(λ (x) (create x) '(knowledge))

Building Blocks

The Nature of Progression · September 24th, 2020

I feel like a lot of the time I'm playing with blocks, like I grew up doing, as I've watched my son do as he's progressed. We all start out building tiny clusters of shapes, and advance towards teetering towers. And much like Icarus our ambitions fly too close to the sun. Inevitably our towers crumble, but unlike Icarus we can start over, and each time our tower topples, we learn just a little bit more.

Eventually we become architects in our own right, and it's through this constant cycle of failure and rebuilding that we hone our skills. But sometimes it still feels like I'm just playing with blocks.

We all suffer from impostor syndrome from time to time, but it's worth while to stop and really think about how far we've come. If I look back to the start of my career and mull over some of the self doubts I had, I quickly find a mountain of issues I've overcome, and that consistently the things that bothered me then bother me today. And in that vein, those issues stem from looking at the big picture, but getting stuck on the minor details.

The fact of the matter is that we must fail, our block towers must topple, and we certainly must endeavor to fly too close to the sun to learn! And looking at our peers and seeing that they can build higher, or more stable, or more impressively is of little accord. It holds no bearing on our ability to build. But I didn't always see it that way.

The first IT job I had was working on a help desk, supporting QSRs. Lots of POS troubleshooting, and the more complex issues were passed on to "tier 2". I envied them their positions. We had a couple of guys smart enough to write their own tooling, automate their jobs. I envied them as well. What I saw was where I wanted to be, but the path forward wasn't clear. Unlike a lot of people in IT I have no formal IT education, I only have a BA in History.

But I'm a DevOps engineer now. I've come a long way from the envious kid struggling to finish a bachelors he didn't think was useful, and trying to get a grip on how to be a dad. I got there, by playing with blocks.

When approaching any challenging problem, or when looking on our neighbors, we should endeavor to emulate their approach. This is how children learn basic behaviors and skills. It's how we gauge each other. By playing and experimenting we hone our skills. That's my secret, I never stop trying to build higher. I constantly fly towards the sun. And yes, like Icarus, I've seen it blow up in my face. I've botched credit batches, I've lost data, blown up production servers, and even caused outages. I'm not perfect. But each time I've gotten burned, its been because I was trying to reach the sun. And each time I flew that much higher!

Watching my son this evening triggered all of these thoughts. Tasks which frustrated him mere months ago bring him rapturous joy. He might walk away defeated one day, to turn around and soar resplendently through a task the next. We need to be a little more Icarian. Even if we feel like impostors in our career, we need to keep flying higher.

Take on the tasks you've never dealt with. Help your friends build tools you've never thought of before. Package something a friend mentioned just because. There are slews of professional habits I have that are nothing more than playing with blocks. And with each one, and each iteration, I get a little bit sharper. I tackle a problem I would otherwise never of known. And before you know it you're here, where I am, wondering how you got your title.

Be ambitious like Icarus, but tempered by knowledge. Nobody is an impostor, everyone is just building a little bit differently.