Crossing the Road Together
What is your expertise, and how might we teach it?
Petruk let out a deep sigh as he reviewed yet another pull request. Sitting in front of his computer, coffee in hand, he felt a familiar frustration. “Not again,” he thought, recalling numerous similar comments he had left over the past months.
For many months, Petruk's primary goal had been to elevate the coding standards of his team. He diligently provided feedback with lists of suggestions, but his team struggled to grasp his comments. They’re all struggling and frustrated. It seems Petruk can see things that others can’t see.
Dewi, his colleague, approached with her calming presence. “What’s that big sigh about, O Petruk?” she inquired.
Petruk explained his situation. Dewi, closing her eyes and nodding thoughtfully, posed an unexpected question.
“O Petruk, do you know how to cross the road?”
”What? What do you mean?”
”Answer the question, do you know how to cross the road?”
”Well, you just… Cross the road. It’s easy.”
”How do you avoid getting hit by a car?”
”Hmm… You cross properly, with attention.”
”Tell that to toddlers. What do you think will happen?”
”Well… They might not understand and could get hurt.”
”O Petruk, tell me, how would you show a toddler how to cross properly look like?”
Petruk paused, then began explaining to Dewi. He mentioned the importance of stopping and pausing before crossing, looking left and right, and being aware of oncoming traffic. He realised that some aspects of crossing the road, like judging the speed of cars or understanding when it’s safe to cross, are difficult to explain in words.
Dewi, still with her eyes closed, looked satisfied with Petruk’s explanation. “Do your teammates know how to cross the road?” she inquired. Petruk wasn’t sure how to answer.
“O Petruk, expertise is knowing what to pay attention to. By using pull request comments, you’re only pointing out the signs along the road. To show others what you’re paying attention to, try crossing the road together.”
In the following weeks, Petruk started experimenting with different techniques. “I need to find ways to show what I’m paying attention to, “ he thought. He began sitting with his teammates more. He experiments with pair programming. He experiments with live demonstrations, where he’ll sit down to refactor and improve the quality of the codebase while thinking out loud. Rather than leaving asynchronous pull request comments, he experiments with doing a live code review, where his teammates can hear his thought process.
Sometimes, he noticed, his teammates still couldn’t see certain issues, not because they weren’t trying, but because they hadn’t developed the necessary perspective. Just like how even with great technique, a toddler is still not tall enough to see past parked cars. Petruk started to build more empathy, helping them see what he saw when those parked cars were blocking their views.
A year quickly passed. Petruk was again sitting and sipping his cup of coffee, reviewing a pull request, when he let out a big sigh. Dewi noticed, “O Petruk, what’s the big sigh about this time?”
“A sigh of relief”, Petruk responded.
I previously wrote about how attention is one of our cognitive functions.
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