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How to Reach Your Potential: An Interview with Andy McIlwain

· Reach Your Potential

Andy McIlwain is a technical marketer who handles content and community projects at GoDaddy, and a community builder who co-organizes initiatives such as WPToronto. Andy is taking part in the "How to Reach Your Potential" initiative, an interview series featuring leaders who inspire Alex Rascanu and whose insights can help you reach your potential.

Andy McIlawin at HoHoTO event

About Andy

I help individuals and small organizations do more with the web. It’s a hobby that evolved into a career. I started by building websites about video games as a teenager. Now I work for GoDaddy, one of the most recognizable internet companies around.

I grew up in central Ontario. I come from a blue-collar family of homebuilders, store managers, and support workers. We weren’t technophiles. We didn’t have a computer at home until 1999.

I remember when my parents made the purchase. It was a Compaq Presario from Future Shop, and it changed my life. I didn’t know it then, but that family PC created opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Learn more about me by visiting and checking out my articles on Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Andy McIlawin - content and community at GoDaddy

Alex: What is your life’s purpose?

Andy: I want to make a real, positive impact on communities across Canada. Communities like the ones I grew up in. Communities where manufacturing jobs are disappearing, low-wage retail or service jobs are ridiculously competitive, and career prospects are limited at best.

Building on that: How do we use technology to bring existing skills and talents into new markets at a practical, DIY level for non-techies? How does a laid-off factory worker in Peterborough turn his woodworking hobby into a small business, shipping products to customers in Burnaby and beyond?

Alex: What are the three things you’re most passionate about?

Andy: My first passion is self-education. I’m constantly trying to absorb new information, learn new things, and share what I’ve learned with others. Knowing how to teach yourself is probably the most important skill you can have for the 21st century. The world is moving so quickly that traditional colleges and universities can’t keep up.
My second passion is the act of creation, of making something out of nothing. The whole process, from inception through execution, fascinates me. I love watching behind-the-scenes documentaries and observing how others do what they do. The small decisions that get made, why they get made, the systems and protocols that help move things along… it’s so interesting.
My third passion is community . By that I mean bringing people together around a common interest and then trying to facilitate and support that community. It started with online usergroups and discussion forums when I was younger, then evolved into in-person events after I graduated from college.

Alex: How do you stay healthy? What’s your main health-related goal?

Andy: Up until this year I’ve mostly neglected my health. Poor diet, minimal exercise, not enough sleep, lots of stress… basically doing everything wrong.
The big change happened when my girlfriend and I started focusing on improving our health together.
We started on the keto diet in the spring. We’ve eased up on the restrictions but still stick to a primarily low-carb, high-fat diet. It’s working well for us. Now we’re mixing in more physical activity (running, climbing, paddling, cycling, lifting) to build strength and endurance. Evening runs and daily workout sessions are the new normal.
Our overall goal is to live an enjoyable, balanced, and active lifestyle. Weight loss and strength gains are perks, and we certainly use them as milestones for progress, but they’re not the goals.

Alex: How do you build wealth? What’s your main financial goal?

Andy: Gist = Avoid debt like the plague. My short-term goal is to be debt-free by 30. That’s within the next seven months. It’s the top priority. Pay off the credit card in full every month and clear those student loans as quickly as possible. My long-term goal is to stay as debt-free as possible from then on.
After the debt comes the savings. Max out those TFSA contributions. I’m new to investing, but my gut is pushing me towards passive investments once the student debt is cleared. I’m basically subscribing to the financial-advice-that-fits-on-an-index-card guidelines.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. This is much easier to say now than when I was freelancing and struggling to make ends meet. But when you’re debt free and able to tuck money away every month with a bit to spare, don’t stress over the small indulgences like a morning coffee.
Be on the lookout for additional revenue streams that align with your passions. It doesn’t need to be huge; even a bit of supplemental income on the side is always nice to have. A self-sustaining hobby that pays for itself (and leaves you a bit of money left over) is even better.

Alex: How do you balance work and family life? Also, how do you enjoy spending time with family and friends?

Andy: I work remotely from home and most of my colleagues are on the west coast. The three hour time difference means it’s only 3pm over there while it’s 6pm over here. Thankfully most of the people I work with understand the timing issue; I’m rarely on a call past 6pm.
The time difference also gives me an entire morning of uninterrupted hours. 12pm in Toronto is only 9am in California. I’m grabbing lunch as my colleagues are rolling into the office.
What’s worked for me is blocking out time on the calendar and being very protective of that time. Mornings are flexible; afternoons are blocked off; and evenings and weekends are for family and friends.

Alex: What has been the most fulfilling role you’ve ever had, or the most fulfilling project you’ve been involved with so far?

Andy: The role I’m in right now at GoDaddy is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. As a member of the content team, specifically the team looking after the GoDaddy blog, my ultimate goal is to find new ways for content to help our customers succeed online.
For example: What can we learn from customers who are already seeing success? What lessons of theirs can we pass along to others? What other expertise can we bring in? How do we make it all practical for a DIY business owner?
I love working on these problems. It’s so perfectly aligned with my personal goals, my personal mission, that I can’t imagine doing anything else right now.

Andy McIlwain

Alex: What’s one career planning lesson that has made a significant difference in your life?

Andy: Always. Be. Helping. Put yourself out there. Volunteer in a local community group. Offer to help someone by sharing what you know. It’s a great way to meet people and learn by doing. If you’re in school or just coming out of school, invest your time and show that initiative.
In my case, it was volunteering to help with WordCamp Toronto back in 2011. I had just moved to Toronto the year prior. I didn’t know many people in the city. Volunteering for WCTO changed that. I met people. I got deeper into WordPress. I became more active in other meetups. From those other meetups I met more people. New opportunities came my way. So on and so on.
None of that would’ve happened if I hadn’t volunteered.

Alex: What would you like your legacy to be?

Andy: I want my grandkids to remember me with pride. I want them to remember me as someone who did good work, who helped bring communities together, and who made a positive impact on Canada.

Alex: Thank you, Andy, for taking part in the interview and your inspiring thoughts!

Did you find one or more of Andy's thoughts helpful? Are there any ideas or resources that came to mind as you read the interview?
Please share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below, and consider sharing the interview with a friend via social media or email.​

Also, consider checking out the How to Reach Your Potential interviews with Trina Boos, Hamza Khan, James Tjan, Vlad Rascanu, Drew Dudley, Alexandru Holicov, Andrew Mizzoni, Christa Dickenson, Louise Adongo, Sarah Chaudhery and Jake Nicolle. Thank you.

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