Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Learn To ______ In A Year

It started at The Talent Code blog by Daniel Coyle a few weeks back, What's Your LQ (Learning Quotient)?. That led me to Diamondbacks’ Goldschmidt Has Little Ego and Few Limits. I like baseball stories. I especially like this passage:

“A lot of kids have so much pride that they want to show the coaches and the front office that they know what they’re doing, and they don’t need the help,” Zinter said. “They don’t absorb the information because they want us to think they know it already. Goldy didn’t have an ego. He didn’t have that illusion of knowledge. He’s O.K. with wanting to learn.”

I identify with that. I believe part of my success is because I ask questions.

Back to the original article. Then I end up here, Can Everyone Be Smart at Everything? I seem to lack the ability to focus for extended periods of time. Well, not quite true. I have the ability to focus, but I like to focus on a million different things. Does that count? I don't know.

I'm often envious of my friends who have been DBAs for 20 years, or worked with OBIEE for 10 years (don't argue with me...I know Oracle hasn't owned it for 10 years, I'm looking at you Christian), or APEX for 10 years (that's safe to say). I've flirted with all of those, but I've never committed...See how I get distracted easily? Wow.

And just as importantly, that mistakes are part of good learning. As a Wired article recently reported about why some are more effective at learning from mistakes, “the important part is what happens next.” People with a “growth mindset” — those who “believe that we can get better at almost anything, provided we invest the necessary time and energy” — were significantly better at learning from their mistakes.

and then...

“The meaning of difficulty changes. Difficulty means trying harder, trying a different strategy. They understand that change is possible, and progress occurs over time.”

OMFG. Focus!

Back to the original article and I'm reading through the comments. Someone links up to this young lady who taught herself how to dance in a year. Watch it.

Which finally brings me back to The Talent Code, To Improve Faster, Think Like a Startup. Staying with me? How about this?

Finally, there's a point. I want to do this. Maybe not dance (as much fun as that may be), but something else. Krav Maga? Algebra? Calculus (I'm pursuing my physics or engineering degree in 2035, I need to study my math). I want to test out her technique. Small, discrete steps practiced daily towards some end goal (pass a calc test, take a real estate licensing test, whatever). The problem for me, if you haven't noticed, is focus. This method may help.

If you were to try something like this, what would you set out to learn?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Write It Out

This one was sitting in the drafts folder for a week or two, then I saw this post on Twitter:

Years ago I had a boss who was my technical superior (he may still be). I used to pop in and out of his office, or try to, and ask questions. Most of them were silly, n00b questions.

He was nice, but busy. It didn't take me very long to "read" that. So I slowed down my pace of questions. I began to write things up via email so that he could respond when he the had time. I started to use forums as well. Then I found was directed to How To Ask Questions The Smart Way.

One of the things that became evident quickly is that I didn't always have to hit Send (email) or Submit (forum post), just the act of writing it out forced me to think through the issue and more often than not, I would figure out the answer on my own.

Flash forward five or six years and I started to receive all these questions, either in person or via chat. "Send me an email" was usually my response, especially if I was in the middle of something (see: Context Switching). I was happy to help, just not at that moment. With email, I could get to it when I got a break (or needed one).

One of my favorite people, Jason Baer, who has worked for RittmanMead for the last couple of years, took this to heart. We started working together in December of 2009 and he would pepper me with questions constantly. I could never keep up. "Email the question Jason."

I didn't realize it, but I started getting fewer and fewer emails/questions from him. He began to figure them out on his own. It seemed most of the time he had just missed something, other times he just figured out another way to do something.

Jason is a smart guy. I think I'm smart. Sometimes it's just easier to ask the question without thinking it through. In fact, I do that quite a bit on The Twitter Machine ™, especially those errors that I seem to know but just don't have the bandwidth to research (think DBA type questions). I believe the types of questions that should must be written down are those that deal with Approach (design, architecture, etc). Any of those ORA errors better come along with a link to the error code in the documentation and some proof that you've researched it a bit yourself...but then that's getting into How To Ask Questions The Smart Way.

Go out and practice. Next time you have a (technical) question for someone, anyone, write it down and see what happens.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Context Switching: An Example

Last week at #kscope13 I saw an outstanding example of context switching. If you don't know what it is, Tom Kyte explains it here.

The two environments are just "different", separate and distinct. You can do plsql without SQL, you can do SQL (and many times do) without invoking plsql. There is a call overhead to go from SQL to PLSQL (the "hit" is most evident when SQL invokes PLSQL - not so much the other way, when SQL is embedded in PLSQL). Even if this hit is very very small (say 1/1000th of a second) - if you do it enough, it adds up. So, if it can be avoided - it should be.

The session was Using Kanban and Scrum to Increase Your Development Throughput presented by Stew Stryker (not to be confused with Ted Striker) of Dartmouth College (Stew gave me a gallon of Vermont Maple Syrup which exploded in my bag on the flight home, a gift for sharing my hotel room. Thanks Stew! ;)). So here's the example he gave to demonstrate context switching.

Take a list of names and time yourself writing out the first letter of each name, then the second, until you are finished.

Now, same list of names and write them out the way you normally would, left to right.

If the first method was faster, you are a freak of nature.