto the internet for others to find and gain help from. As you learn new skills, you can show what and how you are learning. You can teach to learn, and you can do it by showing your work.

Key Ideas:

Lone Wolf Myth

Artists, engineers, and other creatives don’t typical work solo. They work in groups and communicate with others to come up with ideas. They also follow others’ works and gain inspiration from them. Don’t just work alone and keep your work to yourself. People will find your work and have plenty to learn from you.

Teach Others, Show Them What You Know

Instead of only consuming media, produce something as well. Often times we consume more than we even realize without ever being contributors. If you are learning something new, post about it and someone will find it useful. Instead of being a taker, become a giver.

Be an Amateur

It is very rare for a talented person to be naturally gifted. Athletes, artists, and everyone works incredibly hard for their achievements that impress us. Embrace being an amature. Become a lifelong learner. If you are a lifelong learner, you will have to be an amatuer at many times as your life progresses. This is a good quality, not a hindrance.
Always be learning, always be an amatuer in regard to something. As Kleon clearly writes, “overnight success is a myth”.

How To Start Showing Your Work

Find what you want to learn, commit to learning it, and then learn it in front of others. Create a blog or youtube video, write an ebook, etc.

Read the Obituaries Every Morning

Here is a chapter I wasn’t expecting. Every morning, the author reads the obituaries. He says that instead of reading and thinking about death, obituaries are really about life. They are lists of achievements a person has accomplished in their life. All of these people started out as amateurs and had plenty to learn. This inspires the reader to learn more and share his learnings.

Read A Lot

If you are a lifelong learner and a passionate amateur, it’s likely you already like to read. If you are going to be writing, you should also be reading. If you are going to be speaking, you should be listening. Consume the media that you produce. Kleon talks about “human spam” and uses that term for the type of people who write but never read.

Vampire Test

Austin Kleon shares a rumor that Pablo Picasso would spend time with people and suck the energy out of them. When he was done hanging out, he would go home and use that energy to paint. Do you have people that when you spend time with them they exhaust you instead of energize you? Stop spending time with them.


If you are putting your learnings on the internet and showing your work, it’s likely that people will find you. If they do, it’s likely you will encounter trolls. Even my own coding blog has gotten trolls. There just isn’t a way around it. Don’t let them get to you, and keep learning and sharing. Consider turning off comments or just not responding to the trolls.

Monetize, eventually

People will want to read and hear what you are saying as you are learning the same things that they are learning. However, amateurs don’t typically want to pay amateurs. It’s usually the experts that get the money. College students wouldn’t be paying the exorbitant amount it costs to attend college if they were learning from other students instead of professors with PhDs.

Eventually, you might be able to monetize your learnings. Maybe you can get good and write an ebook, or your youtube channel will get enough views to make money off of ads. At the very least, the author tells you to collect email addresses in case you have products to sell later, to promote new material, etc.

Support Others

Here is an important point from the book not to overlook, support others. Credit other people’s ideas, promote other peoples’ learnings that they are sharing, and support those in your community. Learning to code and improving? Try attending a local meetup and help others learning to code. Be helpful.

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