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Crafting Your Work By Your Strengths

Published 5/24/2019

We all have a lot to learn and we all have shortcomings. In today's episode, we're looking at self improvement as a progressive path in your career and your life.

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🙏 Thanks to today's sponsor: GitPrime

Our sponsor GitPrime published a free book - 20 Patterns to Watch for Engineering Teams - based data from thousands of enterprise engineering teams. It’s an excellent field guide to help debug your development with data.

Go to GitPrime.com/20Patterns to download the book and get a printed copy mailed to you - for free. Check it out at GitPrime.com/20Patterns.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
One of the things that you may do if you listen to podcasts often, if you read a bunch of business books or even books about programming, you may think that you have a lot of work to do. You may think that you have a lot of room for improvement and that there's just this endless hill in front of you. And you may believe that you have to break yourself down to really become the engineer that you want to become or the manager that you want to become. And in many ways, this is true. We all have a lot to learn and we all have shortcomings. In today's episode though, I want to help you focus on something a little bit different, rather than looking at self-improvement as a long and arduous task where you are faced with your weaknesses every single day. I want to help you shift to a different point of focus. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and you're listening to Developer Tea and my goal on this show is to help driven developers find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. And if you care about your career, that's why you're listening to the show. Not that the show is the only thing that's going to help you in your career, but if you care about your career, you're looking for resources. You're realizing that you have work to do. And if you have a direct manager or someone who is honest with you on a regular basis, you've probably gotten some direct feedback, some representation of your shortcomings has been given to you. If you're in close relationship with anybody for very long at all, then you've certainly had this kind of feedback. Perhaps you found yourself in a conflict with another person where they point out your weaknesses and all of your flaws to an uncomfortable degree. And while it's true that all of us have these weaknesses and shortcomings, what's also true is that if we focus only on our shortcomings and weaknesses, we'll likely miss out on major opportunities. For example, if you've listened to this podcast, then you know that one of the things that we preach is that you break down your assumptions, that you try to find the core problems and you try to build focus. And so an unintended effect of this show may be that you have taken the time and the energy to beat yourself up when you're not focusing or to feel bad when you think you haven't broken things down when you think you've made an assumption. But the truth is all of these ideas that we present on Developer Tea and that you'll find in business management books, process books, books about software development, all of these things are not intended to fix all of your broken parts. Instead, they're intended to be building blocks, foundational to help push you up rather than break you down. It's kind of a different way of thinking about your skill set requires a fundamental shift in focus away from your weaknesses and towards your strengths. We're going to take a step away and talk about today's sponsor Git Prime and then we're going to come back and discuss a way that you can focus on your strengths without totally sabotaging your job. Today's episode is sponsored by Git Prime. Have you ever noticed that some of the best engineering managers are also the best and debugging problems? It's not just code, it's also interpersonal issues. They view their teams as complex systems with inputs and outputs and they approach problems with curiosity and a relentless pursuit of the root cause. Our sponsor Git Prime has published a book, it's a free book called 20 Patterns to Watch for in engineering teams. It's based on data from thousands of enterprise engineering teams. In it they dig into various work patterns and team dynamics that we can all relate to with prescriptive ways to identify and improve how we build software together. It's an excellent field guide to help debug your development with data. Go to Git Prime.com slash 20 patterns, it's two zero patterns to download the book and you'll get a pretty copy mailed to you for free. It's a totally free book about making your team better. Go and check it out Git Prime.com slash 20 patterns, that's the number two zero patterns all one word. Thanks again to Git Prime for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. Hopefully this isn't the first time that you have been encouraged to focus on your strengths. If you think about it, it makes sense to focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. If you focus on everything that you are weak at, it will take a very large jump to go from weak to strong. Because if you're placing bets on yourself about what you're going to become great at, what you will excel at, then the bet is probably going to be placed on something that you're already pretty good at. If you invest your time into something that you're already good at, then you are likely more likely to become great at that thing than if you invest your time into something that you're not very good at. There's an obvious tension here and it's one that is difficult to parse out. If you hear this episode and you just take away the message that you need to stop focusing on your weaknesses and only focus on your strengths, it's very possible that you'll lose your job. The reason for that is some of the tasks, some of the skills that we have as requirements in our jobs don't necessarily line up with the things that we're great at. In a perfect world, we would all find jobs that only ask us to do things that we are excelling at and then never ask us to do the things that we're not very good at. But more practically, we're likely to have duties in our job that require us to go from that kind of a weak standpoint to at least acceptable. So what can we do about this? How should we be thinking about this? But first, we should dispel the idea that your skills are all in their own little vacuums. One skill may support another skill. So maybe you are very good at creating UIs, but you're not very good at testing. Well as it turns out, testing and becoming very good at testing may naturally bleed over into your ability to create good UIs. So we shouldn't evaluate these things that we see as separate as necessarily separate. Sometimes the things that we're not very good at could actually be the things that unlock a massive amount of growth in another area. So that's kind of the first step here is to dispel the idea that our skills are somehow entirely disconnected or live in their own little vacuums. The second idea is to understand what your core skills are for the job that you're doing versus the Encillary Skills. So it's likely that you have a handful of tasks that are required in your job that are Encillary. In other words, if you are able to perform in those particular skills to an acceptable degree, then you can still excel in your job. Whereas the core skills for your job, you should be performing at a higher than acceptable. In other words, an excellent level. Of course when we say should, we mean if you want to continue progressing and doing as good of a job in that role as you can, and that is kind of the whole idea behind driven developers for this show, then those core skills are the things that you should be good at and becoming great at. The critical work that you need to do in whatever position you are currently in is understanding what those core skills are and then mapping them against what you are already good at. If you have a major disconnect between those two things, then you have a decision to make. You have to decide that you're going to invest the time necessary to develop that skill, especially if it's a core skill, or you're going to need to think about what you want in your career. Perhaps your skills are not aligning to the job that you have. More often than not, this mismatch is not the main problem that people face. Instead the main problem that people face is that they focus heavily on those Encillary skills and they try to make them as good as their core skills. Think about that for a moment. If you become incredibly good at your Encillary skills, then you don't have time to invest in your core skills. You can imagine this as a T shape and on a graph. You want your Encillary skills, your supporting skills, to be enough that it's adequate, but then you want your core skills to really go to the extent of expertise. It's important that you discuss with your manager or if you are a manager that you discuss with your direct reports, what those skills are, and to what degree do you want to invest in them? How much of your time and effort should be spent on improving something that is ultimately not your highest leverage of value? One of the most valuable and important things that you can do for your own career and that managers can do for their direct reports is something called job crafting. The idea here is to look at that skill map, what things are you already good at, and try to wrap your responsibilities in your job around those skills. This is kind of what you are trying to do on the job hunt. The problem is that we often have the pressure of unemployment causing us to adapt our acceptable skill map to whatever is available to us. If you are in a job and you have the opportunity to do some job crafting, then a critical sorting phase will eventually be in front of you where you have to decide, is this a skill that I need to improve on, or is it something that I can delegate or otherwise fulfill by collaborating with another person? This is something that we often don't think about. We approach our careers as if we have to stand alone, rather than like a team, where one person's skills complement another person's. It's important to recognize that if you have complimentary skills with other people, then you can focus more on the things that you are already good at, rather than trying to become better at something that someone else is already very good at. Ultimately, I want you to be a little bit more forgiving to yourself when you make mistakes and when you find things that you are not very good at. These are things that we all share as humans. We all have shortcomings and we all have requirements on us that we are not necessarily ready to meet. Give yourself the space to learn and give yourself the space to fail and ultimately, don't neglect the things that you are already good at. Thanks so much again to Get Prime for sponsoring today's episode and for writing a free book for Developer To learn more about their teams, head over to Get Prime dot com slash 20 patterns. And that's two zero patterns, all one word, Get Prime dot com slash 20 patterns. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. If you liked today's episode, then I encourage you to do three things. The first one is subscribe to this podcast and whatever podcasting app you are currently listening with. The second thing is to leave a review on iTunes. This drastically affects our visibility in iTunes and helps other developers like you find the show. And the third thing is head over to spec dot fm because there's a ton of other content from other wonderful podcasts. For example, React podcast and tools day go and check it out spec dot fm. Thank you again to today's producer Sarah Jackson and thank you so much for listening to today's episode. Until next time, enjoy your tea.