Beyond the Geek Apprenticeship

forwardWhen you’ve immersed yourself deeply enough in programming to write a ray tracer in 68000 assembly language in your teens, it’s safe to say you probably aren’t going to become an accountant. So whilst I know some folks struggle to find theirs, my own career path was always rather obvious.

Since graduating from uni a not-insignificant number of years ago (!), I’ve been lucky enough to have worked for some truly inspiring folks at some amazing companies and on some very cool problems. I’ve had a chance to help build software for many different industries and sectors. I think that gives you a really valuable perspective on what we, as software engineers, can actually offer.

More importantly, it also gives you a great sense of what’s possible with this universal toolkit called “software”. For that’s all it is; a toolkit, and nothing more. As I’ve said before, it’s what we do with that toolkit that counts.

I’m mostly interested now in exploring what’s possible with technology, and what we can build with it to benefit each other. I think there’s a certain obligation to look up from what we’re building occasionally and to ask how it helps us. If the answer isn’t obvious, it probably doesn’t. Self-serving industries, with little benefit for those outside of them, no-longer interest me.

I realised that the earlier part of my career was probably naturally something of a travelling tech apprenticeship: You work in various corporate scenarios, learning, building and applying what you’ve discovered.

Beyond any apprenticeship, the bigger question always comes: What will you do with this now?

Unlike my initial career choice, the answers aren’t as obvious… but, if I’m open to finding and exploring them, they’re probably going to be at least as interesting.

Looking at New Product Ideas the Wrong Way

idea-comfort-zoneThe moment you’ve had a new idea for a product, something dangerous happens… You start viewing the world from the perspective of that idea; validating the idea against the world, the people in it, and the opportunities / benefits it might present to them.

Sounds right doesn’t it? Intuitively, yes. But it’s the wrong way round!

What we need to do after having a new product idea is to keep validating it from the perspective of the outside world: Keep finding scenarios into which the idea might fit, and assess it in terms of its true benefits. Keep starting from the point of view of different sets of people in the world, or different potential use cases… and look at the idea from that viewpoint. Not the other way around.

The idea must not become the lens through which we see the world. If it does, we’re blinding ourselves to the reality and we risk building something that is of little use or limited appeal.

It’s counter-intuitive because, once we’ve had the idea, it is naturally our obsession. If the idea is something we feel we could build as a product, we can get blinded to the fact that there are a billion things we could build as products… but a much smaller number of things that would truly benefit the world, and perhaps even manage to be commercial products.

I think it’s a subtle but powerful switch in perspective.