My Obession with Feedback

Getting really good, really fast

February 11th, 2015 : 8 minutes

I have always loved getting and giving feedback. It is such a big part of who I am and how I live my life.

For a long time, I thought that everyone had a "calling in life" and life's goal was to reveal this calling to yourself and to the world. We are advised to "find your passion and then follow it."" You hear about doctors who always knew they were going to be doctors, how successful entrepreneurs had profitable lemonade businesses at age 7 and those entertainers who were singing, dancing, performing before they could walk. But the truth is, not everyone is "so lucky". I think a very small minority of people have this clear and unwavering passion for one single thing. Everyone else can choose to either spend years searching for something that isn't there, trying to convince themselves that they have to choose one path and stay on it for the rest of their lives. Or, they can decide that its okay to love more than one thing.

I decided a few years ago that I am totally okay with loving more than one thing. In fact, it was incredibly liberating when I realized that I don't have to pick one career, one lifestyle for the entirely of my (hopefully) long life. Being the best won't make the happiest. Instead, I want to be really, really good at a lot of things. There's a problem though: it's hard to be really, really good at something when you're putting less time into it than everyone else. How can you make up for all of the hours you weren't training, practicing, or studying? Well, you could be naturally talented. Or more intelligent. Or...

You can be more efficient.

Feedback is an essential element to efficient learning, and it aids in a person's growth and development whether its public speaking, dancing on stage, programming, or being a good girlfriend or boyfriend. I have always been energized by feedback, even when it's bad, because it equates with efficiency. It's partially because I care a lot about what people think of me and I'd rather just know that x, y, z irritates you instead of waste time wondering why you seem irritated around me ( I just be paranoid?). The second reason is that asking for feedback tells people that you are open to change and you care about doing what's best for the team. This facilitates communication and let's be real, our time on planet earth is just too short for us to not speak up. But the number one reason why feedback is so important to me is because it is the best way to improve and get to that level of "really, really good" quickly.

Earlier, I mentioned that I decided to be really, really good at multiple things rather than be the best at one. Well, what's my plan? At this point in my life, it's almost as if I've written a How to Learn Handbook that is universal to all things new. This is my handbook and it has served me well. Several chapters are dedicated to getting and giving feedback.

Find the right classroom: there has to be people in it.

I know I need feedback. A lot of it. So I better make sure I'm not setting myself up to be isolated. "Teach yourself how to program. There are a ton of online courses." No thanks. "Train by yourself. As long as you're putting in the work and the hours." not true. For me, not having people side-by-side, or guiding me is bad news bears. How will you know if you understood a concept correctly or if you're applying it appropriately? How will you know if your performance is status quo, above, or below or if you're training effectively? You don't...until it's maybe too late.

Find the right classmates: people who are in the same shoes as you.

Learning with other people who are also learning makes the experience dynamic and rich. Feedback helps me know what I'm supposed to achieve, it gives me an idea of how my peers are perceiving me and my work, which then gives me understanding of what the best use of my time is. Plus, when there is a diverse group of people brought together by the same quest to learn something new, you start to see who you'd rather be more like and who you're okay being different from, and you begin to edit your own behaviors, styles, habits based on these reference points. Real talk, terrible feedback from someone who is equally terrible can be informative too. It can be exactly what not to do. But nonetheless, you learn from how other people learn too, and getting feedback from your "equals" gives you inside information on best and worst practices.

Find the right teachers. Find the right mentors.

I have always gravitated to people who demonstrate mastery. Masters are people who have dedicated their whole lives to this thing. They're wise. They've seen many people come and go, what worked and what didn't, and they know about patterns in their world. Sure, if you want to be a better public speaker, you should watch someone who is great at public speaking give a talk. But it's better if an expert could direct you. For example, if you want to learn how to drive a car, have an experienced driver sit next to you and tell you what to do as you're doing it. But the best thing is to find your master, your mentor, your guru and have them give you feedback throughout your growth. Having a sensei guide you is the single most efficient and productive way to become really, really good at something new.

Asking for feedback is only half of it though. You have to really break down and then digest it too. Implement and reiterate. Rinse and repeat. Find people who are willing to spend the time to pay attention and then put in words how they think you're doing. And get feedback from all directions; your directs, your equals, and your superiors. Because without context, it's hard to know how to best prioritize what to next act on. Lastly, get feedback from as many people as possible. You can't listen to everyone and you probably shouldn't.

Did Dev Bootcamp give me the right classroom, the right classmates, and the right teachers?"

Yes, yes, and we'll find out. The reason why I signed up for DBC is because I know that a social environment is the best place for me to learn. I'm like a baby plant and having peers to work with and give me feedback is like my sun and water. And because I'm hungry and want to be a big plant some day, I've taken full advantage of pairing opportunities.

I've tried to pair with as many different people as possible and it has been absolutely amazing. Not to say that every single pairing session is absolutely amazing, but they are all valuable lessons. If you've read this entire post, you know I care a lot about efficiency and not wasting time. I prefer to move fast and big disparities in pace is the number one reason why I feel frustrated working in a pair. But! I've been surprised. I've learned to be more efficient by investing more time pseudocoding, which at first felt painfully slow. I've also walked away realizing that pace is important, and it is quite possible that I work best with people who move at a similar speed. Overall though, I've learned many tips and tricks from my classmates and I am motivated to learn more myself, so that I can pay it forward.

The feedback I've received has been really educational. I felt self-conscious at first, making sure to not interrupt my pair with my excitement and sometimes even pretending to not understand something in order to make them feel more comfortable with having confusion about it. Some people really appreciate these qualities while others may misinterpret it. I've realize that there isn't any one best way to be and that if my focus is to (1) learn from my pair, (2) teach my pair, and (3) learn something new together, then it's a success.

As we all become more experienced, it is easier and easier to give and receive feedback. It's all about getting more context. I think I have been able to provide better feedback with each pairing session that I have because I am becoming more experienced. I can't wait until we are all more comfortable, and a little more qualified, to provide feedback to one another. I think there is still some beating around the bush but I'm confident we'll push through that phase quickly.

I am fortunate to have mentors outside of DBC helping me in development. I think of them as fertilizer. I honestly cannot thank Courtland enough for helping me as much as he does. I take his feedback seriously and am so motivated to get to the point where I can return the favor. Phase 1 is quickly approaching and I can barely wait to meet our next teachers and mentors.