Stack Overflows with Answers

[This blog post is dedicated to Karl, Anthony, and Neil, in no particular order.]

Stack Overflow is a place where developers “learn, share their knowledge, and build their careers.”  Each year, they survey their community (the largest of its kind) to develop insights about everything from the dominant gender of the field (guess) to the ways in which developers use Stack Overflow itself.

I suggest you review the entire report, but I’m going to pull out three screenshots that I will most definitely reference when I return to school after Spring Break.  They provide answers to three Computer Science related FAQs that I hear from students and parents: How can I learn how to code?  How can I get started as a software developer? How can I find my way in the Computer Science field?

# 1

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SO’s analysis of the above: “Developers are lifelong learners; almost 90% of all developers say they have taught themselves a new language, framework, or tool outside of their formal education. Among professional developers, almost half say they have taken an online course like a MOOC, and about a quarter have participated in a hackathon.”

# 2

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SO’s analysis of the above: “Over 80% of respondents rely on Stack Overflow Q&A when learning something new. Additionally, developers understand the value of good documentation, as over 80% also use documentation as a resource when learning.”

# 3

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My analysis of all of the above: The path forward as a developer is pretty clear, but it doesn’t always involve formal classes in school.  It seems to involve curiosity, tenacity, a self starting proclivity, and a willingness to engage with communities like the ones advertised in the Stack Overflow survey results.

Management vs. Leadership

Here’s a a cliche busting thought worth noting from page 28 of Joseph L. Badaracco’s Managing in the Gray.

One of today’s reigning cliches [in business circles] puts the stereotype succinctly: leaders do the right things, and mangers do things in the right way.

This cliche is badly misleading.  It ignores the fact that the great leaders of history were often effective managers who got the process right. We remember Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela for their galvanizing speeches, heroic self-sacrifice, and the millions of people they inspired.  But serious biographies of great leaders show they understood the importance of process.  In meeting after meeting, over months and years, they poured time and energy into managing the movements and organizations that amplified their impact on the world.

For example, we might have never heard King’s “I Have a Dream” speech if he hadn’t spent weeks beforehand forging a coalition of six fractious civil rights groups and organizing what became the March on Washington.

Undoing by Replacing

There’s a great Theodore Roethke poem, called “The Waking,” that houses and repeats this line: “I learn by going where I have to go.”

I’ve written often on this blog about my own learning and how it is frequently driven by a network imperative — “going where I have to go” — followed by conscious synthesis of Internet ephemera into relevant and meaningful knowledge for my work.

Today’s version of the above started with this Dan Pink tweet:

When I followed the link, I “met” rocket scientist Ozan Varol, who encourages us parents to undo, by replacing, some of our standard questions and prompts.  Here are my favorites:

“What did you learn today?” vs. “What did you disagree with today?”

“What did you accomplish this week?” vs. “What did you fail at this week?”

“Here’s how you do that.” vs. “How would you solve this problem?”

“You can’t do that.” vs. “What would it take to do that?”

“Did you make a new friend today?” vs. “How did you help someone today?”

Here’s the link to the full post and Varol’s admission that the post is, in itself, a trojan horse.

I learn by clicking where I have to click.

Starting from Seed: Crafting One-of-a-Kind, One-at-a-Time Experiences with Chef Tim Kuklinski


Reshan Richards and I eat in a lot of interesting restaurants when we travel for speaking engagements. During these experiences, we always toggle between pure enjoyment of the food and a larger meta-analysis of how the food experience unfolds. We’ve learned that great restaurants, whether they are expensive or bargains, sumptuous or bare bones, do what all great organizations do — they find a way to constantly renew and reinvent themselves while staying true to their core mission. They constantly learn, and their learning is on display each night.

Also, in a world where so many of our human interactions are filtered through digital channels, there’s something special about the fact that a restaurant experience is only possible because a group of people choose to convene face-to-face. The experience is shaped by the staff, who are hopefully passionate about their ingredients and what they are serving, and by the people who show up in the restaurant, the patrons. What the latter bring with them by way of curiosity, questions, energy, and conversation is nearly as important as the food and the ambiance.

In Denver for a leadership retreat last August, we ate at Rioja on Larimer street.  We didn’t have a reservation at Rioja, but luckily there were two seats left . . . by a bar looking directly into the kitchen. So, we had the unique pleasure of being a foot away from a chef named Mason and having the chance to ask him questions throughout the night. Mason, while continuously preparing meals right in front of us, kept up a lively banter amidst the hundred details that keep a restaurant humming along.

At one point, he told us, “this next dish requires 75 touches.” And that’s when we really started paying attention to the moves and mechanics of this restaurant. For each course, a waiter checked in with us immediately after we took our first bites. First our appetizers, then our meals, then our desserts, as if to punctuate our experience with their attention. Everything seemed so thoughtful and deliberate.

We reached out to Rioja’s Chef de Cuisine Tim Kuklinski because we wanted to get under the hood a little bit. We were interested in his thoughts on training, on remaining creative and vibrant in a city that seems to be filled with creative and vibrant people, how one establishes metrics like the “75 touches,” and so on. Here’s a synopsis, lightly edited for clarity, of what we learned.

Photo credit: Jennifer Olson courtesy of the Imbergamo Group

At least a B-

I am in the middle of one of the most satisfying moments in my teaching career.

I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, some background.

I started teaching at Montclair Kimberley Academy in 2002.  Shortly thereafter, I met a student named Joe Lazauskas.  When I say met, I really mean dodged.  Joe was late for 9th grade English on the first day and moving a bit too quickly.  He didn’t want to be late to English, you see.  Math or science?  Sure.  But not English.  So he almost knocked me over on his way to his seat.

This breakneck pace became a motif in the life story of this young man, at least as I knew him in 9th grade English, and his first formal paper did not break the pattern.  Joe wrote about the world and ideas as if no barriers existed.  He may or may not have been under the influence of Vonnegut or Kerouac at the time.  The paper was longer than it should have been.  It had voice and texture, and when it reached too far, it reached with style. Six styles. It was awkward and overly reverential.  It made outrageous claims with phrases that barreled through periods and logic.  It didn’t have time for writerly conventions or readerly expectations.  This wasn’t an information transaction so much as pure discovery, pure exhalation of breath, wonder shot forward machine-gun style.

I loved it; I gave it a C; I hated myself.

I’ve graded thousands of papers, and this was the most painful C I have ever given.  In his writing, Joe made a sound loud enough for me to hear him from across the state, let alone from across Room 13.  His writing jumped from the pile.  It demanded attention.  But Joe had completely disregarded the assignment, and in so doing, had lost control of a medium that certainly mattered to him.

I gave him a C because, even then, I thought he might actually have a chance to be a real writer.  Not a five-paragraph essay writer.  Not a “I-can-come-up-with-a-great-thesis-in-my-sleep-and-put-you-to-sleep-in-the-process” writer.  Not a safe writer.  It’s a weird thing to acknowledge, but I had to call him to task, to hurt his chance of being conventionally successful in my class, because I believed in him so deeply at that moment.  I believed that he could be better than my class.  And I believed that giving him a typical reward at that moment might actually damage his chances of being what I knew he wanted to be.  A real writer.   So I couldn’t pat him on the back just then and say, “you tried really hard so I’m going to reward you with a good grade.”  I had to say, instead, more honestly, “you tried really hard, but that doesn’t mean you’re a good writer yet. It just proves that you’re capable of putting in more effort and energy than any of your peers.  And if you keep doing that, if you keep working hard, you’ll get somewhere.”

To be clear, I don’t take credit for what Joe’s become.  He has put in the time, the proverbial 10,000 hours of practice, written and edited and edited again the millions of words that it takes to become a legitimate working writer.  I’m just proud of him.  I’m just happy . . . as happy as I have ever been in my teaching career.  Because Joe published his first book recently. It’s called The Storytelling Edge, and it’s at least a B-.