We Are Learners

20. December 2014 Uncategorized 0

I try to not mix my 2 blogs. I have this one, that focuses on the professional side of software development, and I have another blog which follows my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu addiction. The reason is, most of the people interested in software don’t practice BJJ, and most people that practice BJJ don’t care about software.  That said, my worlds collided this week.  I was listening to a podcast, where the head blackbelt at our academy was talking about when he was young. He’d gone out and won a big tournament. He came back to the gym, and told his professor (BJJ term for head instructor) something to the effect of “There’s nobody here for me to train with. I’m better than these guys, I just won this tournament.”  He spent the next hour in the middle of the mat as any and every person at the gym had free reign against him.  The other students were promised advancement for every time they could make my professor submit.  He had one guy ultimately choke him until he passed out. When he came to, he was told that even though he was in his 20s and his opponent was in his 60s, his opponent was a blackbelt in Judo and had been practicing for quite some time.  On the podcast he explained “That’s when I learned that you don’t fight the guy, and you don’t fight the belt, you fight the position.”  Meaning, regardless of who is attacking you, in BJJ, you have to be smart and defend the position. He learned something that he wasn’t planning on learning. He wanted to train with people who could teach him new moves and new techniques. In the end, he learned something much more valuable.

How does this apply to software development? Developers, as a group, tend to enjoy learning. At this point in development history, how could you not enjoy learning? There are new frameworks and libraries being produced by the day (by the hour?) Things are constantly changing. Whether it is new languages, new paradigms, or just improvements in the ones you’re familiar with, there’s always an an opportunity to learn. It’s something that I think drives most of us to fire up our computer every day.

But not all the learning as professional software developers is about what a particular framework can do. The past month or so has been a tiring month on my project for many reasons. Not bad, just tiring. This past week in a developer meeting, I encouraged my team to use these opportunities to learn and grow. We’re using Angular, which is something nobody had extensive experience with before this project, so there’s a chance to grow in that framework. But even more than that, we’re interacting with a domain that none of us have experience with. We’re performing tasks for a client that none of us of have worked with in the past. We have the chance to learn specifically about the domain and about the client. However, we also have a chance to learn about clients in general. How do you handle client expectations? What’s the best way to find out use cases for a system? How do we determine priority based on client feedback (hint: a client will almost never tell you “Do A, then B, then C” so you have to learn to listen and understand what they’re after.)

A lot of things might be considered boring or even “not real work” (which is a phrase that my Project Manager hears me jokingly say way too often.)  But there is not a software project that exists for paying customers that doesn’t have to solve these problems. So we have to spend time & energy learning about them as well. Being a developer doesn’t just mean learning how to program, it means learning what to program as well as when and why to program as well. So even on projects that don’t see technically challenging, there is always more to learn.

After talking about that with my team this week, I came home to a broken toilet. Thankfully, my brother-in-law used to be a plumber, so he tried to help us fix it over the phone. We finally realized the jet at the base of the bowl was clogged, most likely with one of those toilet cleaning tabs.  I didn’t set out the day to learn about toilets, but in the end, learning that 1. they have a jet at the base of the bowl and 2. that if it is clogged, the rest of the unit won’t function turned out to be rewarding as well.