Use tasks you have to do around the house to improve your development skills | John V ...


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A somewhat unorthodox and non-traditional suggestion I admit, but as Brad Meltzer often asks: “This may seem unlikely, but go with me on this…”

How many times have you had to build that piece of furniture from Ikea, install window blinds, etc? In each case, you are solving a problem. You have to analyze and organize. It’s really not that different from development. It’s a project like anything else. It has a beginning, middle, end. Like development, if you misinterpret the requirements, you have to go back a few steps. That next thing you were going to do has to get pushed to a later time.

This past weekend, I had to install some Levolor Blinds into our spare bedroom. I also happened to be listening to the  This Developer’s Life Podcast. I was listening to Episode 1.0.6: Abstraction. A great episode (as they all are – and like really good things – you have to go through them a few times because you are likely to pick up something new and useful that you missed before.) The part that really struck me was the interview with Ward Cunningham. It was then that I decided to use my blind installation task as an analog of sorts for development. The interview with Ward was the inspiration. The end game is to then reverse the flow – to perhaps use development as an analog for the blind installation task – assuming of course the blind installation task is successful!

It begins with us…..

The one thing that really struck me about Ward was his motivation – that he builds things form himself. The same was true with John Ressig and Dan Bricklin. Then it struck me that this is really a craftsmanship issue. True craftsmen always reserve the best stuff for themselves. Indeed, much of that good stuff accrues to the benefit the things that are released for public consumption. Craftsmen work product also shares another characteristic – what they produce is pleasing to look at and use by the harshest critic of them all – the craftsmen themselves.

Turning back to my window blind example, I wanted to ensure they would function properly, be pleasing to look at – much like what we strive for in our software.  For a satisfactory end result however, there has to be some measure of planning. Since I had two blinds to install, I wanted to make sure the second one had the benefit of the first – as to process and as to a completed product. My benchmarks were simple:

Did I thoroughly understand the requirements?

Did I have a plan?

Was I organized?

As to tooling, did I have what I needed and were those tools readily available?

Was there improvement in the process?

The great thing about tangible projects – particularly those you have to do around the house or wherever you may be, those projects provide immediate feedback. You know whether they look right. You know immediately whether something was hacked together. You know whether the finished product is pleasing to look at.  You also know what is lurking beneath the surface. I’m in the middle of the Steve Jobs bio by Walter Isaacson. Jobs was obsessive about quality (perhaps to an unhealthy extreme!!). His [Jobs] obsession was centered around the fact that quality of thing not seen was at least as important as what is seen.   That consideration absolutely applies to the software world. When we see properly working software, we can take pride that the things people don’t see are well constructed. With home projects – we know that something is not going to break or fall apart because the things people don’t see (like screws into the wall being well anchored) are well done.

Food for thought as you contemplate ways to continuously improve.