Forget the tools, focus on the experience

Written on January 10, 2021

For weeks the front entrance to my house had become an eye sore. Residue left from winter, my son’s new obsession with excavating our yard in hopes of finding dinosaur fossils and shifting of debris as people walk back and forth on the path.

This evening I decided I had had enough of the eye sore and grabbed my broom and started cleaning. As I started I saw my son disappear at the side of the house only to reappear a few moments later with another broom excited to help out.

But before starting he held out the broom he retrieved in a gesture to trade his for mine.

The broom he offered was one we had bought from a bargain store for very cheap. The handle was made out of cheap metal and the bristles were separating and falling out. My broom was purchased at a higher price from a hardware store. The handle was made out of wood and the head had very tight and short bristles.

As you can imagine the quality difference was quite stark and my son knew which tool was better.

Not bothered by which broom I would use, I made the swap and watched as my son proceeded to clear out the messy areas.

With the broom he ended up using–the better broom–I noticed he was struggling to use it. The weight of the broom is a little heavier and because the bristles are tighter, much more energy must be exerted in order to get the head to move in the direction you’d like.

As you can imagine, he was hard at work and the level of effort he exerted to properly use the broom was much higher. Don’t get me wrong, I was super proud of him and enjoyed the assistance he provided. But I knew the broom I had–the cheaper broom–would’ve made his job easier.

I then proceeded with cleaning with the cheaper broom. While not as efficient but since I was experienced in using the broom, I could still clean the pathway. The trick with the broom was to make smaller, quicker strokes to move debris more efficiently.

Cleaning with my son got me thinking. Of how this experience was very much a metaphor for how I’ve approached solving problems as a developer early in my career. I often obsessed over which tool was best suited to solve my problems. When in reality any number of tools would be right for the challenge.

I would get fixated on what I thought was the better tool, instead of focusing on simply the process of solving the problems in front of me with the tools that I already had.

Like my son, I grabbed the “better tools” but ended up exerting more effort in order to achieve the things I wanted to.

It’s only now that I realize that it is less about the tool that is in your hand that yields the better results but it is enjoying the process and growing with your tools in experience.

Give a master artist a crayon and what they are able to produce will be far better than what I or any average person can produce with an Apple iPad Pro, Pencil 2 and Procreate.

I’m far from being a master sweeper, but by having experience and the physical advantage compared to my son, I’m able to achieve the same or better results with the cheaper broom than what my son was able to produce with the better broom.

However as I sit here writing this essay, I realize he was likely to be more focused on spending time with his dad versus the tool he had for the task. Sweeping with him was a reminder to focus less about the tools and focus more on the experience.

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