Working in the technology sector as a consultant means that I sometimes find myself working with public figures in the tech community. I can’t think of many points in my life where I have found myself working with people whose talks I have watched on YouTube or whose writings I have read in various publications on a regular basis.
Naturally the process of following public figures primarily through the lens of the persona that they expose to the world results in expectations being formed which are rooted in the images that those people aim to project of themselves.
This week I’ve been left quite disappointed and frustrated by the expectations that I had developed of one such person and the reality of working side by side with them in the same team. The main source of my frustration has been the disconnect between the skills and methods that this person publicly evangelises in favour of and the lack of evidence of those same skills and methods in our interactions.
Conversely, there are people who have made a conscious decision to not cultivate public personas that I have been working with in the same time frame, and my interactions with them have consistently culminated in me coming away with a boost to both my knowledge and confidence in my ability to deliver. This has resulted in me thinking about the difference between actively publicising curated aspects of yourself and your work as a brand and letting your work speak for itself (the ‘just kill’ approach). I’m feeling increasingly wary of the potential echo chamber effect of the former.
Over the years I have seen a number of people enter into this approach with a specific narrative about themselves already in mind and then curate what they publicise about themselves to serve that narrative. It’s incredibly easy to believe something that is repeated often enough, and doubly so when you can get other people to repeat it too. Reflection is undoubtedly a key element in growth and development, but one that falls victim to complacency with alarming ease.
The reality is that many desirable skills for people working in tech (particularly so-called ‘soft skills’) require continuous and deliberate practice. The complacency that can and does result from extended external exposure to our idealised narratives about ourselves lends itself well to ideas about reaching levels where we become exempt from those fundamental requirements.
What I like about the ‘just kill’ approach is the quality of the feedback it provides and specifically the 360-degree nature of that feedback. The strengths and weaknesses that organically bubble up are not impacted by the home bias of a narrative we are actively working to publicise, and the feedback provides a reliable and continuous mechanism to gauge the discrepancies between our idealised view of ourselves and the observable impact and quality of the work that we produce. One of the key takeaways from looking at the output of this mechanism is that it dispels any notions of linear progression or ‘save points’ and forces you to confront the reality of regression in the absence of sustained effort.
On the other hand, the ‘just kill’ approach struggles to scale beyond a group of teams or a specific community, and I imagine this is in part due to the baselines of domain-specific knowledge required to directly understand and appreciate the quality of the work that somebody is producing. I’m still not sure how to deal with this constraint, but no doubt I will be giving the problem more and more thought as my career in the tech industry progresses.