It was a Thursday noon that I heard the sad news: the project that I’ve worked on so hard for the past year and a half, the project that I was the team lead for, was about to get shut down! The order has come directly from the mouth of the director and we had to abide. In a time span of an hour, we reconfigured the load balancer to point to a blank page and before I could fully understand what’s going on, our web application with its giant backend was there no more!
At first I thought it is OK, I am mature enough to deal with it; after all, it was just an application among many other apps that I had written in the past years. But by Saturday, I knew that I was being naive! I couldn’t let go and it just kept haunting me, with this constant pop up in my head: why, oh why?! It chased me in the gym, at the dinner table and over the weekend! Something was wrong, but what?
As I more thought about it, I noticed that there were signs that I should have seen and there are practices that I can do, so that I don’t get too affected in similar situations.
Ownership: Take a Responsible Dosage Please
I always pride myself in my ownership; I am the owner of what my team and I build and see myself responsible for any bug, because either I coded it myself or it slipped past me in code reviews.
There is a caveat to extreme ownership however and it is the fact that after sometime, you might see yourself as the absolute owner of the entire product, which is not true! Hah, I know, this is so much against the Extreme Ownership that is prophesized so much, but I am only the owner of the technical parts of the product, not the owner of the resource allocation or marketing or even most of the time the requirement gathering. These are the parts that other teams and other owners handle. As a result, if a perfectly developed product based on the requirements that were discussed and decided upon, turns out to be too expensive or not able to attract enough customers, there is really little that I can do.
Yes, one might say we can change our focus on the other important sections, such as requirement gathering or marketing, but truth be told, can you be a great marketer and customer relationship manager and programmer at the same time? No matter how many aspects of a project you can handle simultaeniously, there are always other aspects that are trusted with other teams and departments, specially if you don’t work in a startup and are in an enterprise.
OK, so, what is the responsible ownership dosage that you should take? Well, I don’t know, I cannot say it for you, but here is a rule of thumb: If you are spending extra long hours on a product on daily basis for several month, and specially fighting in multiple fronts (coding, team building, scrum mastering, …), you are probably taking a big dosage of ownership on daily basis. Is it bad? Not necessarily, I got lots of fun and made lots of friends & good memories doing exactly this throughout my career, and not to mention most of my promotions as well, however, if things don’t go well, this extra dosage can prove harmful! So, what should we do? Should we say no after a threshold or just dive deeper? It depends on you and your situation and what you expect to get out of it; but one thing is certain: review yourself every month and see how much dosage you have been taking and really think that if you like to take more or if that’s just enough for you and you’d like to spend the rest of your ownership on other parts of your life.
Think of all ownership you can give as a bucket, then allocate it responsibly to different parts of your life! As Mark Manson says in his revolutionary The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, you have a limited number of f*cks to give, spend them wisely!
Enjoy The Path, Not The Destination
So, is there nothing you can do? Does it mean you have to raise your hands and surrender to the wheel of time? Absolutely not! There are things that you can control and are responsible for and things that you cannot. Put your focus on the path, not the results. If you, like me, enjoy crafting the best piece of code that you can at any given point in time, that’s where you should put your energy and focus on.
As Jacky Wang says in his Lessons from 4 years at Facebook & Instagram, we should all learn to kill our darlings. Working in a fast paced environment, you would write a lot of code that won’t pass the ultimate test of time and eventually gets trashed, that’s fine, if you enjoyed the journey and most imprtantly, learned a lot.
Again, in learning, think of your brain as a storage that you cannot fill with the speed of light (oh, don’t we all wish if it was possible?!). There are tons of hype out there that tickle us to pick up and pursue and learning how to detect them and going beyond them really needs some good years of experience. However, there is still one technique that can save us over time, and it is nothing but having a feedback loop on ourselves. Every year, I sit down with myself and analyze how much of the trainings and practices I invested on daily basis to learn, were actually useful in my daily work and if not, how closer am I to actually start utilizing them? A trend that I noticed in myself is that sometimes I pick up some new technologies to play with, as opposed to the ones that I really need to master, as a way to escape reality! Like I spent several month to play around with NodeJS and build the Handover Tool; whereas if I spent the same amount of time and got more productive with Java or ElasticSearch, I could have reaped the benefits in my daily work much earlier.
Don’t mistake me please, escaping from reality and playing around with technologies that you absolutely do not need today is a fun & a necessary part of life, after all, as an avid Fantasy and SciFi reader, I cannot really preach too much of reality myself! But again, it’s best we keep the count and know how much escapism and realism we are going through on daily basis.
Since I heard the news on that gloomy Thursday noon, I wanted to sit down and write down my thought process and find a way to mitigate the blast radius in future for myself and rest of my team. I didn’t think it’s going to take more than few lines, but again, it seems I wasn’t too correct! If you read up to here, I can only assume that you went through a similar experience. I like to hear them and know how you found peace afterwards.
Thanks for reading & hope with spending the right amount of ownership and enjoying the path, we live a happier life and deliver better results as well.