This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a good developer. A challenge I battle daily on this programming path is the feeling that I don’t learn ‘fast enough’. In its place, however, is knowledge that I can ‘outstubborn’ most anybody when I’ve set a goal for myself. And my goal is to learn. So the sense of programming deficiency in the present is usually met with a feeling of “it’ll be okay… you’re going to be really good at this in the future!”
When I think how far I’ve come in four months, knowing my study trajectory, I can only imagine to be in a great place a year from now. In Brandon Hays’ blog post to aspiring developers, he referenced this thought by saying “I think a given developer is 6-12 months from being proficient in any language/framework of their choosing…. many [5-to-10-year veterans] have had the same year of experience, 5-10 times.” Thoughts like this help inspire me to keep learning.
Waking up this morning, a story came to mind that a friend has told several times over the years. I look to Fred for inspiration since he’s methodical about achieving his goals. I asked that he e-mail his story so that I could post it here:
“I got into triathlons because I was having nightmares. I kept finding myself in the middle of a large body of water at night with no boat or land in sight. In retrospect, I think I just wanted to be comfortable handling the unknown. But at the time, I took these dreams to mean I wasn’t a very good swimmer.
My first open water triathlon had a swim that was over a mile long. Up to that point the longest swim I’d completed (and not well, by the way) was a 400 meter swim in a pool. My best friend was at that race. He said he’d never seen me that close to death as when I came out of the water. So how did I top that? I topped it by letting another friend talk me into an even longer race and an open water swim.
To his credit Jerry, was nothing if not encouraging. He swam with me to train, he kept telling me not to worry, “a mile isn’t really THAT far,” he’d say. And for some reason I believed him until I got out of the car and walked with him down to the lake. That is when I knew a terror that made my nightmares seem trivial.
I think Jerry must have sensed my fear as we looked out at the lake and tried to spot the turn buoys in the distance. “Well, maybe swimming out to that and back is a bit further than I remembered,” was his comment.
The next day, I got in the water with a plan. I would swim as far as I could until I got tired, then I would just stop and float on my back and rest. If I got really tired or frightened, I’d hold onto a canoe. It took over an hour, but bit by bit, I finished the entire swim without assistance. It is a lesson I have used over and over since.
Jerry, the friend who convinced me to do the race would years later remark, “I have no idea how you stayed in the water that long. If it had taken me that long to finish anything, I would have quit.”
A few years and many open water swims later, I would be in another open water swim but my fear wouldn’t be of swimming, I would come face to face with the experience of drowning. The swim wasn’t long but the water was deep. The course was accidentally directed through a large patch of seaweed. Swimming through this was like having someone grabbing at your ankles and trying to drag you under. A lot of swimmers panicked and had to be taken out of the water. I was in a pack of swimmers who were all freaking out, screaming to the canoes for help. But the canoes were busy trying to assist other swimmers. At first I tried swimming harder. But that made things worse. And I was getting tired. Then I tried to kick my legs free. That didn’t work either. Finally, I wound up calming down and it is then a crazy thought occurred to me. “Just stand up.”
As it turned out, the underwater grass was so thick, it supported my weight. I wound up walking out of it until I could swim to the finish.
In the ensuing years, I’ve completed two Ironman distance triathlons. These are races that begin with a 2.4 mile swim. I don’t know if I’ll ever not be afraid of open water swims of that distance. But what I do know is my friend Jerry who got me to try that first 1 mile swim so many years ago has never raced that distance. Jerry quit racing years ago when he got to the point where he couldn’t win races. Even though we started racing at the same time and were pretty equal in cycling and running ability, Jerry had a lot of early success in triathlon. So much so that he soon began racing elite division. Once he moved out of ‘age group’ the competition was much tougher. And when he didn’t win, he didn’t enjoy racing and that was that. He asked me once how it was I could still race when I hadn’t had as much success. By this time I’d won a couple of smaller races and had a few age group wins. I told him that wasn’t why I raced at all. I wasn’t in it to beat anyone as much as to face my fears and see what I was made of. Any time I got close to death or fear and came through it, I learned something about myself. That is always a win in my mind.”
So the takeaway that inspires me regularly (best expressed by Dory)…: Just keep swimming…. Just keep swimming…. Just keep coding….