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Aaron Francis

Sometimes they say yes

Aaron on playing it uncool, advocating for yourself, and asking for your dream job.

Aaron Francis // @aarondfrancis

Hello, my name is Aaron. I live in Dallas with my wonderful wife Jennifer and our 👦 👧 twins. I recently started my dream job as a marketing engineer at Tuple. I love making things, constantly have a side project going, and am always interested in processes and automation. I’m also a CPA and former Big 4 accountant, and previously managed computers, people, and some robots at a property tax firm. 

The ReadME Project amplifies the voices of the open source community: the maintainers, developers, and teams whose contributions move the world forward every day.

I got my Master’s in accounting, but, as it turns out, I hate accounting and love software. I’ve been quietly part of the Laravelcommunity for about 10 years, but then, 18 months ago, things changed. 

People in the community kept putting out this awesome software work, and every time they tweeted about it, I thought, “Oh, wow. All this work they’re doing is very impressive.” I was doing a lot of programming myself, but I never talked about any of it. Held back by fear, I saw others sharing, talking, and having conversations, and my first instinct was bitterness. I had projects just like theirs. “It should be me,” I thought. “Why don’t I get any credit?” The difference was that they did the work, and then they shared it. 

I saw two ways forward. I could lean into bitterness and wonder why people didn’t like my work. Or I could look inward. I chose the latter. Through a lot of work and counseling, I realized I was afraid of what people would say if I put my work out there. Would they think it was dumb? Would no one care at all? 

I realized I could go full-on angry programmer or I could give up the fear and just try it myself. When you turn 30, you think you’re “old.” But then you turn 32 and realize you’re actually really young. It’s early. You can still shape your career. I was already doing cool stuff—and I could start telling people about it! I would rather put myself out there than find myself at the end of my career, full of regret, wishing I had taken more risks. The worst thing that would happen is people wouldn’t say anything. 

I was doing cool stuff—and I could start telling people about it! I would rather put myself out there than find myself at the end of my career, full of regret, wishing I had taken more risks. 

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On letting go of fear and lifting up others

My first step was to share more in public spaces. I focused on Laravel, and the Laravel community, and they mainly communicated on Twitter. I established three rules for myself on Twitter because I didn’t want it to turn into a toxic hellscape. 

First: Lift people up. When someone does something even remotely cool, it takes almost no effort to respond (or quote-tweet!) and say as much. Second: Stay positive. Nobody is drawn to negative vibes on Twitter. Third: Share what you’re doing because people are drawn to other people in motion. They’ll either relate or be inspired. 

Following these rules set up a mindset shift that changed my life beyond my wildest dreams. Yes, I got more followers, but that’s the outer ring. The inner ring is the people who actually become your friends—and both rings got a lot bigger. People I had looked up to for years would message me and say, “Hey, man, that’s cool. How did you do this thing? I can’t get it to work here, can you help me?” That’s when I realized I was now friends with these inspiring people. I unlocked a new way of building community and making friends by putting my pride aside and not caring so much what everyone thought.  

My mental journey started with letting go of my fear and sharing my work. I was then able to stop thinking about myself so much and start lifting other people up. These small, but vital, mental shifts multiplied my connections within the community. Now I have formed genuine friendships and talk to some of those people every day! This would have never happened if I was just sitting in the corner being bitter that nobody paid any attention to me. 

This would have never happened if I was just sitting in the corner being bitter that nobody paid any attention to me. 

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Driving a runaway train

In 2021, my wife and I had just had our twins, so I had eight weeks of paternity leave. While the kids napped, I hacked away at open source, tweeted a bunch, and had the time of my life. I worked on a package called Sidecar, which allows you to execute AWS Lambda functions from your Laravel app. So if you needed Node, Go, or some other programming language in your Laravel app, this package would deploy, execute, and manage those functions for you.

It started to get some traction in the Laravel ecosystem and felt like a runaway train—in a good way. Then somebody in the community asked if I wanted to give a talk at the next virtual meet-up. I freaked out! This was it. My big break. It was my first conference talk and first live coding presentation. I was super nervous, but I prepared like crazy because I needed to seize the opportunity. When it came time to give the talk there weren’t many people watching, but I did what I set out to do and it felt like a million bucks. 

Then Laracon opened their CFP for their February 2022 conference. With another amazing opportunity at hand, I submitted my proposal and linked back to my first talk, so there was a public “proof of work.” I was selected to give a talk and took two days off work to practice 40 times because I knew I needed to faithfully execute it. I took a risk and live-coded and live-deployed to AWS during my talk. A million things could have gone wrong, but they didn’t, and about 4,000 people saw it. 

After that, suddenly people couldn’t wait to talk to the person who developed this "new" package. All I could think was that I wrote this package eight months ago and nobody cared! It had already felt like Sidecar had been an overnight success, but there was more in store. People DMed me saying I came out of nowhere. Meanwhile, it felt like I’d been toiling away for 1,000 years. But I get it. From other people’s perspectives, I came out of nowhere. But the secret is just working hard, shifting your mindset and finding opportunities to share your work.

Then somebody in the community asked if I wanted to give a talk at the next virtual meet-up. I was freaking out. This was it. My big break.

Embracing excitement as a strategy

Twitter is one of the greatest tools for developers because there are so many of us on there. A lot of people are trying really hard to look cool on Twitter, and in life. Excitement and being cool can be linked, but are often on different sides of the spectrum. People can try so hard to be cool that they’re never excited about anything. I always want to be 100% authentic. 

Excitement as a strategy is underrated. It’s not prescriptive or anything, but I put a lot of thought into my Twitter presence. I’m very transparent. When I find something cool, I get excited: I become a hype man. Sometimes it’s my work, sometimes it’s other people’s work. But I am not afraid to not play it cool. I think that’s one of the things that made my Laracon talk work: I was visibly excited, and that translates. People feel that and the excitement propagates out. 

The outsized positive impact of quote-tweeting somebody and saying something positive about them is a manifestation of being someone else’s hype person. I want to celebrate the work that I love. I want to leverage my platform, enthusiasm, and energy to help others. I don’t know if it will propel them into financial success, but I know it’s going to make them feel great. And it may put their message in front of the one person that needs to see it. 

The way I run my public presence is by giving others in the community pretty much exactly what I needed at the beginning of my journey. We should tell other people when they do a good job. If you have a legit criticism, you should DM them. If you have a nit-picky BS criticism, leave it alone.

If you build something great, the people are not necessarily going to come. Nobody thinks about you 1/100th as much as you think about you. There’s also this fear of talking about your own stuff because it seems scammy. There’s a huge difference between “buy my thing, buy my thing,” and “look how cool this is; this is how you can use it.” People are afraid to be the dork who’s excited—but people are drawn to that. 

When you come to Twitter, my bio says that I tweet about Laravel, building products, and developer marketing. I tweet about those things, because it’s important to me to be thoughtful about your content, while still being real and authentic. In fact, one of the greatest compliments I got was when I reached out to Adam Elmore and offered to pay his hourly rate for some career advice. He said, “Oh, no, I’m happy to talk to friends for free.” And wow. I was so honored. Then I got on a call with him and he said, “You know, I really love following you on Twitter because you’re a real person.” And I thought, “I’ve nailed it.” This guy’s got 12,000 followers and is someone I look up to, and to hear him say I was a real person on Twitter made me feel better than any vanity number.

This guy’s got 12,000 followers and is someone I look up to, and to hear him say I was a real person on Twitter made me feel better than any vanity number.

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Asking for what you want, including your dream job

I don’t know if it’s the way I was raised, but I have this internalized, negative association with advocating for myself. As if being my own advocate somehow stands opposed to being humble.

One of the big things I’ve learned along the way is that it’s okay to ask for things you want. If you want a promotion, ask for the promotion. If you want to give a conference talk, ask if you can give a conference talk. If you want to be on a podcast, ask! No business, conference, podcast, or person can advocate for you better than you can advocate for yourself. You can (and should) be your own best advocate.  

For four-and-a-half years, I worked at a property tax firm. Then I saw Tuple’s CEO Ben Orenstein ask on Twitter: “Are you a developer who makes things that other developers find interesting? If so, we want to hire you and pay you handsomely to keep doing that at Tuple.” 

Tuple is a beloved darling in our little indie software community. They make incredible software, and they’re bootstrapped (which is like its own religion). Ben was a Ruby guy for a long time and has been around forever; he’s just out there in public and is so friendly. So I saw this tweet and thought, “Yeah, for real. That’s me.”

I put together a page on my website to show what I’d done—basically my public proof of work—and sent it to Ben. A week later he responded and we got on a call. Ben said I could build anything that I wanted (like these robots), create a YouTube series about it, write blogs about it, go to conferences, whatever. Basically the job is to build cool stuff and talk about it. I was in awe: It was the perfect combination of what I’d been doing the past 10 years (even though I’d only been talking about it for one).

Ben has since told me that showing him that public proof of work de-risked me as a candidate because he knew the guidelines I operated under. He thought my pitch was thoughtful, and preferred that I had written a bulleted summary, instead of just DMing links with no context. He said, “I really appreciate the level of emotional intelligence it took to make it cohesive and coherent for me.” He didn’t have to hope I could do the job. He had to hope I would keep doing the job—and now, I am. 

Even sharing my story here was tied to the realization that I could just ask for what I want. Caleb Porzio actually reached out to me after my Laracon talk and said, “Dude, that was an effing unbelievable talk, way to go. You should be riding so high. That was incredible. You crushed it.” When I got my job at Tuple, I asked Caleb if he would pitch my story to The ReadME Project, and he said no problem. Everyone can say no but sometimes they say yes… and that’s amazing.

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