Educated

Educated

Earlier this week, someone left a comment on an article I’d written to shame me over a word they considered “not a word”. A few years ago this would have stung and left me feeling like an imposter. At age 42 I have very few fucks left to give about such pedantry.

Formal education gives you words and technical understanding, it helps you interact with other people on a level where you can all assume you have the same starting point. It isn’t everything, and perhaps my hard-won knowledge, learned from trying and failing and figuring things out alone is my greatest strength.

While I am a firm believer in higher education, and have spent a tremendous amount of time teaching and guiding my kids toward a successful future in college, I love the “fuck you” attitude from Rachel here. It’s unapologetically defiant. And coming from an unbelievably intelligent person that is shaping the world of web design as we speak, I applaud her so much.

Bravo, Rachel. Bravo.

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The Current Software Industry

This is where we are. Totally and utterly ridiculous expectations and perspectives. Brilliantly pointed out in the tweet above.

Believe it or not, software is worth something. It’s disturbing that we’ve let the value of it slide as far as we have.

Programmers who only code at work

Programmers who only code at work

What’s your opinion on programmers who are not passionate about programming, have no side projects and only program at their jobs. Not senior devs either, just programmers, who are not juniors anymore. Can they ever improve, write better code? Or do they stagnate. Asking because my coworker said he doesn’t enjoy programming at home.

I have to say something. This mentality drives me crazy. Even the question is so galling that it infuriates me. As if you MUST leave work and go straight home and continue to code so you can be viewed as a worthy developer. It’s ridiculous and wrong-headed.

You’re reading the blog of someone who is passionate about programming. I have been passionate about programming since I wrote my first C program in college. My 12-year anniversary at work was this past week. And guess what? I’ve never gone home to code “for fun”. Why? Because I have a life outside of my work, and I enjoy it. My kids are 11 and 13 now. I’ve watched them grow up, and am very proud of the fact that I have been present in their lives from day one.

I am a worthy father the same way that I am a worthy developer. One does not preclude the other.

I don’t understand this way of thinking. And I don’t understand why this idea would be so prevalent in the software development industry. I’ve heard stories of hiring procedures that depend on candidates having side projects on GitHb or BitBucket. Why is that a requirement? Because it shows you will bust your ass at work and bust it even more at home to prove…what exactly? That you are “committed”? That you’ll do whatever it takes? That you’ll sacrifice everything to “prove” yourself?

Yeah, no thanks.

All I’ve ever wanted to do in my career is matter. I want my work to matter. And it does. It fulfills me. And it’s enough for me.

The good news is there are voices starting to push back on this idea. I ran across this tweet this past weekend:

And a responder to the linked article above said the following:

Having said that, no-one’s trying to stifle anyones passion here. If you love to code, do it at every opportunity you get. But be careful when passing judgement on the skill, growth and development of folks who don’t share that same level of passion.

When it comes to my personal life, and the personal lives of my employees, work is work. And your time is your time. Enjoy both.

#youdoyou

Apple CEO Tim Cook Learned to Code in College

Apple CEO Tim Cook Learned to Code in College

In October of 2017, Cook shared additional details on his coding experience in an interview with The Sun. Back when he was attending Auburn University, Cook built a system to improve the traffic lights near the university. He aimed to optimize traffic to reduce wait times while maintaining the safety of the lights. His work was a success and it was implemented by the local police force.

So there’s one way Tim Cook and I are alike. I, too, took my first programming course at Auburn University. Granted, mine was almost 20 yers later in the fall of 1998. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career. I happened to register for a C class and realized I had a knack for it. Even better than that, I really enjoyed it. That class led to a second class, which led to a co-op opportunity with Georgia Tech Research Institute, which led to a transfer to Georgia Tech, which led to my first job at GTRI, which led to my current job of 12 years at Romanoff.

You could say that that one programming class at Auburn almost 20 years has led to who I am today.

I may not have programmed traffic lights, or (you know) have been promoted to CEO of the most profitable company in the world, but it’s paid off for me pretty well.

Expertise

One of my favorite new podcasts is Top Scallops with Merlin Mann (“Hi! Can I axe you a question?”) and Max Temkin (one of the creators of Cards Against Humanity). Ostensibly, it’s about the reality show Top Chef. As with any podcast that Merlin is on, however, it’s not necessarily just about the titular topic at hand. To say it can go a bit tangent-y at times is being rather generous. But hey, that’s why I like the show so much!

In their most recent episode (It Snogged Out), they came around to talking about expertise. It was based on a scene in the most recent episode where this week’s celebrity chef Hubert Keller was describing his process for formulating a new idea for a new dish. According to Max’s notes from the show (I’ve never seen it, so I have no firsthand knowledge), Keller sits down once the restaurant is closed and empty with glass of wine and considers the current menu. He thinks about which dish he would like to change, as well as what dish he would like to replace it with. He then draws the dish he wants to create. On paper. Where the bone goes, where the sauce goes, and even the texture of the plated dish for the consumer.

To be honest, I had never thought of a chef drawing a dish he was trying to conceive. I do this all the time with screen design, but had never considered it for a chef.

Building off of this story, Merlin and Max delve into a discussion that, to me, really gets to the heart of what makes an expert an expert. I found this very interesting because I’ve been thinking a lot about it myself. As I’ve grown in my role at my job, I’ve noticed that there are now others who look to me for expertise. Even when I don’t consider myself one in my own mind (see a future post about Imposter Syndrome coming soon).

The idea of expertise really boils down to details. The details that only an expert in their field will appreciate. Because only the expert knows which questions to ask. They know how to lay it out in their own mind; how exactly this piece fits with that piece or this piece of information will fit into the larger puzzle to create the solution that is sought from all parties involved. This exactly explains Keller sitting down and planning his dish. Down to the very specific detail of where to place the bone on the plate itself. He knows the details of how to get this dish from idea to reality.

In recent years, Max attended an Edward Tufte course. Something Tufte said (in almost a throw-away comment), Max can still quote today:

A question you can ask in almost every situation to bring clarity to what you’re doing is to ask someone, and to ask yourself, ‘how do you know that?’

That struck me. Take that with Merlin’s earlier discussion on “And then what?” and you arrive at the starting point of how to look at a problem with expert eyes. And from an expert frame of mind.

Everyone likes to be an idea guy. It’s a quick win in a meeting, a high five from the group, and possible serious credit down the line when the idea is implemented into a successful, tangible thing. I get it. I’ve even been the idea guy from time to time. I know how tempting it can be to brush off the details with a quick “It can’t be that hard. We’ll figure it out later.” But what we (all seemingly) miss is that the expert’s job is to come in and take the idea (presumably from the idea guy) and create something real from it. The expert’s job is to “figure it out”. That’s where the questions start. The “And then what?” questions. Followed by “How do you know that?”.

While it can certainly come across as confrontational, most of the time, the expert is simply trying to suss out where the idea needs to go and (even more) how to get it there. How much it is perceived as confrontational really depends on the expert’s personality/people skills and the nature of the relationship between the idea guy and the expert. It can be a very rewarding and thought-provoking experience if done and approached correctly.

I’ve been told that I frustrate people when they bring ideas to me and ask me to implement them. I do exactly what I’ve described above. I ask them “and then what?” or “how do you know that?”. Or even “what happens when it doesn’t happen?”. These are the questions nobody wants to think about because it’s too granular. Too “in the weeds”. Too “time consuming” for the discussion at hand. What they don’t understand is that’s the world I live in, and the world my team and I have to live in to be successful in implementing these ideas. It’s also a pretty good metric to judge if we are (collectively) good at our jobs.

We ask these questions, and maybe even spoil the serotonin high of a great idea, because we want to see the idea succeed. And we care enough to help the idea, and whoever came up with the idea, to see it through.

No one ever said being an expert was going to be easy!