What Exactly Does “Interesting” Mean?
If “may you live in interesting times” is a curse, if someone says to you while perusing your resume, “you have an interesting background,” is that a curse as well?
I’ve always thought that the number one skill one needs to have, in fact, the only skill you really need, is the ability to problem-solve. With that ability, you can pretty much learn everything else beyond that.
This works equally well for coding, as for doing electrical work around the house, fishing, and any myriad of things. If you can take a look at a challenge and unpack it so that you can perform the actions you need to meet that challenge, then take those actions; it’s a gift. Even if some of those actions are not in your skillset, you can probably learn those skills if you have the skill to problem solve.
It’s like every solution requires a set of actions. Some you know, and some are black boxes to you that you will need to open and learn. Either way, with perseverance, there should be no problem that you cannot solve unless it’s a physical one, and you do not have the physical ability.
If you are human and have a brain, you can gain the mental ability to do what you need. If it’s been done, you can do it too.
For example, in my second startup, we pivoted to develop a social streaming capture and reporting mechanism: we built this in 2009, just as Twitter and Facebook were gaining a lot of initial visibility. There were only three of us on the team, and I was the only one with recent coding background – even though it was 10 years since I’d coded anything, and that was in Visual Basic. I had to re-learn to code, and this time object-oriented, we’d decided to use Ruby on Rails since it was what all of the hot startups were using to crank out fast, lean minimum viable products.
Long story short, I learned Rails, and in 6 weeks, we had our first release. Now I don’t claim to have any special powers, just, IMHO, excellent problem-solving skills. I had a challenge before me, and I was able to unpack it into its parts and learn the black boxes enough so that I was able to solve the problem.
Now my code wasn’t elegant by any means, and I went through a lot of refactoring after the fact, but my point is is that there is no challenge too great, as long as you are willing to jump in to figure it out and keep working until you get it.
When it comes to skills, I believe that innovation comes from exposing yourself to as many new experiences as possible. And learning new skills exposes you to new experiences. You may be a kick-ass coder if you are really deep into rails and cucumber and all of the various gems available and their nuances. But can you really be as innovative if you don’t expose yourself to experiences outside of your focus? A chance encounter in a new place could spur new thinking. Learning how to cook Italian food may lead you to your next startup.
Having an “interesting” background may not be right for most jobs, but I think it’s essential as an innovator.