The “thank you” that changed my life
There’s so much rampant negativity in the world and on the Internet that it can be hard to deal with some days. It seems like more and more, I’m seeing people being mean and succeeding, and that makes me sad. Perhaps the biggest poster child for this was Steve Jobs, who by all accounts was a really big jerk.1 In one way or another, he seemed to legitimize being an asshole as a good way to do business. And I’ve seen this even more now that I’m involved in startup life.
A situation recently popped up in my life where I had a decision to make. I could do what “everyone else does”, tell a lie, and end up with a bunch of money. Or, I could tell the truth, and never see a cent. Perhaps because of some abnormal wiring in my brain, the thought of lying didn’t even register as a realistic choice. I was told, “but this is how things are done.” I didn’t care. That’s not the way that I do things.
I began searching for examples of where being nice and polite actually worked out in business or otherwise. An opportunity where it would have been easy to be mean but being nice changed the result. After struggling to do research and thinking about stories I’ve heard, I came to realize that the best story is my own.
The success of Professional Ajax was overwhelming. The book put me on the radar for Google, who came calling asking if I would like to work for them. Google was in a big hiring spree, bringing in top tier web developers from around the world. At the time I was still living in Massachusetts and the thought of moving to California wasn’t one that I relished (Google didn’t have the Cambridge office at that point in time). But I saw this as an opportunity I couldn’t pass up and accepted their invitation to fly out and interview.
At the same time, Jim came ringing again asking to update Professional Ajax for the next year. With all of the excitement, the Ajax book market was exploding as people discovered new and interesting ways to use this new technology.
I ended up choosing to work for Yahoo! instead of Google and moved to California. I can’t say enough about my time at Yahoo! and how much I enjoyed it. I met so many great people that I can’t even begin to list. However, there are a few that stick out as I look back.
I met Bill Scott through my cubemate, Adam Platti. I had mentioned to Adam that I wanted to start giving talks and I didn’t know how to go about it. Adam said that his friend Bill did talks all the time and I should chat with him to figure out how to do it. He then made an introduction to Bill, and Bill made an introduction to the organizer of the Rich Web Experience, which was taking place in San Jose. That was my first conference speaking opportunity. The experience made me realize that not only could I give a talk, but people actually liked it. From then on, I was giving talks at conferences and other events.
I met Nate Koechley through Eric and Thomas when I arrived in California. Nate gave an introductory class to all new front-end engineers at Yahoo! that I was in and really enjoyed. Over the years, I would get to see him give several talks, and he more than anyone else influenced my speaking style. I loved how visual his slides were and how we could explain complex topics by breaking them down into small chunks. He also had great interactions with the audience, never getting flustered and always being both personable and respectful. I was fortunate to have Nate in some of my talk rehearsals and was the beneficiary of a lot of great feedback from him.
The success of my books and speaking engagements led me to leave Yahoo! in 2011 to do two things: start a consulting business and attempt to create a Silicon Valley startup with some former colleagues from Yahoo!. Because people knew who I was, it was fairly easy to get consulting work. That was important because we were bootstrapping the start up (WellFurnished) and we would all be chipping in our own money to get it off the ground.
My life was taken on a completely different path just by being nice to somebody. The truth is, you never know when that one moment of being nice will turn into a life altering moment. Amazing things can happen when you don’t push people away with negativity. So, embrace every opportunity to be nice, say please when asking for things, and above all, never forget to say “thank you” when someone has helped you.
- Be a Jerk: The Worst Business Lesson From the Steve Jobs Biography (The Atlantic)
- Best Books of 2006 -
Top 10 Editors’ Picks: Computers & Internet (Amazon)
Disclaimer: Any viewpoints and opinions expressed in this article are those of Nicholas C. Zakas and do not, in any way, reflect those of my employer, my colleagues, Wrox Publishing, O'Reilly Publishing, or anyone else. I speak only for myself, not for them.