I guess it is true what they say “there is no substitute for experience.” Years of working in different environments, different industries and with different teams expose you to a varied number of situations, but also to a long list of very similar ones.
Sometimes one can find joining an entirely different industry a bit unnerving since we are seemingly facing the unknown. And yet when one starts to grasp the ins and outs of the company, the people and the industry things become a lot less scary and a lot more “business as usual”.
From a technical person’s perspective, I can certainly say that all industries I’ve worked in are faced by very similar challenges. However not all of them employ similar solutions. I have my own theory as to why this is, and I thought I’d lay it out here for people to comment on and discuss.
There are many nuances around the reasons why a technology solution is adopted over another, and so it’s unwise to assert that every industry should apply the same solution given the same challenge. We all have our baggage: legacy, staff skills, lack of training, budget restrictions and many more.
Ultimately it is the people within a business who “choose” the way in which the solution to a challenge is approached. And I use inverted commas in the word “choose” because sometimes it is not so much a choice, but a collection of accidents that steer us toward the mechanism that will hopefully resolve our challenge. Perhaps “accident” is too strong a word, but it certainly feels like that sometimes.
When I’ve asked people in the past why did they choose to implement a solution in a given way, it is very rare that I hear an explanation backed by conviction and pride. They tend to sound more like apologies or excuses as to why it was built that way: “We couldn’t afford to do it the ‘proper way’.” or “our guys only know X or Y technology so we had to do it this way.“
This is by no means a post about poking fun at the expense of businesses who describe their solutions in this way. On the contrary, it’s a post about getting people to embrace those limitations as part of their culture, and hopefully in doing so, they can turn what they consider their own shortcomings into opportunities to learn and to grow their organisation.
There are several ways to help in that process, but none of them can be realised until the businesses accepts its weaknesses and uses them to highlight the areas in which it should focus its attention in order to better itself. And it can’t better itself without bettering its staff first. I read a quote the other day (apologies, I can’t recall the source) that said something along the lines “improve your people, improve your business.“
There are quite a few ways to achieve this, many of them to do with training, be it external, internal or on-line. My favourite on-line training resource as a developer has always been Pluralsight, as I am a visual learner and watching videos and seeing others code seems to help me take things in faster than just reading a book. But there are plenty of other alternatives such as Code Academy and others.
One of the most powerful way to learn is to do so from your peers. But if the organisation has a specific set of skills and technologies they work with, wouldn’t learning from your peers just bring you in-line with the rest of the collective mindset? Well, I think there is some truth to this, and in all honesty, learning from your peers works well when the learner is a junior or he/she comes from a different background. However, this tends to benefit the newcomer, and I’m trying to come up with an answer to the “overcoming existing limitations” problem.
Perhaps this sounds pretentious coming from someone who does consulting for a living, but in my humble opinion, sometimes bringing senior people on board with the right technical background but from an entirely different industry can not only be a breath of fresh air, but it can also offer alternative answers to problems that result in much more appropriate solutions. When hiring managers or even recruiters concern themselves excessively with looking for people who would look good on paper because they come from the same industry or even a direct competitor, they could be missing a chance to bring into the organisation a very powerful concept: cross-pollination. Bringing people in from different industries empowers staff to almost magically see their world from an entirely different perspective, sometimes making simpler and more appropriate solutions to their problems become self-evident.
So next time you are thinking of hiring new people into your team, try and open your mind and cast a wider net onto the market than just candidates from your own industry and look beyond to people from other industries who might have already been presented with the same challenges than yours but maybe done so for a much longer period of time. You will be bringing in experience and knowledge currently not present in your organisation and you will be promoting the spread of that knowledge across your staff, bettering them and therefore bettering your business. And a better business means higher levels of customer satisfaction, higher customer stickiness and hopefully improved revenues.
So please, go and cross-pollinate, you won’t regret it!