And we’ll all float on alright
Already we’ll all float on alright
Don’t worry even if things end up a bit
Too heavy we’ll all float on alright” – Modest Mouse / Float On
“I got 99 problems” – Jay Z / 99 Problems
Pa’lante: a colloquial spanish word meaning “forward.”
I wrote a post a few weeks ago called, “Embrace the Suck” and I was generally surprised by the positive reception. People could relate. It was probably cathartic for them to read something that wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Life’s been really tough for me lately. I’m not looking for sympathy, just giving you some more real talk. Michelle Pfeiffer sitting backwards in a chair type of real talk.
My 1-year old daughter had to go to the ER twice recently from febrile seizures. She’s doing great now and they aren’t necessarily dangerous, but she was really sick for weeks. She’s on her third different type of antibiotics. It was scary. Really scary. And with her being sick, none of us got any sleep in the house. Prolonged stress and sleep deprivation. I also launched a modernization effort at work while this was going on. And I was writing a proposal. And in my spare time (commutes) I was studying for the AWS CSA exam. I really, really had to embrace the suck. Now my little girl is better and I passed the exam, it’s time for a different saying.
Pa’lante is the opposite side of the ‘embrace the suck’ coin. What happens when you’re out from under your cloud? Maybe your situation is like mine. Maybe you have car problems. Or money problems. Or you’re just down. It’s one thing to be tough and stick it out, but you need some hope. You need to move forward. I think a lot about self improvement. To me, that’s part of pa’lante. How can I get better? In the IT world, things move really fast. Technology shifts on a whim and revolutionizes the industry. It’s hard to stay relevant and not feel overwhelmed. That’s why my site tagline is “overcoming my imposter syndrome.” Impostor syndrome is the feeling that you are somehow a fraud. There have been studies that show people in the IT world experience this at a higher rate. And of course they do! They spend weeks or months learning a new library only to have something ‘better’ come out. It’s a feeling of always being behind no matter how hard you try.
Oh no. I don’t know what these other developers are talking about!? If I ask a question they will think I’m dumb. Wrong! Asking questions is a sign of intelligence and open mindedness. Creating an environment that rewards curiosity and open discussion is critical for a successful team. You should never be ashamed of asking a question.
Learning something new is moving forward. Getting clarification on a difficult concept or understanding a new technology is important. You’re adding tools to your belt. These are tools you can use to embrace the suck and pa’lante. The worst people to work with are those that are closed minded. Creating a culture of learning and moving forward is important. I literally say, “I don’t know” daily. (I usually follow that up with, “but let me find out” if I’m talking to a customer.) It’s okay not to know something. That’s human. But learning can be difficult out even intimidating. We can overcome that through communication, taking risks, and not being shy about asking questions. In the age of the internet, there are no shortage of resources available to improve and learn.
In a recent letter to shareholders, Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos talked about his “day 1” mentality that focuses on four pillars: customer obsessions, a skeptical view of proxies, the eager adoption of external trends and high-velocity decision-making. I want to highlight those last two. His factors for success at Amazon align with what I put together for success factors of Flock development. Manly: rapidly delivering value, rapidly adapting to change and embracing technology.
If you’re part of the millennial generation, your biggest complaint about work isn’t money, or hours, or commute. It’s not having any mentorship. I consider myself part of that generation. I’ve had very little mentorship. However, I’ve been extremely lucky to have worked with some incredibly talented colleagues in my career. People who were direct reports to me that I looked up to. And the more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew. That’s what continues my drive for learning. That’s what drives me to mentor others. That’s why I have the stomach for a lot of project risks. I have faith in our ability to learn. The most successful and rewarding projects I’ve been on in my career have been huge risks.
Last year I gave a junior person on my team the opportunity to completely rewrite a project from scratch. This was a project that had been going on for a year. It was over budget and behind schedule. The codebase was a complete disaster. I unsuccessfully tried throwing more people at it. We tried refactoring. But in the end, I had faith in my colleague to get the job done. I had to convince our customer that we could do it. They weren’t going to see any new features for a month. But in the end, I convinced them that this was how we needed to move forward. And it was hugely successful. I had to look at that application and ask myself, “where do we want this to be in a year.” And the current path just didn’t cut it. Once I had that mindset, it was easy to get the customer on board.
In modern IT, the best way I’ve found to improve a project is to fail fast. Listen to all of the best ideas and have them do proof of concepts. Do a bake off and see what path sets you up for the most success. Keep moving forward with that 1-year goal in mind. I don’t have a lot of opportunity in my current job to be “day-1” like Amazon. Few do. Most of us come onto existing projects and need to slog it out. But there is a way ahead. Learn. Fail. Learn more. Teach others. Keep moving forward. Pa’lante.
Note: I started this article off with two lyrics from some of my favorite songs. They both came out at a time in my life when I was an impressionable young lad. I think they both capture the essence of pa’lante. Things are going to be okay if you keep trying.
Photo via Visualhunt