Mike Bland

Mature poets steal

My work to improve knowledge sharing at 18F is paying off, and I aim to make thieving bastards of us all.

- Alexandria
Tags: 18F

Can you believe I’ve written one hundred posts? Only took me nearly five and a half years. It’s got me thinking: I could stand to make more of a regular habit of it. There’s so many things running around in my head all the time, and I should start recording them rather than chasing after them nonstop.

18F update

First on the agenda: Keep your eyes open for a new 18F blog post from me in the next week or two. It will go into the details regarding the Hub, Pages, Guides, working groups, guilds, and Edu that I didn’t have the time to discuss in my DOES15 presentation. Preview: I’m ecstatic that I’ve got a dedicated product team and so many working groups and guilds working together on knowledge sharing infrastructure and content. Finally, I feel free to branch out and connect with fellow Instigators across federal agencies.

Yet another unit testing exercise

I’m currently working on a unit testing exercise for Node.js, based on a small-but-real application I’m writing at the same time. Inspired by ye olde Google EngEDU Codelabs, I’m hoping this will give more 18F developers a feel for high-falutin’ concepts like composition, dependency injection, and design patterns, and also establish a pattern for others to follow to create their own exercises.

I’d like to point out two exceptionally great sites that I’m referencing in this new exercise. I’ve found The Node Way to be one of the most concise and insightful guides to good Node.js practice and, in the process, good object design in general. Yesterday I just discovered SourceMaking’s design patterns guide, which has a beautiful information architecture and provides examples that are deep enough to get the point across but short enough to hold your attention (which reminds me of 18F’s own design methods cards).

Why bother?

One of my 18F Testing Grouplet colleagues, Josh Carp, recently questioned whether it was worth trying to write more tutorials, when many exist on the web already. The same question came up in conversation with Steven Railton of the UK Government Digital Service, especially since the GDS Service Design Manual is the gold standard that inspired the development of 18F Guides. My reply is yes, it’s still worth it to me, because:

  • It’s edifying for me, if nobody else.
  • I don’t think there’s a lot of material out there quite in the vein that I’m going for.
  • I’m hoping to inspire others to produce similar artifacts for 18F Edu, perhaps on topics where there isn’t much existing material, by cutting a groove that they can follow (just like 18F Guides did).

Innovation is larceny is tradition

Finally, I proudly buy into the tradition whereby “mature poets steal”, or more completely:

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T.S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood

Hence, I totally intend to incorporate elements of existing material as much as I can. The point isn’t to reinvent the wheel, but to refine it; to go from stone to wood to steel and rubber. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, or in a green, open field. Innovation manifests as a new waypoint along a well-worn road that always stretches further toward the horizon. It invites you to follow the tracks others have laid, so that you may eventually venture farther than they did.

Example: The Beatles didn’t start with Revolver or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. No, before all that, they spent years playing cover songs for eight hours a night in Hamburg. It was by so thoroughly absorbing their influences that they were eventually able to synthesize their own unique musical voice. So I know full well that this exercise I’m writing will be more “Love Me Do” (or, if I’m lucky, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”) more than it’ll be “Revolution” or “I Am the Walrus”. But it’ll get me, and hopefully the rest of 18F, one step closer to that level of work.

An idea is the one thing you can steal that actually benefits the injured party and society at large, so long as you give credit fairly. (Which leaves the injured party more empowered and less injured, really.) Musicians and other artists have recognized this since the dawn of civilization. So go forth and steal early, steal often.