Mastery of craft

We rarely, if ever – use the term “craft” to reference any form of discipline in the field of IT. 

The term is largely associated with a carpenter, an artist, a musician or even a brewer of fine ales. By defintion – a craft is a skill mastered by creating something by hand, obtained by a high degree of both practical and theoretical knowledge of a trade.

As professionals – technology or otherwise, from senior leadership to programmers, aren’t we inevitably trying to master our own craft? 

Bobby at 7

I started my craft at the age of 7. Seriously – I did! 

Programming BASIC on a Commodore Vic-20, all 8 bits and 1Mhz of compute. I suspect my parents’ motivations at that time, were the games to keep me entertained with their high bitrate graphics. But the real magic was buried inside the user manual.

Chapter 7 to be precise – “Introduction to Programming”.

At the time, I don’t think my parents fully appreciated the magnitude of their investment. I suspect not many parents did.

I had no clue what I was really doing, what the syntax meant or even what a program was. But it was the fact that I, with my own hands crafted syntax, which made the computer come alive and respond to my commands. I influenced and created an outcome.

Naturally, this fascination only grew, and it wasn’t long before I was upgraded to the breadbin Commodore-C64. An extra 59KB of RAM to support my coding endeavours.

Though I must admit, 10 PRINT “HELLO WORLD” didn’t demand much compute.

Bobby the elder

We don’t always need an arena to master or nurture our craft. When we don’t have that – we have training courses, books, webinars and personal coding projects. But there is one crucial component that influences our ability to execute and deploy our craft. The 7-year-old me or even the 21-year-old me, fresh out of university, would never have appreciated its influence… the art of workplace politics.

When black and white becomes grey

There is an irony here. Coding is about logic, a 1 or 0. Children see things in black and white, right or wrong – clear as day. But the world of business is far from logical, it’s quite the opposite, it can be very grey.

Our success in the workplace can be largely driven by our ability to navigate the political spectrum. As with all youngsters, I was idealistic and for years I fought what at times felt illogical. However once I learnt to accept this and nurtured it alongside my craft, this opened up a wealth of opportunity.

Politics, is not something you can learn in books or be taught on a training course. Many people, just like I did – could never really contemplate how influential this skill is in the mastery of our craft. Some may argue that it’s on the periphery, but as I said, for me it’s integral.

Politics in the workplace is seldomly viewed as a positive vehicle. This is largely down to motives. But if the intentions are good – to drive a successful outcome for an activity or a project – then mastering the art of politics; is an immensely powerful tool.

An outcome of a project or your credibility can be highly dependent, on not only how well you respond to political moves but how you shape your own field of play.

Interestingly, it’s the one aspect of our craft that is ancient in its origin. The advent of agriculture in 7000-8000 BC saw human societies transition into tribal forms of organisation. Politics went beyond survival; it provided a framework for the growth of humankind. Enabling tribes to work together to compromise, negotiate and make decisions. 

This extends into every aspect of our lives; 

  • At some point, our children stop listening to us and we soon learn how to navigate that political spectrum. We provide them with tools, means and support to empower them. Hoping they will making their own informed decisions and learn from their mistakes. 
  • In the workplace, we may have the answer to a problem. But sometimes people aren’t receptive to our answers, so we lead, steer and provide insight to enable them to carve out the right answer. 

There is a fine line between teamwork and politics. Sometimes it’s not easy to distinguish. However, in both examples, managing personality conflicts and personal agendas can not only provide a better-quality outcome but is more likely to promote ownership. For which it’s ownership that drives real change.

In contrast, it’s also true that underlying political motives can also drive a sub-optimal output.

If I could go back in time

Look at your job or role through the lens of mastering a craft. Being the best at what you do, mastering the practical and educating yourself on the theoretical. All the traditional aspects of growth – be that climbing the rungs of the corporate ladder, or the size of your remuneration package would naturally come together themselves.

If I could go back in time, and advise 7-year-old Bobby on anything – it would be…

Master your craft, for which you don’t need to be gifted or talented. Pay attention to the process and invest time in improvement. Small gains every day have a compound impact – just like interest on a savings account. If you invest in experiences that in themselves can pay dividends. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, it’s ok to deviate off your path to explore new avenues – no experience is ever wasted. 

I suspect many of you in the field of technology have a similar story. When that first computer landed on your desk or dinner table – all those parents would never have imagined the influence of that moment. Is this unique to technology?

How many other professionals were given the tools to start mastering their craft from an early age?

A writer inspired by a book; a painter inspired by their crayons…