Learn the trade and the tricks will follow

I’ll never forget the 11th grade English class when Mr. Ervin departed from his usual lessons in literature, and lectured us on this topic for the full hour. “Learn the trade and the tricks will follow.” As he repeated this simple advice, he bemoaned the fact that everyone was looking for the shortcuts, looking for the quick and easy, trying to bypass learning any more than was necessary.

Where did he learn this advice? As a carpenter’s apprentice, he had noticed that the master carpenter always had some little trick or technique to apply in difficult situations to make them easier. Carpentry was hard work, and he though if he could learn all of these techniques, it would be much easier to learn. So he asked the master carpenter to teach him the tricks of the trade. “Learn the trade and the tricks will follow,” was the reply.

Did this advice stop me from trying to find the shortcuts? Of course not. But, like Mr. Ervin described, I found that those shortcuts didn’t seem to work so well for me. But when I learned the fundamentals of the business (whatever business I tried), then the tricks of the trade became more useful. The framework provided by learning the basics gave me insight into how, and when, to apply more advanced or less obvious techniques. “Learn the trade and the tricks will follow.”

The decades that have passed have proven Mr. Ervin’s advice to be correct. And so I want to pass it on to you. I want to pass it on to those who look for tools or code to copy that will make software development something you can do without thinking. Learn the trade, and the thinking becomes easy. I want to pass it on to those who look for the framework to allow inexpensive non-programmers to develop business applications. Hire people who know the trade, and developing the applications will follow. Learn the trade of hiring and retaining high-quality developers, and the ability to develop the systems you want, when you need them, will follow.

“Learn the trade and the tricks will follow.”


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