Talent is What Annoys You
New York City Meetups are a great way to soak in all kinds of developer and design inspiration. Design Driven has become one of my favorite go-tos, with a consistently engaging and diverse lineup of creators. I found a recent talk by Paul Ford called "Talent is What Annoys You" particularly insightful, and his ideas have been kicking around my brain since I got the chance to hear him speak.
Mr. Ford offered a refreshing perspective on the elusive question of how to define and identify talent. Rather than take the traditional approach of dissecting all kinds of traditional metrics and heuristics (which the corporate world has all but beaten to death in its quest to measure and quantify performance), Mr. Ford’s definition of talent is a refreshing viewpoint that focuses on an individual’s sensibilities, opinions and tastes as indicators of one's current abilities or potential.
The fine folks at FirstMark Capital (who host Design Driven) did a great job of summarizing Mr. Ford’s main points, which you can read at this link. A couple of choice blurbs from his talk:
“When I’m hiring writers, I’m looking for people who are pissed off about bad paragraphs or lazy endings. When I’m talking to engineers, I’m looking for them to be upset that [code is] running slow or that the code is poorly structured,” Ford said.
Similarly, under Ford’s rubric, the absolute best designers are the kind that zoom in on every design to find flaws in spacing, color or shape. Those who obsess with the placement of every last pixel. The kind of person who can identify when two blues are just a shade apart, or when element spacing is inconsistent by a single pixel."
It’s an incredible insight, and it got me thinking how I can incorporate this perspective into my own journey as I find my feet as a software engineer and designer. I think for anyone just starting his or her career, embracing this viewpoint could be key to successfully communicating one's potential to prospective clients, peers or employers. In lieu of a massive body of work that comes with a long career, we are still able to articulate the things we would like to improve in our or others’ creations, which ultimately are a reflection of what inspires us.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that "what annoys you" comes off as just a tinge negative, but I think that's a matter of perspective. We can also choose to express this idea as a reflection of our greatest aspirations to the smallest detail. Our technical aptitudes may still be growing (and arguably, as engineers we will always be honing our ability to write beautiful, clean and expressive code), but in the mean time we can demonstrate our potential by articulating our highest vision of the things we would like to make.
Whether in casual conversation, formal interviews or social media, we can go about this in one or both of the following ways:
- Freely acknowledge and discuss the things we might have done better (or just differently), whether it's a piece of code or design feature.
- Share the beautiful things that inspire us. Whether it's a piece of software, music or art, these things influence who we are and our craft, and provide a sense of our personality and aspirations.
So … what inspires you?