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Developing with a beginner's mind.

‘If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.’ — Martin Luther King, Jr.

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I’ve been working at Banked as a software engineer for a few months now, and one of the most astonishing things I’ve learnt in that time is that the human capacity to adapt and grow to meet the needs of their situation is well beyond what I thought possible.

To give some context, I’ve set myself some fairly interesting professional challenges in the past — investment banking, self-taught developer, launching a start-up — and those situations definitely demanded some learning and growth on my part. But if I were to plot that speed of adaptation on a graph, I might previously have assumed it was fairly constant. A few months at Banked has shown me that I would have been wrong.

Every week has involved a deep dive into a new technology, framework or paradigm: understanding and implementing it, evaluating the result, then throwing away and starting again where necessary. I see this sudden spike in learning and productivity in myself and in the team around me, and it’s fantastic, but it leads me to ask what it is about the setup here at Banked that has created such a desirable outcome. Why haven’t I been consuming new technology at this pace in the past?

The most obvious point is the one I led with: that we adapt to meet the need around us. This is true to an extent, since being in a relatively early stage as a company means there is a lot to be done. But I’ve been at this stage of a start-up before, with fewer people and hence more to do. Yet I wasn’t learning at the pace I am now.

Which leads me to what I think is the more genuine answer, and why Banked is different to where I’ve been before. We’ve managed to get the team just right. Having hungry engineers who are keen to level-up and become experts in every shiny new technology available is great, but that energy needs to be channeled in the right direction. This comes from having the right kind of tech leads and seniors, who recognise the balance between allowing the team to explore and make mistakes, and avoiding getting totally lost in a technical rabbit hole.

There is an idea in Zen Buddhism called Shoshin, which roughly translates as “beginner’s mind”. In essence, it’s about approaching any subject of study with openness and a total lack of preconception, just as a beginner or a child would. Often the biggest barrier to learning is all the assumptions we already hold about how things should be done. This can be especially true when you’re an expert in a particular technology: if you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

For me, one unexpected benefit of the culture we’ve created at Banked — where constant learning is assumed and is just a normal part of everyone’s day — is that it helps to foster this mindset. When I joined a fintech start-up a few months ago, I didn’t know I would be getting a lesson in Zen Buddhism.





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