Ryan Carmelo Briones

mostly harmless

Practicing for Life November 03, 2010

After a stellar recommendation from Obtiva’s Kevin Taylor and Dave Hoover, two people I highly respect, I’ve recently read George Leonard’s “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment.” It’s a small book weighing in at 192 pages. I read it over the course of about a month to a month and a half in small 30-40 minute spurts during my lunch hours. This book was amazing for me and couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. I loved this book so much that I’m going to tell you… I think you should read it too. And I’m ready to put my money where my mouth is.

What Leonard tries to reinforce in “Mastery” is that goals are not the goal. The goal of “Mastery” is the art of developing a lifelong practice of a skill. Leonard starts out showing us the cultural misinformation that is keeping us from locking into the path to mastery and leads us through the keys we need to succeed and how to get back up when we fall. The information is applicable to career, life, relationships; anything that takes practice. And everything takes practice.

Software practitioners traditionally align the practicing metaphor with martial arts and the kata. I personally find this metaphor a bit lacking. Sparked by Colin Jones’ comments during a QA panel at SCNA a few weeks ago I’m beginning to think the guide to model lifelong practice in software is to think like a musician. Learning to play an instrument there are certain fundamentals that you focus on right off the start but tend to not think about much after life as an early beginner (finger/hand placement, mouth lip tightness, breathing, etc), but there’s one beginner skill that lives on through the lifetime of a musician that helps illustrate the path of mastery.

Practicing the saxophone under the direction of a teacher, I was required to display my proficiency to play my scales. Regularly we were required to “certify” with our teacher that we could perform these scales as well. Despite the feelings of my 14 year old self, this was not a form of torture. My teacher was building a foundation that when able to “do without thinking” would allow me to effectively harmonize and improvise within the collective band. I think it’s important to reflect that scales for the musician not only reflect a core building block of music, but also provide a grounding; a place the musician goes to prepare their mind and allow new or prepared music to flow. Orchestra members prepare this way by playing their Concert Pitch in synchronization.

So this is where the money meets the mouth. I am prepared to give away 4 copies of “Mastery,” but not without a little something in return. Tweet me (@ryanbriones) how you currently practice or have suggestion a way to practice software development that builds towards mastery in the same way a musician practices their scales (basic, foundation, building block, grounding) and you will be entered in a chance to win a copy of “Mastery”. On November 29th, I will choose the four winners and highlight their practices on my blog. I’m very excited to hear what you come up with and using your practices for myself as well as spreading them to others!