Relentless Focus

One of the most important skills for a Big Swinging Developer to learn is how to focus.  This is more than a matter of shutting the world out while slinging code.  If it were that simple, then anyone with headphones could be a BSD.

To us, "focus" means pursuing the goal of shipping great software in addition to addressing all the other "distractions" that may pop up.  Someone asking for help may seem like a focus-breaking request, but if helping that person makes the system better then it’s in keeping with the goal.  Researching a new technology may be a huge breakthrough, or a huge waste of time.

I found myself in this position earlier today.  I signed up to look at a new way of doing something in our system.  After 30 minutes it became clear that the change (pretty much regardless of what it was) was going to be more time and effort than we could afford.  This wasn’t the answer I wanted — I wanted a breakthrough.  The problem was that even a breakthrough wouldn’t be worth implementing.  This put me into a serious funk, but the alternative was to spin my wheels looking for (and probably finding) options that all had one thing in common: they wouldn’t be implemented and, therefore, they wouldn’t make the system any better.

It’s hard to stop short of solving a problem.  It’s often easier to search and search and search until you’re told to stop, because then you can feel like the reason you didn’t solve the problem is because someone told you to stop.  It’s easy to blame your predecessors, your vendors, or even your colleagues for getting the system into a state that you can’t "fix" within the given amount of time.  But none of these makes the system better, so it’s your job to focus relentlessly by doing the right thing and getting back to the problems that have solutions.


  1. Chris Lalos says:

    Like the post!

    One comment on the title: a guy I used to work with had a sign in his cube that said "Maniacal Focus, Relentless Execution". I don't know how popular that saying is . . . but unless this title is an intentional play on that saying, this may be an accidental semi-plagiarism.