On Making Badass Developers

I ran into Michael Richardson while at CodeMash, and he forwarded me a link to Kathy Sierra‘s talk Making Badass Developers.

These are my thoughts as I was watching the video.

What do you need to know? 

Sitting at the table, someone asks what you need to know to be a web developer.  As Kathy points out, this is the wrong question to ask.  It isn’t about what you know – especially in a world of technology that is ever changing.  It isn’t as much what you know now as it is how you can learn technology and keep up with it.  As Kathy puts it…

How can you learn and build skills QUICKLY?

While talking through this, she identifies that  developers come in multiple forms:

  • Human – extremely scarce, easily depleted cognitive resources
  • Humanoid – consistently available cognitive resources
  • Unicorn – these don’t exist

It is possible to be identified as a humanoid, and she mentions how to handle this.

Where there is high expertise, there is a great deal of cognitive research management. – Kathy Sierra

One of the things she points out is how we can get better.  She points out an exercise with Post-Its – which my friends can tell you that I have a problem with them.  As in, I make Post-It notes all over my wall in my home office and on a spare monitor as well (until I get an adapter to hook it up too).  Kathy mentions grouping them in three groups:

  • Can’t do (but need to)
  • Can do with effort
  • Mastered (reliable/automatic)

The goal is to move the Post-Its to Mastered.  But there tends to be a pile up in Can do with effort or half-assed skills in Mastered.  Another frustration with the move-the-Post-Its game is that these things can take a lot of time.

half-a-skill beats a half-assed skill – Kathy Sierra

Split skills into subskills.  This is how to move past the Can do with effort to Mastered easily – break it into smalller, masterable chunks.  As my instructional coach at work tells me, breaking topics into chunks makes things easier to digest and lessons possibly easy to learn.  This also applies to learning skills.


I really like how Kathy mentioned that it isn’t about what skills you have but how quickly you learn.  This has been a key skill for me to be as successful as I am in my career, because I can pick up a technology and run with it.  I took a FoxPro position without any knowledge of it, and I landed in a C# position without any knowledge of C#.  In both cases, it came down to showing the potential of being a quick learner and running with it.  I’m glad that she points that out.  I also appreciated that she talked about the Post-Its game and how to break skills into smaller chunks – the concept of breaking things into smaller chunks continues to follow me.

There’s more to this video than I cover here, and I recommend you check it out if this is a topic that interests you.

By sadukie

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