January 10, 2016
Week 1 is in the books, and most of us can hardly believe it. By “us” I mean my MKS30 (MakerSquare cohort #30) brethren. On the one hand it feels like we’ve been doing this for much longer than a week, and on the other hand it feels kind of like week 1 was all a dream.
I was delighted to find that I deeply enjoy being around my peers. I’m conscious of the ‘honeymoon phase’, where everyone is on their best behavior and you’ve barely begun to scratch the surface getting to know any one person (how can you, in one week?). But so far I’m grateful for a really supportive, fun and focused group dynamic. Everyone has such diverse professional and educational backgrounds — music education, electrical engineering, pharmacy tech, IT, social work… etc. And yet, for the most part, the program appears to attract people with certain similar traits. We are all perfectionists, completionists — and it seems that one of our biggest struggles will be to learn how to relate to and accept this learning process.
Week 1 is designed to overload you in every possible way. (When I would get home at night, my partner would ask me what happened that day, and it became a running joke that I often couldn’t really find the words to describe it, past answering: ‘Lots’). All of a sudden, you’re spending nearly every waking moment with complete strangers, covering a formidable amount of material and completing a correspondingly daunting amount of work. They tell you that you’re not supposed to immediately and frictionlessly master all of the concepts and implementation. You’re supposed to struggle. They design it that way. We know that. And so one of the biggest lessons of Week 1 is to learn to throw yourself against that wall with all of the energy and curiosity you have, and remove yourself from worshipping the concept of achievement alone, in favor of valuing the lessons learned from achievement, struggle, and sometimes failure alike.
So, lessons learned and observations for this week:
We have essentially been sold on and invested ourselves in (in myriad ways) a fairly new style of education. I’ll attempt to set aside any personal insecurity and fear of failure in favor of trusting the program — they’ve seen it before, they’ll see it again. They’ll let you know if they see a red flag and are concerned with your progress. Until that happens, just keep your head down and work, and have fun doing it. Learning from a place of intellectual curiosity is such a different experience than learning out of fear of
falling behind, failing, anything. And wildly more effective.
Oh, this demon. An excellent example of this happened in a session we had on debugging. At the end, the class was debugging something projected on the board, all together as a group. I saw something that I thought was far too obvious to actually be the problem— and so I didn’t say anything. I envisioned saying it, and for some reason it would be pointed out that I had actually misunderstood something utterly elementary. So I just internally struggled with whether or not to say something. It turns out, of course, that was the bug we were looking for. I was really angry with myself afterward. The whole situation itself of course is just a small thing— but for me it represented a lesson that I’m still struggling to learn. Say something. Worst case you’re wrong, and everyone moves on.
I had my first experience with pair programming this week, and I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it. I think many of us are used to working in a vacuum by ourselves, and it can be difficult to incorporate another person into that process. Important above all — and this is true of relationships in general — is feedback. Despite the fact that I felt my pair worked really well together, we still solicited and gave each other feedback on our working dynamic.
I think a lot of issues (again, generally, not just at MakerSquare), can stem from holding people responsible for things that you haven’t even brought up with them. In my opinion, good feedback and open communication ultimately represents showing great respect for that person. At times this has been easy for me, and at times very challenging — both personally and professionally. Of course, there are constructive ways and… less constructive ways to give feedback, and I was happy to see that we had a specific lecture on communication strategies, and how to generally manage the new dynamic of pair programming.
This is going to be a crazy experience. I never once doubted that, and I embrace it. I think that makes short-term goals, and documentation all the more important. I’ll try to practice those things hand-in hand.
By documenting my experience weekly, I’m not only creating a written record, but also creating structure within which I have no choice but to pause and reflect. Without this period of self-imposed reflection, I can very easily envision the three months going by in a blur. Well, of course it will be a whirlwind regardless, but the difference is that deep reflection on a short-term basis allows you to question a multitude of things — your mindset, your approach, your attitude — things that allow you to completely change the tone of the week that follows. At various points I will be frustrated, I will be insecure, I will be upset. But I’m empowered to question and change my own mindset. Everything else is out of your control.
On that, note, this post isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely finished. I’m excited to see what Week 2 brings.
Words by Amberley Romo, albeit irregularly.