Recognising weakness

“(Marissa) Mayer was hired by Google as a coder. Her first big project was to build Google’s advertising system. It took her months and months to make any progress. Then Google went out and hired a star coder from DEC named Jeff Dean. Dean came into Google and built the system Mayer was trying to build in a matter of weeks. Mayer, who already decided she loved working at Google, realized she wasn’t going to make her mark there as a coder. She would have to find other ways to be useful.”
Nicholas Carlson
here in “5 Lessons From Marissa Mayer’s $500 Million Career.”

I’m sure all of you know of the Marissa Mayer story, rising to prominence as an early employee at Google, then switching to her current role as Yahoo’s CEO.

As I was reading Nicholas Carlson’s article (it’s well worth the read), I found that the sentiments of the 5 lessons closely reflect my advice to those starting out in OSS or related industries. The story above fascinated me because I’d always just assumed that Marissa rose to prominence on the back of being a brilliant coder who then leveraged her diverse talents to take her further.

For me, it’s a parable. The great thing about OSS is that for every Jeff Dean who does a task with ridiculous ease, there is still room for the Marissa Mayer’s of the world to find their niche of excellence that the Jeff Dean’s can’t compete with.

That’s why I love chatting with others in the field and it’s one of the reasons why I host an OSS breakfast once a month in Melbourne – to push the boundaries of learning.

A recent example was whilst having lunch with a colleague named Sean. I’ve been playing with database-backed OSS for years but Sean’s description of some of the database tuning mechanisms he uses blew me away. Naturally I knew of database tuning, but how is it that I hadn’t heard about these techniques before now? Now that I’m aware of them, I know there is so much more to discover on the topic, but I also know that it’s never going to be my niche. I’ll leave those details to the Jeff Deans and Seans and gifted DBAs of the world but I’m excited to have extended my awareness.

What’s your area of recognised weakness? Or more to the point, who are the experts who leave you amazed at what they can do in our industry?

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