I am X
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian polymath interested in invention, drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, paleontology, and cartography. Like him, many other geniuses of the Renaissance had interest in so many areas of knowledge. None of them put a label on themselves constraining their area of expertise. If they just found geology interesting, they grabbed a bunch of books to read and learn about it.
Fast forward to today, and talking about our industry, things have changed a lot. Developers of a given programming language, let’s say Swift, are just Swift developers. Commonly, when things arise in other domains they refuse to step outside their comfort zone. I think we developers have found our comfort zone in which we feel experts and for which we get paid a lot compared to other industries. I believe that’s one of the reasons why companies move slow. They have unnecessary friction coming from having too many technoly-X developers and very few Leonardo da Vincis. Those are developers that opt for opening tickets when they find issues in the tools that they use. Developers that do the same when there’s some work that involves backend development. Those tickets can live in the backlog days and weeks until someone picks them up.
When it comes to cross-discipline work, things are even worse. Don’t ask a developer to do a bit of design, or the other way around, ask a designer to do a bit of coding. It’s true that those are completely opposite disciplines, but imagine how powerful it’d be if we trained our brain to know a bit of both. If we could express our ideas by combining bits of design and code. One of the people in our industry that I admired a lot because he’s able to combine all disciplines to build great products is Tom Preston. GitHub & Chatterbug founder, he does design, development, and product brilliantly. In collaboration with other folks, he created the platform in which most of us spend hours and hours. The platform that stood out for its simplicity and social ideas that were copied by other competitors later on. Imagine if in its early days, he’d have had to look around to find designers and product experts to materialize their ideas around how social software development should be. I bet GitHub wouldn’t be what it is today.
I believe our industry needs more crafters with Leaonardo da Vinci’s mindset. We need people that love the craft and whose main goal is not just making money. We need people that finds absorving knowledge exciting and that don’t set boundaries to themselves. The world would have better and more human tools. Designers would go beyond placing pixels or defining colors to understand the moral implications of their designs. Developers would show more empathy for others and build for everyone instead of for the latest device in the market.
I think we can all start by turning “I am X” (where X can be replaced with Swift developer, frontend designer, product manager, CEO) into “I can make X real”. What we need to get there is up to us to figure out.