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Pragmatic Hero's Journey »

Many great adventures begin with a leap of faith, a healthy dose of confidence, and a true passion for the task at hand. It’s not only the perfect recipe for starting a journey, it’s the combination of qualities that will see you through the most difficult times.

Come find out how PragProg author Mike Riley has harnessed this mix to fuel a career that spans decades, trends, and media formats.

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PragProg Hero Mike Riley
September 02, 2020

The Serendipity of Life Hero's Journey with Mike Riley

This month we sat down with PragProg author, gaming media pioneer, and all around tech enthusiast, Mike Riley, to talk about passion, drive, determination, and, of course, writing.

On becoming an author...

A lot of high school students are happy to coast through their teenage years, hanging out with friends and passing their time on social media. Mike Riley wasn’t that kind of high school student.

Mike loved writing code on his Atari ST, but he wanted a way to contribute back to the personal computing revolution taking place all around him. Even though he was only in high school, he sent a letter off to STart—a publication dedicated to the Atari ST—introducing himself and demonstrating his writing abilities.

The editors liked what they saw, and before he knew it, Mike was writing three-page articles for the publication.

Mike continued writing articles throughout college and then he landed his first “real” job, writing and editing content for early gaming publications including Electronic Gaming Monthly, Computer Gaming Review, and Super Gaming.

Computing evolved and the internet became a dominant factor. Mike, along with the other members of the content team where he worked, suddenly found themselves on the web team when his employer launched one of the very first gaming portals on the web, nuke.com.

Thrust into this new world, Mike learned the tricks of the trade and really began “cutting his chops on the programming side of things.”

A few years later, Mike, now a seasoned writer and software developer, learned that a co-worker was writing a book. Mike thought to himself, “If he can do it, maybe I can try, too.”

Mike was already reviewing PragProg books for various publications, and he felt like the authors there were “just like [him],” software developers who were trying to solve problems on the job.

So, just like he did way back in high school, Mike introduced himself, his idea, and his capabilities to the publishers, and the next thing he knew, he was on his way to writing his very first book.

On challenges and rewards...

For Mike, the number one challenge that authors face is writer’s block. And while there are lots of reasons that authors “lose their muse,” Mike says, at the end of the day, it all boils down to the same question: “How are you going to get to that finish line?” Mike believes the answer depends on the individual author.

“New authors,” Mike explains, “have to be prepared to let go of their egos.”

Mike went into his first book thinking it would “be a breeze,” because he already had so many years of writing experience. But from day one, Mike’s editor, Jackie Carter, “put him in his place.”

Even though he was initially surprised by the feedback, when he took a step back and listened to what she was saying, Mike realized that she was absolutely right. That breakthrough was what carried Mike through the rest of the book.

In addition to writer’s block, Mike says that authors absolutely have to be passionate about their topics. When you’re looking at three, four, five, or more revisions, that passion is what’s going to drive you through the process. Mike says it’s also what comes through to readers and makes for a truly compelling book.

Sure, it’s a challenge and a struggle, and it can definitely be daunting at times, but Mike says it’s all worth it. When authors look back at the end of the process and see how much better they’ve gotten at their craft, Mike says the whole experience feels “magical.”

On career and beyond...

How do you make time to write a book when you’re already a full-time software developer, a content creator, a manager, and more? Mike calls it “the serendipity of life.”

“If it’s a commitment,” Mike says, “you make time for it.”

Mike also explains that writing as part of a technical career is exactly what you need to stay in touch with your audience. In order to articulate the information, Mike says that authors, just like engineering managers, need a connection with and an understanding of the problems that developers face: “The really good, effective managers are those that are still actively programming or at least maintaining the level of proficiency that they had when they were working in the trenches.”

Mike has made that commitment to writing, to his readers, and to lifelong learning. And, he’s also made that commitment to us, because he says that PragProg has always shown “absolute professionalism when it comes to programming and programmer-related topics.”

We couldn’t be more proud of the work we’ve done together, and we look forward to partnering with Mike for many years to come.

Now that you know his story, explore Mike’s top-ten list of all-time favorite PragProg titles:

Then, start or continue your own hero's journey by sharing your latest book idea with us.

You Could Be a Published Author

Is there a tech topic you are deeply passionate about and want to share with the rest of us? You could become a published Pragmatic Bookshelf author! Take a look at our pragprog.com/become-an-author page for details, including our 50% royalty (yes, for real!) and world-class development editors.

Upcoming Author Appearances

  • 2020-09-10 Michael C Amundsen, API Specifications Conference (ASC)
  • 2020-09-11 Craig Walls, Lone Star Software Symposium: Dallas (NFJS)
  • 2020-09-12 Diana Larsen, Agile Business Day - Venice & online
  • 2020-09-15 Michael C Amundsen, APIDays Australia
  • 2020-09-16 Diana Larsen, Enterprise Agile San Francisco Bay Area - online
  • 2020-09-17 Michael Keeling, European Conference on Software Architecture in L'Aquila, Italy + Virtual
  • 2020-09-17 Michael C Amundsen, GOTOpia Europe
  • 2020-09-18 Diana Larsen, Agile Austin
  • 2020-09-21 George Dinwiddie, Washington DC Scrum Users Group
  • 2020-09-23 Jon Reid, Cocoaheads NL Meetup
  • 2020-09-28 Diana Larsen, Agile Human Factors - eXperience Agile conference
  • 2020-09-29 Craig Walls, FrontEnd Fest
  • 2020-09-30 Michael C Amundsen, API Days Jakarta
  • 2020-10-01 Diana Larsen, Online Workshop
  • 2020-10-01 Michael C Amundsen, GIDS Live
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