While living in Bangalore, I saw Martin Fowler speak at a Thoughtworks-sponsored event on agile development. The one thing he said that has stuck with me since then is that when he wants to learn about something, he writes about it. It’s obvious that writing a book or an essay on a topic would help you learn about it, but it never occurred to me that these guru-authors might be writing about things that they didn’t already know before starting a book or article. Writing is both a process of documentation and discovery.
That makes a lot of sense when you’re writing about a technology. There are bound to be nooks and crannies that you hadn’t previously explored, even if you’re an expert. To present a complete picture, you’re going to have to dig into things you hadn’t previously had a need for.
What wasn’t as obvious to me was that the same would be true of non-tech writing. My book isn’t a reference manual. It’s a collection of bits of advice. It’s less about knowledge and more about common sense, good judgement, and wisdom. So the nooks and crannies I explored as I wrote weren’t in obscure language features or rarely touched APIs. They were in concepts that I had either taught myself or had absorbed through osmosis from the wiser people around me throughout my career.
While I was codifying ideas that had been everyday companions to me for years, they went from being rough and ragged to polished. Not only were they clearer for my readers (the purpose of the polishing) but they were actually better. As a result I have produced advice that, at least on a granular level, is new to me.
So there’s this one particular section of my book that I learned a lot from. I’ve read it many times since it was written, and I’ve thought about it even more. It’s called "Love it or Leave it". The premise is that, if you don’t love what you’re doing, you won’t be great at it. Or to flip it around, if you love your job, you stand a much greater chance of being great at it.
Stated alone like this, it couldn’t get any more obvious. But this book is about making things actionable. I realized as I thought about it that I was unable to come up with a recent personal example of how I had taken this most primitive piece of advice and done something about it. My career had taken a turn that most Americans would consider to be "success", and I had let it take me where it wanted. That meant management in big corporations.
But the undercurrent that was always tugging on me was that I looked at a lot of my friends in the industry with a feeling of envy. I wished I could (at least attempt to) innovate all day. I wished I could write Ruby code full time. I wished I could work in an environment that was 100% focused on getting things done instead of drifting in the tides of corporate politics. I wanted to work for a company that was focused on winning instead of trying not to lose.
So I decided to take my own advice and find this environment I’d been looking for. On the same day that I decided to look, I found it. Kelly and I are moving to Denver, so that I can be a full time Ruby (on Rails) developer for Naviance.
Several years in the big corporate world creates a lot of inertia. It’s no easy decision to make. But it feels right once it’s done, and the interactions I’ve had with my new team only serve to reinforce my choice.
The team is going to stay small and focused. We’re looking for a designer with Rails experience. Might this be the leap you’ve been waiting to make?