Home / Delights: Joy In The Mundane / Delight #003 – Craftsmanship

Delight #003 – Craftsmanship

It took me a lot of years to view what I do as a craft and not just another task. Craftsmanship is not something you hear people talk about a lot these days, but you certainly know it when you see it. In fact, we all instinctively do business with people who have a high opinion of what they do. And it’s not about money. Many of the best craftsmen in their particular trade undervalue the work they do and quite frankly do not charge enough for the quality of their work. Myself included. For them, the work and the results are satisfying in themselves.

As a software developer, I can write code fairly quickly to solve most problems I encounter, but the older I get the more interested I become in finding elegant solutions rather than speedy solutions. Both methods will solve the problem, but the elegant solution achieves benefits that last far beyond today. The elegant solution is easy to maintain, easy to build upon and easy to understand ten or twenty years down the road when you have to go back and review what you’ve done in the past. Just like character, craftsmanship is what you do when no one is looking. It’s what you do to do satisfy your own internal desire to build something beautiful.

I’m reminded of the story of the bricklayer who was chipping away at a stone, shaping it for use in a building project. A passerby asked him why he was working so hard to shape the stone perfectly just to be another brick in a wall and he responded, “I’m not shaping a stone or building a wall, I’m building a cathedral.” Would that we all felt what we did was as important as building a cathedral.

They say you don’t get good at anything until you’ve invested 10,000 hours in the thing. But I would argue that you don’t get good at anything and you won’t spend 10,000 hours on the thing, unless you view your effort as a craft and not a task.

I was told early in my software development career that a really good programmer is lucky to write five lines of quality code per day. At the time, I scoffed at the concept because, I knew I could write hundreds of lines of code every day and did on a regular basis. But after 30 years of writing software, I have reached a point where I delight in those days spent getting five lines of quality code to be as perfect as I can possibly make them. Even if no one ever sees what I’ve done.

Perhaps we should be talking more often about craftsmanship and teaching craftsmanship to our children as a life skill as important as reading, writing or arithmetic.

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