The Geekmorphosis: A collection of true tales

Back in January of 2016, I started working as an apprentice at a local software development company. The goal of the apprenticeship was to create more highly qualified software developers in the Peoria area through partnerships with Illinois Central College and local businesses. Students/Apprentices would alternate spending 8 weeks in school, then 8 weeks in work. The company I apprenticed at practiced a variant of the Personal Software Process (PSP), a process to develop quality software focused on removing defects early in development. To remove defects earlier, a developer must be able to calculate the answers to several questions. What kind of mistakes does he commonly makes? How many defects are projected to be present? What types of defects?

Judgement. It is coming.

You can imagine that this means you, and your bosses, are constantly judging your performance. Constantly. All the time. This could be a recipe for a living nightmare: but thanks to my incredible managers, it wasn’t! My experience as an apprentice was fantastic because my bosses knew how to handle geeks. They have a policy of never using defect data to evaluate their employees. This means there is no reason to lie or fudge data, it is always used for the betterment of myself and the company. The atmosphere that my managers created was one of learning, teamwork, and understanding. People make mistakes, to say they don’t is just lying. The real question is, how do we move forward?

Before I would leave work for my next 8 weeks of school, my boss would make time to meet with me to give me feedback on the last 8 weeks. She would list some strengths I had and then suggest areas for improvement. The most surprising thing about these meetings was that after she had given me feedback she would ask for feedback about her job performance. She came prepared with questions like, “Is there anything I need to communicate better?”, or “Did I make my expectations/deadlines clear?” etc. The company I worked for put a big emphasis on investing in people, and I hope that I take that with me to my next job.

I say all of this because I have seen first hand what excellent managers look/act like. Another place I have seen great leaders is the summer day camp have often worked at in past summers. One of them was GU’s own Stephen Hillrich. Stephen has a terrible habit. No matter what you do, he will say, “Great job, keep it up.” or “You are doing great! Don’t stop.” I could be sweeping the floor or walking kids to the playground, it didn’t matter. It was all “great”. Every time he said that I felt like a drowning man who had taken his first breath of fresh air. It lifted my spirits and gave me energy to continue.

Here is a poorly shot, poorly edited, lip dub video we shot for Camp. It’s cringy, but it’s fun? #ManagersCanBeFun

When I took a management position at Camp of Champions, I tried to emulate that exact persona. I told my staff they were doing great (even when they weren’t) and I saw a big difference in attitude. I wasn’t the perfect leader, but I tried to apply everything I had seen in great managers.

The greatest moment of the whole summer, right near the end when I needed the most encouragement. A camper with a rough home life had to leave early one day. He was upset and didn’t want to go. One of my counselors stayed with this camper for about 20 minutes and talked soothingly to them while there guardian waited patiently for them to get in the car. It was tiring, it was difficult, but never once did my counselor lose his temper, or rush the guardian or camper. In the moment, I thought, “Great my counselor is doing his job.” Later that week, when that Guardian returned to pick up the camper again, she said “I was so impressed with the way your counselor handled that situation. He was incredibly patient and kind. Great job!”

I knew I had very little to do with this situation, but I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride. My counselor was doing an excellent job and it reflected well on me (again, though I didn’t do much). I made sure to tell my counselor how swell he was doing.

In summation, management is a lot about attitude. Whether it is having the correct attitude yourself, or fostering it in others, you would be amazed at the difference a positive attitude makes.