What do you know?

A while back, I was working with a young and cocky software developer. He was a smart guy, and sure of his abilities. He had seven years of Java experience, he said, and he knew how to write code.

As he was a new member of the team, I described the strategy I’d planned for a bit of code. I showed him what I’d already written, and asked him to complete the functionality.

“But I can do it another way.” And he described a different technique.

“Yes, but they’re already talking about changing this piece. Though it’s a little more code, this way is simpler and easier to change. It keeps the knowledge of the screen layout configuration in one place.”


Later, when I was reviewing code that had been checked into the source code repository, I saw that he’d done it his way. He has also left the beginnings I’d asked him to complete, though it wasn’t used anywhere, as dead code. And when I brought up the fact that he’d increased the coupling in the system, since now the database had to understand the details of configuring the screen layout as well as the code, he asked, “What’s coupling?”

I think that instead of seven years’ experience, he had one year, seven times.

As I write this, I’m reminded of a day when I was a teenager. The father of a friend needed to pick up a van from across town and bring it home, but he didn’t have anyone available to drive the second vehicle. He offered me a few bucks to go with him and drive the van back. “Sure.”

I was following him back, when he suddenly took an unexpected turn. “Where is he going?” I wondered as I continued on my way.

When I pulled into the driveway, his car was already there. He came out of the house saying, over his shoulder, “Never mind; here he is.”

What an idiot I was! Why wasn’t it obvious to me that he’d been over this ground many times and knew all the roads to his own house. I knew only one. Because I knew only one, it was THE way. I had been so proud of myself for knowing THE way that I’d bypassed an opportunity to learn more.

My friend’s father never hired me for another errand, either.

I’d like to say that, now that I’m older and wiser, I don’t do things like this any more. Perhaps I do it less, but I’m well aware that sometimes I pass up learning because I think I already know THE answer.

Do you have a story where you passed up a learning opportunity because you thought you already knew the answer?

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Comments (2) to “What do you know?”

  1. I learned the driving route lesson /again/ late last month: After attending “the other” caving group’s meeting, I “followed” them to the pizza joint (frequented by both groups after meetings), but when they turned one street early, I kept going. Then I learned… These people know a shorter route to a better and more appropriate parking lot a few hundred feet closer to the pizza place. (Slap myself on the head; maybe someday I’ll learn to keep learning!!! ;-)

  2. […] It is good when we learn from our experiences–much better than when we don’t learn from them. I recently wrote about learning, or failing to learn, from observing others. A recent discussion on the scrumdevelopment yahoogroup got me thinking about another way to learn from experiences, and that’s learning from the experiences of others. […]

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