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No Good Options

Published 7/2/2018

We've been talking about choice on the past few episodes of Developer Tea and today we're going to continue down that road in today's episode.

Today we're talking about how we navigate our careers when we feel like there are no good options out there for us, and how to remain optimistic.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
We've been talking about choice on the last couple of episodes of Developer Tea, and I want to keep on talking about choice today. But today's episode is a little bit more of a contemplative episode than it is an advice episode. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, and you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on the show is to help driven developers, passionate developers connect to their career purpose. So you can bring that passion to your work every day. And the effect of this is that you're going to do better work, not necessarily because you work harder or because you work longer hours, but because you are totally mentally engaged and perhaps even emotionally, physically, this will change your experience when you're at work. You'll actually enjoy your work, and more than likely you'll be able to find states like flow state when you're at work. It seems like those things are disconnected that your passion and your excitement for work and the actual work itself, like we're not really allowed to connect those, but that's very far from the truth. And so I want to bring that possibility to the table for you as a developer. Now, if you've been listening to the show for very long, you know that we are very much so optimists on Developer Tea. We believe that optimism is important. I believe that most developers, unfortunately, they end up working in a space where optimism is not important. It's not even talked about. And I believe that optimism is important. But in today's episode, we're going to discuss an unfortunate reality dealing with choice. And I really want you to just kind of recognize a reality today. There's no action steps that you need to take after this episode is over other than maybe subscribing if you want to listen to more of Developer Tea. But there's nothing really that I want you to do. I really just want for Developer To listen and understand this reality that sometimes can be a little bit hard to deal with, a little bit hard to accept. And that is that sometimes our options are all suboptimal. What's another way of saying that? A more emotional way of saying that is sometimes we only have two bad options. We only have two frustrating pathways. Sometimes this is true even at a code level. There's some kind of hack that we have to put in place either because we are constrained and our resources, we don't have time, we can't actually do the thing that is the quote right thing to do. Or because that's the way, that's kind of the restriction of the technology at the time. A good example of this is if you have an API, an external API that has some kind of weird inconsistencies. Maybe there's a field missing on whatever that API is returning and you have to deal with that in a contained but unfortunately kind of dirty way, right, a hacky way. And there may be a slightly less bad option but all of the options on the table are not really that great. This can be frustrating especially if you are an optimist. This can be very frustrating because we spend a lot of time trying to find the right answer. We spend a lot of time trying to refactor our code for example so that it can be kind of the optimum solution. And very often what ends up happening is we refactor to the point that we can't refactor any further and then we start to let this sense that we aren't a good developer or that we aren't solving this problem thoroughly and we let that creep in. And because there's not really any good options, we're seeking an option that doesn't exist. We're looking for a way out. This is a deeply human behavior to try to find the perfect answer. Not everyone is a perfectionist but everyone does try to minimize their losses. And if you're trying to minimize your losses, for example, let's say you are a manager or maybe you are a hiring manager, someone who decides whether somebody gets to keep their job or not. And someone on your team has failed a performance metric. They failed it consistently enough for the sake of the company and to be consistent as a company, you have to let them go unfortunately. The options that you have are bad, right, that there's no good option here. At least for today, the options are difficult. They're emotionally draining. On the one hand, you can let this person go, which is very difficult to do. It's emotionally draining thing, especially if this person is likeable if they have other good qualities but they simply are not cut out for this work. And the other option, of course, is equally difficult or more or less difficult but still quite difficult. And that is to keep the person on. Now, from the business perspective, this would be irresponsible. And you would also have this kind of tension between you and this person, especially if they knew that they failed their performance review. And so what options do you have there good? And so what we often do as humans, we try to negotiate our way around the bad option. We try to decide that, maybe we can keep them on but in like a probationary role, right? And maybe this is an option. But what we end up doing is we create this kind of time delay between us and choosing something that is difficult to choose. An excellent podcast episode that I recommend everyone listen to is from Malcolm Gladwell's recent, is a recent episode where he discusses his 12 rules of life and without giving too much away, Malcolm talks about the idea of pulling the goalie. And what does this mean? Well, pulling the goalie quite simply means that you make a sacrifice, that you choose a bad option, but you choose the bad option that has the better outcome, that has the higher likelihood of a better outcome. And we can't really predict the future, which is why making a bad choice feels so wrong. It feels like we're doing the wrong thing, even if it is the best of a few bad options. It feels difficult to choose a bad option because we believe that we're kind of dooming ourselves into the future. The reality is, when you are faced with multiple bad options and there's no way to find a good option, then it still is a good idea to be rational. Delaying the decision or delaying that picking of the option may make things worse, for example. So avoiding making a decision is not really a good strategy. Instead evaluating the decisions for what they are and their effects down the road rather than their immediate effects is incredibly important. So for example, in this situation where you're the manager, where you have to choose to fire someone or keep them on an underperforming person to fire them or keep them on, it is almost certainly the best option to talk with that person about other options for their career. In the long run, people are going to be much more satisfied if they are performing well. If when they go in for a performance review, they don't fail it. So it's important that you understand that for the health of this person in the long run, not for their emotional state in the short run, but for their health in the long run, as well as the well-being of the company that you're responsible for protecting, it makes sense to consider a separation. Now, it's possible that in your negotiations with this person, you uncover that maybe there was a really strong reason for this person's performance to be low. Maybe you create a modified plan to evaluate their performance over a specific period of time, but the last thing that you need to do is not address it. The last thing that you need to do is allow this decision, these poor options, the bad options that you have on the table to just ignore them. This almost certainly will make them worse. I hope today's very short episode is one that you'll keep with you as you move through your career. That sometimes the best option is still not very exciting, that it's not really preferred. That sometimes it's necessary to choose between bad options. And not to face that with a sense of fear, but with a sense of bravery. Let you know that making a choice is better than avoiding that choice. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. We didn't have a sponsor for today's episode, but I encourage you, and Lule, of checking out one of our awesome sponsors, go and subscribe and whatever podcasting app you are using to listen to this episode right now. Thank you so much for listening, and until next time, enjoy your tea.