Advice from my Grandfather, “Show up”

My grandfather had some advice for me about being good at your job. I am not exactly sure when he shared the advice with me, it might have been before college or when I visited after college right before my first job. But I think of it often –

“90% of being good at something is to just keep showing up”

Or the short version, “show up”. Faced with something hard, keep showing up and work at it. Take on the hard challenge no one else is taking on, even the dull challenges which are important occasionally. Push yourself, take on challenges just out of your comfort zone.

I think in the end this is a bit related to the common advice that it takes 10,000 hours to become a expert. Want to get to 10,000 hours? Keep showing up and working at your craft, it can take over 10 years to become an expert.


Showing up: motivates me

  • if there is there a really important project that no one seems to find ‘cool’ enough to work on, show up
  • if there are unexpected issues days before a release, dig in and solve it for the release.
  • if the team is finished with the 90% interesting part of the project but that last mile needs to get done, show up for the team to help pull it through to the end.
  • If production issues are taking systems down and no one seems to remember how it works, dig in.

Showing up is important for a variety of reasons. The actions you take shape the person you are. Being ready to pitch in often, and your team will appreciate your efforts and know your willing to help get whatever job done. Your manager and your company will appreciate you for it. You will be trusted to make other good decisions because you have shown up and come through in the past.

Showing up: is a great way to learn

Want to be a leader or become one of the most knowledgable on the team? Showing up is a great way to always learn. You might not start as the best, but if you are one of the people that consistently shows up and steps in when needed, you will become one. How do you become skilled in all areas of a career, by taking on tasks and challenges when they need to be done even if you don’t know the solution.

You can see knowledge spread to people who work this way, some of the junior developers co-workers have on multiple occasions stuck around to watch over the shoulders of more experience devs while they dove into and solved an emergency. Sure enough, next time similar issues came up, the junior developers who had watched before stepped in and jumped on the tasks themselves while a senior dev checked in to see if they needed help. Often solving issues before any of the more senior devs were available to help. It is amazing how much knowledge gets shared this way.

If you like to learn new things showing up is always a great thing to do as well. Who wants to just get really good at solving the same problem over and over? Unknown mystery exceptions occurring a handful of times? Add monitoring, metrics, read up on the related systems, put in probes to verify what you ‘think’ you understand. Track it down and suddenly you know more about a subsystem than anyone else around, and solved a problem lurking in the system.

The number of things I have learned this way has been to many to count, it is something I have always like about being a developer, there is no real way to trap me to a specific job. As software eats the world, I am learning the skills and tools to quickly make myself productive in nearly any area of a business. System security, intrusion detection, business analytics, performance, debugging, real time dashboards, big data, personalization, mobile, infrastructure… All things I have mostly learned on the job, because we needed someone to take on a new challenge.

So if you want to learn a ton, be one of the best on your team, become irreplaceable at your company, expand your skill set, and become overall excellent at your job. Keep showing up, especially when no one else can help out at the moment.

Know the systems? Congrats you’ve earned the the “tour guide” badge

Once you’re a go-to to answer questions about the systems, a large part of your job is teaching all that knowledge to others on the team. As Adam keys describes in Developers are From Mars, Developers are From Venus, you will reach a tour guide level of knowledge.

One word of warning

This doesn’t mean you need to work all the time. It doesn’t mean let people or business walk all over you assigning you more work than one can handle. It doesn’t mean you should always be doing the work no one else would be willing to. It does mean taking on any challenge and not ignoring important parts of the business, to only work on fun or traditional ‘developer’ projects.

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I primary write about Ruby development, distributed teams, & dev/PM process. The archives go back to my first CS classes during college when I was learning to write software. I contribute to a few OSS projects and often work on my own projects. You can find my code on github.

Twitter @danmayer

Github @danmayer