Hackpoly 2015 Keynote Speech – Your Roadmap to Success

Recently, I was invited by Bryan Thornbury of Polyfounders to speak at Cal Poly Pomona’s HackPoly 2015 in front of a few hundred people to help kick off their hackathon. On February 20, I was a sponsor and the keynote speaker at Cal Poly Pomona’s Hackpoly 2015 event.

Here is my speech that I had drafted up is as follows:

1. Where I was.

It was the beginning of the end of 2010. Or more like the beginning to the end of my life as I knew it. I just lost my income, my car, was piled in debt and was about to get evicted. As each day went by, I counted down the days, the hours, the minutes, even the seconds until I was about to lose it all.
I had no energy. I had no hope. I had no faith. Failure gazed straight in my eyes, possessing my body, ready to consume my soul. I had nowhere to turn, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Instead, all I could do was lay on my sofa each day, drowning myself in liquor as I drenched my soul with half a bottle of Jameson each night.

All I could do was turn on my macbook to watch another movie off the projector or run across the street to grab another bottle of scotch.. Hope was a word that was removed from my vocabulary.

2. Devil in the details.

Was I ready to spend the rest of my life living on the streets under the bridges of the Los Angeles river? What decisions did I make that got me to this point in my life?

I spent my entire life looking out for the three most important people in my life. Me. Myself. And I. However, I never realized  with this philosophy, I was trapped in a never-ending circle of self defeat. Each time I took one step forward, I was forced to move two steps back. With each new success, I had tumbled back even further.

Sure, I had the money, the success, the love. But at what cost?

The devil was in the details.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my pride, my ego, my self desires. They pushed me so far behind and shattered my reputation to pieces. At the end of the day, I was left without anyone I could turn to for help because the only people I was the only person I cared about. Then the day finally came. The day when I lost everything and every person I thought I knew. In the flash of my eyes, I was almost unexpectedly left with nothing.

But then a new question arises; how did I get to where I am today, speaking in front of every single one of you?

3. Where I am today.

My name is Leonard Kim. Currently, I am an author and marketer who has received over ten million views on my content in the last year and a half. My articles were featured on the front page of prominent publications such as Inc. Magazine and the BBC. My reputation was restored, even strengthened far past any phase it was at before. True friends came to stand by my side and help support me throughout the newest chapter of my life. I find this to be my new measure of true success. Then at the beginning of this year, I was scouted for a position as the CMO of a startup. I don’t say this to impress you, but to impress upon you what kind of possibilities there are for your future.

4. Interlink Programming with Writing.

I am here today to show you how my career matches up with yours, as programmers and innovators of a new generation. To share with you what I did in my life to cause me to fall so far from grace. But most importantly, to share with you the lessons I have learned and the practices and philosophies I have incorporated to get to where I am today.

Now on the surface, writing and programming may seem like two completely separate beasts. However, when we look at the details, they are more alike than we could ever imagine. To bridge our gap, I want to explain the similarities of our careers.

We may have different delivery methods, but in both of our professions, our end goal is to engage our audience. As I write something with the hopes of having someone take action, you are creating an experience for the user to accomplish a task.

However, to get to these end goals, we both have to go through the same processes. In writing, my job is to create a hook, engage and provoke the reader. As a programmer, your job is to work in the same box. You must create an immersive experience that your users can’t stop using, can’t stop talking about, or live without.

Both of us have to work relentlessly at editing, or in your case, troubleshooting, until the problems get resolved. We have to relentlessly look at our box to make sure that our message is being communicated properly and that there are no errors or glitches that could misportray our images. If there is any miscommunication on either of our ends, then we either have our audience stare at us with with disbelief, as we are unable to connect with them, or deal with the frustrations of having a program that isn’t working as designed.

In other words, we are missing our mark.

All of us are artists and our goal is to create a masterpiece that has a concrete impact on our audience.


5. How I got to where I am.

So that brings us to where I am today. But that isn’t as important as how you can get to where I am today. To be sought after, to be looked for, to be scouted to build your dreams for top value.

For me, I started with a base of principles, beginning with a Japanese philosophy called kaizen.

You may be asking yourselves, what is kaizen and why does it matter to me?

Kaizen is a philosophy of consistent and never ending improvement. To give you an example of just how important this philosophy is, I will share with you a story from a few weeks ago.

Currently, I have been driving a Jaguar for the last 3 months. Prior to that, I had an Infiniti. For as long as I have owned that Jaguar, I never touched my Infiniti. Not once, until two weeks ago. When I got behind the wheel of the Infiniti, I had absolutely no clue how to move the seats, turn on the radio, the a/c or anything. Since all the buttons are placed differently, it was as if my mind had forgotten every single way to function the vehicle.

Now why am I sharing this with you?

It’s simple. Because each day, we either grow or we die. If we practice what we are doing, we will continually get better. The moment we stop, we lose all familiarity with what we are doing. When you are writing code, you may get distracted and want to digress. But when you do, your skills will also deteriorate. So we need to stay focused on continually practicing what we do each day.

Whether you practice on your own computer or on a public network like Stack exchange or Github, get out there and continually work on improving yourself.

6. Desire.

Now I’m sure that everyone in this room is here because they are seeing the huge implications of what a career in programming can do for their future. However, let’s be real some of us are in it just for the money.

Let me let you in on a little secret. If you’re in the programming career just for a huge payday, you won’t make it. Not just that, doing things solely for the money will eventually make you hate every second of what you do.

How do I know?

Because that’s what I did with my prior career in sales. Sure, I made great money. However, I hated every moment of my life. That hate for my life caused me to tumble towards a downward spiral.

You need a strong desire for what it is that you do. If you don’t, then you’re wasting your time. Get out now and go find something else you’re interested in doing.

I wrote online for a year and a half without getting a direct pay day from any single article I had written. I didn’t do it for the money. I did it for the social impact. I built a desire within myself to rid myself of all my selfish desires that had caused me to fall so far from grace, and rebuilt myself to who I am today by making a decision.

That decision I made was to give back. To empower others. To help everyone I could get over all their trials and tribulations, their hardships, and their failures by sharing my own stories. I wrote with one goal in mind: If I could touch the heart and soul of one person, inspire one person to take action, inspire one person to not give up on hope and to live another day, then there would be value in my work.


Because I was thankful that someone had done that for me. However, in return for my good deeds, I became someone that people had sought to have on their team, on their side and within their companies.

So I continued onwards.


7. Starve ego, feed soul.

I starved my ego, but fed my soul. Next thing you knew, as time progressed, people took notice in my writing. My inbox flooded with thousands of messages, people had told me that I had helped them live another day. People had told me that I inspired them to take action. People thanked me for what I had shared. But let me let you in on a secret. I didn’t get to where I am today because I was born an amazing writer. In fact, in high school, I was a C student in English. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I decided to divulge myself into writing. I read every newsletter I could. I studied all the marketing collateral I could find. But how exactly did I do this?

8. Stockpile resources. Copy. Find Your Style.

Like a squirrel preparing for winter, I stockpiled resources. One of my biggest secrets to my success, that I can share with you is how I was able to cultivate my own style. In writing, and in programming, there are a lot of samples out there. For me, I have millions upon millions of books to read from. For programmers, there are tens of thousands of examples of sample code posted on the internet.

What I did was I found a few of the top 100 authors I could, such as James Altucher, John Maxwell, Don Miguel Ruiz and others. I wrote down their books word for word. What this did for me was it triggered my subconscious mind to figure out why each author had written the way they did. It let my brain understand the trigger points on writing specific words in certain places. As a programmer, I urge you to copy as much code as you can.

Now, this isn’t something that you go out and publicize as your own work. Why? Because you didn’t create it. Just as I had not written the books of these great authors. Instead, what it does is it allows your mind to see why each programmer chose the style they did. Each programmer can write the same program using completely different lines of code. Some can use hundreds of lines. Others will be lean. As a writer, my duty to my reader is to make sure that my content is simple and easy to digest, with as little words as possible. As a programmer, ultimately, this process will help inspire you to create your own methods to creating a leaner style that you can call your own.

Once you begin to find that style, publish it for the world to see. Put it on Github. Stackexchange. Whatever other network there is. Start to help others in the process of fixing their code. Put your desires behind you and become altruistic in what it is that you do. In return, the market will reward you by opening up the doors to other opportunities and success, as it has done for me.

9. No expectations.

One of the problems I had when I went through my failures was that I always had high expectations to get to where I wanted to be. I wanted a Lamborghini. I wanted a mansion. I wanted to make $500,000 a year. As long as I wanted something, the world did everything in it’s power to stop me from getting it.

Quite frankly, if we were to sit down a year and a half ago and you said “Leonard, in 1.5 years, 10 million people will have viewed your content.” I would call you crazy. There was no way that I could even fathom this kind of success. So I didn’t try. I didn’t expect. I went back to a time when I was young, in the jungle gyms at school, when I used to hang upside down without a worry in the world.

Did I care what happened tomorrow?


All I wanted to do was soak up the moment and enjoy my life as I knew it.

It wasn’t until I rid myself of all my expectations that I was able to get to where I am today. By regaining that childhood mentality I once had of living each day to the fullest, without expectations, i was able to get to where I am now.

10. Baby Steps.

Now, you’re probably looking at my life, comparing it to yours, thinking it’s impossible to get to where I am. Let me tell you something, I know how you feel. I felt the same way when I first started writing. I thought it was impossible to have this kind of visibility, to have tens of thousands of followers, or to even be approached for the opportunity of my lifetime.
However, these things have happened. Not because I made great strides in my career. Instead, I played it safe. I played it as safe as I could. I took baby steps to get to where I am now.

My first month, I had 102 views on my content. The next, 3000. Afterwards, 61,000! How did that happen? I’m not quite sure, but all I did was spend a few hours writing a couple new articles every other day. I didn’t make goals to dominate my industry. I made little tiny goals to create new articles every other day. Somehow, when momentum compiled together, it pushed me into success.

Inch by inch and it’s a cinch. Yard by yard and it’s hard.

11. Results.

Reflecting back, this last year and a half has been a crazy ride full of success. I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t take the time to reflect over and piece together all the mistakes I had made in my past to get to where I am today. However, since I made those mistakes prior, It helped me create an outline, a shortcut, or even a life hack for you to get ahead by following this roadmap I had created.

12. If I could do it, so could you.

If you stay on course, I’m sure you will get there as well. Since we’re at a Hackathon, get out there and take action. Start building your dreams. If I could do it, so can you. Plus if you need help along the way, feel free to reach out. I’m here to help support you. We can do this together. Once again, Thank you so much for having me here with you. I wish you all luck in finding your own personal success.

Originally posted on Quora.

Leonard Kim consults startups and writes books like The Etiquette of Social Media: How to Connect and Respond to Others in the World of Social Media

0 thoughts on “Hackpoly 2015 Keynote Speech – Your Roadmap to Success”

  1. As I am agonizing over writing the script for my first documentary video that I will present at a semi-formal ceremony (in my debut as a “performer” since HS cheerleading), I saw this in my inbox. I’ve been deliberating for days about what I’m going to say. I knew reading this would help me! Although I have yet to reach my “happy ending”, I know that my story will inspire at least one person, as you have just done for me. Thank you, again, Leonard, for your courage, authenticity, consistency and great stories!
    P.S. I self-imposed a 12am curfew (as a result of your day-in-the-life post) that really helps me have a more positive, productive and energetic day. Now if I could just quit cramming at deadline time and spread out my workflow a little better… 🙂


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