The Path to Greatness – Anyone Got a Map?

I just bumbled into a great post by Raganwald on the subject of certification for professional software developers.

It’s something I’ve been giving some thought to lately. I coach my team informally on a daily basis as we work together and more formally at the end of each iteration during our retrospective. I’ve also been asked to start a process of coaching other teams too.

In my other life, I teach people to snowboard. BASI, the organisation who taught me to teach, have developed a clear progression from complete novice through experienced recreational riders, right up to instructor trainer. Similarly, I just took the PADI Open Water Diver course, and again there is a clear progression where you learn the skills required to dive safely on your own.

Like Raganwald, I feel that certifying people for technical skills like expertise in coding a particular language is really missing the point. I thing he’s on to something by wanting to prove that a person knows how to produce a bullet-proof product – after all, that’s the whole point isn’t it?

I’m interested in the series of learnings that people go though in their time at work that take them to the point where they do a lot of these things as second nature. Where they don’t claim something is ‘finished’ when they first manage to get some data up on the screen; where they know exactly when to step away from the keyboard and make a cup of tea to mull something over, or when to ask for some help instead of thrashing themselves, quietly, into a rotting hole. The things that make people valued members of my team are much more the ‘soft’ skills that mean they spend their time at work as effectively as possible, like confidence, humility, and empathy.

In a way it’s a good thing that we don’t just have a simple scale to measure people against, we’re dealing with real human beings, after all. On the other hand, it might be handy to have a map to help us all along the way.