A Pattern for Growth
Are you in a slump? Remember when you were first learning development and everything was new information? I remember my skill growth feeling like a rocket ship. So much to learn. So many new things to build.
Lately, I have not felt that as much. As a self taught developer currently in a senior role at an incredible company there was A LOT of growth that had to happen for me to get here. I have always been very self-motivated, but I found myself wondering a lot about where I go from here? How do I continue to grow? Which inevitably leads to asking how did I get here in the first place?
Is there something about how I got to where I am now that I can learn from and apply to the next steps in my career? What am I missing from the early days that fueled so much of my growth?
Good news? I found it. There is a pattern I realized I was following that is so obvious looking back. A pattern I know we have all used whether we realized it or not. It is simple, and now that I have recognized it I don’t feel the slump.
So, I want to share it with you in case you find yourself in a slump (I promise I will stop using that word)
This is where things get tricky. There are way to many metaphors and comparisons and I can't settle on one that will make this click immediately for everyone who reads this…soo I guess we will just use a bunch and you let me know which one works best for you.
A pattern for growth
The pattern that has lead and continues to lead to the most active growth of my skill set as a developer is a two part cycle:
Accumulation of experience → Focusing on craft → Wash. Rinse, and Repeat
Okay cool graphic…thank you it took way too long to make…but what do those actually mean?
Well, it is like the concept of bulking and cutting in weightlifting. Bulking is the process of lifting less but heavier weight while increasing your calorie intake to got more muscle (I.e. bulk). Followed by time spent cutting back on calories while increasing frequency of lifts with less weight to tone or focus the recently added bulk.
Or if you're not into weightlifting it is like the process of creating thread or yarn. You gather a large amount of unprocessed material and then you spin (aka process) that larger amount of raw material into a stronger, usable material.
Not into weightlifting or crafting? Okay so have you ever made a reduced sauce when you're cooking…I'll stop, but hopefully you're starting to get the idea.
Even though we are not talking about weightlifting, spinning yarn, cooking, or whatever metaphor you would like to use this concept of accumulation→refinement matters.
Have you ever found yourself feeling stagnant? Feeling like you have been building the same features with the same type of code and months go by and it is just a professional blur?
Have you ever felt like you're spinning your wheels? You have been learning and experimenting with new code, new techniques or languages, but never feel like can piece it all together?
It is because you are floating on only one half of the cycle. You need both to build and continuously grow your skill set. Why?
The Skill Curve
I'm not a scientist. I'm not a qualified to provide unequivocal proof that this is how the human brain learns new skills, but I can tell you this based on my experience and my observations in our industry from developers who are high growth individuals.
Learning a new skill is a hill chart. A Sk(h)ill chart if you will.
You find new skills by exploring and experiencing new technology, languages, etc, and all new skills start on the left of the curve. You hear about it, you know what it is most often used for, but if this is all you are doing and calling it growth you get nowhere. You “know” a lot, but you can’t do much.
To progress along the curve you must dedicate focus to the skill. Repetition. Study. Integration with other skills. However, eventually dedicated focus stops returning benefits equal to the time spent on it. This is great. You've reached a form of mastery with that skill, but now focus spent on this skill isn’t improving anything. You may have mastered it, but your growth is flatlining.
If you're never accumulating new experiences your focus is wasted at a skill plateau that is taking you nowhere.
If you never pause your exploration of what is new to focus and refine what you've found you’re left with knowledge, but no wisdom on how anything is done.
It's an onion
I’m going to leave it here for now, but there are more layers to this pattern.
Connections between skills upon crossing certain thresholds in craft is one of the most exciting layers I will have to write about soon.
Anyway, hope this helps you identify if you have found yourself in a rut in your career. Find where you are stuck in the cycle and switch gears. Then let me know how it goes!