The Long Game

It still floors me every time I consider the amount of work that we ask our students in our Code Schools to execute and the sheer intensity that they experience over the course of 12 weeks.  What’s even more crazy is to realize and remember that it’s just the beginning of a lifetime journey of learning.

When I got my first shot at the “big leagues” as a software programmer over 17 years ago I had no idea what I was doing and I had no idea of what the future really held for me in an industry that was a foreign to me as a girl saying “Yes” to an invitation to my High School Jr. Prom. I wasn’t thinking long term nor was I thinking short term – I was just thinking about surviving.

And so it has been the same with many of our students as they’ve discovered as soon as the first few weeks that survival would become a distinct, if not chief, motive for them throughout the program. But over time they would breath the fresh air of a new perspective and it would dawn on them that they can not only survive but thrive in this world.

But it’s just one step before 1,000 more. The art and science of mastery of software (and anything for that matter) is the right mix of grit, resolve, and execution. It is a marathon and not a sprint. I am reminded of the celebrated Chilean American author, Isabel Allende, who once said this about success and work:

Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.

The muse, in the case of software and our students’ experience in our class environment, are the small breakthroughs and moments of epiphany that delight, inform, and inspire them to continue to walk forward, even if the walking seems to be painstakingly slow.

But it must be founded on the back of hard work and an attitude that screams that the student will not give up. I call this grit and the pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth, who in many ways came up with the definition of “grit” (and won a MacArthur Genius award and grant for her research) once said it best this way:

Grit is the disposition to pursue very long-term goals with passion and perseverance. And I want to emphasize the stamina quality of grit. Grit is sticking with things over the long term and then working very hard at it.

It is within this formula, this doggedness if you will, that is absolutely essential for success. Debbie Millman, also has some choice words that reflect a similar sentiment:

Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.

Could there be no truer statement than that as it relates to great software engineering and the birth of great software engineers? It takes time and the journey has just begun for each new cohort that survives and graduates from our growing local academies.

I was lucky as I was too young and too naïve to know any different than just doing the work and doing it consistently, better than the last time so that I wouldn’t disappoint those who had employed me and, perhaps more importantly, that I would feel good about myself and the work that I was doing. If you had told me that it would take years, decades even, to become even remotely “good” at this I would have probably quit.

Our students are wiser and older than I was when I first began and so they have an even more brave task at hand as they cannot and have not been fooled into this quest for mastery, excellence, and potential – they were coached and counseled to consider other opportunities instead of this one and yet they still signed the line that was dotted. They are, in many respects, more brave than I could ever be.

And that gives me hope and instills within me a great sense of purpose – that their focus on the long run, the long marathon is not built on ignorance but rather one of hope. I am inspired and continue to be every single time I sit with one of them casually and hear their hopes, their dreams, and their stories.

I want to encourage our current (and future) students to never give up; the journey  that they have begun or want to embark on is too exciting to miss out on. Yes, you will work hard and you will doubt, oh you will have doubts, but was anything worth doing ever entirely easy? As Theodore Roosevelt once soberly shared:

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.

You will be envied for your courage to lead a life of challenge and put others in a state of awe at the audacity of your decision-making. You have started well and begun running a race worth pursuing. Don’t stop. Persevere.

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About theironyard

The Iron Yard exists to create exceptional growth and mentorship for people, their companies and their ideas through code education and startup accelerators.