Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash

I feel in this day and age, the people whom I admire and follow are the people who share, unconditionally. There is this blacksmith I follow on youtube, blacksmithing is so far left field from Data Engineering. It is unlikely I will ever actually forge anything, but I find it somewhat therapeutic that you can craft your own drill bits, desk, tongs. If it is metal, you can make it. Other videos I have watched are how they build a house, renovate or how to have a self-sufficient garden. Is this just the new digital era, where we share everything? learning from each other?

Why I love sharing

I remember back 10years or so, there was an engineer working in our team. We tended to pair program in our team a lot. This was one of the times we were pairing up to resolve an issue.

We needed to update 30 lines at the same time — prefix the lines with commas, for a SQL statement. I watched his screen with amazement as he dragged his cursor straight down, as if he was slicing the page, and he pushed the comma key and it inserted on all 30 lines. I quickly gulped “wait.. What.. how did you do that?” He was perplexed as it was a task he was used to doing often. He then explained, holding ALT and dragging down enabled him to create a vertical caret, which could be then used to indent and format, or just just type on all rows at the same time. Such a simple thing, but life changing for my day to day work. I was so excited I told everyone else in the team.

Ever since that day, I love sharing. What is a mundane and normal thing for me, might be life changing for someone else. I think over time it has involved a bit, initially it was just within the team, then within the department. Recently I thought how can I be better at sharing?

Google has a great program called the Googler to Googler program (G2G) where they pair up people to mentor them or show them skills within the company. I think it is a great way to co-mentor at work. So looked at implementing the same concept at work — to help share knowledge and upskill people. I find people are often keen to learn, but there are often few opportunities that directly present themselves. Usually you have to seek it out, and keep asking the questions to understand things.

I wanted to go a bit further, which is sort of why I wanted to start to write on medium. Writing about Culture, Data or techniques are things that I can share, and hopefully for someone it is a gem, or treasure that will change the way they work. Ideally make it easier for them in some way.

To be a Specialist or Generalist

We tend to always think we aren’t knowledgeable or smart enough to share our ideas, or what we have done. What if we didn’t mind making mistakes, we just wanted to share our experiments and our ideas. We could just share the present and real struggle of learning things. In this process, maybe we could make new discoveries like a mad scientist.

I love the idea that we are all amateurs navigating the world and learning rather than thinking we are masters.

In Silicon Valley, they are always talking about hiring “Rock Stars” or “Unicorns” who are the next best talent. I don’t know if I will ever have the talent that some of these people have, but you can always re-diversify yourself. Maybe I won’t be the next best Data Engineer and the best in that field. However what about specialising in 2 domains Data Engineering and Culture, or Data Engineering and Public Speaking, or Data Engineering and Data Storytelling. Not a generalist, but a dual specialist.

The power of asking

A while ago I learnt from a co-worker the power in asking questions. Every meeting, or event we would go to, she would always raise her hand and ask questions. So often would there be questions we all wanted to ask or thought about. Yet most of the time wouldn’t want to ask as we felt we didn’t know enough on the subject to ask.

Relentlessly she would be present, and ask the question for us. This is an incredible skill. I mean at first it’s enriching the room with confidence to speak up, and realise it is safe to ask questions, that on its own is amazing. However I think there is also an art form in training ourselves to constantly ask questions which lays our subconscious up to be more thoughtful. We then gain internal self talk and have more structure to our decisions and thought processes. We question or evaluate the risks of tasks more fluidly and naturally.

Last year, I caught up with my wife’s family. Haven’t seen them in years, we decided to meet up in Thailand but it was an area with a strong Russian community present. In Russia, people often speak what they have on their mind, not what they are expected to say. At first it can be quite confronting as it’s a bit different to western culture, as tend to say what people want i.e what we consider polite.

So it is always interesting to see the brutal honesty from Russians. However there is a profounding level of trust that comes from speaking your mind, and I think they strongly believe they don’t need to fake it to be liked.

Share a bit every day

I feel we often tightly hold our secrets of knowledge. We know how to do something and we love the association of value that brings for us to the environment we are in.

I mean we love being a valued person, and we love it when people come to us for knowledge.

If I reflect on the people I admire or follow they are all knowledge sharers, so maybe that is something we should embrace more often.

If I look at the open source community and how much it has developed in the years. There is something about teaching and learning from each other to make us all better people.

Theodore Sturgeon said 90 percent of everything we create is bad. However we don’t know what is bad and not, till we put it in front of others and see how valuable it is.

I’m far from a role model or expert. However I believe that sharing really is a key skill to have and enable within your own team.

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Chris Hillman

Data Engineer with enthusiasm on creating culture growth environments.