Developer Tea

Explicitly Choose What You Won't Do

Episode Summary

We all know things that we want to be better at. In today's episode, we're talking about things that we choose not to be good at.

Episode Notes

In today's episode, we're talking about things that we choose not to be good at.  


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Episode Transcription

We all know things that we want to be better at. But in today's episode, we're going to explore the other side of this coin, the things that we're not good at. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea and my goal on this show is to help children developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose on their careers. And the reality is that most of what we will encounter in our lives, the skills, the various job titles, the vast majority, we will not ever be good at it. And even within our own job titles, there are skills that we might even have to come to terms with that are part of our jobs that we're just not very good at. So I want to walk you through an exercise today during this episode. I encourage you to get out a piece of paper or your journal or whatever it is that you can write on or you can take notes on your phone or something. But this is an exercise that I recommend you go through maybe on a quarterly basis or even a yearly basis is probably enough. And the exercise is very simple. But first, for a second, I want to talk about the blinders that we choose to put on and hazard a guess as to why we put these blinders on. And the blinders that I'm talking about are the blinders of awareness of our limitations. And when I say limitations here, I don't mean our ceiling. But instead, I mean the necessity of choosing what we want to hone, the skills that we want to invest in. It's easy. In fact, it's very common to imagine that all of the skills that we want, we can achieve, we can go and learn those skills. And it makes sense because we have been able to learn many skills in our lives. We've been able to learn a lot of information. And so intuitively, it makes sense for us to believe that we could go and acquire whatever number of these skills we want to acquire. But we are limited. We're limited on time and we're limited on resources. And so acquiring every skill that we can possibly imagine, it's just unrealistic. But beyond being limited on actual resources like time and money, but we may also be limited by the simple fact that optimization is necessary. And that's what this episode is about. But first, we have to come to terms with those limits. We're going to talk about that right after we talk about today's sponsor, LynneauD. Whether you're working on a personal project or managing enterprise infrastructure, you deserve simple, affordable and accessible cloud computing solutions that allow you to take your project to the next level. You can simplify your cloud infrastructure with LynneauD's Linux virtual machines and develop, deploy and scale your modern applications faster and easier. You can get started on LynneauD today with $100 in free credit for listeners of Developer Tea. And you can find all of the details at slash Developer Tea. LynneauD has 11 global data centers and provides 24, 7, 365 human support with no tears or handoffs regardless of your plan size. And in addition to shared and dedicated compute instances, which you're probably used to, you can use your $100 in credit on other LynneauD services like S3 compatible storage, managed Kubernetes and more. You can host your website, build your app store or backup media. It's really up to you and it's all free with $100 of LynneauD credit. Head over to slash Developer Tea and make sure you click on the Create Free account button to get started with LynneauD today. Thanks again to LynneauD for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So we have to come to terms with the fact that not only are we not going to be great at everything, but we're probably only going to be great at a very few things. Most of the people that we think of, when we think about people who are truly talented, truly exceptional in what they do are only exceptional at one or maybe two things. And so we have to accept this reality that we're not going to gather every skill that we can possibly think of. Now, here's what's important about this. Creating this means labeling it, coming out and understanding verbally or writing down the things that you're simply not good at and that you never are going to become good at. Now, this isn't necessarily saying that you're never going to become good at it even if you want to, but instead it is actively choosing the things that you won't invest your time in. And here's another way to frame this, the same conversation. Let's say that you are having your next one on one, maybe your manager, maybe your individual contributor, whatever role you're playing. And the next one on one that you have, if you have the opportunity to kind of drive the conversation, here's what I want you to consider doing during that one on one. This is not our exercise, by the way, but here's what I want you to consider doing. I want you to ask your manager or ask the direct report, what should I never expect you to do? What should I never expect you to do? And this is a very important question and the framing here is really important too. It's not the other framing, the opposite of this is what should I expect you to do, but instead this is giving someone the freedom to opt out. And here's what this does. Once we carve away all of the distracting, non-essential things, the things that maybe another person in this role you could expect from them, but if I had to choose, I would ask you not to expect it from me. Once you can carve those things away, then you can clarify, okay, what's left? Here are the things that I'm really good at. Here's the list of two or three things that I'm already excelling at. And here's maybe another one or two things that I want to excel at. You can push me. You can ask me to invest in these areas and you can expect me to deliver in these areas. This kind of conversation is critical because here's what happens when you don't have this conversation. And you don't have the conversation, all of the expectations that people have accumulated for a given role, all of the expectations that they have for front end as a practice, not a single engineer, a single front end engineer, but rather the discipline of being a front end engineer and filling the blank, by the way, with any role that you might have, all of that accumulates into this big ball of uncertainty. We don't know what is expected of us in that role. And so we fill in the blank with as many things as could possibly be expected. Not necessarily practically, but what could someone want me to do in this role? Nobody wants me to be good at CSS and to keep up with all of the new JavaScript frameworks and to understand how this front end works with the back end and to know the full history of vanilla JavaScript and to know the HTML spec backwards and forwards and to keep up to date with all of the new stuff and all of the new browsers and all the new APIs and to understand GraphQL and obviously this big ball of uncertainty starts to get heavy. And so instead, if you can say, hey, look, I can't carry that. If you can come to terms with that, if you as a manager can help your direct reports come to terms with that. And by the way, this isn't just about hard skills. This isn't just about programming languages. This is also about what can you expect from me as a manager? Maybe I'm not good at everything that you imagine a manager should be good at. Maybe I don't provide as much technical guidance, but I do provide a lot of career guidance or a lot of kind of negotiating type of guidance. The relational side, there's a lot that can be understood about somebody by asking these questions, what can I not expect you to do? So here's the exercise and what I asked you to get your paper out for. I want you to write down three things, three things that someone else might expect you to do, but then you don't really want to be good at those things. You don't really want to invest the time to become good at that. Write down those three things and then I want you to write down one more thing that you're not good at today that you do want to become good at. Now here's what I want you to do. I want you to look at this piece of paper when you've written down these four things. The three things that you're choosing not to do, all of the energy that you would have spent becoming mediocre at those three things, all of the time and effort that you could have put into becoming just passively skilled at those things. I want you to imagine that you're redirecting all of that. You're cutting all of those things off of the possibilities list and you're redirecting all of that attention to the one thing, the one thing on your list that you do want to become better at. Finally I want you to imagine just how long the I will never become good at this list actually is. Outside of your work, outside of your expertise, outside of your domain, there are thousands, hundreds of thousands of skills that you'll never be able to get. So saying no to an extra three or four of those, this shouldn't be a problem. We should be able to choose which of those skills makes the most sense for us and then hone those skills rather than trying to meet everybody's wildest expectations of us. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Thank you again to today's sponsor, Linode, head over to slash Developer Teato get started today with $100 worth of free credit in Linode services. This episode and every other episode of Developer Teacan be found on as well as every podcast provider, whatever podcast provider you are using right now, you'll find Developer Teathere as well. Today's episode is produced by Sarah Jackson. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and until next time, enjoy your tea.