Know the Problems You’re Best at Solving

One of the things I’m not great at is speed as a developer. The few times I’ve worked for WordPress agencies that is something I’ve been told, I’m too slow and don’t jump between projects fast enough.

The first time I heard this I was very down on myself thinking that I was a bad developer, so I worked on getting faster and switching between projects/tasks better. The first time was back in the days when everyone thought that multi-tasking was the thing that everyone needs to do.

But the truth is that I’m not built for these fast-paced (read overloaded) environments1. I don’t do well with many different things flying at me all the time. I do best when given enough time to do a job the way it should be done without compromises. The more I think about it the more I’m sure that software quality, in general, would increase greatly if more people were given the time they need to do the work instead of always hitting arbitrary crazy deadlines set by management, who often have never written a line of code in their lives.

At this point in my career, I’m honest about what I’m good at. If they say they expect me to switch between a number of projects in a day, I say I’m a bad fit. I tell prospective clients I’m best when given time to wrestle hard problems to the ground. When I can keep coming back at something until it’s fixed the right way end to end.

With my work for ProudCity we’ve been struggling with menus getting marked as draft and then not working for users on the frontend. It’s been baffling, but this week I had a random thought about our menu interaction and chased it down. I can now reproduce this menu bug every time and that means I can solve the problem.

Here I have the freedom to write unit tests to verify the code. I have the freedom to dig and dig and change things and keep going without needing to hit deadlines. Sure bugs come up sometimes and I need to stop working on something to figure out an issue, but for the most part when I say I need the decks cleared to work on something without interruption for a day or two everyone leaves me alone to work on the issue.

It’s not Just Your Responsibility

It’s not just your responsibility to find the right match fit. It’s also on employers to not simply look for some talented individual, but find the right person to fit in a position2. It’s your job as a manager to find the fit for your people and let them work their way so that they can thrive.

For some managers that means they won’t have a job because if they’re not micro-managing their direct reports they have nothing to do.

It’s on you to be ready to quit things though. If the match fit isn’t right, go find something else3. That agency I worked for years ago only lasted 3 months. I asked to speak to the owner and said I wasn’t happy, and I couldn’t see how they would be happy with my work so we should not work together. The owner said they gained great respect for me that day as I recognized the lack of fit, and they still send me the odd client a decade later.

Quitting my job that day was scary. It ended the next day because it was the end of the pay period and I was deeply unhappy. But it reinforced my desire to work on my own and started the most profitable 4 years of my business. I wouldn’t be where I am now, knowing the problems I’m built to solve, without trying something and failing at it.

Further Reading

  1. See Range for more about match fit. My review here.
  2. First Break All the Rules Page 95
  3. Designing Your Life Page 7