25 Aug 2005 apenwarr   » (Master)

There Is Another Zone

I've discovered that it's actually possible to geek out on marketing.

Programmers know that programming efficiency comes largely from getting into The Zone for a few consecutive hours - and those few hours can be 5x-10x as productive as "normal" working hours.

Well, for a change of scenery (and because it was necessary to get my job done), I relocated myself temporarily from Montreal to our Toronto office for the last few weeks. This place is not an environment conducive to getting into The Zone in any normal sense. It's not an R&D department. It's a business environment, where people have daily problems, and those problems all seem important, and they really want to solve those problems right now.

Luckily, my job in the last few weeks has mostly not been programming; it's been doing a bunch of random business supporting tasks for a new product we're working on, where the product largely consists of repackaging our existing technology into a newer, more "customer focussed" package. To do that, I had to learn a bit about marketing, a bit about customer business models, a bit about project management, a bit about salespeople, a bit about financial projection, a bit about technical support, a bit about manufacturing, a bit about "webinars", a rather scary amount about IBM DB2, and lots of other things. Then, in real time, I had to turn around this new knowledge and apply it to my work. And I had to do all that in a very short time.

So I dedicated every waking moment to learning and doing that stuff. When I wasn't working, I was reading books about it. When I wasn't doing that, I was eating while thinking about it. When I wasn't doing that, I was dreaming about it, and sometimes I would wake up with the right answer.

Whether I did a good job or not in the end isn't really the point, but the process itself is really interesting: you can deliberately focus your thought processes on a specific set of complex, confusing, interrelated things, and tune out everything else. When you do, you're doing something very similar to programming in The Zone. The magic in programming happens because when you hold all the concepts in your head at once, you can just see the answer clearly; the right answer is the only thing that fits all the pieces at the same time. It turns out that other kinds of work can be done the same way.

The result is that I know and understand a lot more things than I did a month ago. I understand a few things that even the people teaching me didn't understand, because they weren't in The Zone at the time: they didn't see the whole picture.

The problem is, once you've seen the big picture, you'll never not see the big picture. It's very hard to go back and sit in your pigeonhole.

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