Have you ever looked at an old photo of yourself and tried to remember what you were like then?
Imagine if you could see not just what you looked like but also what you thought at the time as well? In a way, my recent salvaging of my blogs from 2002 to 2005, plus a few writings from 2013, have given me an opportunity to do just that. This isn't entirely indulgent naval-gazing I hope nor a sign of mid-thirties nostalgia, pining for a younger self. Far from it. The past was always rough territory but it stopped being an anchor in the past few years ("Its getting better all the time"). Instead, looking at my old writing is in service of two goals:
- Get better at writing.
- Get better at thinking.
I'm not a great writer but I enjoy it and I find I do it for pleasure, especially short stories; to help me understand things and of course, in my professional life.
My professional career had early leadership roles, perhaps due to my ability to project certainty, but now its moving in a direction which is less and less about making things directly and more and more about sharing a vision and putting in place the structure to allow others to do that. I still enjoy engineering software myself. The itch to code builds over time and eventually I must write some piece of software or make some kind of game just for the fun of making something out of nothing. My day job, however, is more concerned with thinking and communicating the direction of technology leaving the implementation to those who must decipher my writing. Practice, therefore, will help.
Its not just for work I want to get better at writing. At school I was always fascinated by history and philosophy but practical needs (we were not a wealthy family) made such a path through higher education risky. Luckily, I was good at, and enjoyed to some degree, science and engineering, particularly physics and computing. Yet, I never fit well into the higher education structure of teaching those subjects. Lectures were boring, maths was dry and labs were trivial. It always felt like a step back and I lost interest. I would instead spend the time reading books about history, politics and philosophy. I failed at bricks-and-mortar institutions.
Sixteen-years into a career in software development, I don't need verification from an institution to do my job. Yet, I like learning - I do it all the time! Formalised education has its appeals. I learned that when I tried to pick up languages without structured learning. However, smart I thought I was, languages (of the human kind at least) are not something I can just get my head around without coaching. There's a lot of things outside my comfort zone that require formal training. More than this, I want to be able to discuss and share the experience with those on a similar journey. Therefore, I've decided to actually to pursue a humanities degree programme whilst working full-time as a technologist.
Stepping out into unfamiliar territory, in an area which I've always been interested in but never ventured out into before, has got me really excited. I never needed external validation to read books on history or philosophy but gettting better at analysing them and communicating new ideas needs measurement against some standard; dialogue and insight from those who have made it their living to pursue these things.
It also needs humility and honesty with myself. I put up my old writing on this site, not to laud or roast my thinking but to give me perspective. To understand what has changed and how the process developed over time. Its also, in all honesty, an opportunity to step away from the psuedonym and anonymity of an online persona. To own what I say. (Also, it avoids the "empty page" angst of new writing projects. Perhaps that is what I needed most in the short-term.)
I often share with developers I work with something I read that struck a note of truth: "If you can look at code you wrote 6 months ago and it doesn't make you wince, you've learned nothing."
To myself: If you can read what you wrote 13 years ago and you still think exactly the same, you have not learned enough.