The Long Road

Problem

You aspire to become a master software craftsman, yet your aspiration conflicts with what people expect from you. Conventional wisdom tells you to take the highest-paying job and the first promotion you can get your hands on, to stop programming and get onto more important work rather than slowly building up your skills.

Solution

The solution the text offers is to first accept that what you want to become might be strange to others, and second to always think in the long term. Value learning and long term growth opportunities over salary and traditional notions of leadership. By focusing on your long term development, you are enriching yourself with a set of skills that aide learning, problem solving, and developing strong relationships with your customers. Keep in mind the length of your journey, if you have 20 years of work ahead of you, you have plenty of time to master your skills. The text mentions that this pattern is not for someone who wants to become CIOs or product managers, or filthy rich. Thankfully the software development field is constantly changing and new opportunities are always available.

I think this pattern is a good grounding for anyone who may be a little too ambitious, and may take promotions without understanding how this may affect the Long Road. Unfortunately, sometimes taking a promotion means a break from learning, and while you may be making better money, you may be setting yourself up for failure down the road, or at least you want have the same skills and knowledge you would if you continuously worked on being a software craftsman.  I do think it’s important to always consider the Long Road, where you are in your career and what kind of job you want. I think this pattern is subtlety saying that taking jobs as mangers or corporate executives may not be as rewarding as working on their craft their entire career. This pattern is a good reminder to me to keep the long road in the back of my mind and focus on always putting myself in a position where I can learn new things and hopefully avoid burn out.

Sustainable Motivations

Problem

Working in the trenches of real-world projects is rigorous, sometimes tedious, sometimes exhausting, often frustrating, and frequently overly chaotic or constraining.

Solution

The text suggests ensuring your “motivations for craftsmanship will adapt and survive through the trials and tribulations of The Long Road.” You must develop your technical skills because you will often find yourself working with “ambiguously specified projects with customers with shifting and conflicting demands.” There are times when you’ll love your job but there may be days, weeks, or months when you may question you motivation to the craft. Your job will present you with tedious, vague defined, and needlessly complex problems and you may have to deal with bureaucracy, difficult personalities, and spotty leadership.

…there is not much overlap between the kind of software that makes money and the kind of software that’s interesting to write…. If you want to make money, you tend to be forced to work on problems that are too nasty for anyone to solve for free.

—Paul Graham, Hackers & Painters

In More Secrets of Consulting, Dorset House, Jerry Weinberg describes this phenomenon as the Golden Lock: “I’d like to learn something new, but what I already know pays too well.” The risk of the Golden Lock highlights the importance of The Long Road, which requires ambition to attain mastery.

I think this pattern has good insight on maintaining motivation to become a software craftsman. It had some interesting examples explaining why you should avoid getting stuck in the Golden Lock, where you may find yourself not enjoying what you do but may stay there because you are making good money. It’s important to keep balance your passion and other aspects of your life, this ties into the “Nurture Your Passion” pattern. Another good tip from the pattern is the importance of developing your skill because you will be working with a variety of people who may not understand things at the same level or might make your job harder. I believe this pattern will help me in my professional career, it’s a good reminder to learn new things, work with different people, and to sustain my motivation to avoid burnout or Golden Lock. This pattern has helped me during school, there were times when the material was very challenging and I took a break from software development. I fell back into it because I feel a true motivation to become a skilled developer, and to always take into account what choices will allow my continued motivation. For example, allowing myself the free time to work on my own projects, like the Breakable Toys pattern. I think anything that you can work on where you don’t feel the pressures you do while you are working.

 

Breakable Toys

Problem

You work in an environment that does not allow for failure. Yet failure is often the best way to learn anything. Only by attempting to do bold things, failing, learning from that failure, and trying again do we grow into the kind of people who can succeed when faced with difficult problems.

Solution

The solution the text offers is to build “toy systems that are similar in toolset, but not in scope to the systems you build at work.” Experience is build upon failure and success, having a more or less private space to seek out failures in order to learn from them. When implementing this pattern, the text suggests making your systems relevant and useful to your life as an apprentice. Suggestions include building a wiki, calendar, or address book.

“Breakable Toys is more about deliberately creating opportunities to learn by stepping beyond your boundaries and single-handedly building complete software projects.”

The projects you take on may be excessive and not complete but having the ability to fail, and find solutions trial and error will benefit you in the long run. Maintaining a wiki leads you to learn about things like HTTP, REST, parsing, web design, caching, full-text search, databases, concurrency, and possibly data migration. Other forms of breakable toys include games like Tetris and Tic Tac Toe, blogging software, and IRC clients. The intent of Breakable Toys is learning new things and allowing yourself to learn from roadblocks that might occur.

The idea of building a wiki to record what you learn is similar to this blog in that I am tracking my progression as an undergraduate seeking employment and mentors to help become a software craftsman. I’ve been using WordPress for some time and have slowly learned more about PHP, HTML, CSS, and SQL databases. I think the Breakable Toys pattern is an essential part of learning new and complicated projects. I liked the idea of creating other tools that help you in other aspects of life, like making your own calendar or address book. My first angular 2 project could be considered a breakable toy, I didn’t know anything about Angular and very little about Javascript but having the time to sit down and create a workable web app helped me learn about something new and has prepared me more for the Angular project I’m working on now.