Getting Past Biases

As I was growing up, certain biases were established that I never thought I would get past:

  • Pink is a girl’s color, and blue is a boy’s color. (Oh, marketing folks… social “norms”…)
  • Lawn mowing is a man’s job. (My dad never had my mom mow the lawn.  It was always a job for my dad and my brothers.  Forget that I was actually interested in it.  He wouldn’t have it.)
  • Internals (of programming languages and systems) are for super smart people who need masters or doctorates to understand.  Specifically men.  (Because in college, they didn’t show a lot about women in tech, so they didn’t really stand out.  Sadly.)

However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten past a lot of the biases, especially:

  • Even my kids will tell you, colors are colors.  Don’t let the marketing world and their bias of associating colors with genders sway you otherwise.  It’s not the end of the world if either of the boys are drinking from a pink cup.
  • Lawn mowing can be done by anyone.  I had an 80+ year old neighbor start my lawn mower one day because my husband was on the other side of the world for a family trip and I couldn’t stand waiting a week and a half for him to get back… but I also don’t have the strength to start a mower with a pull.  Since that one time and one lawn mower later (EGO! Electric and push button start!), I LOVE lawn mowing.  A moment of Zen…

The one thing that I took awhile to break past was the thought on internals.  I’ve been in tech just over 15 years, and up until recently, this bias had clouded my judgment.  It made me question if I would ever be technical enough to do this.  But… something snapped.

Did you ever find yourself job hunting, look at a job, and know “this one… I need to apply.  This is the right thing at the right time.”?  I had that recently happen.  Now, keep in mind that I left a full-time position at the end of last year so that I could focus on my career and go back to independent consulting.  So some people are going, “wait… going full-time?  Would you really ever consider that again?”  And yes, for the right opportunity, I would.   But… what is the right opportunity?  That remains subjective.

In this case, there was an opening on a team that I had known of and watched over many years.  I saw the position and tried to close the tab and let it go.   There was a mention of internals of a product, and as soon as I saw “internals”, I figured “I don’t know about that…” and would let it go.  However, my mind and my heart had a different plan.  When I woke up the next morning, I knew that I would regret it if I didn’t apply.   If I didn’t give myself the opportunity to try… the opportunity to not be afraid of the mention of internals… the moment to realize that the bias I had all along was so incorrect… if I didn’t do that, I would regret it later.

Am I past the fact that internals may be for super smart people and that women can get into them too?  Yes.  My internal dialog switched from “Internals… removing the magic from behind the curtain… seeing what really makes things happen… keeping it efficient. Go masters and doctorates to have enough understanding for this.” to “Seriously, Sarah?!? You loved Mark Russinovich’s Sysinternals talks.  When it comes to languages and tools, you love to play and see where their capabilities are.  You have super debugging skills and aren’t afraid of jumping into a codebase, knowing that your debugging skills are what makes that magic happen.  Programming languages and the tools we use are not that different from the applications you’ve written in the past – you have to see them as applications themselves rather than thinking they are something completely out of your league.  Also… all the things from data structures in college… that finally makes sense thanks to practical use in the field.  So wake up and know that you can do this!  Apply!  You’ll regret it otherwise.”  So I applied.

And….?  Nothing yet, as it’s still early enough in the job application process.  Also, this is holiday season and end of the fiscal year season for many folks, so it’s a bit of chaos now.  But, if there’s interest, who knows what lies ahead.  And if there isn’t interest, well, at least I applied and got past the bias of thinking that internals were just for folks more degreed and smarter than me.

The point is… when we’re younger, it’s possible to form certain biases. As we get older, if we keep an open mind, we may be able to see where the biases lead us down wrong paths and how to grow past those biases.

Rockstars Need Not Apply

My friend Doc posted this on Twitter, and it really grated on me, so much so that I’m compelled to write.

Meet Bill.
Bill’s a rockstar programmer.
He codes fast.
Bill doesn’t need to refactor.
He codes fast.
Bill’s too valuable to take support calls.
He codes fast.
Bill doesn’t pair; it’s inefficient.
He codes fast.

You should hire Bill.

‘Cause we don’t need his kind around here.

In the 15 years I’ve been in the field, I have seen “that person” a few times, and when I do, there usually has to be an intervention or a call to reality.  Somehow, I’ve become the “go to person” for these tough conversations, bringing people back to earth gracefully.    So let me share why these things grate on me.

The Rockstar Programmer

Rockstar, unicorn, ninja… these are all terms I hear when companies are looking for “the ideal candidate”.  I groan at every mention of those.

When I hear these terms, I know they are looking for candidates who have ALL THE SKILLS, can be masters of technologies in short periods of time, and sets expectations high.  They want bigger, faster, stronger.  However, with rockstars come egos, and “the rockstar programmer” is seldomly a team player.  They are the lone wolf who insists they can do it on their own.

Does Not Need to Refactor

Wait… does not need to refactor ever?!?  Typically, the end product isn’t written right the first time.  Missing scope tends to be common.  Having peers review code, there are opportunities to learn how to improve code or possibly take other approaches.  And if he does not need to refactor but his code happens to suck… yay for technical debt. 🙁

Too Valuable to Take Support Calls

The most productive, most valuable pieces of code I’ve written have been from user feedback.  Whether it’s understanding a user’s environment or realizing that a feature we thought was usable was more confusing than usable, there is always room for improvement.  Your users are the ones who are your job security – without users, your product has no reason to exist.  I have had employers think that I was too valuable to speak with end users, but in the end, I opted for opportunities where I could talk with the users and show the employers just why support calls are important.  Maybe it’s because I have done some time in support (and even managed a technical support team) – but I don’t think any developer is too valuable to take support calls and learn about the pain points in their products or services.

Doesn’t Pair as It’s Inefficient

I have had inefficient pairing sessions, so I can understand where people may think it’s inefficient all along.  Like any methodology or practice, I see pairing as a tool that can be useful when understood.  I love considering pairing as a tool for on-boarding new folks – knowledge transfer and having those on the team already gauge where the new person may need more guidance and support.  I also appreciate seeing some teams pair a QA person with a developer to have the QA person help the developer understand thinking like their users and for the developer to help the QA person automate tests.  Is pairing inefficient?  It can be with the wrong pair of people or under the wrong circumstances.  But… it can also be useful.

Bill Codes Fast

<sarcasm>Ready… set… type!  Code as fast as you can.  Make as many bugs as you go.  Forget about readability – it’s all about speed.  Forget about maintainability – again, it’s all about speed.</sarcasm>

Just because someone can code fast doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s working code or the right feature or… hopefully, you get the picture.  Coding fast doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing.

Hire Him… We Don’t Need His Kind Around Here

At what point do we decide that we don’t need his kind around here and have the hard talk that he has career-limiting behavior?  If we have that talk with him and if he’s willing to try to change, would you give him the opportunity to change?

Earning vs Learning

Once again, Cory House has a blog-inspiring question:

Earlier in my Career

Much earlier in my career, I would take pay cuts to learn technologies.  I thought that was the way to do things.  Once I felt comfortable enough with a technology, I wanted to know enough to apply it but not enough to deep dive and harvest the returns as long as possible.  I knew early on that if I sat still too long, I would feel like I wasn’t learning as much and growing stale while technology evolved around me.  I would rather have taken a pay cut and learn new technologies than harvest returns and stay put.

Current Point in my Career

Having been in technology for about 15 years, knowing what I know, knowing that I have an immense skillset with an aptitude to learn new technologies fairly easily, I find that I am not as quick to take a pay cut for new technologies.  I learn new technologies as side projects so that if I want to work with them professionally, it’s an easier slide and less chance of a pay cut.  Now, if I had to learn a new technology for a gig (which I’ve done A LOT in my career), I am fine with that.  However, my employers and clients pay a certain rate for me, knowing that they’ll get a certain quality out of me.  If I feel like I cannot deliver the quality while learning new technology, I might lower the rate, but it depends on the impact overall.

Constantly Learning

Regardless of the earning part, I am always learning.  I am one who cannot stay put, sitting still, getting idle.  I need to always stay busy – whether it’s work or play.  So for me, if I have down time, I am playing with new technology, learning how things work.   What can I say? I find technology fun, and learning how to learn technologies early on has set me up for a good career path. 🙂

These are my experiences.  Yours may vary.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below!

Why I Do What I Do

I have to thank Cory House for mentioning this article about Why Do You Do What You Do Because You Better Know.  With some changes happening, this is something I have personally had to face.  I am wrapping up things at The Software Guild at the end of this month, as I have decided it’s time for me to pursue other career directions.  Talking with some people, the “why do you do what you do” and the “what do you do” questions have come up.  It’s been interesting chatting with them, though, as I find my friends and contacts in the field see other directions for me, which don’t align with my vision.  So I figured I’d put this out there for others to see… what do I do?  And why do I do what I do?

What Do I Do?

There are many things that I enjoy:

  • Organizing conferences and other tech events
  • Speaking at conferences
  • Teaching in the classroom
  • Mentoring – in-person, over coffee/tea, via email, online
  • Creating technical programs for others – be it lessons, modules, after-school programs, or larger programs
  • Making tech less scary, more approachable to others
  • Social media – blogging, Tweeting, engaging with others online

Some people may see my steps in the leadership, teaching, and mentoring realm as going soft.  However, I also have technical interests, including:

  • Data engineering – especially exploring various platforms and tools:
    • D3.js
    • R
    • Python
    • SQL Server
  • Web development – especially looking at the various CSS platforms and JavaScript libraries out there
  • API development – reading up on strategies
  • DevOps!!!
    • finally, something that allows me to put my dev skills and IT skills to work TOGETHER and makes sense
  • User experience development

Why Do I Do What I Do?

Long story, short… it’s fun!  I have always enjoyed playing with technology.  When I learn a new tech, you will hear the word play used, as that’s how I see exploring applications of technology and concepts.  Whether I’m building a sample app to prove a concept can be done or really have a legitimate use for these tools, I take fun approaches to technology, keeping my curiosity and interest up.

When I take on contracts and work with others, I choose to partner with companies that keep me on my toes, challenge me in good ways, and help bring out the best in themselves and others.  I find companies and people that align with my beliefs, morals, ethics, and general career direction.  I want to make sure that I make a positive impact to the world.

Over time, I have realized that not all people can teach others.  There are certain levels of communication and patience needed, and somehow I have those.  I enjoy building materials and teaching them because of the impact – watching others become more informed, seeing those “ah-ha” moments.  When I know that I can teach others something complex and have them realize it isn’t that complicated and really is approachable, that makes me have hope in the world… hope for humanity, hope for future generations… or at least for today.

I also appreciate the flexibility that I have in this career, especially at this point in my career, over 15 years in tech.  Being able to make my own schedule, being able to volunteer at my kids’ school, being able to go out to lunch with my husband… being able to put in time working when my kids are asleep (or choosing to spend some of that time with my husband)… having that kind of flexibility is invaluable.  So part of what I do is indeed for the flexibility.

So What’s in Store for 2018?

I have some folks reaching out to me to help build programs for them.   Also, restructuring my LLC for Space Apps last year means I have contracting companies trying to get me into federal contracts.  If you see something in my “What Do I Do?” that may benefit you and if you see that we may align in the “Why Do I Do What I Do?” part, reach out to me here or on Twitter, and we can take it to email as well.  I look forward to partnering with others in 2018, especially those who can put my talents to use and align with my goals and beliefs.

Thoughts of My Dream Job Situation

While watching Twitter, I saw this pop up in my stream:

As I have taken a twisty career – tech support to desktop admin/webserver admin/reports writer/DBA/developer (all under an IT analyst role) to web developer to independent consultant (mostly development) to teaching assistant to instructor to lead instructor – I have always wondered – what really makes up my dream job?  SwiftOnSecurity’s question has me thinking.  These are some of the things I’ve liked in past or current roles.

Flexibility – Not Tied to Certain Hours

As a mom, it is important for me to be in a job where I can volunteer at school every now and then and where I can be available to handle that call when the teacher has a hazmat situation where the kid needs to be sent home (you may laugh – I had this one happen in the past couple months).   I need to be able to address mom needs every now and then, unapologetically and without a lot of extra guilt.  As a working mom, I feel guilty as it is when I have to leave work early.  However, I end up working when my kids are asleep, so the time gets in eventually.

My strong productivity times are when my kids aren’t around – so when they’re at school and when they’re asleep.  Now, when they’re home, that’s my family time.  My guys are little – 3 and 5 – so I’m at a phase where I’m still an important figure to them.  I need to be able to have that time and not feel tied down by work.

Leadership – Two-Fold

I truly enjoy leading people.  Whether it is in an official capacity – such as leading my tech support team and leading an Online remote instructor team – or an unofficial capacity – such as mentoring juniors while I didn’t have an official “lead” title, I have enjoyed supporting others in their careers, being the voice of them against the business side (HR/accounting/etc.), and encouraging team morale.  Leadership is in my blood – it’s a part of who I am, and it’s something I’ve embraced.   My enthusiasm for leadership is quite clear in my servant leadership talk that I will be delivering in January 2018 at CodeMash.

As a leader, I thrive with other leaders who are communicative, transparent, honest, and know how to handle even the tough situations.  When the going gets tough, if my leaders are transparent with me, that makes it easier for me to be able to disseminate the knowledge appropriately to my team.  As a leader, I prefer to have that transparency and open door policy for my team and expect that of my own leaders.

Play and Creativity

For me to be successful in any role, I need to be able to play.  No, I’m not referring to Nerf gun wars or Corporate Challenge type things. I’m referring more towards having fun while learning.  Is there a way for me to learn a new technology while having fun?  Can I put my creative ideas to work to make my work environment or the tech community a better place?  If I enjoy whatever it is I’m working on, there’s a much higher rate of me being successful.

Education / Training Others

I am enjoying the education space, much like I enjoyed academia while in college.  The one downfall to this is that I only have a Bachelors degree – but I won’t let that slow me down.  I did have my app in for a Master program but rescinded it recently due to a downturn of events.  Maybe one day…

What do I enjoy about the education space?  I enjoy teaching others with examples and real world applications of concepts.  I especially like taking concepts that seem difficult to others and making them approachable.  I enjoy writing curriculum and presentations.  Most of all, I enjoy learning and helping others grow in their careers by learning.

Mentoring

This is something I really enjoy – being able to share my stories and experiences with those who are just getting started in the field, and learning about their journeys and how to apply their journeys to where they are today.  I remind those who learn from me – I also have my own mentors!  Having mentors – especially ones outside of your company – give you a wider perspective on things, and being that person for others is something I really enjoy.

The Road to my Dream Job (of Today)

For now, I will continue to go down the path my career has taken me so far and see where it will lead.  Every day is an adventure, and every step changes who I am.  And each experience, I learn more about myself – my likes and dislikes, what helps me thrive, and what sets me up for success in the future.  I look forward to seeing where this path goes.

Before Contracting, Do Your Research

Within the past couple months, I’ve been dealing with junior devs who have taken on side gigs and signed up for contracting gigs without really knowing what they were getting into.  As someone who owns her own LLC and can do the side gigs, I find myself explaining to them things they should have learned about before deciding to go the contractor life.  So these are some of my thoughts and experiences.

Build a Support Network

Whether you are going completely on your own or doing side gigs while working a regular job, be sure that you have someone who can mentor you and can give you advice in situations common to contracting.  Find someone who understands the business side – timekeeping, billing, contracts, business pipeline, etc. – and who can help you understand it better.  Find someone who understands how to sell yourself and make yourself stand out.  Find someone who can help figure out problems such as work/life balance.  Don’t try to go it alone without a support network.

2 Key Allies – The Accountant and The Lawyer

Unless you truly are trained in these, you need to have an accountant and a lawyer on your side.  Some may meet virtually, some in-person, and some may mix both.  Go with what you prefer.  The accountant is the one who can help you figure out things such as setting up your accounting books, making sure AR/AP is set up properly, making sure you’re taking the right taxes, offering guidance if you are charging taxes, and everything in between for basic financial transactions.  The lawyer is the one you go to with the contracts to make sure that they’re written so that the best situations for both parties are represented.  Don’t want non-competes?  Specifically worried about who owns the work at what point? There are lawyers of various types out there to help with that.  There are certain things you can and cannot say in contracts, and lawyers are great for getting that in place.  There’s more to lawyers than just a courtroom.  Also, when forming a company, you may find an accountant or a lawyer that can give you their perspective of the various types out there – a sole proprietorship versus a partnership versus an S-Corp versus other types out there.  While these professionals may be costly, at the same time, it would be more costly to be without them and mess up any of their functions.  They are well worth the investment.

Know that it can be Feast or Famine

Contracting has its ups and downs.  Sometimes, business is awesome and the pipeline is overloaded.  Sometimes, business is down and the pipeline is empty.  It’s a balancing act in finding what works for you.  Know that those extremes happen, and be prepared for what happens if the worst points come and how long you can sustain those.  Know your audience and how to market to them – that will help you in your advantage.

Benefits… or Lack Thereof

Something that some of the younger ones are surprised with is that there isn’t health insurance, life insurance, training, mentorship, or {insert some other company perk} here when you’re contracting.  While you might get a flexible schedule or a certain rate or being able to pick and choose what you work on, you have to remember that – as a contractor – you typically won’t get the benefits that your clients have.  It is up to you to provide for yourself – health insurance, life insurance, business insurance, etc.  Want to stay up on your skills or learn new things?  The cost – and not just monetarily, but time as well sometimes – of conferences or things like Pluralsight or DevIQ also need to be factored in.  When you have to cover those yourself, you need to consider the cost of those when figuring out your rates.

Doing Research

Going into contracting wasn’t something I just jumped into – though when I had quit my job to go contracting full-time originally, it may have seemed like that.  I spent a couple years observing my friends in the field.  As much as I tease him for giving that workshop everywhere, I enjoyed Michael Eaton’s “Going Independent” workshop. I talked with some of my business owner friends and mentors in the field.  And I made sure that I had all my ducks in a row before making that leap.

So if you’re going the route of contracting, be sure you do the research before getting yourself into a tough situation.

Epilogue

I was contracting from late 2011 until 2016, when I took a position full-time where I am now.  I still have some work that I do under my LLC from time to time.  Would I be a contractor again? If it was the right time and all the cards lined up, absolutely.  But for now, I’ve done my research and am full-time with a company that aligns with my own career goals and allows me to bring out many of my tricks without having the administrative duties of timekeeping and billing.  However, with my experience, I have a feeling I will be talking with more who have entered into contractor life without really realizing what they’re getting into.

Finding Internships in the Tech Realm

A question was recently posted on Twitter on how we got our first jobs in the industry.  This was my response:

However, I had internships pre-college and throughout college and figured I’d share those stories as well.

Internship doing Datasheet QA – Pre-College

One of my brothers’ friends’ dads worked for a large company in the area, dealing with software-related things.  He talked with me and his team interviewed me, having me QA their database, checking that the data in the database matched the datasheets in the specs.  As someone who has an eye for data, this was a great step in the right direction.  While at this place, I found myself moving to a project with a contractor, learning how to migrate from an Access database to a SQL database with a Visual Basic front-end.  I was already familiar with Access and Visual Basic, as I had been playing with those as a hobbyist at home, working on an address book (that I later released on Nonags).  That contractor saw my love of data and introduced me to the Oracle DBA, so that I could see that as well.  Seeing SQL Server and Oracle, I hoped that (1) college wouldn’t be so awful and (2) once I get through that pain, maybe I’ll get to work with data.

Job Source: Family connection

Y2K Programmer

Yes – that was my job!  In the summer of 1999, I ended up working in headquarters of a local retail chain, making sure accounting, payroll, and other systems were Y2K compliant.  I learned FoxPro for this job as well as doing more ETL.  Now how did I end up in this role?  I used to work in the retail chain as a pharmacy tech, working for my now father-in-law.  I think he told me about the role up there.  It was great to get in at HQ, and it was even better when they walked me around on the first day and I ran into family from my mom’s side.

Job Source: Family connections

The Internship That Didn’t Exist

When I came home in the summer of 2000, I didn’t have an internship lined up, and the university’s co-op program placement was useless.  So I looked at the classifieds in The Plain Dealer, a local newspaper for Cleveland and its suburbs.  I noticed a Fortune 500 company with a listing looking for a developer with Visual Basic and SQL Server experience.  Knowing that I had those skills from my past experience, I wrote a cover letter that sold them on the fact that (1) I’m young (and cheap!!), (2) I already have the skills they need, and (3) I don’t need a lot of hand-holding and tend to hit the ground running.  Also, I pointed out that they could bring me on board so that the project didn’t get back-burnered and since I was temporary, it would give them more time to find a more permanent employee.  All the magic words led to an interview, which led to a corner office in downtown Cleveland and a project working on Visual Basic and SQL!  I finished the project with weeks to spare, and they didn’t need to hire an employee for the role after all.

Job Source: Classifieds in The Cleveland Plain Dealer + good personal sales

And, of course, the job I ended up at the longest while in college…

IT Support with the Coolest Guys Ever

Yes, I loved working in IT for the Arts & Science College Computing crew at the University of Toledo.  It was an adventurous part of my career in learning about just what IT encompasses and the good and bad parts, especially in the academia realm.  Supporting students, teachers, and executives, I learned a lot there and was privileged to work with a wonderful, supportive crew.  So how did I end up with this role?  A friend of mine was in the role prior to me, and he recommended me for the role.

Job Source: Friend 

Some Keys to Employment

This is something not just for juniors but for those overall – networking is key.  Talk to people, and listen to people.  Talk with family, friends, and yes… even strangers!  Go to Meetups, user groups, conferences, and other gatherings and network with others.

Don’t be afraid to see what opportunities are out there.  Newspaper classifieds were where I turned, but that was because in the late 90s and early 00s, that was where I knew to look.  Nowadays, we also have LinkedIn, Dice, Indeed, Glassdoor, Monster, Careerboard, ZipRecruiter, and other websites with job listings.  And if you see a listing you aren’t 100% qualified for, take a chance if it’s something interesting and you think you can learn the stuff they don’t have.  Most job listings are guidelines, not requirements that are completely set in stone.

You never know where your next opportunity will be.  Put yourself out there.  And remember – no one can sell you and your capabilities better than yourself!

Adventures with R…

About a week and a half ago, I started going through the R specialization on Coursera.  These are some of my observations.

Reminders of my Past

As I work in RStudio and go through lessons on data tidying, querying for values, and creating functions, I am reminded of some of the courses I went through in my past.  I am calling functions – such as correlation – that I (vaguely) remember learning about in my statistics class.  A lot of my interactions with R remind me of the days of working on engineering homework in Matlab.  I’m also finding that the language makes a lot of sense to me because it has elements of object-oriented programming – akin to the C# and Java that I teach at The Software Guild – and functional programming – with concepts like pipelines and chaining functions, which I liken to some of my PowerShell adventures.  It’s been quite an adventure so far.

Preparedness Going In

I’ve been curious about data science for awhile.  Catching Matthew Renze’s Practical Data Science with R workshop at CodeMash encouraged my curiosity out more.  Between January and March, I dreamt of data science stuff and had ideas popping into my head – especially since NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge is coming up in April, and I’d love to show my NASA friends what I’ve been playing with, hopefully using some of their datasets.  When it comes to querying data, I have a solid background in that too – having worked with multiple RDBMSes and worn the database administrator hat in my past.  Finally, I realized that I was prepared enough – between my solid understanding of programming languages and paradigms and having been exposed to R in the workshop – that I had better follow my dreams and take a course to keep me on the right path.

Current Status

Tonight, I hit an achievement – I finished Course 1 of the R specialization.  Yes, it’s a 4 week course.  Yes, I went through it in a short period of time – but my preparedness really helped in this case.  The only road block I had in this first course was when it came time to use statistical functions and not remembering what they meant or represented.  But after reading and plugging away at it for an hour or so, it all started coming together.

I signed up for Course 2, which starts on Monday.  I’m already through the Week 1 material there, and I’m having fun creating functions.  As I was writing some of my code, I laughed because I recognized R’s syntax and thought “ah… anonymous functions… much like my lambdas in C# and Java….”  It’s good to be adding another language to my toolbelt.

Also, while I mentioned RStudio above, I also find myself yearning to get back into Visual Studio at times.  So when I get tired of RStudio, I switch back to R Tools for Visual Studio 2015.  The only downfall I’ve run into with that is that Notepad is the editor that comes up when swirl() opens a temporary file for me.  I need to eventually sit down, look at configuration, and find out if I can either set Visual Studio or Notepad++ as my R editor for swirl() when I run it in VS.  (And no, I haven’t checked Visual Studio 2017 for the R tools yet…)

Overall, though, I am thrilled to be playing with data again, and R has captured my attention.

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.

Conclusion

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.

A Survey on Consumer Type

My friend Randy was asked to take the VALS Survey recently, and after reading his results, I was intrigued.  It appears to be a great way of gaining a better understanding of your consumers. their motivation, and how they consume goods and services.

Looking on their site, it’s a short survey, so I checked it out.

My results are:

  • Primary Type: Innovators – dominant approach to life
  • Secondary Type: Achievers – a particular emphasis on the dominant approach