Episode 80 – Succeed By Listening and Working Collaboratively with Kent Beck
Kent Beck is the founder and director of Three Rivers Institute (TRI). His career has combined the practice of software development with reflection, innovation and communication. His contributions to software development include “Patterns For Software”, “The Rediscovery of Test-First Programming” and “Extreme Programming”. Kent has also authored multiple books, including “Test Driven Development By Example” and “Extreme Programming Explained”.
In this episode, Phil talks to software developer Kent Beck, director of Three Rivers Institute (TRI) and author of multiple programming books. Kent shares his thoughts on how he looks at software development, the value of community and the untapped potential of engineering talent that exists in different areas of the world.
(1.39) – Phil opens by asking Kent to expand on the introduction and tell everyone a bit more about himself. Kent explains that for the last 7 years he has been working at Facebook. His main focus, while there, was on the engineering culture. During those 7 years, he did a lot of writing, coaching and educating. As well as studying the culture as a whole.
(2.18) – Phil asks Kent to share a unique career tip. Kent says: “It’s easy to treat software development as a production process where there’s some functionality and the more quickly you can produce it, the better you are and I think that that’s it’s an understandable mistake but a fairly large mistake.”
“I prefer to look at software development as a learning process that throws off running software as a by-product. If you do that, you’ll learn to do your job better and better, over time, and those improvements compound on each other.”
(3.15) – Phil asked Kent to share his worst IT moment and what he learned from that experience.
Kent said it was the first time he was fired. He went on to explain he was not paying enough attention to the feedback by saying: “I thought here’s the job. I’m doing this job. That was much more important to me then what the team as a whole was trying to accomplish and I did my job as I saw it. It just wasn’t what the person signing the checks cared about.”
(4.09) – From then on, Kent has made a point of really listening and also making sure he is communicating effectively. He said: “So you’ll hear me, if I give a talk with question and answer, I almost always will say ‘Does that answer your question?’”
(5.00) – Phil asks Kent about his career highlight or greatest success. Kent said – “Right at the beginning of my career, I stumbled into a relationship with Ward Cunningham, who would go on to invent the wiki. And it was really a mentor-student relationship, at first”.
He explained how working with Ward gave him confidence in his abilities and reinforced, in his mind, the need to value his ideas. As well reinforcing the importance of listening to others.
(6.43) – Phil asks if Kent felt it was the foundation of many of the things he went on to do subsequently.
Kent said he thought it was. For example, “This habit of checking in started very much with the work that I did with Ward. So we would spend a few hours maybe programming something. And then we would go have a coffee and talk about not just the content that we’d worked on, but the process that we’d used for it.”
Regularly checking in enabled them to pick up on little details at each stage. For example, something as simple as the fact that they had used 4 keystrokes for a process prompted them to ask can we make it 3? They optimized everything from the micro stuff all the way up to how does this fit into society.
(7.39) – Phil asks what excites Kent the most about the future of the IT industry and careers in IT. Kent responds saying that ‘things are going to definitely radically change’. He expands this statement by explaining that there’s unbelievably good engineering talent in Africa which may lead to large-scale collaborations. Kent then states that “we’re going to have to find ways of having finer-grain commits and quicker path to production, better feedback from production; but also we’re going to have to confront some of the limitations of the social structures that we’ve built around programming.
(09.44) – Kent went on to say that things have the potential to change a lot but also the potential to stagnate if people become complacent.
(9.55) – Phil asks Kent whether or not he thinks the trend of diversity will continue. Kent says, “I think the world has big problems, engineers and software engineers can be part of addressing those problems. We don’t have near enough engineers to throw away five sixths of the world’s engineering talent just because it happens to be female or have melanin in its skin.”
(10.31) – What first attracted you to a career in IT?
(10.41) – “My dad was an electrical engineer, and then a programmer. And when he gave me my first book about BASIC, it was like remembering. It was not like learning. It was just like, Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s how that works.”
(11.00) – Phil asked – So you felt you found the logic behind it quite straightforward? It just worked with the way you think?
Kent said yes and explained he took a microprocessor manual and just read it repeatedly until he remembered it. Even though he did not completely understand it. He knew that he just had to continue to work hard and expand his knowledge.
(11.34) – What is the best career advice you ever received?
Kent replied: “Um, I’m not much of an advice taker.”
(12.09) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do?
Kent’s reply was to: “Treat it as a learning process. Act as if you haven’t graduated from school. This is just your next class and you’re going to treat it as a learning process and when the class is over and you’ve learned the lessons, you’re going to go to a different class.” The more diverse your learning, the more cross-fertilization happens.
(12.55) – What career objectives are you currently focusing on yourself?
(13.35) – “My focus is on longer-term relationships, especially with large scale software development. I think that’s, that’s something I have now a lot of experience with, and I have some ideas that aren’t widely shared. So that’s a focus. I’m also going to do individual coaching because I receive the benefits of that as a young engineer.”
(14.13) – “It’s much more highly leveraged to produce better engineers, than any amount of code that you could write.”
He is also experimenting, so he can learn whether he has more leverage with an audience of geeks or business owners.
(14.43) – What’s the number one non technical skill that has helped you in your career so far?
(14.57) – “I come to a place of compassion more quickly than a lot of people seem to. So if somebody is doing something that doesn’t make any sense to me, I’ll get annoyed just like anybody else. But pretty quickly I start to try to see the situation from their perspective. And I think that’s a powerful habit.” “It is helpful for me to be able to see the situation from the other person’s perspective.”
(15.54) – Can you share a parting piece of career advice with the IT Career Energizer audience.
“Learning works better in a community”
(16.29) – What’s the best way to connect with you? Kent says that his website is provides information about what he’s up to, what he’s written recently and where he’ll be speaking.
(17.21) – Phil reminds the audience of the upcoming changes to the podcasts and the timescales for those changes.
(3.00) – “Even a small change in learning trajectory can result in a large change in productive capacity”.
(3.57) – “I did my job as I saw it. It just wasn’t what the person signing the check cared about.” (Don’t forget to really listen to the client and the team)
(7.50) – “Things are definitely going to change radically. There’s a huge pool of unbelievably good engineering talent in Africa that hasn’t been tapped.”
(8.35) – “The pull request, code review, merge, deploy model I think is starting to run out of steam.”
(9.34) – “We’re going to have to find ways of building and maintaining teams and teamwork across a greater variety of thinking styles and cultural backgrounds.”
(16.01) – “Learning works better in a community. I learn faster, I learn better if I share that learning experience with somebody else.”
CONTACT KENT BECK:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/KentBeck @KentBeck