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Asymmetry and the Halo Effect

Published 8/13/2018

Something that's interesting about instruments is the asymmetry of the job of each hand for skilled musicians. That's what we're going to be talking about in today's episode, the idea of asymmetry that developers experience.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
I don't talk about it often on the show, but I am a musician. I play guitar, I play piano, and a few other instruments. Something that's interesting about each of the instruments that I play, and most instruments for that matter, is that my hands do two very different things on each instrument. This is something that has been studied before, actually, the asymmetry of hands of the job of each hand for a given instrument for highly skilled musicians. For example, on the guitar, the left hand is pressing on the fret, while the right hand is somehow plucking the strings or strumming the strings. You may think that on a piano, both hands are doing essentially the same thing, but two things to remember. One, your hands are not in the same order. In other words, your fingers are not in the same order as it relates to the piano. So, your left hand has a pinky on its far end, and that goes towards the base end of the piano, whereas your right pinky goes towards the treble end of the piano. Furthermore, typically speaking, when you play piano, the left hand is going to be playing kind of the underlying base notes while your right hand generally is going to be playing some kind of melody. This isn't all that surprising, and this is true for most people, unless you are truly in bedextras, you probably have a dominant hand. You probably have a hand that you do more articulate tasks with than the other. But this idea of asymmetry isn't limited to your writing hand, whether you write left hand or right hand, and it's also not limited to your hands. We have asymmetries across our entire behavioral spectrum, especially as developers. That's what we're going to talk about in today's episode. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, and you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to help driven developers connect to their career purpose and do better works so they can have a positive influence on people around them. If you think about your best work, the work that you are most proud of, or the most impactful work that you've done, maybe the work that the most people have seen, however you define that best metric, which is going to be an individual metric for most people, it is very likely that some parts of that work you felt entirely in your element doing. You were particularly skilled with some language or some kind of pattern. And then other parts of that work you may be less skilled in, and perhaps even uncomfortable with other parts of the work. This asymmetry is visible within a project, but it's also visible across our skill spectrum. And sometimes it's in ways that we wouldn't necessarily expect. As an example, I've watched many great developers go through the interviewing process. In these developers, I would trust them to learn and actually execute in almost any environment. And yet, sometimes these developers fail in technical interviews. I've also watched Developer That I really respect, quite a lot, have blind spots in places that even I don't have blind spots. Of course, all of us have blind spots, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that even the most talented developers don't know everything. And in fact, there are some topics where they're extremely inadequate. And in this way, we present asymmetries in the things that we know and the things that we don't know. We present asymmetries in the ways that we work and the ways that we interact with people. And in fact, we even present asymmetries within our belief systems, within our values, what we often call double standards. Where we apply some kind of thinking to one person and a totally different kind of thinking to another person without much rationale. So it's not that surprising that there are topics that some people that we would expect to know a lot about that topic. They actually know very little. And they're even okay with this idea. A great example of this. I recently listened to an episode of Shop Talks Show. And they had Elliot Condon on. And Elliot is the primary author, the creator of a plugin for WordPress called Advanced Custom Fields. Now, whether you use Advanced Custom Fields or not, a very large number of people who develop WordPress websites do use Advanced Custom Fields. And that's a bit of an understatement. So if we were to look at Elliot's portfolio of knowledge, if we were to look at what he understands about web development, we would think, maybe intuitively, that Elliot knows all of the best development tools to use. That he's well versed in everything about PHP or everything about local development with WordPress. And on the show, he admits that this isn't really where he spends his time. This isn't really where he has a deep, a well of knowledge. So the perception of Elliot, perhaps from someone like me who has used Advanced Custom Fields, I've seen how important it is to WordPress. I would expect Elliot to know a vast amount of knowledge more than I know. And certainly he does about some topics. But that asymmetry of knowledge was something that even Elliot is fully aware of. And something that shows up very often with developers. Now, again, this isn't really all that surprising. We can't study every subject. We can't have symmetrical knowledge of all of the things that we encounter that would be inefficient at best and perhaps even impossible to maintain that level of knowledge and balance across all of these subjects. So it's not really surprising that we don't have symmetry. What is surprising is that we expect symmetry. We're going to talk about why this is. Right after we talk about today's sponsor, Digital Ocean. If you haven't heard about Digital Oceans offer to developer to listeners, then the first thing I want to let you know is that Digital Ocean is giving you $100 worth of free credit. This is an excellent offer, $100 worth of free credit on their services. Digital Ocean is the easiest cloud platform to run and scale applications. From effortless administration tools to robust compute storage and networking services, Digital Ocean provides an all-in-one cloud platform to help developers and their teams save time when running and scaling their applications. Digital Ocean has predictable and affordable pricing. This is a different pricing model than you may be used to. Instead of not knowing what your bill is going to be until it hits your inbox, Digital Ocean has a predictable pricing structure. You can always know what your business is going to pay per month with industry leading price and performance ratios and a flat pricing structure across all global data center regions. Go and check it out. Head over to d0.co slash tea. That's d0 is in DigitalOcean.co slash tea. Thanks again to Digital Ocean for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So why is it that we are surprised by asymmetry? Especially with people that we find to be incredibly competent. I recently heard a relevant question posed that helped me think through why we do this as humans. The question was very simple. Would you want Albert Einstein to be on your basketball team? Of course, aside from the reality that none of us really knew how good Albert Einstein was at basketball. But the point of the question shows this kind of absurdity of expecting symmetry. Just because Einstein has a genius level IQ doesn't necessarily mean that he's going to be good at everything. And yet humans tend to believe that if someone is good in one area, then they are probably also good in most other areas. If they're talented or if they are, for example, trustworthy in one area, then it's very likely that they are trustworthy and talented in another area. This effect is called the halo effect. The idea that the glow from one set of talents is kind of bleeding over into the other areas of skill. And it's important to understand the halo effect for quite a few groups of people that I want to call out for a moment here. The first group of people is hiring managers. If you're hiring an individual because they're talented in an unrelated area, but you believe that they have such a capacity in that area that certainly they have a capacity in another area, then you may be surprised in a good way. Another group of people that needs to pay close attention to this halo effect and the asymmetry of skill sets is the average developer. The people who listen to this show who are not at that kind of celebrity status of developer, you're working in a development job. Maybe you are a junior developer. Maybe you're just starting out or maybe you're even a senior developer. And you look up to other giants in this industry. People who produce content, they create products that you use or they work at companies that you idolize. And it's easy to believe as a developer when we're looking at these giants in the industry, it's easy to believe that they know everything that we know, but also a lot more, that they have all of the same skills that we have times 10 and then some other skills. As is very common with most of the episodes on this show, we're going to find out that we're wrong. We're going to find out that a lot of the people who are in these positions, they have the same types of insecurities or frustrations or lack of knowledge or lack of skill, feeling that they have kind of an endless climb to understand all the stuff as every other developer. And this is kind of a difficult problem because it's a very human experience. This goes beyond a simple fear of missing out and it goes to a much deeper sense of identity and trying to understand how can I grasp an endless stream of information? How could I ever grow to be as good or as competent or as skilled and these as these Developer That I idolize? The truth is we often simply don't see the asymmetry. We fill in the blank using things like the halo effect and that amplifies our own asymmetries. It makes us feel inadequate very often as developers and I want to encourage you that everyone deals with asymmetry. And it's not even a problem. This is something that you're not going to solve. You're not going to fill in all the blanks. You're not going to be able to grasp all of the content, all of the new techniques, all of the new languages, all of the new frameworks. You won't ever be able to understand it all. You won't ever be able to master it all. So a skill that I think is incredibly important for developers is the skill of acceptance. Accepting the reality of asymmetry, accepting the fact that even the people that you idolize, the people that you look up to, even the best of the best, there is still so much for them to learn. And we're all kind of in this learning process together. One of the things that makes you a great developer, in light of this kind of impossible to overcome level of asymmetry, something that makes you a great developer, is not how much you know. Right? It's not just how much knowledge you have stored away in your brain. Beyond that, it's how do you deal with what you don't know? How do you deal with uncertainty? And how do you deal with encountering a problem that you don't know how to fix and that nobody on Google knows how to fix? How do you deal with those things? And it starts with acceptance. It starts with recognizing that that will happen. That you will run into moments where you feel completely inadequate because of your asymmetry. Being willing to accept the reality that you don't know. Being able to say that you don't know and not lose confidence as a result of that, but instead to use that as fuel to learn more, to experience more, to find those areas of asymmetry and find other people with different types of asymmetry that you can collaborate with. That is what makes a great developer. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I hope it was both encouraging and enlightening. Thank you again to today's awesome sponsor, Digital Ocean. Digital Ocean is offering you $100 worth of credit on their services. Head over to dio.co slash TAA to get started today. Thank you so much for listening. If you haven't yet subscribed in whatever podcasting app you use before this episode ends, encourage you open up the podcasting app and click subscribe. If you have thoughts on today's episode, I would love to hear them. You can always send me an email directly at Developer Teaa at gmail.com. And I do check every single one of those. Thank you again for listening. And until next time, enjoy your tea.