Growing within growth
If you’re reading this from where I’m currently writing (sunny old England) then you’re currently moving at around 1600km an hour. Thankfully, due to the inherited velocity of the atoms from which we are made, we feel nothing. Here lies an interesting concept: to be in a fast environment, yet feeling relatively normal by comparison. This is not something that comes easily or instantly. For if it did, you’d have moments to marvel at the miracle of instant acceleration before you spectacularly crashed into the nearest solid object. Now, you may be wondering why I’ve decided to start this article with notions of your reincarnation as a crash test dummy. The reason, other than frivolity, is it makes quite an illustrative analogy for growing as an individual in a burgeoning company.
When the Earth began its existence as cloud dust floating through space, things were much slower. It hadn’t fully decided who it was; whether it wanted to skip the gym and join its low mass mates like Pluto, or bulk out and chill with Jupiter. Eventually, it leveled up and began to spin with vigour until it became the hospitable ball we know and love today. What matters, however, is that the only way it increased its rotational velocity was because everything that it was made from did too. Here endeth the astronomy lesson! When I began at Birdie, we were both young. The company had only been around for six months and I’d never developed in a full stack position before. Needless to say, uncertainty was in the air.
“Uncertainty is a quality to be cherished, therefore — if not for it, who would dare to undertake anything?”
Villiers de L’Isle-Adam
It’s in these times of the unknown that we really have the opportunity to be bold and grow. The real question, however, is how can we accelerate with our environment? Or rather, how can we not get left behind? Here’s my two cents on the matter.
Sink your roots
Any good start up should have a strong foundational team and Birdie was no exception. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by well experienced and open colleagues. A well is no use to you unless you drink from it, however, when you arrive at your next new venture, ask questions and be open to everyone. Do this, and you will begin to sink your roots firmly into your surroundings. As the company grows and things begin to speed up, you will be in touch with all the components that are responsible for its velocity. This will give you a firm anchor through which you can easily eye your next move.
One evening, soon after joining Birdie, we decided to have a poker tournament over some beers at a local pub. While undoubtedly fun, it also provided a perfect opportunity to talk to other members. By talking to the head of sales, I learnt that integration with third parties caused particular pain points in pitching the software to care agencies. The head of marketing explained to me the importance of company values and how many companies either forget or fail this step when starting out. The head of ops described the difficulties carers were having when using the application in its current state and how it wasn’t simple enough to lighten their work load.
Two hours, four pints and a handful of poker chips later, and I’d gained an holistic view of the company that I could employ tangibly into how I planned and architected my work. Am I building something simple? Can it easily integrate with other softwares? Does the functionality work towards an over arching value? I was now intrinsically connected to the scope of others’ work as they were to mine. This is what successful teams are made of. A professional transparency that combines workflows towards success. Sink your roots in and as your environment starts to accelerate, you will remain firmly tethered.
Be fluid in growth
“Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot.” — Bruce Lee
Now you may be thinking “hey, this guy just told me to sink my roots in and now he’s telling me to be fluid!?” I understand the confusion so let me explain: roots are foundations. They allow you to have a base in which to grow. Most importantly, however, they should entangle with the roots of others. This way, you are all connected — and your growth is influenced by a cacophony of environmental factors. Not all team members will be affected by the same factors, but factors nonetheless will affect all team members. Therefore, as an individual in the team, you have to be as dynamic as the environment in which you grow.
There will be no long-term way of doing things. To anyone that read my article on standards, you’ll know that stagnation is the precursor to idleness. At Birdie, myself and the other devs were given an incredibly rare opportunity to be truly technologically agnostic. This meant that, in picking tech, we would research, implement, analyse and repeat. This wasn’t just for our technological solutions but for our standards as well. Typing frameworks, testing suites, routers, documentation methods and many more were all deliberated, implemented and changed. Failure was fine as long as we kept moving forward. What this really meant, was that you had to be comfortable being uncomfortable, fixed on being unfixed and ready to embrace change so that it too would embrace you.
This sounds simple, but any developer can tell you how easy it is to become fixed in your ways. I spoke in a previous article about the perils of the “right way” of doing things. An abstraction that many developers (myself included) comfort themselves with when they start their careers. At Birdie, we cast this to the wind in aspiration of iterative improvement. I know which one I am more thankful for.
With this in mind, you must be fluid in your growth — willing to move in whatever direction necessary. If you’re going straight, then you’re most likely falling victim to the comforts of stagnation mentioned earlier. Always be asking yourself if you’re being as dynamic as your environment. The satisfaction I have gained from watching Birdie boldly grow from uncertainty can only be matched by the symmetry with which I mirrored it. In such an environment this opportunity is rife and you would be at a loss to ignore it.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
― Leo tolstoy
It’s very easy to get lost in a changing environment. Speed is relative, as the opening paragraph covered. You may not be up to speed when you start, but you always have the potential to get there.