Feedback over Time: A Hard Skill to Learn for Software Devs
If you possess this skill – kudos. Its one I don’t, but I’m trying to learn. I don’t mean to pigeon hole all software developers, but it’s something that I imagine we have in common.
The skill I’m talking about is working with SLOOOOOOOOW feedback. Results to your efforts that take days, weeks, maybe months. As software developers, we work with machines that give us results to our tinkering in a matter of milliseconds. You can tweak a system and instantly know what’s wrong and what’s right. You can correct the system in realtime until something works.
The bottleneck here is you as a developer – you take time to work out how to fix/code the system and correct it so the output is valid.
What if the bottleneck to working with your results wasn’t you, but the feedback process itself. What if the feedback process is so damn slow, you’re left twiddling your thumbs waiting for results?
I wasn’t aware that I’m not flexible enough to work like this until I saw a dietician. Now that I’ve realized I have this problem, it’s pretty interesting working to try and correct it, and realize how it applies to other areas in my life.
My wife would attest to my willpower when it comes to eating snacks. I’m pretty good when I set my mind to a diet. But, I’ve been on so many diets over the years, and I’ve been at 230+ lbs for the longest time.
My diet cycle went a little like this…
First I’d try a new diet that people are talking about, whether its veggie smoothies, no carbs, low calorie, whatever. More often than not, I’d lose 10lbs in the first 2 weeks with amazing feats of willpower saying no to all but the healthiest food. But unfortunately, it always started coming back after those two weeks. When the weight was mostly back, I’d deem the diet a failure, ponder what to do for a week or two, and then start the next crazy diet.
It was a process that always failed, and stupidly I thought it was the type of diet I was on. Maybe if I just found the one that worked for me, I’d be solid.
After many failed attempts, I just said “Screw it, let me just pay for counselling”. I learned (or was rather reminded) right away that I’m really not losing 10lbs right away. It’s most likely water retention from my salt intake. As I started eating healthier, my sodium intake would naturally go down resulting in massive weight lost. It fluctuates though, so of course, a little salt would bring the weight back, making me think the diet wasn’t working.
I knew about water retention of course, but I was really stubborn enough to not see the immediate connection. After all, I see instant results, and I’ve grown to expect instant results from years of software development.
It’s only been a couple months – and we’re shooting for .75lbs per week, so I’ve only lost 6 or 7lbs so far – however the change to my mindset is fantastic. Instead of focusing on immediate results from looking at the scale, I’m working on establishing better habits. The habit/behavior change is the thing I’m working on. It’s a matter of shifting your results/feedback loop from the thing you are actually trying to accomplish (ie losing weight) to something that is easily observable. To get something easily observable – we create goals. Am I exercising at least 4x per week? Am I eating a planned breakfast at least 4x per week? Supposedly these goals, after meeting them for 6 months become habits in your brain.
Anyway – these days, I do watch the scale. But it takes a good couple of weeks to know what’s really happening, am I trending up or down? However, if I can EASILY tell if I’m meeting my goals, and work based on that.
And now I have a skill I didn’t have before – its still something that’s hard to get used to, but it does broaden my horizon. In my opinion, its a skill that easily translates into running a business or marketing, and is a pretty core thing to learn if you’d like go beyond software development.
We’re bombarded with overnight successes in the tech industry – only behind the scenes, it’s really not overnight. Instead – these entrepreneurs spend countless hours toiling away and building their brand. Marketers spend lots of time managing a campaign. Guess what? Feedback isn’t easily attainable here. Instead – they probably create some goals that they perceive will help them in the long run. Day to day, they stick to these goals – and if results aren’t achieved way down the line (after months), they tweak. The secret here, is knowing your market well enough to create good day to day goals. Luckily for my weight loss, I have a dietician that can help me out.
Amazing what a little patience will get you I bet! Its a skill I look forward to practicing in my future endeavors.