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DCR: Open Minded Curiosity

Published 9/27/2017

Today's episode is the next of a series of episodes extending our previous discussions from the Developer Career Roadmap. The first episode from that series can be found here: https://spec.fm/podcasts/developer-tea/49656

Today's episode focuses on cultivating your curiosity.

Today's episode is brought to you by Linode.

Linode provides superfast SSD based Linux servers in the cloud starting at $5 a month. Linode is offering Developer Tea listeners $20 worth of credit if you use the code DEVELOPERTEA2017 at checkout. Head over to spec.fm/linode to learn more about what Linode has to offer to Developer Tea listeners!

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Why are new ideas important and where do they come from? That's what we're talking about in today's episode of Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and my goal on this show is to help you become a better developer. And do that by coaching you through ways of thinking and important questions that you can ask yourself to interrogate your mind, to create new patterns of thinking and new perspectives in yourself. All of these things are important. You know, we've talked about multiple traits of a great developer recently and today is another episode in that series, the traits of a great developer. This is an extension of the developer career Romab episodes that we did last year. And I highly recommend you go and listen to those, but these traits, these are all things that you can kind of maintain no matter what stage you are in your career. So we ask this question, you know, why are new ideas important and where do they come from? Let's start with the first part of this. Why are new ideas important? Let me ask you a different kind of parallel question. How do you solve a problem? It's easy to think that we solve problems with a limited set of information. So for example, I draw on my, the learning that I did in math class to solve a math problem. But our brains aren't that simple. And in fact, our brains are significantly smarter than that. Our brains use information that is connected to other information. In other words, it really is kind of a jumbled mess in our brains of ideas that are interconnected in ways that we can never intuitively predict. So even though you and I may have the same outcome, the same, you know, objective answer to an algebra equation, ultimately we have different experiences. We have different experiences as two different humans. We have different memories. We have different ways of remembering those particular algebraic techniques. But more importantly, we have additional information that we use and that we draw from in order to solve those algebraic problems. Now if we're solving more complicated problems like for example, if we're trying to decide on a variable name, that's a more complicated problem, determining the name for something is a highly contextual concept. Having a semantic wrapper around a piece of code, that's a highly contextual concept. And so there are things in my brain that are not necessarily in your brain and there's things in your brain that are not necessarily in my brain. Memories and experiences and ideas that I draw from because once again, our brains have interconnected those ideas. We don't have perfectly compartmentalized parts of our brain that are only fired when certain activities are engaged in. Instead we recall information and we anchor information very differently from each other. We have different memories and different experiences. I've returned to this over and over because it is so important that even the room that you're in when you learn a subject or when you learn a particular technique or something like that, that room will actually stick with you in your mind. This seems so trivial and it seems very easy to pass off as unimportant, but as it turns out, these ideas matter significantly. And this is why, especially if you are from the United States and you grew up around the same time I did, you probably, any time you need to remember what order a particular letter comes in the alphabet, you probably sing the alphabet song. This acts as an anchor in your mind to help you solve a specific problem, a procedural problem. You can't jump straight to that letter. You actually have to access that information through that anchor. Now I'm not a neuroscientist. I don't claim that this is perfect information or perfect theory about how our brains work. In fact, there's still a lot of mysteries surrounding how the human mind actually works. But rather this is giving you a way of thinking about why new ideas are important and how they can affect your work on a day-to-day basis. So it is important what your brain creates. It's important what you experience. So if new ideas are important, then how can we set ourselves up to have new ideas or to have new experiences? That's what we're going to talk about right after we talk about today's sponsor, Linode. Linode is like a super platform for developers. They have products that cover every experience level and every product need that you might have for something you're building, whether it's a side project or a highly scaled software as a service, something like that. Linode has something that will provide you with the level of support that you need at the price that you need it at. They start at $5 a month and they go up from there depending on how much RAM you want to use. Also, all of their stuff is built on an hourly basis. So if you have a particular day of the month that your site or your service needs to be more robust and needs to be able to handle more traffic, then you can scale up just for that one day and then scale back down. You don't have to pay for a whole month worth of extra service in that scenario. On top of that, they have things like a powerful API to script your servers together if you have multiple servers. They have SSDs and a 40 gigabit per second internal network. So everything is incredibly fast. On top of this, they have extra services like backups and node balancers and long view and Linode managed even to help you keep things running smoothly. Go and check it out. They have 99.9% uptime guaranteed, by the way. Go and check out what Linode has to offer. Spec.fm slash Linode, they're going to provide you with $20 worth of credit just for being a developer to you. Listener, thank you again to Linode for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. When you check out, use the code Developer Tea. 2017. That code will get you the $20 worth of credit. Thanks again to Linode. So we're talking about new ideas and we're talking about the traits of a great developer and that brings us to today's trait. Open-minded curiosity. Open-minded curiosity. Now, we're going to talk about what that means and then we're going to talk a little bit about the antithesis or signals that show you that you don't have that open-minded curiosity. And really, this is going to be kind of an engine for new ideas, for new experiences in your life and for new ways of thinking about the same problems. Open-minded curiosity is kind of characterized as having an appetite for new. Having an appetite for new perspectives, new ways of thinking, new techniques, new ways of working, new products, new services, new frameworks, new languages, having an appetite for new, but also having an appetite for old, right? Having an appetite for understanding the history of things, understanding how things came to be, having an appetite for the now, understanding your customers, what they think and what they feel, understanding what the current state of the market is, truthfully, curiosity, curiosity is not about any particular state of time or any particular thing, it's about learning, right? It's about having an appetite for input, having an appetite for information that you previously didn't have and understanding and exploring that information. In that sense, curiosity is about having an appetite or a desire to learn new information, to input new information into your brain. This is so important because this is actually where those new ideas come from. If you are not curious, if you have no appetite for that new information, then the inflow, the input that you have into your brain is going to be limited to the things that happen by chance. If you're not actively seeking out this new information and new experiences, then the new stuff that goes into your brain, the rate of that new information going in is going to be significantly lower than if you did have an appetite for that new information. This is where those new ideas come from. The reason this is so important is because the more ideas you have, the more anchors you have in your mind, and the broader range of experiences that you have, not only as a developer, but in general, the broader range that you have, the more perspective you have to solve a given problem. The more ways that you've created to get to information in your brain that is relevant. The open-minded part of this, the curiosity is important, but the open-minded curiosity is particularly important because what that means is that you're willing to let this new information update the way you think. In other words, you're not so set on your old perspective that the new information goes in and then becomes rejected. That instead, you're actually using that new information to create new thinking, create new ways of thinking, new filters on the way that you think. What are some signs that maybe you aren't as curious as you could be, or that perhaps your lack of curiosity is going to limit you in your career? One tangible way of identifying a red flag of curiosity for developers is you haven't built anything that you weren't assigned to build in a significant period of time. Notice that we aren't saying that you must have a side project of substantial size. Here it could be something as small as a script that runs on your computer, or it could be a hello world in a new language that you've never used in production before. Or it very well could be that side project. This is a sign that you as a developer within the development career space and within the development tool space, if you haven't tried anything new or if you haven't done anything that you haven't been directed explicitly to do, then it's likely that you aren't cultivating curiosity for yourself. Another red flag, a signal that would tell you that you may have a limit on your curiosity is if you have a pattern of cynicism. This is a developer poison that we talked about in the past. Cynicism, essentially shutting down an idea before you really even have a chance to understand the idea or shutting down with a lens of pessimism, anything that somebody is presenting to you. These are forms of anti-curiosity. You're closing your mind off to the surrounding world. Perhaps you're closing your mind off to new and better ways of thinking or new and better ways of doing something or perhaps just a new variety, a new way of thinking, whether it's better or not is kind of irrelevant. This really goes back to our previous trait of a great developer and that is having a fixed mindset versus a growth oriented mindset. If you have a fixed mindset, then you're going to lack in curiosity. Your curiosity is going to help your growth mindset. It's going to maximize your growth mindset. I have a simple exercise for you to do this week after you listen to this episode and it's very simple, extremely simple and it doesn't have to be directly related to software development because, again, your mind is not compartmentalizing your experiences. Every experience you have can help you think better. It's very simple. I want you to every single day, I want you to do something new. The following day, I want you to identify the new thing that you did yesterday and something that you noticed about it that surprised you or otherwise you didn't know before. It was new information. I want you to write about that. Write two or three sentences each day of something new that you experienced the day before. This means intentionally seeking out something new and it can be very small. It doesn't have to be a big thing. You all know that I'm a big proponent of doing small things. Do something very small that's new each day. It could be as simple as trying a new restaurant for lunch one day or it could be as simple as having a meeting with somebody that you've never had a meeting before. A one-on-one conversation, maybe with a coworker that you've never had a one-on-one conversation with. These are all new experiences and you have to seek out the new and that's kind of the hallmark of curiosity. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. I want to encourage you to develop an authentic curiosity for yourself. Take the extra five minutes to literally go the long way home from work today. These are very simple things that you can do to help keep your brain in a dynamic atmosphere and keep new information rolling in. Thank you so much to Linode for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea with Linode. You can build pretty much anything that you can imagine. It's Linux on a server. It sounds simple but it's incredibly powerful, especially when it's backed by all of the services that Linode provides. Go and check it out, spec.fm slash Linode and use the code Developer Tea2017 at checkout. They're going to give you $20 worth of credit just for being a listener of the show. So go and check that out, spec.fm slash Linode. And by the way, if you are a listener of the show or if you're brand new to this, as somebody sent you a link to this. I highly recommend that you subscribe in whatever podcasting app you use. We release a lot of episodes. And so you're going to get behind or you're going to forget about it if you don't subscribe and then you're going to be behind. And you may miss out on an episode that's really valuable to you. So subscribe in whatever podcasting app you use. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.