Success the ShakaCode Way!

It’s Thanksgiving today! I’m taking a few minutes to put down a few thoughts that I hope will bring you, your family, and your friends “success” in the coming year.

Success is ambiguous. Is it being a millionaire? Being famous? Winning competitions?

I’d say it’s happiness! This image captures part of my definition of success. Jimmie Hepp took this picture just a couple days before I wrote this article.

Justin Surfing Smiling

Note, I said happiness is just a part of success. Balance in life is key to success. While I have the means to spend all my time surfing, I’d find greater happiness in striking a balance with my other passion, which is creating great software and an organization called “ShakaCode”. ShakaCode is more than just a company; it’s a community. A large part of what ShakaCode does is giving away free code and training to world’s software community, as shown by our open source projects, our ShakaCode forum, and my RailsOnMaui blog.

A big part of the DNA of ShakaCode is that we’re remote first. This means that you can be involved with ShakaCode regardless of just about any factor other than having a decent computer, good Internet, and a true passion to learn and contribute. And if you have family duties, just hate time wasted commuting, or want to live at a ski resort or a remote surf break – that’s all OK. Educational background, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, etc. all do not matter to us. All of our team members share this philosophy and this is how we find new team members.

An Inspiring Story

One of my first hires, Dylan, exemplifies ShakaCode’s values.

After coming out of high school on Maui, surfing was valued more than anything academic. Rather than attending college, Dylan got a job and focused most of his energies on fun outdoor activities in Maui such as surfing, kite surfing, and mountain biking. Dylan soon discovered his job required a college degree for promotion. At community college, Dylan quickly discovered he LOVED computers! After college, Dylan pursued a successful career in support and management of computer systems and networks.

However, this did not satisfy Dylan’s insatiable thirst and passion for technology. He told me that he could see that much of his job would be automated by software, so he had better learn to code!

Over many years, I’ve offered to share my love for computer programming with friends, telling them that it’s the best job ever for a surfer in that you can be anywhere in the world and have a productive career. While I’ve had a few friends that showed interest, none of them had the passion and desire of Dylan.

Dylan would show up every day at my office and just soak up everything I could give him. When he wasn’t in my office, he’d have his iPhone set to technology podcasts all day long. Eventually, I tell Dylan to quit his current job, and to join me full-time! I can tell you with 100% certainty that this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

Let’s bounce back to the topic of “success the ShakaCode way.” If you can find some passion of yours that you can contribute to the world, and you can balance that with a healthy lifestyle, that is success. However, like replicating startup company success, this might seem inaccessible, especially to those that are not computer fanatics like the ShakaCode team.

(Winning) Competition Is Not Success

Americans love competition. It’s everywhere: in sports, in business, and in academics. We cherish the winners and berate the losers. And this mentality is counterproductive to success in your career and overall happiness! In the last few months, a couple heroes of mine, David Heinemeier Hanson and Laird Hamilton, have shared their perspectives on competition. Their advice correlates with my view that collaboration and creativity will do more for your success than a stressful focus on competition.

David Racing

To quote David Heinemeier Hanson in I don’t want to be a winner:

Is there anything our society exalts more than The Winner? That fiery someone who crushes all competition to stand alone and victorious at the end. A genetic predisposition, I’m sure.

The paradigm of competition is so ingrained as the basic business narrative that we usually don’t even recognize it, much less question it. Well, of course there are winners and losers! What are you, a f** communist?!

Instead of focusing on “winning,” focus on creativity, collaboration, and giving. If your definition of “winning” is “happiness” and possibly material riches, then the path is not by defeating others, but, instead, by helping others! While I cannot speak to every industry, in the world of open source software, based on my experience, helping others is definitely the path to success!

While this topic applies to individuals, as well as businesses, it’s probably most important for our youth and their hyper-competitive parents. The importance of winning, sadly, starts off early for most youngsters. On the playground, kids play sports to “win”. Have you ever seen hyper-competitive little league parents? “If you’re not a winner, then you’re a LOSER!

In high school, you have to beat your peers to get the best grades, and then have to beat them on college entrance exams to get into the right university. Winning jocks are idolized. This continues into college, where you have to compete for grades, jobs, and seemingly just about anything.

This recent, detailed article, The Silicon Valley Suicides: Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?, highlights dangers of hyper-competitive parenting. Here’s a quote that describes the pressure at these high achieving high schools:

Heavy stress among “good kids” was the product of “a nasty competitive atmosphere contrived by unethical Tiger Mothers,” one commenter wrote. At the end of some of my conversations, a student, teacher, or counselor would look around to make sure no one was listening and then whisper a story about an Asian kid being punished or even kicked out of the house for a night after getting a B or failing to get into Stanford.

A Palo Alto student, Carolyn Walworth, gave the youth perspective:

“A piece of you cringes when you hear that your friend has been preparing for the SAT with classes since last summer, and that they’re already scoring a 2000, (And what about … the girl taking a summer immersion program to skip ahead and get into AP French her sophomore year? And that internship your best friend has with a Stanford professor?) You can’t help but slip into the system of competitive insanity … We are not teenagers. We are lifeless bodies in a system that breeds competition, hatred, and discourages teamwork and genuine learning. We lack sincere passion. We are sick … Why is that not getting through to this community? Why does this insanity that is our school district continue?”

The college grad may then go into corporate America and learn the meaning of “Stack Ranking”, as portrayed at Yahoo. I’ve personally worked for a company where the managers of a division could only award a single “1” performance ranking, regardless of how many excellent achievers were in the group. At the same time, these managers were forced to award “3’s”. “1” means amazing, and “3” means you’re being given a “performance plan”, which really means “we’re firing you and we don’t want you to sue us.” It’s probably not surprising that this same stack-ranking company also deterred open source contributions. At this company, contributing to any open source project without 3 levels of management approval was grounds for firing! Tip: don’t work for such companies.

Compete Against Yourself Only

Laird Competing Against Himself

Laird is as much a legend in the surfing world as David is in the programming and startup worlds. He could have competed in professional surfing. Instead, he chose to forge his own path, rather than being bound by the judging standards of competitive surfing. In a recent interview in the Huffington Post, he stated:

While Laird is all about surfing, his comments also apply to the world of open source collaboration:

“A creative man is fulfilled by accomplishments and a competitive man is fulfilled by beating others,” Hamilton said, paraphrasing an old saying. He continued, “I’m all about accomplishments. Ride the biggest wave. It has to do with me. I can always grow and keep accomplishing things.”

This insistence on competing only with himself is a survival mechanism of sorts – or an almost spiritual life philosophy. “I wanted to be in control. I wanted to be the one determining if I felt fulfilled or not,” Hamilton said. Source: Huffington Post

While Laird and Justin surf, David races cars:

The only competition I’ve come to love is the one against myself, and that’s not really a competition, now is it? The progress of betterment. Playing your part to the best of your abilities in a beautiful whole.

That’s the joy I take away from racing cars for endurance. It’s not so much being faster than the other cars, but striving to perfect your own contribution as part of a team. Pushing against the limits of perfect execution over the long term. 24 hours of testing your capability to avoid mistake and fatigue. Winning is almost incidental to that.

For me, the joy of surfing is to compete with myself. The primary goal is to become connected to the energy of the ocean. It challenges you both at the physical and mental levels, as you need strength and agility to ride waves. It also challenges your judgment. Can you predict where the next wave will break? Are you the surfer best positioned for the next wave? What I love the most about surfing is the feeling that the learning process never ends. This combination of applying strength and skill also applies to other outdoor action sports such as snow boarding, mountain biking, kite-surfing, windsurfing, paddling, etc. For myself and many others, healthy outdoor exercise fosters great creativity at work.

Success the ShakaCode Way

What works for Laird, David, and me, regarding happiness, is to focus on creative expression, be it in the waves, in writing, in software, or wherever your passion lies. Forget about competition and beating others. Instead, focus on what you can do to help and inspire others! We have to focus on making bigger pies, and not getting just larger slices of a fixed pie, as in “winners” and “losers.” Open source is all about this “grow the pie collaboration,” in sharp contrast to the litigation brought on by patents and copyrights.

At ShakaCode, there’s no good or bad or code. Through constant collaboration and peer review, without fears of criticism or “looking dumb,” we as a team deliver the best possible product, and we all improve our skills on a daily basis. Everything we do is based on open source, and we’re doing our best to make meaningful contributions to the community, such as our new Ruby Gem, react_on_rails.

Our hiring reflects our philosophy. We don’t torture job candidates with programming stress tests. Instead, we try to work with them on open source just as we would after they are hired. This fits into our remote first philosophy. Basically, if you can contribute meaningfully to open source in the Ruby and JavaScript worlds, then you’ll fit right in with us, regardless of where you’re located or whether or not you can solve humiliating programming puzzles in record time. We don’t monitor our team members. Instead we trust them to make the right decisions and to act with integrity.

By the way, at ShakaCode, we’re thrilled our team members have hobbies like surfing to complement the intellectual vigor of writing code. Our business is a marathon, not a sprint, and a healthy, long-term perspective is best for our team, our clients, and our products. And a flexible, remote-first work environment is conducive to allowing our team members to live well balanced and productive lives.

For a more detailed perspective on the ShakaCode’s philosophy, see Who Is ShakaCode?

If this article resonates with you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! Or comment! We’re currently looking for more ShakaCoders to join us!

Shaka Sign Separator

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