Somewhere in the last ten days, I hit my two-year anniversary with 3Sharp. This is a big deal; the longest I’ve ever worked at one company was 2.5 years. I don’t think I’ll have any problems shattering that record here at 3Sharp. It is still the absolute best job I’ve ever had, even with some of the not-so-fun projects I’ve had to work on. What makes it so fun is that I work with a lot of really smart, gifted, and dedicated people.
So what have I learned after the last two years?
- Working with someone who is a stellar talent shouldn’t be intimidating if you are committed to learning what they can teach you. When I learned that I’d be working for and with Paul Robichaux, I was scared out of my mind. That fear paralyzed me for a good portion of my first year there and nearly cost me my job. Instead of focusing on how much he knew and could do, what I needed to focus on was doing what I could do and learning how to do the rest. He didn’t hire me with the expectation that I’d be mini-Paul (at least not that he’s told me); he hired me because I could do a job he needed someone else to do.
- A person with stellar talent is still a human being. They will make mistakes. They will forget things. No matter how gifted, they aren’t perfect; they have their flaws. If you expect them to make allowances for your lapses, you must give them the same courtesy. And you must also be prepared to call them to account when needed — not to say, “Hah! Caught you!” but rather to fix small issues before they become big ones.
- A person with stellar talent must still rely on others. You can’t do everything by yourself; neither can they. They may be able to do more than you can, but a large part of that is experience — something you will gather with time and dedicated effort. After two years, I now have a fairly good idea of the amount of work involved in writing a 30 page technical paper on Exchange 2003. Depending on what the focus is, it may be something I can write easily without a lot of research, because I’ve done enough other projects that I have a body of knowledge and experience to re-use. If it’s something new, I have a good idea of how long it will take me to learn it. Stellar talent knows when to do something oneself and when to have someone else do it.
- A person with stellar talent is always willing to learn new things from anyone who can teach them. It isn’t important if you finished that degree or have that certification; if you know what you’re talking about and can demonstrate it, you’ll be an authority. The first lesson of experience is to make valuable use of the experience of others. That’s why we write things down and teach each other how to do things, so we can see farther over the horizon because we’re standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before us.
- The difference between stellar talent and wannabe talent is not how smart or gifted you are, but how hard you work. And that’s not makework. It is putting the time in to learn the fundamentals of your craft, whatever it may be, and acquiring the discipline to use your skills all the time whether you feel like it or not. Stephen King and many other top authors constantly debunk the myth that “real” authors write from this cloud of ecstasy. Real authors write every day without consideration of mood. They gut it out when they don’t want to write. From watching my co-workers at 3Sharp, the same is true of programmers. The stars are stars because they don’t rely on mood (which as Gurney Halleck remarked to Paul Atreides, is a thing for cattle or making love) but discipline.
People with stellar talents have learned these five lessons and internalized them. They live them every day.
God willing, I’m on my way. Here’s to year three. Thank you, Paul, Peter, and John — these have been the most profoundly satisfying years of my professional life.