Practicing Developer Weekly, S1-E1

Thanks so much for reading my very first post of this brand new newsletter!

I’m Gregory Brown, and this is Practicing Developer Weekly.

I may play around with different formats over time, but for now, I’m taking an approach inspired by James Clear’s 3-2-1 newsletter, where each post will feature 3 Thoughts from me, 2 quotes from others, and one question for you all to consider.

I am always happy to hear from readers, so if anything in this or any future post sparks your interest, go ahead and email me at gregory@practicingdeveloper.com.


Pay attention to accumulation.

We are often event-driven in how we think about things, because it’s less intuitive to pay attention to how things change over time. But both breakthrough successes and catastrophic failures are nearly always the result of thousands of tiny actions that were mostly invisible because they did not rise to the level of urgency that would push them out into the spotlight.

But if you constantly remind yourself that “more of anything nearly always means more of something else”, you’re less likely to be caught by surprise down the line when some second or third order system gets pushed past a tipping point.

To lift something heavy, start with twine.

We had terrible wind storms throughout the Northeast US throughout most of 2020. This has lead to an obscene amount of downed tree limbs, and just as many heavy limbs hanging high in trees where if they fell it would easily injure or kill someone.

The city has fancy bucket trucks for anything out by the road, but people get… more creative in their backyards. One day, I saw a neighbor take a small rock and tie it to a piece of twine, and then toss it about 20 feet up over a branch in his yard. He then used the twine to drag a piece of clothesline up over the branch, and then used the clothesline to drag a heavy rope up and over.

Once he had the heavy rope in place, he jiggled it around and under a massive fallen limb that was caught on the branch until it was able to fall safely in a controlled way.

The alternative would have been to hire an expensive tree trimming service, so this was certainly a clever hack. And it’s also a mindset that can apply to how we solve any problems we don’t quite have the resources to solve head-on. Solve an easy problem first, then build on the solution to solve a slightly harder one, and so on.

Muddling through isn’t practice.

The best parts of our days are often when we’re in a quietly productive flow state, operating just at the edge of our comfort zone to do meaningful work.

The worst parts are when something suddenly goes wrong, and we get stuck. We flail around a bit looking for a quick fix, an easy way back on track. Sometimes we find it, sometimes we get sucked down even further into stuckness.

Eventually, we learn a bit of something, either by trial and error, or by asking a friend, or by figuring out just enough of what we need to know to move forward.

That learning has value, and it builds some experience. But it isn’t practice.

Practice is something we do when we recognize the aspects of our work that we tend to muddle through, and break it down into discrete skills to develop intentionally.

The more we muddle, the more it is a sign we need to practice. The more we practice, the less we need to muddle.

But just remember, if you’re not muddling through things at least some of the time, it means you’re not challenging yourself enough to grow. Everything is in moderation. :-)


“There will always be limits to growth.

They can be self-imposed. When they aren’t, they will be system imposed.”

Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems

“Follow your passion. What utter bullshit.

If someone tells you to follow your passion, it means they’re already rich.

And typically the guy on stage telling you to follow your passion made his billions in iron ore smelting.

This is your job. Your job is to find something you’re good at and then spend the thousands of hours and apply the grit and the perseverance and the sacrifice and the willingness to break through hard things to become great at it.

Because once you’re great at something, the economic accoutrements, the prestige, the relevance, the camaraderie, the self-worth of being great will make you passionate about whatever it is.”

Prof. Scott Galloway, The Algebra of Happiness


As software developers and business people, we’re constantly trying to keep systems well maintained and running smoothly.

But can you think of a time in your life when something falling into a state of disrepair actually turned out to be a good thing?


That’s all for today. Have a great week!

-greg

PS: If you enjoyed this newsletter, please forward it to a friend or two. It’d be a huge help, since this thing is brand new. ❤️