Extreme Blue

Morpho peleides (blue morpho butterfly)
Credit: flickr / Armando Maynez

One of my closest friends works at another large tech company, and all summer we’ve been having conversations that go like this:

ME: I’ve had such an awesome day! I found out about this awesome thing and made some progress on my awesome project. I love my job! How was yours?

HIM: Good! I finally hunted down this bug and I am a Java-optimization ninja.

And then, we have to find something else to talk about. And it’s completely understandable – but nevertheless, hard to be so passionate and excited about something and not be able to share that with the most important people in your life. It’s the same with blogging about it – not being sure what I could say, I haven’t been saying anything.

However, last week I had an epiphany. The technical project is perhaps the least interesting part of Extreme Blue. There is a reason why they call it a “leadership development program”. Yes, they take people with strong technical skills and you’re pushed that way, but you’re pushed in other ways and taught so many other skills too.

It’s All About the Pitch

The most important thing we work on is the pitch. At the end of the summer we’ll go to Armonk and we’ll have 4 minutes to sell what we’ve been working on. At first that seemed impossible, but the truth is that if you can’t explain the key concepts of what you’re doing in that short a period, you don’t understand it.

We’re down to 3:30, and looking for really compelling things for that last 30 seconds. Not the ideas that make our case – the ones that hammer it home so that people watching us can’t doubt that what we’re doing has potential.

As a programmer, or a technical person, it can be hard to accept the idea that the pitch is more important than the actual work. However, without a business case, there is no technical work. Our job is to prototype and demonstrate value. So our team is embracing that idea.

Ask

If we have a question, or someone who it would be helpful to talk to, saying “I’m Cate and I’m in Extreme Blue – do you have a moment?” has almost invariably got me what I need. This is awesome, and a refreshing change from university culture. Obviously, you don’t want to be annoying or too pushy. But if you need to, ask – it’s stupid not to.

Leading Through Vision: Effective Communication

Everyone in EB has shown leadership. So just because you’re invariably in charge for every university project, doesn’t mean you will be here. If you have a team of four and everyone is trying to lead but has a different agenda, that won’t work. Defining a collective vision that you’ll work towards and letting everyone lead some aspect seems to be working for us.

Communication is so important. Initially, the MBA and I were communicating in what may as well been two different languages. Now we both make an effort to speak the same one.

Constructive Criticism

The other day, we gave our second demo. Afterward, we were waiting for our mentor to come give us feedback and it came out that we all thought that we had been most inadequate. It’s tough, because every day we try and do better and after each thing there’s something to work on. But this kind of feedback is so helpful for practicing relentless improvement and being the best we can be. The same is true of feedback from each other – we’re on the same team, and we only want to help each other improve.

Time Management and Scrum

We are trying to do scrum, but it’s hard because of the exploratory nature of what we’re doing. When I have a clear task that I need to do, it’s easy. When I have something more experimental that I’m playing with, it’s hard. When things start crashing I’ve a propensity to just give up on planning until things are working again. It’s a process – I’m learning about how much leeway I need to build in and how to plan better. But I’m not there yet.

4 thoughts on “Extreme Blue

  1. You can use Scrum thinking/approaches to give shape to experimental work. While Scrum focuses on getting a 'potentially shippable increment of work' done for each iteration, if you're in an experimental mode, your deliverable might be the answer to a question rather than something done (but you can still use the scrumminess of short iterative planning cycles, collaborative self-organizing teams, visualizing work on big charts etc). .

    Came by as part of the Snarky Optimist blog rally — looking forward to coming back in the future. Cheers!

  2. Thanks for that tip – I think that way of approaching would have been really helpful! Will definitely use it in the future. Good for trying to take a scrum approach to research when I get back to school, too 🙂

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