Printed 2017/08/16 01:50PM

All In & Being Competitive

By Andy Warren, 2009/02/17

Many of us in IT are competitive, maybe slightly more so than in other professions. Competition adds a little spice to whatever you're doing, but the part that I find interesting personally is deciding when and what I want to be competitive about.  Maybe there was a time when it was all about winning for me, but for the last 10 years or more it's been far more about how I played the game - maybe that stuff from childhood really dig sink it. I've seen times when that approach absolutely exasperated people! I think people sometimes see that has lazy, naive, or just clueless. I see it as something fundamentally me - it's not enough to win, I have to win in a way that I consider worthy of the man I wish to be.

Take my current career as a SQL guy. I like to learn about technology, use it interesting ways, and it does pay the bills. Yet at this point in life I don't have an interest in trying to be the top dog of the SQL world. Could I study, compete with, even surpass those that are near the top of our profession (by whatever measure you like)? I'd like to think I could, but it's enough for me to be good enough to play in the bigs as it were without expending the substantial extra effort needed to try to beat everyone else. Lazy or pragmatic?

I'm an amateur woodworker and I have a lot to learn, and there more than technology it feels like a contest with me as the only contestant. Learning it takes patience and is sometimes annoying, but it's a fun contest and one I chip away at. I'd like to publish an article or two in a "real" woodworking magazine in the next few years, but I don't have any plans to enter contests or open a woodworking school, it's enough to just work on raising my skills and doing useful things like building an aquarium stand.

Another example is chess. I mentioned earlier in the year that I wanted to play more this year, and I bought a copy of Fritz Chess over the xmas holiday. I like playing, but I've never been a serious student of the game (which requires a LOT of work). Playing more I see areas where I'm weak and that's ok, but when I play it on the max level it's just breath taking how bad I lose - and how damned good a good player can be. That seriously annoys me! Losing is one thing, but this is something else again. I'm still playing casually, but it's tweaked my competitive nature. How much do I want to be good at this? More interestingly, aside from devoting the hours, do I have the raw talent to move up to say the grand master level? Should I try? Ah, the questions.

It's easy to be competitive when you have natural ability, but a lot more interesting when all you have is something less than world class talent but the ethics to commit to a lot of hard work. Most things worthy of doing take a long term investment, so it's more of a marathon than anything else. I'm not much of a card player, but there is phrase from poker that I can appreciate - "all in", which indicates that you're betting whatever you have left, and indicates a strong hand and/or going for it before you are so low on chips you're out of the game anyway. In my world I reserve "all in" for things that I've decided matter, and while I might not win, it won't be for lack of work or effort. The nature of that level of effort means it can't be done often or carelessly.

As is often the case with my blog I'm trying to solidify my own views, and I don't have a really good lesson to share yet. The best summary I can offer is that when you think about competing think hard about whether you really want to invest the work required to win.

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