An ambitious young programmer asked me recently, “how do I balance learning
new specialties with producing good results?” It’s a great question, and a
hard balancing act.
It took me too many years to learn this. I hope the rest of you learn it much
faster than I did.
A Tale I Will Thee Tell
If you find a project that your management considers highly productive that
uses a new-to-you technology, then you can learn and be
productive. That’s a best-case scenario, but it happens semi-often.
Watch for it, just in case.
As you’d expect, those opportunities are often reserved for the programmers
who play the politics game best — if you do well, many of those will
mysteriously open up to you.
But let’s say you can’t get that, not yet.
Your Goal: Be Like Old Google
Next best is to have a perceived-as-high-value activity that doesn’t take all
of your time. This is much, much easier than it sounds. If you can do that,
you can declare your own old-Google-style
20% time, especially if you don’t declare it out loud. The keys to being
perceived as highly productive are, roughly:
1) Be sure to ask your managers, and occasionally their managers, what the
company values. Patrick
McKenzie’s article talks about doing this during your interview — and
yes, do that, but don’t stop doing it once you work there.
Also, ask business-critical groups (e.g. Sales, Marketing) and politically
powerful groups (e.g. Product, Finance) what they get from Engineering. You
ask because they remember the stuff they value and forget the stuff they
don’t. So their answers will not be a good match for what Engineering
thinks that Engineering gives them. Their answer tells you what you
want to be working on. Those are projects they consider valuable and
noteworthy. If you do a good job on projects like that, they will remember you
personally. At least, they will if you do steps 3 and 4 correctly.
There’s a lot to developing software on a team that universities don’t
traditionally teach you. If you’re already strong at theory and
skills and you know you also need lots of practice, what else should
you be doing to prepare?
Developing on a team requires a lot of people skills. Junior software...
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Why this specific newsletter? You want to be an expert. Expertise comes from learning the fundamentals, deeply. And that comes from the best kind of practice.
I write with that in mind. I won't waste your time.
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