Everybody's Free (To Use Their Best Judgement)

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Noogler classes of $YEAR:

Use your Best Judgement.

If I could offer one tip for your present and future career, it would be this: Robots can be taught to follow policy and do things mostly properly, and you’ve been hired because you’re empirically not a robot. The rest of this advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience...I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy, treasure, and fully use the time you spend being useless. Oh, never mind -- you won’t appreciate that time until a year from now, when you’re the subject of an innocent but terrifying question about GSLB or something. “I wish I had time to read about GSLB and play with it so I’d know this stuff, even though I don’t deal with it every day,” you’ll think. Your uselessness will pass, embracing it by learning breadth-first opens up more possibilities than you can possibly fathom. Being too useful too early means there’s no going back to full-time, wide-open learning. Don’t try to be useful because you’re wondering if you’re fired. You’re not fired.

While there’s a lot to think about and learn, remember that even if we had the technology to insert facts into your brain, the facts are not what we’re interested in. We’ve already got lots of those. We’re interested in how you apply them, and how you deal with them changing, sometimes quickly and unexpectedly. Knowing things is normal. Doing things is skill. Invention is Art.

Get out of the office sometimes. In fact, get out a lot of the time.

Respect useful precedent, but challenge the status quo. One of the best questions a new person can ask is “Why is this the way it is?”. One of the worst responses to being told “Just Because...” is acceptance. If you don’t get a good answer, keep asking.

Talk to someone from another team occasionally. Chances are they’re either doing something way better or worse than you are, or you have problems you didn’t know you shared.

Get enough sleep.

Remember that if co-workers think differently from you, it probably means they’re better than you at something. We’re all here because we’re curious about the world, and want to do the right thing. Despite what your Sunday night terrors are telling you, these people you’re thinking of don’t spend their free time steepling their fingers and wondering how best to make your life difficult.

Occasionally wonder if you’re one of those people.

Maybe you’ll stick around a long time, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll work on the same thing for a long time, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll be telling people to get off your lawn 10 years from now, smiling knowingly as people charter projects to deprecate technology that is the New Hotness today; in favour of The New New Hotness. Be humble; your experience is a responsibility: to stay hungry, to pry yourself out of pigeonholes, to do the right thing. Any day now, a new person will ask “Why is this the way it is?”. Have a good answer.

Policy is as powerful as Code. But remember that most Policy was written for and applies to the general case. Think about why we felt we needed one.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Software has a lifecycle; there will always be a features/stability tradeoff; there will always be a moonshot happening; we will never be finished. Someday you’ll find yourself yearning for a simpler time when this wasn’t the case. Were you paying attention?

Spend 5 minutes away from your desk, really thinking about what made you happy this week. Write it down. Do more of that next week.

Every day is a school day.

As obnoxious as it sounds, there really is no substitute for being right, and empirical rightness is the most effective form. Be patient in explaining yourself, and remember that the definition of “right” can also change (sometimes it’s “cheapest”, sometimes it’s “whatever doesn’t drive your team insane”). Sometimes it’s just as hard to figure out the question as it is the answer. That’s why you’ll never be replaced by robots.

Remember that, above all else, we’re here to do the right thing.

(Trust me on the Best Judgement thing.)