On Craftsmanship and Practice

Reading a passage from the “E-Myth Contractor” got me to thinking about how we practice (when we practice) our skills that we apply on a regular basis.

When we practice our craft, performing “katas” as they have come to be called, why do we perform them on arcane problems such as Langdon’s Ant or Conway’s Game of Life?

You don’t encounter these problems in your day-to-day work.

I agree that solving these problems a few times over may improve your overall problem solving skills. But that’s only true until you settle on an optimal implementation.

Given the above then there seems to be greater value in routinely exercising what we consider routine.

If I can build a signup, login,and forgotten password capability, a text-based search across multiple model objects, or a recurring payment ecommerce system rapidly and reliably, isn’t that more valuable to most customers than finding clever ways to move a hypothetical ant around a grid? These are the sorts of tasks that we routinely encounter in our work. Or perhaps not. Maybe you typically employ a CMS to expedite these chores. This is because craftsmen use tools to work in their craft.

So you should be practicing with those same tools.

If you have a good toolbox, full of tools ideally suited to solving problems your typical problems, then these tools are your weapons. Each tool probably does certain things better than others. You should then practice “weapon katas.”

You should master your tools.

Let’s assume for a moment that your current project/product/service du jour is not a unique and special snowflake. If what we do is a craft, then repetition and understanding of the routine tasks should enable us to deliver faster, more reliably, and more consistently.

Perhaps studying Langdon’s and Conway’s, ultimately, is a study of basic forms, i.e. this is how I BDD something different. Once we grasp these basic forms, it is then time to move on to how we employ our tools, i.e., our favorite plugins and gems, until we’ve mastered those as well.

Doesn’t this make us better craftsmen?

… that is, until someone introduces a better weapon.

I freely admit that this is not how I currently practice. I feel that my basic form is solid. Howver, I admit, I do need to better acquaint myself with my weapons. As of now, this is what I intend to practice. I will try to report on how it goes.

Posted by evan on Monday, January 11, 2010

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