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Put On Your Hardhats!

July 25, 2019

Joshua and Kel talk about how safety plays into building rockstar developers and some practical ways you can increase your safety net to let you push the boundaries.

Be sure to check out our new Slack community to meet others who are facing the same things you are and share your journeys!

  • 00:00 Joshua

    Hey folks, welcome to Getting Apps Done, a mostly non technical podcast about building software. Today Kel and I wanted to chat with you about safety, particularly safety in the workplace and safety in software development, but we're not talking about hard hats and steel toed shoes. We're talking about personal safety and emotional safety.

  • 00:25 Kel

    We might be talking about hardhats and steel toed shoes, those are also important forms of safety. That's usually kind of implied though that you will not be physically harmed in the work space. But it is worth re mentioning.

  • 00:38 Joshua

    Yeah, I don't remember the last time I had to wear a hardhat while developing software. I did have to wear a bunny suit once when I was going into some sintered plants that uh, one of the companies that we worked for when I was much, much, much, much younger with a lot more hair.

  • 00:52 Kel

    Yeah, I was just thinking that it's like, I remember having to wear hard hats, but I don't think I was programming. I was getting pointed out where the routers were in the rafters covered in brake dust and with flaming molten metal below me. It was, you know, fun.

  • 01:07 Joshua

    I'm relatively certain even with the equipment, we weren't safe in any of those situations.

  • 01:12 Kel

    They did have like Hazmat suits for the break plants. Those were pretty wild. But yeah, that's definitely a different type of safety. But it's still a, it's still important. You can't work if you are terrified that you're about to fall into molten metal or that something's going to clobber you in the head. Like that's also a safety problem. So I guess we should probably define what we mean by safety and why you need safety might be a good start to this conversation.

  • 01:37 Joshua

    Well I would say you are probably the one who is most enthusiastic and very into this at the moment. Obviously I care about people's safety, but at the moment this is a very big thing for you and you have been blogging about this and talking about this a lot. So I will let you introduce it.

  • 01:51 Kel

    Sure. Why not? So safety in terms of a working environment, we think a lot about what it is that motivates people. And we've talked a lot about the motivation side of things and we've talked a little bit about fear in the workplace in that when you're afraid of failing or you're afraid of the consequences of your failure, it is a lot more difficult for you to succeed. So, you know, the successful people will always say that they had to fail many times before they were successful. But that implies very heavily that it was safe to fail, that when they screwed up, when something went wrong, they were not, you know, sent packing out onto the street and starving or they weren't fired or they weren't yelled at or whatever. Various forms of consequences came from those failures. And so when we talk about safety, we talk about being, having kind of a safety net from those types of failures. And so this, this is important to me at the moment because I just finished, you know, teaching at a school. And that was a very big part of it was how can I make a class feel safe so that they can, you know, they can fail and mess up while learning the program. And that's just kind of like how things go when you're a programmer things go wrong all the time. And I wanted to get them used to that concept. So it wasn't an anxiety thing.

  • 03:02 Joshua

    Absolutely. I, and that's completely true. It's not just programming, but I think in software development constantly we are breaking things, we're fixing things. And that's actually just part of the natural process. It's part of a learning process as well. When you're learning things, the best way to learn is to mess up a few times and figure out what you did and how to correct that and to improve and iterate upon yourself and your knowledge.

  • 03:27 Kel

    Exactly. And I was actually kind of surprised, but talking to a new developer, one of the, you know, very few, you know, before I started teaching this... But another bootcamper and I was surprised when they told me that they felt anxiety when they saw like red lines and when the compiler yelled at them. And, um, you know, I learned, as you know, in my room on my own, there was no, there was no consequences or risk for me not being able to program that was a hobby when I was a teenager. But for them this was the thing that they were trying to learn the job that we were trying to succeed at and their computer was yelling at them and that actually caused them anxiety and stress. And so that's something you have to kind of get used to as a programmer. But it's also very much just built into it that the, the idea of iterating on your failures is just normal. There is no consequence to it. The computer's just telling you that, oh, you messed this up. It's all okay though. And so getting used to that is very much a, you know, psychological safety is how I've heard it referred to now. Um, but being able to feel safe in that, that it's not something that's going to harm you because of a red line. It's just, Oh yeah, this is the current status. If you would like to fix this.

  • 04:29 Joshua

    And actually that's a really good point because we learned much the same way. We both, in fact, we were learning how to develop software around the same time. You started a little bit before me, but we both have been learning for the same amount of time. We've learned together. We've learned department, we've learned with other people and other companies, but I remember those big red squiggly lines and horrible error message. Sometimes they were frustrating, but they were exciting to me because it was a way for me to learn something new. I was doing something that I'd never done before and these things were amazing because I hadn't done it before and I was doing something incredible. To me at least, I may not be as amazed by the things I was doing now if I look back, but at the time it was amazing. I had never done this before and yes, this error came up.

  • 05:11 Joshua

    I have to figure it out, but I'm going to get on with it and I'm going to do it because that's what I'm doing. But I felt safe in doing that because there weren't any consequences. Realistically other than my own time, but I was happy to put my time into it. That's what I wanted to do. That's why I was doing it. And from a career perspective and from a hiring company perspective, we actually, we want our employee, we say all the time, we want our employees to be motivated. We want them to be excited about going and doing these things because that's good for us. It makes them more interested. It makes them more involved and invested. But actually we need to create a space where they can do those things. Because if I had been terrified that if I didn't figure out what that red squiggly line meant, I was going to lose my job and not be able to pay my bills, that would've definitely changed the way I looked at and my outlook on things would've been very, very different.

  • 05:59 Kel

    Exactly. And, and it's not necessarily like a, like a, it's not necessarily going to be like a really obvious and straightforward consequence of these things. Like, what you'll see is you will be less inclined to take risks. And so even though it will be like it's 75% likely that this will be fine when I push this to wherever and some people would take that risk and then deal with the fallout as it happens, other folks would not be able to take that risk at all because that 25% is too high of a risk. If they're going to lose their job and not be able to eat next week, it's better just to be safe and to be, you know, not standing out. And so you'll find out, you know, the, the rock star developers or whatever will usually be people who can just afford to take larger risks, not necessarily because they have more talent or something along those lines.

  • 06:44 Kel

    Um, and being able to like evaluate those risks like 75% is pretty good odds for if it's, you know, gambling and you can do that a hundred times, you're probably going to get, you know, 75 times going to win. On the other hand, if you only get one chance or you mess up, 75% is not that great of odds. So the, these are the kind of metrics when we were talking about safety and like promoting safety for everybody as you want them to be able to, to for it to be safe, for them to take the good risks like that where they can take them over and over again and that you provide some sort of a safety net to catch that, that problems set.

  • 07:19 Joshua

    And that's exactly what it is. And we were actually both very lucky. We worked for a company where we had a very good manager who I learned a huge amount from around this though I didn't recognize it as much at the time, but we were in a position where we could do things that we probably shouldn't have done.

  • 07:35 Kel

    Oh, definitely.

  • 07:36 Joshua

    Some of the risks we took probably weren't 75% in our favor, but this particular manager was very good about making sure that he knew that we needed to go do things and sometimes the things that we needed to do to get the job done and to do it well.... were not necessarily the safest things to do. And I'm not talking, we weren't endangering people's lives in general. I don't think we were at least, um, but potentially losing the company money, having downtime, having negative views from the outside world, things like that. But his job and what he or he want, he felt like his job was, and what he said over and over was his job was to enable us to do those things. And when things did go wrong, he was right there next to us saying, okay, I'm going to go push back on everybody else and make sure they go away. You carry on what you're doing and get this sorted. And he left us that opportunity to fail and then to correct it.

  • 08:28 Kel

    Yeah. And it was like both sides of that to you. I mean he would, he might poke out at things that were, oh, you should probably double check that before you push, you know, the, the senior person giving hints to the junior folks. But for the most part, yeah, he more or less kind of let us go, buffered us from the fallout and very much give us the opportunity to fix it, which also helped build our own confidence and oh... I can fix that problem and I know, you know, it gains me these experiences of failures. I know what it actually looks like when it fails and I know how to fix it when it fails, which just kinda like grows your confidence and motivation over time and just makes it that much less of an anxiety inducing thing. So yeah, it was, it was a great learning opportunity for us. I think we got away with a lot of it because we were so ridiculously young in that role we were almost teenagers.

  • 09:12 Joshua

    Yeah. It didn't hurt it. He quite often said, I have socks older than you and you probably true. So I bought him socks every year for Christmas just to cover that.

  • 09:22 Kel

    He required as soon as we left too. So...

  • 09:25 Joshua

    He did. Yes, maybe there was, might have been more than just a coincidence. But the other thing that I think I picked up from him was not just that things did go wrong and that was okay and that we would learn from those things, but also he helped me learn how to proactively build in my own safety nets, and we've talked about this before, that we learned how to make sure that we had a recovery plan or we had a backup plan or we had some way of making sure that when we did pull the trigger and things did go wrong, we could very quickly recover from it. And that was something I learned from him because not only did he give advice on those things, but because he gave us that freedom, I felt very, very inclined to make sure that I was never taking advantage of him because he was doing us a huge favor there. And I knew that. And by doing that for me, it put me in a position where I wanted to do better and I wanted to make sure that I was covering him as much as he was covering me.

  • 10:23 Kel

    And that's a great example too, is like we talk about, one of the things we talk about with safety and motivation is that they're kind of opposites in a lot of way. Like you can't really be motivated if you're terrified. Um, but it's not necessarily if you just remove the fear that you're suddenly motivated. There is like another step required to become motivated. But usually just the act of being a safety net and helping people out does motivate, like you just said, it motivates you to do better because of their expectations and the ways that they've helped you. So removing that safety in itself can create motivation, which is, you know, like a double win.

  • 10:57 Joshua

    Yeah. And it's just a form of respect and when it comes down to it most with, that's all we really want is to be respected for who and what we are and what we do. And by doing that and allowing for that and allowing that person to do the things that they need to do, you engender a lot of respect back, which means that they're going to do a better job.

  • 11:17 Kel

    I did like your, your kind of comment. I would like being able to create your own safety verse. Like, you know, the, the company creating safety, cause we talk, we've been talking mostly about what a company can do to create an environment where it's safe for your employees to do their things. But there are things you can do as an individual too. Like you know, preparing, uh, recovery plans and disaster plans, preparing for the most likely forms of failures. So if you have a 75% success... Now you can look at the other 25% and go, okay, well out of those, the most likely problems are these three and I can prepare for those three things. And that just kinda like keep shrinking and shrinking the amount of real failures that you can't deal with. And so there are things you can do on your own that can help lessen that. I mean, I definitely would prefer if companies themselves had this as a focus in educational environments. I had this as a focus, but if that's not an option for you, there are things you can do by yourself to just lower the odds of failure being a like having a major consequences.

  • 12:17 Joshua

    Yeah, absolutely, and actually in some cases universities and bootcamps are helping to prepare for some of that because one of the best things you can do is get as much experience as you can. Early on, we were lucky because a company was willing to hire us and give us the chance to go do those things and to experiment and push the limits a little bit. But if you can't find that because it's very competitive market, it's very difficult sometimes to find that first job where the first couple of jobs, particularly ones who are that forgiving go get experienced by doing things for friends, family or charity or just build your own personal projects or if you're out of boot camp, take advantage of all the little projects that are doing, work with other people and start to learn some of these lessons. Push those boundaries a little bit when it's a little bit safer because as we said earlier, that's exactly how we started. We were doing it for ourselves. So there were very few consequences other than lost time. And those experiences are what led me at least to a position where I felt comfortable that actually, you know, I've done this before, I've screwed this up before and I know what to do when I do.

  • 13:17 Kel

    And like that. That's a great way to build confidence too. Like confidence, the, the level of risk and our like the level of like consequences of those risks. So like, you know, the, the extreme danger, you doesn't have as much of an impact on your confidence as you would think. It's just being able to failure and correct for it. It doesn't matter how, like what the consequences of that are other than, you know, just the general stress and pressure of, oh no, if I mess this up, the building burst into flame versus if I mess this up, a little line appears, but your confidence will grow. Just being able to solve those problems over and over again and being able to fix those things that failed and like exploded and you, you fixed them in a safer environment then when it's not safe or you'll already have those experiences and that competence to be able to handle, you know, higher stress situations and problems. So like you can, like you just said, you can build up to these things and in environments where it's safe to do that. And so when you're in environments where it's not like a new job, then you're better prepared for those things.

  • 14:14 Joshua

    Yeah, it's the same as everything else. We keep saying it over and over again. It's incremental iteration on everything including yourself and your ability to handle these sorts of things to be comfortable with this sort of thing so that you've got that experience that does give you a bit of a safety net.

  • 14:29 Kel

    Exactly and incremental is a great way of phrasing that. That is one of those odd things. When you, you know, survived so much software development, it starts kind of like appearing throughout your life of yes, we should incrementally update these things. I occasionally use agile words like spike to test theories and stuff, so...

  • 14:48 Joshua

    Yeah, it is a little bit pervasive and some of that is good. That's that's what gives you their safety net. You start to see these things and you start to look at how you can build yourself up to a position where you can do these things.

  • 15:00 Joshua

    Now, all that said, there are some other things that you can do that aren't actually programming related at all or development related at all that can help you build a safety net because when it comes down to it, those rock stars that you mentioned before who can afford to lose their jobs and things like that, that comes from a place of privilege that we don't all have. Some of us do. Some of us don't. Some have a little bit more than others. There's huge varying type of privilege. Yeah, but one of the first things that you can do, and I'm not going to say even remotely, that this is easy and for some people it's easier than it is for others, but paying off your debt, putting yourself in a good financial position is hugely stress-relieving if nothing else.

  • 15:47 Joshua

    But it also gives you that safety net, particularly if you can not only pay off your debt, but give yourself at least one paycheck in the bank that you put forward for the next month. Because I, I remember living paycheck to paycheck and if the paycheck was two days late, being frantically calling people up, trying to figure out where the money was and that's not a good way to live, that's definitely not gonna make you a better developer because you're gonna be constantly worrying about the money you're going to worry about all these things that have nothing to do with development and they're holding you back.

  • 16:14 Kel

    Anxiety is a huge, huge thing that presses backed out on your productivity and your just being a good person and developer in things. So like anything you can do to remove it. And that's an excellent example of just the, what can you do strategically monetarily to remove that problem.

  • 16:32 Joshua

    And if you're just starting off, and I will admit I am not a huge fan of university for software development. I think there are some merits to it, but one of my biggest problems with it is it is ludicrously expensive and it puts you in a position where at the moment you walk out the door, you need to go get a job because you have a huge amount of debt. And we've just said, pay off the debts... Even better. Don't build them up in the first place. Bootcamps are a lot cheaper. If you learn on your own, that's even better. That's the way we did it. We went, we got real jobs. Not that any job isn't a real job, but we've got jobs that paid the bills while we were learning. And that meant that when we walked out, we didn't have a huge amount of student debt. We didn't have bootcamp debt, we were free from that, from the start. And that alone, I feel was one of the biggest things that gave me a huge amount of freedom early on to say, okay, you know, actually if I lost this job, I would probably be okay for a couple months while I look for another one.

  • 17:30 Kel

    Exactly. And that's, that's kind of the thing. Like if the, you know, society doesn't provide a safety net, you don't have like friends and family to provide a safety net. Well then you can try building your own. And as you mentioned at the beginning, that might not be an option. That might be like an impossible goal, but if it is possible that is definitely something you can work towards that will have probably much larger impact than what you would expect. Just you know, thinking about it beforehand, like the, the anxiety relief, the ability to be able to take larger risks in your job because you have that kind of buffer, the ability for the flexibility around things like that. Just add so many other options and more, just more possibilities. Um, so like anything you can do to game the system, like that is a good start.

  • 18:12 Joshua

    Yeah, absolutely. And you're right. For some people it's just not a possibility or it is something that's going to take a long time to get to. But you mentioned something that actually is the next thing that I wanted to mention. Friends and family.

  • 18:25 Kel

    Yes.

  • 18:25 Joshua

    Not just friends and family, but networking in general. Getting to know other people, provide opportunities. It provides more safety net because friends and family aren't going to see you hungry. I hope they aren't. If they are, he needs some better friends. You should call us up. We should chat... because you don't have very good friends.

  • 18:44 Kel

    I mean, speaking directly to that, I seem to remember a couch on a couple of occasions for me when I had no other place to stay.

  • 18:51 Joshua

    I seem to recall a couch and I drove to by your suit for the first interview.

  • 18:55 Kel

    Yeah, so like, yeah there these are is a very true statement. Like there, there is the, the friends and family safety net is bigger than you would expect because when those things are gone there is nothing else below there. So yeah, networking is a huge way and even the, the kind of light versions of networking can have huge impacts of Oh I know somebody who might be able to help out with that. And they might give you a new connection on simple things like updating your resume or practicing interviews or like they can add all of these helper things to kind of boost you up just a little bit.

  • 19:29 Joshua

    Absolutely. And it's not just friends and family, it's meeting other people and making real connections with people because making connections with people creates opportunities and opportunities are what really give you a safety net. Knowing these people and having the opportunity because you met somebody just a couple of weeks ago who was saying, oh, actually I could do with a developer. It means that you know more than one person who could actually give you a job and knowing that is great. I have a couple of people who always have a standing offer open to me, so I know... they're not necessarily jobs that I want, but I know if the things went really, really wrong, I have something that I could do. I might have to commute quite a ways or I might have to take a pay cut, but it would be enough to keep my family. Okay. We would have food, we'd have a roof, and that is beyond almost anything else. That alone makes me feel much safer. It allows me to take risks in situations where otherwise I might not, I might not be that rock star because I was too busy being terrified.

  • 20:27 Joshua

    So networking, get to know people, make real relationships. I'm not talking about 454,000 linkedin connections. I'm talking about people you actually know when you speak to.. Those don't hurt, but the reality is having one really good connection is better than having 50 that you don't really have a connection with.

  • 20:46 Kel

    I've always kind of defined the connection of someone who would give me a couch when all else fails. And that's kind of true. Like I never really occurred to me exactly how true that was until you know, I started looking at life and going, oh, what would happen if I needed X? Oh, well I know a few people who might give me a couch. Okay friends. Cool. So yeah, that's a very true thing. And like networking in general, like anything you can do to increase your options will help. Um, but yeah, having, having people you can trust will give you more safety net than literally anything else you can do that, that circle of friends, family, friends, whatever it is is valuable.

  • 21:26 Joshua

    Absolutely. I mean there are a lot of other ways to have safety net. There are job insurances that you can have. I know a lot of people who have layoff insurance and things like that, but the things that we talked about today I think are really good options that most people can achieve.

  • 21:42 Joshua

    I, and again, as I say, not all of them are really easy. Sometimes I think the networking is harder for me than paying off the debt. But they are achievable for most people at some point in their life and striving for those things because you can't always rely on a company to do these things for you.

  • 21:57 Joshua

    But as we started out, if you are in a position where you can provide these sorts of safety nets for other people, I think that's on you as well. You should be doing that. You should be doing whatever you can to try to help other people because we're all just people. We're all doing the same thing. We've all gone through most of the same things, varying degrees of them, but everybody's got their own things and we all need a little bit of help every once in a while. So go help other people.

  • 22:22 Kel

    I forget who I saw saying it on Twitter, but talking about spending, if you're in a position of safety about spending some of that like capital that that built up like political capital in your job or whatever on new people and spending it like it's, it's not you're vouching for them or, or you know, saying, Oh yeah, this person's great. And introducing them and abandoning them. It's actually spending like taking on some of their risk because you have a larger safety net. You actually vouch for them and say this person will do a great job and taking some of that risk if you're wrong or they mess up or any of those types of things. Like if you're in a position of safety, helping out those who are not is a great way of going forward. So yeah.

  • 23:02 Joshua

    And going back to that manager, I would say that is one of the biggest career building things that I have ever had. He invested in us. It wasn't a huge time commitment for him, but he took some risks. Yeah. He knew that he put his name on the line quite a few times saying no, they're going to sort things out. It'll be okay. And that was really what got us started

  • 23:25 Kel

    And I mean kind of looking at it from the opposite point of view to have, it can also be an investment of you take on that risk and it can pay off quite well. We did quite well for our managers during that time because those risks paid off because we took things and we did well.

  • 23:40 Joshua

    Absolutely. And to this day he's now retired, but we still every Christmas have a chat and catch up a little bit. And to be honest, if I didn't live in England, if he ever needed a couch, he could have mine as long as he needed it. I guess networking both ways really.

  • 23:56 Kel

    Okay. I will put some transcripts up at gettingappsdone.com. Please be sure to check out my website at joshuagraham.info and Kel's website at piffner.com. If you are in a position of safety and you are reaching out to other people, mentoring them, helping them out, giving them chances or vouching for them, uh, drop us a note. Let us know what you're doing because we're always looking for new ideas and new ways to help other people. If on the other side you are looking to build your own safety net and you're looking for some ideas or you've had some of the great ideas that worked really well for you, again, let us know about those two because I'd love to hear it all those, uh, you can actually let us know about these things by joining our Slack community at gettingappsdone.com/slack.

  • 24:38 Joshua

    It's pretty easy to figure it out. I'm pretty sure, uh, and anybody who's listening is absolutely welcome. We've got a community of people on there who are really great. They ask really great questions. They answer questions really well. They're all doing the same things that everybody else is doing. They're all working to become really great developers and improve themselves and iterate incrementally to become better at what they're doing.

  • 24:59 Kel

    And today's episode was very much inspired by discussions from that chat. So come join and help push the which the podcast yourself.

  • 25:09 Joshua

    Absolutely. Even if it's a completely selfish reason, if you've got just a question you want an answer to drop in, we'd love to help.

  • 25:15 Kel

    Absolutely.

  • 25:15 Joshua

    Alright. Thank you for listening. We'll be back next week.

  • 25:19 Kel

    Cheers.

Getting Apps Done

with Joshua Graham and Kel Piffner