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RubyConf 2022 - From beginner to expert, and back again

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RubyConf 2022 - From beginner to expert, and back again

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"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."

- Shunryu Suzuki, from "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind"

The Japanese Zen term shoshin translates as “beginner’s mind” and refers to a paradox: the more you know about a subject, the more likely you are to close your mind to further learning. In contrast, the beginner’s state of mind is judgment free. It’s open, curious, available, and present. We’ll draw on examples of these mindsets from fields as varied as aviation and geology, and discover lessons we can apply to the world of software development.

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."

- Shunryu Suzuki, from "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind"

The Japanese Zen term shoshin translates as “beginner’s mind” and refers to a paradox: the more you know about a subject, the more likely you are to close your mind to further learning. In contrast, the beginner’s state of mind is judgment free. It’s open, curious, available, and present. We’ll draw on examples of these mindsets from fields as varied as aviation and geology, and discover lessons we can apply to the world of software development.

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RubyConf 2022 - From beginner to expert, and back again

  1. 1. RubyConf, November 30, 2022 From beginner to expert, and back again Michael Toppa Senior Engineering Manager OmbuLabs (FastRuby.io) @mtoppa @toppa@mastodon.cloud Hi, my name is Mike Toppa, and I’ll tell you a bit more about myself in a minute, but fi rst I want to make a comment that’s directed to the RubyConf attendees who are not in the room right now, and are watching the recording of this talk later: I don’t blame you for going to Aaron Patterson’s talk instead of mine. When I saw the schedule, I said - “oh no, I’m at the same time as tenderlove” (that’s his twitter handle). But I appreciate you watching the recording later. And for everyone here in the room now, I appreciate you being here with me today. My talk is called “From beginner to expert, and back again,” and I’ll give you a quick overview, so you can decide if you want to stay for the whole thing…
  2. 2. Source The Japanese Zen term shoshin translates as “beginner’s mind” and refers to a paradox: the more you know about a subject, the more likely you are to close your mind to further learning. The teachings of Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki are collected in the book “Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind” and the most well-known quote from it is “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.” He goes on to say that “Once we decide we know everything, we shut down opportunities to learn.” In contrast, the beginner’s state of mind is judgment free. It’s open, curious, available, and present. Suzuki says it’s “like a small child, full of curiosity and wonder and amazement.” The beginner’s mind embodies the emotional qualities of enthusiasm, creativity, and optimism. These qualities are important for creative problem solving and for innovation.
  3. 3. A simple example How did we miss it? How did he see it? Source I’ll share a simple example of beginner’s mind from a previous work experience. We had a scheduled job that ran nightly, that did a variety of fi nancial transactions, and there was an automatic summary that was sent to a Slack channel every morning, that included various statistics. This summary report had been in place for years and we routinely checked it every morning. A little while after we hired a new team member, he said “hey, I think one of these numbers isn’t right.” So, we took a look, and sure enough, the math was pretty obviously wrong for an important part of the report. It took a new person to notice this fairly obvious problem. The rest of us never noticed it because it was familiar and had been around a long time. So we were con fi dent in it, and no longer were curious about it our questioned it. We had an expert’s mind. But he saw the error because he was new and everything was unfamiliar to him, so he was curious and wasn’t shy about asking questions. He had a beginner’s mind.
  4. 4. The End So that’s it, that’s the end of my talk, I hope you enjoyed it.
  5. 5. No, I’m just kidding. We have a lot to talk about. We’re going to talk about the bene fi ts of having a beginner’s mind and the pitfalls of sustaining it as we gain expertise. We’ll look at some examples outside of software development, like how it took decades and an entire generation of expert geologists to die before the theory of continental drift was taken seriously; and why planes crash more often when the senior pilot is fl ying, not the junior pilot. Then we’ll draw lessons from all this for our work in software development, and in particular, how you can apply some speci fi c strategies with pair programming to sustain a beginner’s mind in your work.
  6. 6. Source So that should give you a general sense of where we’re going. I’m a believer in what’s called the law of two feet at conferences. It’s perfectly ok to head to another talk if this one isn’t for you. Also, as I just mentioned, I will be discussing plane crashes in part of the talk - nothing grisly or anything, but I wanted to mention it in case it’s a topic that might not be comfortable for anyone.
  7. 7. About me… Copyright Random House Books Before we dive in, I’ll say a little about me. This picture is from my childhood copy of Dr Suess’ “My Book About Me.” And to dispel any confusion, I did not grow up to be a policeman like it says here. Instead I’ve been developing for the web for over 25 years, since the days when the fi rst web pages were painted on cave walls. Over the years I’ve worked at Ask Jeeves, E-Trade, ActBlue, Stanford University, Georgetown, the University of Pennsylvania and others.
  8. 8. About me… ❖ Mike Toppa ❖ Senior Engineering Manager at OmbuLabs.com ❖ We’re best known for our FastRuby.io Rails upgrade service ❖ Twitter: @mtoppa ❖ Mastodon: mastodon.cloud/@toppa ❖ LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/michael-toppa/ ❖ Slides: bit.ly/rubyconf2022-beginners-mind I’m currently a Senior Engineering Manager at OmbuLabs. We’re a small software agency that helps enterprises build and scale products designed for growth and… … I’ll share these links again at the end of the talk
  9. 9. Benefits of Beginner’s Mind ❖ Deeper Gratitude ❖ More Creativity ❖ Greater Intention ❖ More Fun! Source * Deeper Gratitude: It’s easy to lose sight of the many good things in life that lift you up. By seeing your life from a fresh perspective, you can appreciate what you might otherwise take for granted. * More Creativity: As a developer, you see a similar set of problems time and time again, and habits of thinking become ingrained. But deliberately experiencing a problem with the mind of a beginner can provide a fresh perspective on existing challenges. You might even explore opportunities that you didn’t previously consider * Greater Intention: When you’re familiar with something, it’s easy to go into “autopilot”. Beginner’s mind helps you slow down to see what you’re doing with greater clarity, and avoid the drawbacks of mindlessly “going through the motions.” * More Fun: Beginner’s mind helps you re-acquaint yourself with the interesting aspects of everything you do. It can remind you of the reasons why you wanted to be a developer in the fi rst place!
  10. 10. Cultivating a Beginner’s Mind ❖ Let go of preconceptions about “how things work” and what will happen ❖ Always start with curiosity, not assumptions, to understand things more deeply ❖ Open yourself to new possibilities ❖ Ask simple questions Source So how do you cultivate a beginner’s mind? … Children are naturals at this, because they’re always beginners at something. But as you get older, it’s easy to lose touch with these qualities of mind that once came so naturally.
  11. 11. Beginner’s obstacles to beginner’s mind Let’s dig into this a little further by looking at some of the obstacles that beginner’s have with cultivating a beginner’s mind
  12. 12. The fi rst one that we’ll talk about is deference to authority. You may be hesitant to speak up with a concern or an idea, with your boss or someone senior to you. There’s a relevant chapter on this in Malcom Gladwell’s book “Outliers: The Story of Success.” A key theme of the book is that outcomes we often attribute to the abilities or mistakes of individual people are often better explained by looking at systemic or environmental factors.
  13. 13. Possible reactions to Gladwell… 1.🤔 2.🙂 3.🙄 Now before I go any further, you are probably having one of three possible reactions to hearing Gladwell’s name. If you haven’t heard of him, you’re probably just curious to hear more. If you know his work and like it, then you’re probably intrigued that I mentioned him. Or if you’re familiar with some of the critiques of his work, you may be rolling your eyes. Those critiques are important, and I promise I will come back to them later in the talk.
  14. 14. Why do planes crash? There are many reasons... One of the key reasons is poor communication among the cockpit crew But getting back to the book for now, Gladwell has a chapter examining why planes crash. There are of course many possible reasons. The one he focuses on is poor communication among the cockpit crew. There’s typically a Captain and a First O ffi cer, who is the co-pilot. During a fl ight, sometimes the First O ffi cer is fl ying the plane, and sometimes the Captain. Typically the Captain has more experience. A common communication problem when there are di ff erent levels of seniority between the two pilots is that junior pilot uses what’s called “mitigated speech” in addressing the senior pilot.
  15. 15. Mitigated speech When we try to downplay or sugarcoat the meaning of what we say, because we’re: Being polite Feeling embarrassed Being deferential to authority What happens is the junior pilot is being deferential to the authority of the senior pilot. This happens with developers too. The junior person will typically communicate using hints if they think the senior person is doing something wrong or overlooking something. They worry that using a more direct approach might be seen as confrontational, or insubordinate, or that they’ll embarrass themselves if they’re wrong.
  16. 16. “A hint is the hardest kind of request to decode and the easiest to refuse” The problem is… Let’s take a look at an example from the book
  17. 17. 1982 Air Florida Crash Source In the 1982 crash of Air Florida fl ight 90, the plane had a problem with wing ice before takeo ff . This is a serious problem. It can a ff ect the lift force of the wings and lead to loss of control of the plane.
  18. 18. 1982 Air Florida Crash First of fi cer: “Look how the ice is just hanging on his, ah, back, back there, see that?” First of fi cer, again: “Boy, this is a, this is a losing battle here on trying to de-ice those things, it gives you a false sense of security, that's all it does.” The quotes shown here are from the black box recordings recovered after the crash, and this is the fi rst o ffi cer talking before take-o ff . He doesn’t speak in a direct manner to the Captain, who is serving as the pilot for take-o ff . Instead he drops hints that he’s seeing a serious problem with ice on the wings. This is literally a life and death situation, yet he does not come out and say something direct like “I strongly advise against taking o ff . I’m very concerned the wing ice will make us lose control and crash.”
  19. 19. 1982 Air Florida Crash Source Right after take o ff , the plane crashed into Washington DC’s 14th Street Bridge and fell into the Potomac River. Gladwell presents numerous examples very similar to this, where the junior pilot and other crew members notice a very serious problem, but don’t speak clearly and directly to the captain about it, and then the plane crashes.
  20. 20. Crashes are more common with the Captain in the fl ying seat Plane crashes are always thoroughly investigated, and what’s been found is that...
  21. 21. “Planes are safer when the least experienced pilot is fl ying, because it means the second [more experienced] pilot isn't going to be afraid to speak up” This may seem counter-intuitive, but…
  22. 22. For Senior Developers… ❖ Be kind ❖ Be solicitous ❖ Be an active listener ❖ Be patient ❖ Be humble ❖ Be encouraging ❖ Be a good mentor A lesson here for senior developers is that you can counteract this problem by being good mentors… A great way to start is pair programming, but let the junior developer drive, and you can get the same bene fi ts as pilots: the junior person learns, and the senior person provides guidance. I’ll have more to say about pair programming in a few minutes.
  23. 23. For Junior Developers… You have an asset no one else has: The beginner’s mind And a lesson for junior developers is that… When you see something that looks like a problem, in the code, in your work fl ow, or something else, or you have a new idea, I encourage you to communicate clearly but of course politely. Doing so can be intimidating, for the reasons I just mentioned, and other reasons I’ll get to in a moment. But as a new person to an organization, you haven’t yet become acculturated into “this is how we’ve always done things,” which can cause senior people in your organization to develop blind spots, like the example I gave at the start of this talk. You may see problems no one else will see, or have insights that will not occur to anyone else.
  24. 24. Other beginner’s obstacles to beginner’s mind Now let’s talk about some other obstacles for beginners
  25. 25. Source The encouragement I just provided about speaking up is easy to say but not always easy to do. Speaking up when you see a problem, or “asking simple questions” like I mentioned earlier, can be intimidating. If you’re new and trying to fi nd your place in a team or organization, you may worry a simple question might sound like a dumb question. And not just because of deference to authority. Personally I can feel comfortable speaking up in a group and asking what might seem like a dumb question and not feel too much like I’ll be judged for it. I was a little nervous about that when I was younger, but I still spoke up. And that comfort level I’ve always had is more a re fl ection of my privilege than anything else.
  26. 26. Source Another challenge is just how hard it can be when you’re starting out. In a blog post titled “What beginner’s mind is really like” by Robert Heaton, he o ff ers a valid critique of all this beginner’s mind stu ff . He says… The example I gave earlier, of a new co-worker pointing out a reporting problem, was someone who was new to the organization, but already had the experience and con fi dence to speak up about a problem he saw. What if instead, this is your fi rst job, and you see the problem, but think there’s maybe another aspect of it you’re not aware of, and you worry you’ll embarrass yourself if you say something?
  27. 27. Really the only answer here is that it’s not you, it’s them. When you’re starting out, your employer should be giving you clear goals and the support you need to achieve them. If you’re starting a job and don’t know what you’re supposed to do next, who to ask for help, or how you’ll know if you’re doing well, that’s not your fault. It means you’re experiencing a poor onboarding process. It also means you probably don’t have a capable mentor, like I was describing a moment ago. I’m not going to read through the details in this slide, but it’s showing data on how much more successful, dedicated, and happy employees are when they have a good onboarding experience. When you’re a beginner, you need that supportive environment, with clear and achievable goals to be successful. And when you have that, it’s a win-win, for you and for your employer.
  28. 28. Expert’s obstacles to beginner’s mind And this segue’s nicely to talking about expert’s obstacles to beginner’s mind. The experts are the people who are responsible for your onboarding experience and shaping the organization’s culture
  29. 29. Source A business leader who fosters a culture that is unsupportive, closed minded, and hostile to inquisitiveness or alternative points of view is leading a business that may not last very long. IT strategy consultant Erik Dietrich calls these kinds of leaders “expert beginners.” They think they’re experts, but they’re actually beginners. In the case of Mr. Musk here, he’s not seeing that his success running one type of business doesn’t necessarily translate to a very di ff erent kind of business.
  30. 30. “The common thread [in a stagnant or toxic work culture] is that you have a person or people in positions of authority that have the culturally lethal combination of not knowing much; not knowing what they don’t know; and assuming that, due to their own expertise, anything they don’t know isn’t worth knowing.” - Erik Dietrich Source Dietrich says…
  31. 31. There’s no better example of this kind of hubris than the geological community’s decades long rejection of Alfred Wegener theory of continental drift. Geologists are scientists, right? We expect them to dispassionately examine evidence and reach logical conclusions, right? But like the rest of us, they are human, which means, pride and ego also play a role. And a key trap of expertise is getting stuck looking at things a certain way, and not being open to new perspectives.
  32. 32. Source Wegener was not a geologist. He was an Arctic explorer, a record-setting balloonist, and a specialist in meteorology and astronomy. In developing his theory, he cut out maps of the continents, stretching them to show how they might have looked before the landscape crumpled up into mountain ridges. Then he fi t them together on a globe, like jigsaw-puzzle pieces, to form the supercontinent he called Pangaea. He pointed out how layered geological formations often dropped o ff on one side of an ocean and picked up again on the other.
  33. 33. Source Just as importantly, he looked beyond just geology. He approached the problem with a beginner’s mind, not constrained by the traditional divisions between scienti fi c disciplines. He assembled evidence that plants and animals on opposite sides of the oceans were often strikingly similar. It wasn’t just that the marsupials in Australia and South America looked alike; so did the fl atworms that parasitized them.
  34. 34. “Delirious ravings” “Germanic pseud o­ -science” “A fairy tale” “If we are to believe Wegener’s hypothesis we must forget everything which has been learned in the last 70 years and start all over again.” Source When his research was translated to English in 1922, the brutal attacks began. His work was rejected as… But Wegener took every criticism as an opportunity to re fi ne his theory. He presented several ideas to explain continental drift, and he corrected issues with the initial timeline he presented. But it was only in the 1960s, as older geologists died o ff , that the next generation took a fresh look at his ideas, which ultimately proved to be correct. Think about that for a second. A whole generation of “experts” had to die in order for science to advance.
  35. 35. Source There’s a missing piece to the puzzle here though. I just mentioned that Wegener presented ideas to explain speci fi cally how continental drift happened. He actually came up with six, and one turned out to be very similar to plate tectonics, which we now know is the mechanism for continental drift, but at the time he had no direct evidence for it, or for any of the other explanations he proposed. While the reactions to his theory were extreme and damaging to the advancement of geology, this particular gap in the evidence for his theory was a valid criticism.
  36. 36. Source I mentioned earlier that with a beginner’s mind, you see the world “like a small child, full of curiosity and wonder and amazement.” While that is a good thing in and of itself, and we can see it in Wegener’s creative and multidisciplinary approach, it’s also true that children can be easily fooled. Our critical thinking skills are also important. But how do we fi nd the right balance? How do we harness the knowledge and skills we gain from our experience, and apply it to our work and lives, without also getting set in our ways and closing ourselves o ff to new ideas?
  37. 37. This brings us back to Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers, and the criticisms of it that I mentioned earlier. The book was number one for 11 consecutive weeks on the New York Times best seller list. I read it a few years after it came out. I enjoyed it and felt like I learned some things from it.
  38. 38. Source There were even teaching materials developed based on the book.
  39. 39. One of the “smart thinking” airport books that are “superspreader events of American stupidity” A “vessel for pseudoscience and fake history” “The reasoning in 'Outliers,' which consists of cherry- picked anecdotes, post-hoc sophistry and false dichotomies, had me gnawing on my Kindle.” “It's high time for Gladwell to produce something more challenging than his beautifully executed tomb robberies of old sociology papers.” But then, in preparing this talk, I came across a bunch of scathing reviews of it. With critics saying…
  40. 40. 🤔 Gladwell is an eclectic and original thinker. So what makes these criticisms of his work any di ff erent than the attacks we just reviewed on Wegener’s continental drift theory? Are these critics also just experts too set in their ways to appreciate Gladwell’s novel ideas? Let’s take another look at the chapter on plane crashes.
  41. 41. Source The title of that chapter is “The ethnic theory of plane crashes.” The example I gave earlier was from an airline based in the US, but Gladwell speci fi cally focuses on Korean pilots in most of the chapter, and the higher than typical number of crashes that have happened with Korean Airlines over the years. His argument is that Korean culture is especially deferential to authority, and that the nature of the Korean language makes it more prone to mitigated speech. This post from the “Ask a Korean!” site makes an important point - that Gladwell must not have discussed his theory with any actual Koreans.
  42. 42. Gladwell’s presentation vs the actual transcript 0121:13 CAPTAIN: Eh... really... sleepy. [unintelligible words]. FIRST OFFICER: Of course. Then comes one of the most critical moments in the fl ight. The fi rst of fi cer decides to speak up: FIRST OFFICER: Don't you think it rains more? In this area, here? CAPTAIN: 어... 정말로... 졸려서... (불분명) [eh... really... sleepy... (unintelligible words)] FIRST OFFICER: 그럼요 [Of course] FIRST OFFICER: 괌이 안 좋네요 기장님 [Captain, Guam condition is no good] FIRST OFFICER: Two nine eighty-six CAPTAIN: 야! 비가 많이 온다 [Uh, it rains a lot] […] FIRST OFFICER: 더 오는 것같죠? 이 안에. [Don't you think it rains more? In this area, here?] He reviewed the actual transcripts from the black boxes, which are publicly available, and found that Gladwell’s argument relied on a highly selective and manipulative use of the evidence, leaving out facts that directly undermined his argument about Korean culture and language. Here’s a simple example from the black box of Korean Airlines fl ight 801. Gladwell leaves out a quote of the fi rst o ffi cer speaking pretty directly about the very poor weather… His analysis has many other examples of Gladwell using information selectively or demonstrating a poor understanding of Korean culture.
  43. 43. 🤔 So a key di ff erence between Wegener and Gladwell is that, although there were gaps in the evidence for Wegener’s theory, he approached those problems scienti fi cally, systematically, and diligently, re fi ning and adjusting his theory numerous times in response to valid criticisms. In contrast, Gladwell is not as careful or thorough in his research. So, where does that leave us? After reading this and other critiques why did I still include the chapter from Outliers in my talk, as a related concept to beginner’s mind?
  44. 44. Source The reason is that although Gladwell’s analysis was sloppy, especially concerning Korean culture, the core of his argument has since been more rigorously analyzed, and it turns out to be accurate.
  45. 45. “This study found that many of the early studies were correct in their conclusions even if important variables were not included. In particular, high “power distance” nations have more plane accidents, ceteris paribus, while nations ranking high in individualism tend to have fewer plane accidents. Culture remains important even when aviation infrastructure and weather are accounted for in regression models.” Source The study examined plane crashes from 68 countries over a 42 year period. The authors statistically controlled for a wide variety of factors, such as weather, aircraft maintenance, and so forth. And they found that cultures that had a greater deference to authority were in fact at more risk of plane crashes.
  46. 46. 🤔 I’m discussing this in detail because I want to encourage you to engage in a careful balancing act: to embrace the ideal of the beginner’s mind, and at the same time continue to hone your critical thinking skills. The Wegener story about continental drift is a straightforward one - his beginner’s mind, eclectic approach, and rigorous thinking led to his insights, and the resistance to his ideas came from experts who were closed minded. In contrast, the Gladwell story is a more subtle one. He’s an out of the box thinker with a beginner’s mind, but his approach is not as rigorous and critics often justi fi ably pick apart his arguments. Yet the debates about his work drive discussions and knowledge forward. The research article I just cited likely never would have been written if Gladwell hadn’t sparked the debate.
  47. 47. 🤔 So, whether you’re talking with a coworker about which design patten to use, to solve a problem in your code, or you’re talking with a friend or relative about politics, you’ll fi nd yourself in situations where knowledge, experience, emotion, opinion, logic, authority, and new ideas are all dynamic factors with a continual interplay between them as the conversation unfolds. We want to be open to new ideas, but not get sucked in by bad ideas. We don’t want to be fooled by ideas that may suit what we already believe but actually don’t hold up to scrutiny, or close us o ff to considering new approaches. We want evidence to support those new approaches, and we should always be poking and prodding to see just how good the evidence is.
  48. 48. Source So with all of that in mind, let’s take a look at a compelling, evidence based approach to achieving the bene fi ts of beginner’s mind in software engineering. Arlo Belshee conducted a series of pair programming experiments with the support of his software engineering team. Belshee has been active in the Agile software engineering community for many years. They analyzed the results of each variation in their approaches to pairing, and published the results in a paper titled “Promiscuous Pairing and Beginner’s Mind: Embrace Inexperience.”
  49. 49. Source Whether you’re working alone or in a pair, the usual goal is to enter a state of “ fl ow.” However, the fl ow state is fragile. It’s easily disrupted by outside distractions or task rotation. And with pairing there’s the additional challenge that it can days for a new pair to be comfortable enough with each other to to achieve fl ow at all.
  50. 50. “Whereas Flow depends on stability, Beginner’s Mind depends on instability. We found that Beginner’s Mind can be maintained as a stable state by simply changing things around frequently enough — by sur fi ng the edge of chaos.” A common di ffi culty with beginner’s mind is that it’s a transitory state. Like the example I gave at the beginning of this talk, the insights gained from the fresh perspective of a new team member fade as that person becomes familiar and comfortable with the environment, and loses their beginner’s perspective. As Belshee puts it…
  51. 51. Y-axis: velocity (normalized) X-axis: strategy: T = Team owned I = Individually owned A = Assigned (push) C = Chosen (pull) W = Weekly F = Flexible Let’s look at their overall approach. First, it’s important to note this is a team with stable membership developing and supporting a product long-term. So these experiments were limited to that kind of environment. They tried several di ff erent ways of doing their work, varying how tasks were assigned, how they were scheduled, and who was responsible for them. With an individually owned task, the person responsible for it would still pair, but would never rotate o ff the task. With a team owned task, the team as a whole was responsible for completing it. Anyone could work on it at anytime. The key take-away from this slide is that the greatest productivity was achieved with the team-based approach, combined with a pull-based system, where the team decided what to work on next.
  52. 52. Y-axis: Velocity (normalized) X-axis: Hours Dashed line: Expert stays Solid line: Alternating pairs They also found they achieved their greatest productivity working in pairs, and by swapping in a new member pairing on a task every 90 minutes, with no one staying on the task for more than 2 consecutive sessions. A key insight here is they actually did better by not keeping the person with the most relevant expertise on the task for every session.
  53. 53. Continuous Beginner’s Mind and Creativity “When people are in Beginner’s Mind they learn faster and achieve more. Similarly, people tend to be more creative when they only partially understand a situation. Because they don’t know all of the limits yet, they don’t have as much dif culty seeing past them.” “Pair churn ensured that every pair had a member in Beginner’s Mind at all times.” Why was swapping like this so e ff ective? To quote the article…
  54. 54. Source In the team retrospectives, at fi rst the team members felt like the 90 minute swaps were too frequent. They felt they were getting swapped away just as they were getting fully up to speed on a new problem, and it felt like constantly drinking from a fi rehose. And it turns out, that’s actually the reason they were so productive. As Belshee puts it in the article: “After a couple of weeks, everyone saw how much more they were learning than they had in any other situation in their lives. The fi re hose became a thrill ride. It became a challenge."
  55. 55. Source An important additional note is how they applied people’s skills e ffi ciently in the pairing sessions. As the team members worked together, they became familiar with each others’ talents. So if a task called for a certain skill, like debugging or writing a complex database query, the team would make sure to include their best bug hunter or their database guru in the pair swaps. Over time this had the added bene fi t of enhancing the skills of all the team members as they worked together frequently, accelerating how much and how quickly they learned from each other.
  56. 56. Source Belshee notes that “Alternating 90 minute swaps caused each pair to contain one person in Beginner’s Mind and another who was teaching the subject… The data show that we were more productive the more promiscuous we were [in swapping pairs frequently like this] — as long as we remained with each partner long enough to exchange knowledge. What [the data] don’t show is that we also had a lot more fun. It took the team a little time to adjust to the more rapid pace, but working with that team was a career high point for every person involved.”
  57. 57. Source A last thought I’ll add, from my own experiences pair programming, and as a manager, is that compassion and empathy are also an important component of maintaining a beginner’s mind. Every person has their strengths and weaknesses. None of us are perfect. Making the e ff ort to understand not only your co-workers’ abilities, but to also relate to their perspective and put yourself in their shoes, will not only help give them a good experience working with you, but will help you grow as well, and experience another aspect of the many possibilities of the beginner’s mind.
  58. 58. Thank you!
  59. 59. Links ❖ Twitter: @mtoppa ❖ Mastodon: mastodon.cloud/@toppa ❖ LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/michael-toppa/ ❖ Slides: bit.ly/rubyconf2022-beginners-mind

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