I arrived five minutes late to my method acting appointment. My coach seated me, and asked me how I was.
“What a day!” I said. “I woke up almost an hour late, and my whole day has been about catching up. On the way here, I realized I had to get some cash. Oh, and I even forgot my notebook.”
He replied, “This is a problem with commitment versus comfort. Commitment is a trait, and waking up on time starts with the night before. You sleep in cycles, so falling asleep for an hour more might make you even more sleepy and tired.”
He then added, “Preparation starts the night before. Imagine you are a soldier. All you have is a map and a compass, the rest is up to you. You don’t see the lions, the dangers. This is why you need weapons. These weapons are your systems in place that you commit in executing. In the battlefield, if you don’t stick to the plan, someone dies. You need to remind yourself of the plan, so you have to look at your map every day to enforce what challenges await you once you wake up. You will never conquer if you don’t have access to your plans.”
A lot of people, just like myself today, are running their whole lives being busy with firefighting. People tend to overcommit and underdeliver. Instead, we want to be the ones who follow up our commitments.
The Startup Bubble
If you look at the history of Apple, it was initially not a big corporation. Initially, they were a small startup, where each and every team member was a highly committed professional. In that scene, most people had no such days as the one I described, because they had their map, their compass, and they were hungry for success. Startupping was not that popular back then, so funding was a lot more scarce than now.
Today, in the post-millenial era, the generic startup mentality is a lot different. You don’t even need a profitable business model to get started. Don’t get me wrong, there are some hidden gems out there, who may become the Apples, Microsofts of the future. However, with the widely available funding options, a lot more junk has surfaced as well.
In many startups, there is nothing else, but hustle. Most startups don’t have the competence or skill advantage required to sustain their efforts. Most startups act just like me today. Acting quickly, and firefighting.
Quick, efficient execution is important as long as you have a clue about what you are doing. Acting without competence creates too much fire to fight. Most startuppers say, you win or you learn. So they keep on learning, which is, once again, is very important in all areas of life.
It does not matter though what you learn. Let me illustrate this with a story.
As I was writing and updating my book, The Developer’s Edge, I wanted to update my experience as a candidate, so I sent my application to some companies. I lined up a couple of first interviews for myself. One of these companies had a product that I was familiar with, as I used the software of one of their competitors the year before. Therefore, I was looking forward to the interview. Too bad they were so disorganized that they failed to reply me, and it took them a month to schedule an interview with me.
During the interview, I asked them about their product. They said, they are new, they act quickly, and they focus on the mobile app now. I asked them if they had a desktop app. They replied with a firm no, as they believed, this app needs to be mobile.
I told them, “Designing a user experience on a mobile device for this task is just as hard as making your own Android developers use their Android phone to write the source code of the application. This task requires a big screen, a keyboard, and multiple windows on screen at the same time. If you are not profitable yet, why didn’t you start with a desktop application?”
The interview was over, as they didn’t even bother answering the question. They just couldn’t take constructive criticism. As I am writing this article, I went ahead, and downloaded their app on my phone. It’s just as useful as a phone answering machine with voice recognition. You know these machines, don’t you? If you want to send a package, say “send” or press 1. If you want to change your address, say, “change address” or press 2. Whenever I use these machines, I always want to reach a customer care agent, so I usually say “customer care” persistently. Alternatively, you can also try “fuck you” or some other abusive words, because sometimes intelligent voice recognition prioritizes those customers that seem angry.
This company refused to consider answering what I said. I get it, I may be wrong, after all, they invested time and money into this idea. I asked myself, how would they react to professional constructive criticism? Are they ready to face reality, or they buy into the idea that their startup is run by competent people? If the company was as competent as the HR interview, I have doubts about it.
This is not the only example. There are many signs of a startup bubble manifesting in front of our eyes. What lead to the startup bubble?
Most of us know about the baby boomer generations after the second world war. They benefited from the hard work of the generation before them, rebuilding the world. The economy was healthy. In democratic countries like the USA, there was a lot of freedom. The generation first born after the second world war enjoyed that freedom.
In today’s world, consumption drives the economy. The current generation in their twenties and thirties, Generation Y, are brought up believing that they are geniuses. As a consequence there is a tendency among the members of this generation to reject criticism. This generation often misunderstands things emotionally and intellectually.
While people running companies believe in their superiority and invincibility, investors often invest in nonsense ideas. Growth and user base is more important than a profitable business model. As a consequence, many startups simply burn money.
History tends to repeat itself. Strong people create good times, good times create weak people, weak people create bad times. At the time of writing this article, we are in the era, where we have excellent opportunities, but most people are already weak compared to earlier generations.
This is your opportunity
I have interviewed hundreds of people from over thirty countries. I can see one tendency: people want more goodies and perks in exchange for decaying performance. Settling for below average developers was not an option for me, so we were patient with hiring the best talent. Once we had to reject more than fifty developers without hiring a single one. However, those who got hired, performed well.
Today’s software developers are often born into privileges and wealth without working for it. Therefore, it is very difficult for them to face reality. My vision in The Developer’s Edge is to give you a blueprint for making you a software developer who is strong like a Spartan soldier.
Why a Spartan soldier? Because Sparta was one of the few exceptions, where a strong army didn’t get busy conquering the world. Conquest often brings corruption. Similarly to the fall of the Roman empire, our current workforce is easier to get corrupted. We focus on polishing our appearance instead of letting our actions speak for themselves. We focus on getting perks, benefits, money, power, instead of improving our skills. We focus on hiding our mistakes instead of learning from them. We tend to ask for a leader or a project manager to take responsibility for our actions, while we sit in front of our computers waiting for someone to solve our problems and unblock us.
Becoming a Spartan soldier isn’t an easy job that can be accomplished within a day. However, my audience having read The Developer’s Edge knows that it is the easiest way that leads to a fulfilling career. I have experienced what it takes to turn a -10X developer into an engineer that contributes to the company. I have also seen the same person being more balanced and happy than before his transformation. He is not a Spartan soldier yet, but he is continuously improving.
The Four Essential Soft-Skills
Recall the four pillars of career advancement from The Developer’s Edge. These essential soft skills make it possible for you to build your career on strong foundations. Every soft skill you learn or practice can be derived from these four skills:
- Personal Integrity: how you do anything is how you do everything.
- Responsibility: you are a lot more valuable by going the extra mile and taking charge, than by telling your employer, “this is not my job”.
- Professionalism: in code we trust. Hundreds of years ago, the architect of a bridge would stand below the bridge while it is tested. How much would you bet from your own resources that your code is solid?
- Communication: whatever you want in life, you will need to stand up for yourself. Simply because if you don’t do that, no-one else will. None of your soft-skills are worth much without proper communication.
In the next post, you will learn more about these four soft-skills. This is the right time to start developing them. Because if you do, you maximize your chances of skyrocketing your career.