Valuing Outside Perspective

28 Jan 2019

Our daily interactions have an inherent limit. A network of people that we can manage can only be so large. There are 24 hours in the day, and we need to get things done so we can’t talk to everyone we’d like to, let alone reach outside of our bubble to find something new.

There was a time in my career where I never left my small bubble. I was effective. But I didn’t grow very much. I didn’t learn very much. Only when I began to value outside perspectives did things change.

Not only did I begin learning and growing as an engineer I also gained confidence. Somehow, while learning there is a ton I don’t know, I gained confidence — it still doesn’t make sense to me, but thats how it happened.

There are lots of places I looked to for outside input from people I didn’t work with, or didn’t go to school with:

  1. I would subscribe to mailing lists of third-party libraries and frameworks I was interested in. Even if I never used them, or had an intention of using them. I wanted to see what kinds of problems they were experiencing and how they found solutions
  2. I would try and join online communities. And I don’t just mean popping into the IRC channel to ask for help (though I did that as well). I would try and answer other peoples questions and see if they’d answer mine.
  3. I would go to meetups in my city. And eventually I would present at those meetups.

As individual engineers there is a lot of wisdom we can find in the wider world. We can find good advice for technical problems and solutions, as well as personal and career questions we have. I think getting outside our immediate problems broadens our horizons and can help us avoid burnout. Strangely enough, it has offered me a glimpse of hope at times in my career that, “Yes, things can be different.”

As a small team or small organization, looking outside is something I’ve rarely experienced. I’m not sure why, but I have experienced a real aversion on teams I belong to in seeing what other outside groups are doing — unless its your direct competition, then they care immensely and its always political. I think a team that can value outside perspective, rather than dismiss it, is a mature team.

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them — Albert Einstein

Valuing outside perspective is going to show you things you don’t know yet. And I guarantee you’re going to find answers to problems you have you never would have thought of. A good leadership team is actively doing this for a mature business, and they’re doing it at a high level. But it rarely travels down the ladder to the rest of the organization, at the level where the rubber meets the road.

#SoftwareEngineering Perspective