Thursday, August 1, 2013

Life Hackers



I need to take a moment to vent about a few things. First off, I need to explain some stuff before I vent because a book I read two days ago put a lot of things into perspective for me. If you have not read Masteryby George Leonard, do so. Order it now and read it as the thing only takes a day or two. It’s simple but insightful. Leonard talks about the never-ending path to becoming a master of whatever it is you want to be a master of (sport, skill, life, anything applies and goes.) To be a master you need to realize that there is no end to learning and the process is lifelong and the path constantly changes. You need to learn to love the plateau for the sake of the existence. That practice is necessary and enjoyable and not some chore or feat you need to accomplish to reach some goal. And a lot more other gems of wisdom. He speaks of three people who make mastery difficult: the dabbler, who gets off on “new” and when they hit the plateau, grow bored and look for the next challenge, the obsessive, who strives for perfection to the point of burnout, and the hacker, who is content with mediocrity and basically skates by with the bare minimum required. 

My gripe goes along with a big concept Leonard speaks of which is that our culture is results driven and strives upon instant results. It is not enough to be good and know something and constantly learn and fail and realize where you go wrong, but instead, emphasis is placed on instant gratification and no such thing as failing. Everyone gets a trophy. No child gets left behind. We are all special. But we’re not. 

Part 1 of gripe is with websites. Everyone wants a website. Everyone has a website. Whether it’s a Facebook page or Etsy store for your hand made goods, or a Wordpress account you have set up for a portfolio or your company, or these new freebie template driven websites like Wix that you can just pop in some content and throw up a site. The fact of the matter is with accessibility to these types of services, it makes learning coding an obsolete skill. Everything is becoming WYSIWYG for site development and we are losing our masters in the world of web development. Just because someone can throw together a site on Wordpress or Wix will never make someone a true developer or designer, especially since you are using preformatted coding, widgets, and other people’s themes! That is Part 1 of this gripe.

Part 2 is a continuation of Part 1. Now that you have the person who has built a template driven website for themselves and friends and they look pretty savvy, they lump themselves in the world of the Masters. You know, people who know how to read and write coding, use Adobe software, can build their own slideshow galleries, and not rely on widgets and themes to get the job done? These people are convinced they possess the same level of skill as true developers and designers. Maybe some of them do, but for the most part, most of them are used to cut and paste hacks that get the job done quickly and produce results, but often are laden with errors. 

How is this applicable to life? Well, let’s just say a team develops a website. The lead developer moves on to other endeavors and it is your job to maintain it. Suddenly, someone else comes along and is now in charge of updating the content. You still are in charge of the back end and front end design and development and the content manager often consults (read: makes you do) updates that they cannot figure out how to do. Maybe it’s updating menu items. Maybe it’s finding out why characters are displaying throughout. That is not a big deal. After all, it is your job. The problem is that while you are on the path to Mastering your skill, this other person is a hacker at life. They are doing the bare minimum requirements of what they need to do and instead of learning how to address issues they are creating by copy and pasting content and making random < div > tags float here and there or open ended < p > tags, they consult you to find the flaws in the coding that they are creating thanks to a WYSIWYG workplace.

Now, I have never worked in an environment where a content manager directly made updates to a website. Every place I ever worked had the content managers creating copy and providing it to the front end crew who would make those changes. If your job was the designer and doing front end development, you were making it look pretty and knew basic coding to where you could make sure random tags were not floating around in places and every set was complete with an opening and closing and so forth. The developers on the back end did all the technical work like coding databases, calendars, and complex behind the scenes mechanisms. Only web people touched the website. If something broke, they fixed it. They knew exactly what to look for and how to handle the problem.

Well, this isn’t the situation. There are too many cooks in the kitchen and it becomes problematic. When a recipe gets messed up, one chef does not know what they put in but simply says, “This doesn’t look right, can you fix it?” It is up to the Master Chefs to go through, analyze, taste, and figure out the missing ingredient. They fix it and the chef in charge of the bad recipe presents the fixed meal to the restaurant patrons, who enjoy the meal and marvel at what a great cook they are. Next thing you know, the cook is getting rave reviews from critics over their stunning meal and how skilled they are as a chef.

Metaphors aside, I am a believer in credit where credit is due. I believe if you are in charge of a task and you seek help from others on it, you need to credit those others when you are praised for your job well done. It is completely unethical to take full credit for a task if you consistently require assistance for something. 

To wrap this up, life hackers will only get so far in life. True, Leonard says the hacker manages to get by in life, but there is something that will change the hacker’s abilities to continue on an indefinite plateau and that is technology. There will come a point when technology changes so drastically they are forced to travel the path of mastery and continue learning, or they will not progress and their skills at the plateau will result in failure, setting them on the path of either a dabbler in search of a new plateau, or an obsessive who is destine to upset after upset. Fact of the matter is there are no quick fixes in life. Everything needs to be learned, worked for, and if you’re willing to take sole credit for a task, instead of asking someone to fix something for you over and over again, try Google.

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