How (not) to lose your productivity, earn millions of £ (or EUR, or $...) and receive an Umbraco MVP title? #2truths1lie #truestory

After reading the great article by Owain Wilson (find it here), where he shared his thoughts related with receiving the Umbraco MVP title and stated that 'It is both a blessing and a curse', I decided to also share my story of becoming an Umbraco MVP. Mostly to inspire, encourage and motivate other people to achieve the same (or similar) goal(s), but also to warn everybody about the consequences which this amazing honour may cause.

My name is Marcin Zajkowski and I'm an Umbraco Trainer and Certified Master currently working with the #umbazing gang of digital creators - The Cogworks. I'm based in Pruszków, Poland and I work remotely straight from my bedroom (it even sounds funny... ;)), simultaneously running my 2nd company which is a programming school for children in Poland - WOW School.

You might know me from sharing my knowledge with the community at various Umbraco / .NET / Open Source events, drinking coffee on YouTube and livestreaming the weekly portion of Umbraco news (#umbraCoffee) with my colleague Callum and also from tweeting with GIFs, always when I can't find the English words to describe my feelings or emotions :) That's me, basically.

Speaking at UK Fest

Speaking at UK Fest

But I wasn't always so 'visible' and active...

Umbraco beginnings

My journey with Umbraco began in late 2010 when I was studying Information Technology at Bialystok University of Technology and decided to take part in the internship in Microsoft Poland. During the intern I was responsible for the 'evangelisation' of Microsoft technologies and as I was an ASP.NET / Full-stack / Mobile developer at this time (a.k.a. if my supervisor wanteda coffee, you brought him one, meanwhile coding a website for the client), I took a topic related with my 'profession', which was titled 'Building websites using Umbraco CMS and .NET platform'!

This small step and decision changed my life completely and you can read more about it in this blogpost here.

Show your work (and yourself)

Lately, Mads Rasmunssen from Umbraco HQ recommended a book "Show Your Work!" by Austin Kleon during one of The Unicorner episodes. I knew about this book and always when I was asked about advice for developers to stand out and achieve more - it was exactly that. "Show your work..." and yourself! I know a lot of amazing developers (and other creatives) who probably only I know... They do amazing things just for themselves and are shy of showing it to anyone else, mostly because of a lack of self-confidence or a fear of the consequences or judgements from other people. Been there, done that (despite the fact that I've never been an amazing developer ;)). No one was ever born perfect and every skill is a result of a lot of practice. Exposing weaknesses is also a way to improve - even faster!

Living in Poland is/was not a pole position either. Lots of Polish people have a defensive mentality, they don't believe in success stories, opportunities and often decide to stay where they are, living (usually) sad lives boxed in their comfort (or sometimes even discomfort!) zones. I decided to step out.

In my first company we did a lot of interesting Umbraco projects for local customers e.g. feeds for mobile apps serving data for thousands of daily users, integrations with external systems and intranets, medical software helping doctors gathering data for their thesis and even one of the biggest job portals in Poland. But no one knew about it... What’s more, even we didn't know it was something so cool and awesome! We were just doing stuff the best way we could (still suffering that we couldn't do more as no one was looking for Umbraco projects, developers or consultancy those days there).

Become discovered

We decided to tell people about the work which we're doing. We did a couple talks on the local meetups, updated our LinkedIn and other social media profiles and proudly presented our "personal brands" and our company activity.

Then... in 2015 we met a PM who was working in a UK Umbraco agency and we began working together on some projects (he found me on LinkedIn btw. thank you LI! ;)) This allowed us to work with agencies across the globe, extending our skill set and knowledge of Umbraco and how to run our own business. Meanwhile, we met with The Cogworks and together established the Poland Umbraco Meetup group across which I started to organise meetups each 2 months (in Warsaw & Krakow). It also lead us to visit our first Umbraco UK Festival (2015) where I spoke in English for the first time in front of the people other than my English teachers in school ;) It's still on YouTube if you want to watch it... It was the official "beginning" of my public activity in our niche I would say. Before then, I was a total anonymous developer who just used the product. During the short lightning talk, I showed one of my Umbraco packages (Cloudflare Manager) and after receiving great feedback and just feeling the vibe of the community... I decided to stay for a little bit longer ;)

Just after coming back from London, I knew that I wanted to go to another event. I still haven't met all the amazing people who were my gurus and to be honest.. I mostly spent my first UK Festival within my "safe" friend-zone, chatting only with people I knew. I wanted to change it and step outside of my introvert side!

We're lucky enough to work with agencies who were pretty close to Umbraco HQ and the community. I remember how happy I was when Adam Shallcross offered me a discounted (or even free?) ticket to Codegarden if I wanted to go. I wanted to badly! That year it wasn't colliding with my wedding (= no more unavoidable excuses ;)), so I booked an AirBnb (shared with an amazing friends who I met on Twitter... #h5yr Jon and Ale!) and started to plan my first visit in Odense.

I remember having a list of people who I want to meet and just high5 or shake hands with. They were my mentors, idols, gurus and I was forcing myself to gather some self-confidence and talk to them (of course just to cross them off my list!). I was extremely and positively surprised when I discovered that they are just a normal humans, same as the rest of us there.. maybe besides Shannon Deminick - he is and always will be a robot! (really, I don't know how he is capable of all what he is doing...). But my list worked well. Besides, being able to meet my idols, they and a lot of other people had a chance to meet me! (e.g. when I was asking them where I can find someone from my list ;)).

Written list of who I wanted to meet

Written list of who I wanted to meet

Mission: become an MVP!

After meeting all of those amazing people and absorbing a ton of community power and encouragement, I decided to completely dive into Umbraco and cut off from anything else that we were doing in our company. At the end of the year I decided to leave my company for my co-founder and go for a lonely walk... somewhere. I didn't expect that this walk would be so short :)

It ended with me joining The Cogworks team in October 2016. It was a perfect fit for me. I was finally able to do everything what I was doing outside of my 'daily work' as my 'daily work'. Win-win. Community contributions, meetups, festivals, Codegardens... and of course, from who better than one of the most experienced agency / dev-team I can learn from?

At the end of 2016, I set up some personal and business goals for the next year. One of those goals was to become an Umbraco MVP.

I use goals like this to visualise myself somewhere in the future (long term) and validate my efforts at the end of the next year (I do the same for months and weeks as well - short term). I also wanted to motivate myself to use the opportunity of working with the best, to also achieve the best (at the same time giving a lot of the value for the whole community).

Community activity

"Getting the MVP" itself was never my main motivation. I was doing everything I could do even without setting up this goal to be honest.. So, I continued our meetups, I did dozens of talks at the local .NET groups, wrote a couple of online and offline articles about Umbraco (e.g. on my newly started blog dedicated for it) and also recorder a video course in Polish with cooperation with Microsoft Poland. My activity was even discovered by Umbraco and I received a box of tasty, Danish chocolates for Christmas!

But it wasn't enough to receive an MVP title and put a checkmark next to this task this year.. After being disappointed for 5 minutes, I got back to my routine and tried even harder.

Due to a little less time and possibilities for frequent travel after the birth of my lovely daughter, I was looking for some new opportunities to stay in touch with the local Umbraco community and I decided to go LIVE / online using YouTube! I was missing Warren's uHangouts and thought it was an awesome and definitely less time consuming way to just chat with community members who were spread across the whole country via YouTube. That's how #umbraKawka (and a few weeks later - #umbraCoffee) were born! I streamed a short topic and summary of the latest activities in the global community with my Polish friends and of course, shared the fact of me doing it on my socials :) A couple of well-known #umbraco Twitter users asked why I wasn’t doing it in English to let them also follow... I didn't know the right answer. Probably I was too shy to do it globally at the beginning & hurt people with my ‘Ponglish’ language each Friday (even if it was only for 20 minutes ;)). I then asked my colleague from The Cogworks - Callum Whyte - whose English accent my wife and I literally adore (<3), to join me as my co-host and now... we're getting close to our 1st anniversary (52 weeks = episodes on YT). Time flies!

E-mail(s) from Niels

We were doing what we loved and one day, at March 23rd, we've received an e-mail from the Chief Unicorn - Niels Hartvig. I just asked Callum about it on Slack...

And we knew what was going on. We'd been nominated as Umbraco MVPs!

We also received some very kind words following the main e-mail, which were:

"When we were to select MVPs you and Marcin were the first names all of us had on our lists 🙂 Super cool with UmbraCoffee — I'm a huge fan! Everyone at the HQ talks about it too and loves it!"

- Niels Hartvig

And what did we do just after that? We started planning more advanced episodes and channelling expansion to attract our viewers more and to step outside of the format to not get bored. #freaks!

A couple of minutes later we also received an invitation to the Umbraco Retreat. This day could not become any better! My wife even bought a bottle of champagne (she should have bought Campari, but shhh...) and we enjoyed the moment of 'glory'.


And this is the part of the story when it gets a little bit negative. I don't know if it was because of this champagne or something else, but the period between receiving those e-mails and the end of May (when Codegarden happened), was probably my worst productive time in my dev-career...

I blame myself for it, as I believe it's because of the fact that I felt 'completed' and it was really hard to find additional motivation or goals to achieve at the moment. Of course I was doing my work, but this 'fire' and main "Thread" was put into the Sleep() mode for a while...

As a solution for it, lately I'm always setting up "What's next" action near to my goals. As always they are a part of the bigger picture and plan.

Codegarden, MVP statue, moment of glory and... nothing has changed!

And the day has come! On May 23rd we walked up to the stage and received our MVP statues straight from Niels' hands. It's an amazing feeling to know that our effort and lot of time & energy had helped other people. I dreamed and even couldn't imagine standing on this stage, among the people with who I was scared to talk with 2 years prior. And now I stood there, enjoying the applause and thinking... what else can I do to use my skills and position to help other people become happier? I'm still thinking about it...

2018 MVPs at Codegarden

2018 MVPs at Codegarden

But hey.... they fooled me! When I came back home, I didn't have a ton of the job offers on my mailbox (I ignore LinkedIn since 1942, so it doesn't count), neverending calls with the new opportunities, my bank account didn't magically fill with $ / EUR / £ and I still needed to learn and prove my values for my colleagues, clients and everyone else... Nothing has changed.

And yes, I'm not surprised by that! I'm still the same shy Polish guy, who is learning how to become a better human and developer, absorbing the knowledge flying around the group of amazing people with who I'm surrounding myself with every day. Constantly looking for a way to find more time to give, share and spread the love and energy which drove me to the point where I am now. I'm also still tweeting mostly with GIFs as it's easier (and less time consuming) than learning more advanced English ;)

Final words

I want to believe that everyone has the same chance of realising their dreams and goals. Nowadays, we’re literally bombarded by amount of possibilities, so in most cases it’s a matter of (wrong) priorities, which are affecting the final results. As my idol Michael Jordan used to say:

“Everybody has talent, but ability takes hard work.”

“Everybody has talent, but ability takes hard work.”

My 5 final tips for anyone who wants to follow the path of their own dreams/goals:

  1. Set up a goal as soon as possible. Write it down or save in any tool you use (e.g. Trello).
  2. Divide your goal into smaller bits and think who and how can help you achieve it faster.
  3. Cut off from people and activities which are not bringing you closer to your goal(s) and doesn't make you happy.
  4. Just do your work! Share it as often as you can & wish. Become visible and easier to be discovered by others.
  5. Stay true & be yourself. Don't let anyone or anything change you and your behaviour. Awards (even received from ourselves) are just symbols of appreciation and proof of hard work done, but they shouldn't be a goal in themselves.

If you ever wanted something really badly, be aware that it's not the most important part of the process. Having goals is relevant, but the path to achieve them is essential and enjoying this part may drive us to long-term benefits, rather than short-term celebrations.

"The journey is what brings us happiness, not the destination"

- Dan Millman

Marcin Zajkowski

An active member of the Umbraco community, Umbraco Master, and MVP, Marcin is a member of Cogworks. When not having a cuppa with other members of the community on his co-hosted UmbraCoffee, he organizes community events like the Umbraco Poland Festival and Umbraco Poland Meetup, and teaches kids in Poland how to code at WOW School.

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