Since high school, every class I can remember began with a syllabus. On it were due dates of assignments, tests, projects, and readings. These were the things I needed to complete during the class. If I performed well in these areas, I would get a good grade. That was the goal: a grade. Focusing only on the grade, I never considered that the exercise itself could be the important part. Unfortunately, I persisted in this line of thinking for some time.
Years later, when I began my apprenticeship at 8th Light, my mentor described the tasks I was expected to accomplish. I needed to learn to write tests, rewrite Tic-Tac-Toe, maintain a blog, and read books. This is not an exhaustive list of what he detailed, but the requirements for completing my apprenticeship were clear. This was my syllabus.
Six months later, I had completed all of my tasks. My mentor gave me my final challenges. Then he said I also needed to perform a kata, a rehearsed live coding demonstration, the following Friday. The due date for the kata was exactly halfway through the two most difficult weeks of my apprenticeship. Despite that, I said I understood and could handle it.
Actually, I was frustrated and annoyed. I knew the following two weeks would require all of my attention. Now I needed to split my focus between challenges and a kata. This wasn’t even something on the syllabus, at least not in the beginning. I asked myself why another thing would be added now? Hadn’t I completed everything on my list? Still upset but unable to answer the question, I began working.
A week later I found the answer to my question. It came from a craftsman’s feedback on my kata and the discussion that arose around it. The important point I had missed was that the goal of presenting the kata was not, as I had assumed, for me to show what I could do to a large group. Instead it was an opportunity for me to practice performing. This made so much sense that I was surprised I had not seen it before.
With this in mind, it was an overreaction to be upset with a last minute assignment. Sure, it was inconvenient. Sure, I was cranky but unexpected things happen all the time. A more reasonable way of looking at it was as an opportunity to practice juggling. In the end, what I was upset about was not a big deal.
Out of this I realized I had approached my apprenticeship from the wrong angle. While there were goals to reach, my apprenticeship was about directed practice. To become a craftsman, I needed a number of skills. To gain those skills, I needed to practice: practice coding, practice reading, practice writing, and practice performing.
The need to practice did not stop when I became a craftsman. Thankfully, craftsmen at 8th Light are presented with numerous opportunities to practice: we write blog posts, give talks, and mentor apprentices. Being a craftsman requires constant improvement that cannot be accomplished by remaining stagnant. We never stop practicing, no matter how many items we might check off our lists.