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Career Decisions and Penalty Kicks

Published 7/24/2019

In today's episode, we're talking about the intensity of being faced with prediction when making a complex calculation and make decisions. Many of these decisions we make while other people are watching us.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone, before we get started with today's episode, I want to take a moment to thank all of our wonderful sponsors. We wouldn't be able to do what we do on Developer Tea without our sponsors. If you are interested in partnering with spec and Developer Tea and becoming a sponsor of the show, you can reach out to us at sponsors at spec.fm. Also, while you're listening to this episode, if you think someone else would enjoy it, I encourage you to share this episode. This is the best way to help other developers like you find Developer Tea. Remember, this show exists to help driven developers like you and perhaps the people that you know find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. Let's get into today's episode of Developer Tea. This might be a little bit weird for a software development podcast, so stick with me here. But I want you to imagine that you aren't a software developer. Instead you are a goalie. And not just any goalie, you are the defending goalie in the final game of the world cup, and it all comes down to this moment. Appinally kick. You've trained for this pressure. You've expected that the lights would be glaring down and people would be yelling at the top of their lungs, the intensity of the moment is not enough to shake you. The score is tied. It's one to one. And there's only a few seconds left in the game. How would you defend the penalty kick? Immediately you might think, well, of course, I'm going to watch the kicker and whichever direction they kick the ball, that's the direction I'm going to jump. But the data shows that your reaction time is slower, that even the best goalie can't actually wait until the ball is kicked to know which way to jump. So for all intents and purposes, you have to choose where you're going before the kick even happens. Now, the kicker may have a tell, but of course, if you've made it all the way to the world cup, the kicker probably knows how to hide that tell. So you're faced with a problem of prediction. In that moment, you may be able to recall preparation for the game where you were trained about this particular kicker. How often do they kick to the right or how often do they kick to the left? Which side is their weak side and which side is their strong side? Ultimately, you have only a few seconds to make these kind of complex calculations in your mind and to choose what you're going to do. So what does this have to do with you being a software engineer? In our careers, every single day, we are faced with decisions. We're faced with decisions on how to write a particular feature. We're also faced with larger decisions like what kind of technology should I choose, what framework, what high level thing should I pursue, what job should I pursue, or what title should I pursue? In many of these decisions, we make, while others are watching us, just like if you were that goalie. If we flip the situation around and you are the kicker, you similarly have another decision to make. Which way should I kick the ball? And it's not all that different from the goalie's decision, which way should I jump? Both are some kind of prediction. But I want you to imagine the scenario where the kicker kicks the ball straight down the middle. This scenario has been discussed quite a few times in the past, perhaps most notably back in 2010 on Freakonomics Radio. So what would happen if that kicker chose to kick straight down the middle? Well, most likely, the goalie is going to jump to one side or the other. And why is that? Well, because most of the time, kickers don't choose to kick down the middle. But there's perhaps a more important pressure that leads to both the kicker not kicking down the middle and the goalie not standing in the middle, waiting for that middle kick. Going back to the beginning, the visualization where you are that goalie, imagine if you stood in the middle, you didn't move. And the penalty kick went off to the left or the right. Now imagine the same outcome, you not being able to block the kick, but because you jumped in the opposite direction, you jumped in the wrong direction. Which action would you prefer to take? Similarly for the kicker, if you were to kick straight down the middle and be blocked, is this better or worse than kicking to the left or right and being blocked? The concern for both the goalie and for the person actually executing the penalty kick is the perception that they didn't try. They didn't do the best that they could. By kicking to the left or kicking to the right, that person can easily be perceived as someone who tried their best. And the same is true for the goalie who jumps to the left or to the right. And sometimes we do the same kinds of things and for very similar reasons. We exert some kind of energy, even if it's in the wrong direction because we want to be perceived as someone who tried. We exert energy, we spend money, we spend time, we schedule meetings, sometimes we write documentation, all in an effort to look better, to look like we're trying. Now, the difficult part of this discussion is that it's very unlikely that just knowing these facts that you as the goalie would ever choose to stand in the middle anyway. And it's very unlikely that you as the kicker would choose to kick straight down the middle. It is very difficult to escape the effect that perception has on what we do. But here's the key takeaway. Even though we may not be able to escape that sense of duty to looking like we are doing good work, perhaps we can become more mindful of when we are making a decision simply because we think something needs to be done. For example, if you are a beginner developer, if you are young in your career and you feel like you need to learn something new all of the time, the motivation isn't necessarily wrong. Because it is incredibly helpful for you to seek out new material and constantly add to your kind of reservoir of knowledge. But sometimes it's just as useful to stand in the middle of the goal, to take some time to reinforce knowledge that you already have or maybe add some more effort to other areas of your career, like your relationships. If you can always remind yourself of your ultimate goal, for example, the goalie's ultimate goal is to block that penalty kick. If you can always keep that in the forefront, then your decisions can be more directly tied to those goals. Rather than simply learning something because other developers are learning it or because it feels like a good idea, you can learn something on purpose. You can learn it mindfully with a plan and with a reason. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. Once again, if you are interested in becoming a sponsor of Developer Tea and partnering with us into the future, you can email us at sponsors at spec.fm. Today's episode and every other episode of Developer Teacan be found at spec.fm along with all of the other shows on the spec network. Go and check it out, spec.fm. Thank you so much for listening, thank you again to today's producer, Sarah Jackson, my name is Jonathan Cutrell and until next time, enjoy your tea.