Who inspires you in the data community?
Inspire means to motivate or move to action. To many, the word conjures up images of fun, happiness, and cajoling to leisure time. That’s not what I think of when I look at those who have motivated me and impacted my career. Inspire involves both good and bad experiences.
I’m not saying that you need bad times to learn good lessons – there are more desirable ways – but they can work. To be fair, I consider both in my experiences and how they’ve impacted me for the better. Stay with me as I’m going to take a different angle on this.
No Man is an Island
It’s good sometimes to step back, detach from your pressing reality, and reflect on where you are. No man is an island. We are all intertwined with each other. Through these experiences we learn from one another. I want to share some of what I’ve learned from others.
I don’t believe in heroes. Good is scattered all through the bad and it isn’t useful to mythologize people into caricatures. I’ve worked with some people who had bad qualities but still taught important lessons. Self improvement is hard and involves some hardship to endure. Whenever I see cheery tales of inspiration I think it is fiction. Personal progress isn’t as simple as “I met Mr. BigName and took a selfie with him and now my path is clear”.
Inspiration can be intentional or unintentional
You won’t recognize many of those who inspired me. They are people who taught me in school, colleagues throughout the years in various jobs, customers, managers, direct reports, and non-tech people at work.
Evolution vs Revolution
Small things matter over time. A lot of the inspiration I’ve had is the combination of working with someone closely for a sustained time. When you work closely together you exchange bits of yourself with each other. Maybe it is a team you worked on a project with or remote overseas colleagues with daily meetings.
Over time I find myself engaging in what I like to call “intelligent borrowing”. I find myself saying the same things and remembering situations well handled. I try to replicate those successes. I have an assortment of words and phrases that resonate with me that I’ve heard working close with someone that I use today. I keep them because they are useful. A good response, a best practice, an elegant hack, an interesting design pattern, an interview foul-up that begins a quest to better understand a concept – these have all inspired me.
These changes happen over a period of years and can have a profound effect. You don’t change overnight – it is more like evolution than revolution.
The Gratitude of Inspiration
I am grateful for the people I have worked with who have inspired me to be better. It wasn’t always easy or clear to see at the time. For some the benefit I received wasn’t intentional. That’s ok too. I’ve had good professors who pushed me past my limits. I’ve had worse ones who put everyone to sleep. I’ve had good managers who made it pleasant to come into work and others where I got sick just thinking about work. Yet they’ve all taught me something. Again it might not have been intentional but I take it from them anyway. And once it is mine there is no taking it back.
Especially in cases of hardship the lessons are more profound. The developers among us who have been on death march projects can attest that after the smoke clears much can be learned from the experience. Learning how not to manage your staff at the hands of an inept manager is valuable (although not pleasant). It can be very important to know what not to do. In my career thus far I’ve had opportunities to experience some good and bad practices and I’m grateful for those who’ve inspired me during the whole of it – whether they intended to inspire me or not.
Thanks for reading!
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