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August 24, 2011 / KaTe

Change Driven People: Thoughts of an Invisible Talent

During the Agile2011 conference I met some incredible people. Some of them were experienced agilists, with extensive experience and lots of examples of successes and failures. These people are writing non-fiction books that you read blushing, just like Harry Potter. Wow. These people are visible, standing out, giving speeches, conducting workshops with jaw dropping “aha” moments. You can’t miss that and you have to love it. Just like Chris Avery with his responsibility model – I just drowned in this class. He is my guru from now on, this guy is brilliant! But there was something that got me thinking even more than this. I’m talking about the invisible talents.

I love breakfasts during conferences. You can meet more extraordinary people there than anywhere else. I met maybe 40 people there during breakfast, but two of them stood out. One had an outstanding idea which he will be presenting on an upcoming European agile conference – “What can agile learn from dead artists?” Since software development is an art, this is brilliant! Another amazing young person worked on scaling techniques of working with backlogs on detangling corporate dependencies – how to use sticky notes to merge two giant companies? Another big “Wow!”. How can you tell that you’re talking to a brilliant person? Grab a coffee with him or her, you’ll notice it in several minutes. How can you tell that you’re employing a brilliant person? That’s a problem.

Few months earlier we were intensively looking for a coach in India. There were a few candidates, some better and some worse. I have interviewed them over the phone trying to determine who sounds reasonable. I ranked them from the one I would like to talk to in person the most to the one the least. My impressions were close to impressions of other coaches – there was one guy that was great, some OK and two that I didn’t think should be invited to the face to face meeting. How awfully wrong were we! The best guy turned out to be the worst; two last people were invited to an interview only out of courtesy and one of them turned out to be a diamond. I was shocked when I met him – brilliant young man, extremely observant, having eye-opening insights to lots of subjects, respecting and understanding cultural differences, speaking four languages! I was blown away. I felt ashamed that I classified him next to last, and I still am. I started wandering – why did I classify him so low?

I noticed that it did not happen to me for the first time and I was not the only one. Previously, when I was building a team in a different company, I needed an engineer. A person was recommended to me by one of the current team members. Because I was far away from technology for some time then, I relied on someone else on technical questions. During the interview, he did not look very good – he was giving different answers than the technical expert expected, he was very sure, even too sure of his abilities and I felt like he was even a little arrogant. After the interview, the tech expert said: “Definitely no”. I was inclining towards a “No”, but I decided to trust my team member. And I hit the jackpot. He proved to be marvelous. Three months after he joined, the team almost elected him as an architect; six months after he joined he became one. His knowledge of technologies was outstanding. He was writing clean and legible code, was a patient teacher for new team members, had great sense of humor – he quickly became the heart of the team. Wow. Why wasn’t I able to see how good he was?

What do all of these brilliant people have in common? I noticed only one thing. They are change driven. They are all welcoming new ideas, new views and are energized when something is changing. It excites them, and gives them the power to act. In the first case (the coach I was interviewing), when I looked at notes, that I took during the interview, I noticed that where I was expecting a straight answer that I had in mind, he turned it around and explored new approaches, trying to rephrase the question. He was excited by questions he never heard before and bored by others. In the second case (the Java Engineer), he was excited about everything that’s new. New technologies, new approaches, he expanded every answer by something new he just learned, smethnong he just changed yesterday.

Now I’m looking at people around me. I’ll mention two by name – Kamil Błażejczak and Marcin Gałkowski. Two brilliant people, one being an extraordinary Product Owner, the other – a sysadmin and a Linux guru.
Kamil works with the best team in the world, keeping it whole and performing. He is constantly exploring new possibilities of development for himself and people around. He is constantly on the run, everyone knows him. He is an infocholic – he reads hundreds of RSS posts per day, requiring something new and exciting almost every minute. He is the kind of a person that you can tell is extraordinary right away. He’s the energetic change driven person.
Marcin on the other hand is different. He is like the Java Engineer I employed – his brilliance does not show at the first glance. But ask him what is the thing he is working on now, he starts to unfurl – designed his own home automation system, plays and composes music exploring possibilities of sound system under hardened Linux kernel, explores security of file systems distributed throughout three continents and much more. He needs to construct something new almost every day. If he’s not building something new for his systems, then he is exploring new music. I can see how excited he is with new things every day.

Look around you. Can you see this theory being true in your environment?

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One Comment

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  1. Marcin / Aug 24 2011 10:00 pm

    Oh, it’s me here 🙂 Technically – it’s a realtime kernel, I use hardened not necessarily on my DAW /Digital Audio Workstation/. Looking for to trying out 3.0-rt but lacking time currently 🙂

    But on the real subject. Recruitment is sometimes a lottery, if not always. While the recruitment form/process highly depends on company/regional culture – in Poland it’s usually a meeting for an hour, maybe two. Then maybe another one, but often the final. And a decision. In contrary in different recruitment cultures companies invite candidates for example for 6-8 hour sessions, changing recruiters, doing a group assessment. For some this might sound like a killer interview, but is beneficial for both parties in terms of information exchange – if done well. My bottom line here is that the more time one spends with a candidate the higher probability of revealing the hidden talents. But this needs to be done in a professional way, not necessarily by constantly bombarding the poor human being with technical questions.

    my .2$

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