by Leon Rosenshein

The Tao Of Pooh

I’ve always liked Winnie the Pooh. He may say he’s a bear of very little brain, but I think he’s got a lot of deep understanding that we could all benefit from.

Winnie the Pooh talking to piglet, saying To know the way, we go the way, we do the way. The way we do, the things we do, it's all there in front of you.

While I’m reasonably sure Pooh was not an extreme programmer, that’s not a bad paraphrase of what extreme programming and the agile manifesto are getting at. Do the work and the work will show you what needs to be done. You do what you can do, and you find out how to do the next thing.

To know the way,
we go the way,
we do the way.

The way we do,
the things we do,
it’s all there in front of you.

But if you try too hard to see it,
you’ll only become confused.

I am me and you are you.
As you can see;
but when you do
the things that you can do,
you will find the way.

The way will follow you.

For example, I used to fight with my code sometimes. Or more accurately, I fought against it, trying to make it do what I wanted, not what it wanted. Then I realized I was wrong. And not just wrong to be fighting against my code, but wrong about code ownership and wrong about what I was fighting against.

Firstly, and long term, probably the more important, was that it wasn’t really my code. I might have written it, and I might have been the person that knew the most about it, but it wasn’t “mine”. Code has its own existence and its own purpose. The work I’m doing with the code is designed to get something done. To add value to the code, to the system. Not to make me more valuable by owning more code. It’s not about me, and while Imposter Syndrome is real, beating your head against some code is not the way to approach it.

Second, and the more tactical part, is that you can’t fight against code. You can’t make it do anything it doesn’t know how to do. You can use it different ways, and for different things. You can use it in ways that it was expected to be used, you can find new ways to use it in new situations, and you can use it in ways that are different and the opposite of how the original writers intended it to be used, but you (largely) can’t make it do something it doesn’t know how to do.

Instead, what you’re really fighting against is yourself. Your understanding (or lack of understanding) of what the code is doing and is supposed to do. How it works, and what its side effects are. The way to approach that is not through fighting or struggling, but through education. Reading documentation. Reading code. Exercising code to characterize how it actually responds (because documentation isn’t always correct). When you understand yourself and your biases, when you understand the code, its strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and constraints, you find that you’re working together, with the code to meet your goals, instead of against it. You find you’ll go farther and you’ll get there faster.

So like Pooh says, it’s all there for you to see. You just need to not try so hard. Let yourself see how things are and how they should be. And that will lead you to the way.