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Play, Stakes, and Learning

Published 6/1/2020

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
How important is learning in your career? That seems like a simple question, and it seems like it has a simple answer. Most developers would say it's of the utmost importance that we are constantly learning. Now, a second follow up question, how important is play? How important is play to your career? In the setup, you may have already guessed that it turns out that play is incredibly important to your career. In this episode, we're going to talk about why. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. Real quick, before we jump into today's episode, I do want to take a moment to talk about JS Nation Live. This is the remote spin-off of a successful JavaScript conference where you'll see talks by the authors of View.js, Webpack, TypeScript, and other technologies, and it's free. You can get connected to the future of JavaScript, as well as the crowd that's going to make that happen by heading over to live.jsnation.com to register. It's going to be a great conference. So let's dive in and talk about play. What exactly is play? We'll spend a few minutes trying to find a definition, and you'll quickly realize that it's harder to define what is play than it is to define what isn't play. We all have an image that comes to mind most likely some of us might think of board games while others think of sports or video games, even, or perhaps an even more salient picture comes to mind of children that are playing. And there's an operative term when we try to define play that's on the receiving end of that play. What do we play as humans? We tend to play games. But what's interesting is most of us as engineers, anybody who has been exposed to this kind of content before, you know that game theory rarely talks in terms of play, at least in our more traditional understanding of play. And that's because most of the time we connect the idea of fun to play. So difficulty here is that we may also have fun while not playing. So you can quickly see how these words become kind of mixed up. It turns out that play is pretty hard to define, but it can be less difficult to define if you start using it as a label rather than a classification. A label that you provide to something rather than a classification that you learn about something. Because the truth is that play because it is so tightly wound around the idea of fun can be subjective. What is play for one person may not be play for another. However, we can't just say that anything and everything is play. So let's try to put some boundaries on this. For this working definition, we can imagine that play requires a few things. Then it requires agency, some kind of agency on behalf of the player. Someone who makes choices. And secondly, it requires some kind of sandbox of stakes. That's not to say that the stakes are always low, but rather that they are managed, that they are intentional and elected. In other words, you're playing a game when you know the stakes. And knowing the stakes, you still choose to play. It's important here to note that we're not just talking about low stakes environments. There are certainly games that can have very high stakes, but we are talking about stakes that are not forced on us. So why are we formalizing this definition of play and what does it have to do with our careers? As it turns out, play is incredibly important to the very first thing we talked about in this episode, learning. We're going to talk about how it's important right after we talk about today's sponsor, headspin. Headspin for mobile, unifies into end automated testing, full stack performance monitoring, and user experience analytics for any application, whether it's native or web, running on any device and any network anywhere in the world. Headspin works with a patent-to-global device infrastructure that offers real, semianable devices on real Wi-Fi and carrier networks with 24-7 remote access. In addition, AI-powered analyses track user experience metrics and KPIs over time, including cold and warm starts, errors, crashes, and response times, audio and video quality, and even biometric responsiveness. You can learn more at headspin.io. Thanks again to headspin for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. In the many episodes where we've talked about learning on this show, we've talked about the environment that is conducive to learning. Learning tends to happen in a few specific types of environments more prolifically than in others. The first kind of environment is when you are deliberately practicing. What does this mean? Repetitively, doing the same motion or a very similar motion with a very tight feedback loop and typically with some kind of coaching, whether that's from yourself or from an on-looking observer who provides you some kind of feedback on what you can change to improve. This kind of learning is very focused and it's very specific to that kind of intentional practice. Another environment where learning occurs prolifically is a low stakes environment where someone has a high amount of agency. The reason is quite simple. The mechanism by which this learning is happening is really simple. There's no mystery here as to why learning coincides with this kind of environment. That is that you can try a lot of different things. You can try things that are way out of the norm that most people wouldn't try, even you wouldn't try in a high stakes environment because you're willing to take risks on things that you haven't tried before. In a low stakes environment, taking risk is pretty easy. You don't really have to worry about the consequences of the failure. You can see how this is similar to play because when you play, you've picked your risks. You're engaging in a game. You're engaging in something where you've picked the risk yourself. This means that you have the ability to fail. That the stakes are not so high that you're unwilling to play the game because you know that the game may end and may result in failure. We can see this relationship between play and learning because play necessitates the same types of environments where learning can occur more easily. It's no coincidence that high-level athletes participate specifically in deliberate practice. What can we learn from this? The first thing that jumps out at me is that most of the time in our jobs, we don't consider the work we do to be playful. This isn't something we necessarily have to drive to change, although it's probably not a terrible idea to try to make your work at least a little more playful. But the reality is that our work tends to be kind of high stakes and very often we don't get to choose those stakes. And so we're very unlikely to make choices that are risky. And when we're unlikely to make choices that are risky, we're also unlikely to learn. And so we shouldn't expect ourselves to learn, quote, on the job in the same way that we would be able to learn more intentionally outside of the job. And more importantly, we shouldn't expect others to be able to do that either. For managers who expect people to learn on the job, it's necessary to provide the safe space where learning can occur. And that particularly means providing an environment where failure is an option. If you can provide an environment that checks all the boxes for playfulness where someone chooses their stakes and can even have a sense of fun in the workplace, then you're more likely to see that learning occur. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Just a quick reminder about JS Nation Live. JS Nation Live is the remote version essentially of the React Summit. All speakers, the people who are essentially shaping JavaScript of the future, go and check it out live. js Nation.com. Thanks also to today's incredible sponsor, headspin. With headspin, you only need one platform for testing, monitoring, and analytics across applications, devices, and networks. Go and check it out head over to headspin.io to get started today. It's a great opportunity to be able to do a lot of things with the community. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode. This episode was produced by Sarah Jackson. My name is Jonathan Cutrell. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode.