Last June, while at a conference in Salt Lake City Utah, I found some time to meet with the professor emeritus (wildlife biology) at the University of Utah. Never mind it also happened to be my uncle, Fred Montague.
As he and I visited on the car ride back from his home in Park City, we began a discussion about software development and my simple views on the subject. I didn’t really expect much engagement from a wildlife biologist on the topic. My comments about software development are typically about the artistry of the whole endeavor. I love that software affords its craftspeople the opportunity to create things. I spoke to him about the work we’re going through to teach people how to experiment and learn before they commit themselves too deeply to a direction. I also mentioned our need to truly reflect on what we’ve done and how we can consistently improve.
Well, the typical response to “Software Development is such an artistic endeavor (yada-yada-yada)…” is “Hmm….Sounds interesting” …(followed by immediate segue to the weather). Rarely is this interesting outside of other developers who know what I’m referring to.
Well, he didn’t answer me in this way, and it threw me a bit. What he did do was speak about his passion for teaching, about topics bigger than himself and what’s become his life’s work, healing our food system through sustainable community gardens. Here’s what he said closely paraphrased:
“Jason, as I’ve traveled, taught and spoken to people over the years, I regularly ran into people young and old who can’t fathom the concept of truly understanding their subject and treating something with the dignity it deserves. New students want to run outside and build beds and dig and…. go! I tell them something they can’t really understand at first. I tell my students to sit and be still for a while. Quiet down and view your landscape. Spend time in your environment and just watch. Witness where the shadows fall and water collects after a rain…let your subject tell you where to experiment….don’t run into your space and immediately create squares and layout the land in constrained gridlines…be patient, be silent, and let some answers come to you. Keep doing what you’re doing Jason. Over time, they will understand you’re giving them some of the best advice they’ve ever gotten.”
Ok, at this point I’m stunned. For one thing, rarely do “non-techies” engage in this discussion. Not only did he engage, he spoke about something so personal to him and his life’s passion. It gave me such a boost in my resolve as a leader and teacher (and person). Secondly, it was some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten.
So …be patient, be silent, and let some answers come to you.