I finished reading Pragmatic Thinking & Learning: Refactor Your Wetware by Andy Hunt a couple of days ago and I have been reflecting on it a lot lately. (Note: here is a very cool mind map of the books contents by MindMeister) The major topics of the book are:
- The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition
- Using your ‘R-mode’ of the brain
- Learning deliberately
- Gaining experience
There are plenty of other items which Andy delves into throughout the book. It is very thoughtfully researched and written — and it is a must for any career software developer to read (Along with Clean Code, The Clean Coder and the Pragmatic Programmer).
The ‘Right’ Brain
At it’s essence, the book points out that each of us have a different level of expertise in any skill we have — be it programming, cooking, speaking, etc. The majority of people stay at a ‘advance beginner’ level on the Dreyfus model and never really advance into the ‘competent’, ‘proficient’ or ‘expert’ levels of the model. I believe we should all aspire to achieve an ‘expert’ level skills in the areas that correspond to our career field. In order to attain this level, we have to engage the R-mode of our brain to leverage our experiences. The R-mode is the holistic, intuitive, creative portion of our brain. You can’t access your R-mode as easily as the L-mode — in fact, it typically is drown out by L-mode ‘chatter’ (e.g. the constant stream of though that pops into your head like ‘I wonder what I should eat for lunch…’).
Intuition and the Expert
Over the past couple of months I’ve read quite a few technology related articles that seem to “dovetail” with the subject. The book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell points to increasing scientific evidence of the R-mode of the brain using what is termed ‘thin-slicing’ of events to generate what we think of as ‘intuition’. More often than not this intuition is correct — but it can be fooled by biases that the brain has.
Intuition is one of the main items that gives an expert his/her expertise. It lets the expert arrive at a correct solution faster than any of the other levels of the Dreyfus model. This speed and correctness is exactly what is needed to compete in our global economy.
We tend to discount intuition and the R-mode faculties because they can’t be quantified as easily as say, passing a calculus exam with flying colors.
Rise of the Creative Economy
A good part of ‘due diligence’ for your career should be looking ahead to the horizon to see what is on it. One of the recurring themes I see in most publications is the future demand for ‘creatives’ in most organizations. A recent article by the CATO institute points to the ‘creative economy’ as the future of the american economy — while another article by Forbes suggests joining the “creative class” as a way to recession proof yourself.
With all of the above in mind, how do we future-proof our careers in technology? I would start with reading Pragmatic Thinking & Learning. While you are reading it, I would do three things:
1) Determine your interests
I believe you should align your career with what your interests are. Figure out what you like to do. This can turn a ‘job’ that you work into a ‘career’ that you enjoy. Think about it: roughly one third of your life is spent working — you might as well be doing something you enjoy.
When you are doing something you like and are interested in, it makes learning easier as well. The Wired magazine article “Free Thinkers” (by Joshua Davis) references new teaching methods which leverage that interest/curiosity in different subjects to accelerate learning.
2) Practice active career development
In order to attain competent, proficient or expert skill in a particular area you must deliberately and actively learn in the area. This means taking charge of your own professional development.
If you are a programmer/technologist:
Don’t wait for the company that you work for to send you to training or ask you to investigate a particular technology — go and learn it on your own.
With all of the demands of a busy life, this means you are going to need to set time aside to learn the subject. If you don’t schedule it and abide by the schedule it probably won’t get done.
Here are some suggestions:
- Read a new technology book (or two)
- Play around with a new framework or language
- Get involved in maintaining an OSS project.
Find the learning technique that works best for you. We have so many learning resources today (thanks in large part to the proliferation of Internet technologies). Here are a few:
- MOOCs ( edX, Coursera, Udacity, et al. )
- The Khan Academy & YouTube HowTo videos
- Technology related blogs & sites
- Tutorial & Learning Sites ( PluralSight, CodeSchool, CodeAcademy, TreeHouse et al. )
My personal favorite learning technique: get involved in a local user group. Surround yourself with others who are actively learning: Exchange ideas. Network. Give a talk on a technology that you like! Nothing hammers a topic home better than having to teach it.
I highly recommend making your own “Pragmatic Investment Plan” to practice career development.
3) Engage your creative side
In order to use the R-mode thinking you need to work at engaging your creative side actively. The R-mode can only be invited—not compelled—to work on a problem. The L-mode of your brain will drown out the R-mode in most cases. You must find ways to silence the L-mode chatter and allow the R-mode to “do it’s thing”™.
The ways to do this are too numerous to list in a blog post — so here are just a few:
- Draw a picture of the problem you are trying to solve. What visual metaphor is appropriate?
- Describe problems verbally
- Use mindmaps when brainstorming
- Use a walk as a way to clear the L-mode ‘chatter’
- Try acting out a process rather than diagramming it
- Doodle in your idle time or during a phone call
- Keep a dream log
- Take up daily meditation
Managing your career is your own responsibility. Take an active role in this portion of your life and never quit striving to learn more.
Become a better learner. Start the journey to expert in a skill area.
Leave a comment and let me know how your journey is progressing!