An interesting article this weekend in NY Magazine on the "bubble boys"--Silicon Valley programmers-- and their ethos of development.
Silicon Valley, is the "last bastion of full employment," and I can't help feeling that this is partially because of how these companies and their entrepreneurial workers operate. I think that these ideas are instructive for us as individuals in our own professional development, as well as for organizations considering how to thrive in a new economy.
Some key ideas:
- Fail fast--The emphasis is on movement, action, getting ideas out there and functional, not waiting until things are perfect. One entrepreneur noted that if you aren't embarrassed by your first effort, then you didn't act on it quickly enough. Mark Zuckerberg's motto is "Move fast and break things."
- Tinker with things--Coders often don't have an end goal in mind. They just want to play with the code to see what they can make it do. This habit of tinkering with things to see what you can create is one that not only can generate great ideas, it can also create great learning.
- Do what you love--"Coding isn’t about making money or scratching some OCD itch. It’s about doing what you love and, yes, changing the world. Engineers shopping their talents talk about impact; they say they want to work wherever their contribution will make the most people happiest." Passion is critical to the mix. Do work that you would do for free, just for the love of it.
- Use "abstraction"--Abstraction means finding ways to automate lower-level tasks so that you can focus on more value-add activities. Programmers are able to access vast libraries of free, open-source code that allow them to easily create things like buttons, scroll bars, etc., freeing them to focus more on the user experience and problem-solving. This idea of "abstracting" the low value activitites in your life is key. It frees you up to concentrate on what is most important. Get rid of what is non-essential so that you have the time and energy to focus on the core.
- Execution trumps ideas--The most powerful professional development idea that is developing for me is the idea that intentional, ongoing action is the key to growth. You can read and think all you want, but until you actually execute, until you actually DO something with those ideas, they are merely thoughts floating around in your head. They must change how you function for them to really be tools for growth.
- Power is in the hands of the doers, not the thinkers--Doing, executing is what counts. It's what gives you power in your career and professional development. As one coder in the NY Magazine article observed, “Successful people aren’t any different from you and me. They’re not inherently more brilliant. The difference is they had the wisdom to get their hands dirty and be part of the game instead of just observing it.”
Growth is an active process. It's iterative, mashing up ideas and skills to create new combinations. Getting your hands dirty, playing with what you do, finding ways to experiment and tinker--these are critical activities for positive professional development.