Pursuing Mastery

It occurred to me a couple of years ago, that there really is no such thing as attaining mastery of software development. We are all just at different stages of beginning.

When I was running a Software Craftmanship bootcamp in the UK a couple of years one of the attendees was kind enough to give me a copy of the book Bushido – The Way of the Samurai. He felt that a lot of the concepts that I was both demonstrating and talking about, were reflected in a lot of the ideas in the book. It really is a fantastic book on the subject of “pursuing mastery”. Software developers in general spend a lot of time trying to “attain mastery”. The only problem with this endeavour is that they can often trick themselves into falsely feeling like they have “attained it”. This can often result in the following set of events happening:

  • Establishing themselves as a subject matter expert in one or more areas
  • Camping on their ideas for a long period of time.
  • Failure to want to be “the beginner” again, as they have worked hard to be perceived as an expert
  • Boredom, as their need to hang-on prevents them from moving ahead
  • Transitioning to management as the next logical step, more because they come to realize that their skills have atrophied

Of course, that little blurb above is a very generalized path, but one that I have been able to observe enough for it to not just be an accident.

The sooner we can start realizing that we “pursue” mastery, then we will realize that the learning never stops. We don’t need to pat ourselves on the back too long when we have made an accomplishment, we can focus on incremental, iterative growth over the entirety of our career. This is the kind of movement that can prevent boredom, stagnation and the unecessary “promotion” to management. Now let me be clear, I have no issue with programmers who make the move to management because they choose and have a desire to. I am speaking to the devs who made the move because they felt like they had no other progression paths.

Here is an excerpt from the Bushido book that sums up what I am trying to say:

An old, retired swordsman once said, “There are levels in the course of mastery throughout your life. At the lowest level of skill and ability, one thinks of himself and others as poor. He thinks this because he has mastered only a little. Needless to say, a person at this level is not at all useful. ”
“At the middle level, one is still useless, but he can at least understand that he and others have mastered only a little.”
“At a high level, since a person has made something his own, he is proud of his accomplishment. And he is also glad of the praise of others. He grieves over the shortcomings of others. This kind of person is at least useful.”
At a higher level, one pretends to know nothing, yet others understand that he holds an upper hand. The majority of people cannot get beyond this level.
Beyond this higher level, there is one further step: the level of the trackless road. If you travel deeper into the trackless road, infinite secrets will finally appear. Then you can never see the end of your mastery. Then you truly realize how lacking you are. You have only to go ahead with your intention of mastery in mind. You go forward without pride and without humility.

High Upon High Bushido – the Way of the Samurai

Favourite part of the excerpt:

Then you can never see the end of your mastery. Then you truly realize how lacking you are. You have only to go ahead with your intention of mastery in mind. You go forward without pride and without humility.

I pray that you can continue to enjoy the pursuit!!

Develop With Passion®

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