97 Things Every Programmer Should Know

(Chris Devlin) #1

(^154) 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know

Start from Yes

Alex Miller

RECENTLY, i WAS AT A GROCERY STORE, searching high and low for “edam-
ame” (which I only vaguely knew was some kind of a vegetable). I wasn’t sure
whether this was something I’d find in the vegetable section, the frozen sec-
tion, or in a can. I gave up and tracked down an employee to help me out. She
didn’t know, either!

The employee could have responded in many different ways. She could have
made me feel ignorant for not knowing where to look, or given me vague pos-
sibilities, or even just told me they didn’t have the item. But instead, she treated
the request as an opportunity to find a solution and help a customer. She called
other employees and within minutes had guided me to the exact item, nestled
in the frozen section.

The employee in this case looked at a request and started from the premise
that we would solve the problem and satisfy the request. She started from yes
instead of starting from no.

When I was first placed in a technical leadership role, I felt that my job was to
protect my beautiful software from the ridiculous stream of demands coming
from product managers and business analysts. I started most conversations
seeing a request as something to defeat, not something to grant.

At some point, I had an epiphany that maybe there was a different way to work
that merely involved shifting my perspective from starting at no to starting at
yes. In fact, I’ve come to believe that starting from yes is actually an essential
part of being a technical leader.

This simple change radically altered how I approached my job. As it turns
out, there are a lot of ways to say yes. When someone says to you, “Hey, this

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