Stop Faking It: There Are Better Ways to Acquire Technical Skills
In an episode of the sitcom Parks and Recreation, one not-so-bright character, Andy Dwyer, is hired to manage the charities of an English lord. The only problem is, Andy doesn’t know anything about charities or community investment. Later, he tells his wife that he feels like he is “faking it.”
His wife, April, replies that everyone is faking it, all the time. Fake it long enough, often enough, and eventually, you’ll realize you are actually doing it.
Hopefully the connection to software development is obvious.
Everyone wants to hire someone who can “hit the ground running.” But that means honest people who don’t have all nine of the core skills listed on the job description lose out in the hiring process to someone willing to lie. I see it all the time.
I also see a way to fix it, but there’s a problem.
People want to believe that technical skills are hard to acquire. Certainly, programming isn’t something you can learn in twenty-one days, despite books with that title. But once you know how to program, switching from C# to Java isn’t that hard. It looks hard if you just hand someone a book and access to source code control, but if you give them a pair partner, the on-ramp is easy.
However, for some reason, the pair programming solution is a hard sell culturally.
Imagine we hired someone who could hit the ground running. We give her a chair, show her the build system and how to file a ticket for help, and walk away. Then she tries to check out the code … and needs to file a ticket. And wait. Once she has the code, she won’t have database access … so she’ll need to file a ticket. And wait. The rock-star developer is going to spend two weeks sitting around waiting.
Perhaps, in a highly effective organization, that amount of time is less. Then again, that sort of organization doesn’t need a rock star; they will find it easier to take a good person and make them great.
Instead of waiting for the IT department to approve a ticket for database access, the new person could pair with someone else. The two could use the new person’s account until they hit a roadblock, then they would file a ticket and let the senior person log in for now. In two weeks, the new person is up to speed.
Except, of course, pairing isn’t something we do here. Instead, we’ll fake it, blame the IT department for being slow to resolve tickets, twiddle our thumbs, and try to look busy.
Let’s stop faking it. Let’s admit that these skills can be learned by someone with related knowledge, and the important issue is not having the skills to begin with, but being able to collaborate toward skills transfer and learn from each other.