Letter of Recommendation

Kent Beck recently posted a letter of recommendation from his future boss for the job that he hopes to get. Written from a perspective of 3 years into the future, it is a great exercise in bringing clarity to how he wants to be recognized by his employer for adding value.

I want to replicate this exercise, because I think it will help me bring clarity for myself to how I want to be perceived for bringing value to my current job, and what I need to do to change. My thanks to Kent for publishing his, as it was an inspiration to me.

To Whom It May Concern,

I want to recommend Rich Stone to you. He has worked for me as an internal consultant for 2 years, helping guide our business and IT professionals through delivering value through application software solutions.

Rich has a tremendous amount of courage. He is willing to speak his mind, and tell the truth, even when that truth is painful to hear. But he has a way of speaking the painful truth without attributing blame. Spoken his way, the truth allows us to drive a stake into solid ground so that we can push ourselves forward building a foundation for progress. While intially, I felt that Rich was very negative and cynical, I realize that he is focused on improving situations like a sculptor, chipping away material to reveal a better image. He is never satisfied with status quo, always looking for new and better ways to do business and technology.

Rich is willing to try new ideas and fail. Initially, this was somewhat disconcerting to me. The culture of our organization was more of a best practices style. The term “best practice” appears to give Rich a rash. He made a face everytime I said it. After a few projects I began to realize that best practices were in Rich’s estimation, regurgitations of someone elses innovation, a recipe for mediocrity. Rich continually looks for ways to improve our practice, leading edge methods, old tried and true concepts, making stuff up on the fly – anything to help each project come to a great conclusion. Any practice Rich recommends adopting, will likely be tuned and tweaked to fit the current team, project, need or situation so that the results are anything but mediocre.

Rich has a way with analogies and allegories that helps others understand complex situations in terms that are familiar to them. He can relate complex and abstract technical conflicts and risks to business partners so that they can appreciate how their actions and decisions impact the technical workstream. He can relate complex business processes and abstractions to technical resources so that they can appropriately model and reflect them back in valuable software capabilities.

While I originally thought that he was somewhat undisciplined and disorganized – I realized over time that he has is discipline and organization aligned with understanding and delivering business value, and may ultimately choose to drop or delay work that does not have clear correlation to business value delivery. Rich tends to hold all of the business value propositions for a project or program in his head trying to reconcile every decision and choice to reveal which options improve our chances to deliver more value faster.

As I re-read this, I don’t mean to sound like Rich is a loose canon. He is self motivated, a quick study, and extremely resourceful. He has all the weapons of a hired gun, but operates as a fully accountable resource. He will telegraph his punches, transparently seeking and accepting direction and permission. Rich does not easily tolerate indecision, either on the part of his management or his customer as he recognizes that no decision is a decision. If no one with formal decision rights will act, Rich will happily recommend, or simply devise a plan to make progress in the absense of decision, exposing the risks of said action, quantifying them and comparing them to the risks of doing nothing.

I found that Rich works best in partnership with confident individuals, his presence is large and can overwhelm the timid or the self-conscious. He likes to use dialog as a means of refining his ideas. Left unto himself, he will try to locate someone to serve as a sounding board, or a collaboration partner. Most who have worked on projects with him have positive opinions of his capacity for knowledge and his analysis and leadership capabilities. Senior business managers appreciate his ability and willingness to be open and honest about challenges, as well as his willingness to stay involved as a resource to them long after a project has concluded. They have often relied on his ability to retain detailed understanding of the business domain and the solutions delivered, years after leaving the project, as well as his willingness to advocate their business value goals both to his technical successors, but also to other business partners who subsequently become involved.

On the projects and teams that Rich has been a part of, I have heard that he introduced new ways of thinking about estimation, requirements analysis, application design patterns, modeling techniques and strategies, problem solving frameworks, qa approaches, and tools. He spends a significant amount of time reading and writing apart from his project work. He is continually recommending articles, books, authors, bloggers, techniques, approaches, thinking frameworks that he has found that are interesting to him. He maintains a blog (several actually), that at first I thought was a complete waste of time, and later realized was a tool for him to clarify his thoughts by projecting them to an actual audience. Essentially, he is using the power of social media as a sounding board, or collaboration partner.

With all that said, I have not always appreciated the value that Rich was adding until much later. Often times it seemed like he was off on a tangent, focused on bits of trivia, unneccarily harshly critical of approaches that were in place that people were comfortable with, and especially asking why we felt it was necessary to do certain things that he saw little or no value in. What I realize now was that he was always looking at things from multiple angles, flipping the virtual “cube” in his mind to examine all of the faces, and identifying gaps, challenges, and defects in our thinking that he was concerned would come back to bite us later. As decisions were made, he continually adjusted his recommendations, to make the chances of success better within the constraints of the decisions that had already been made. His recommendations seemed to be disconcerting to some, because they would change and adapt as new information came to light.

GIven that Rich has shared his desire to seek a new role, I am happy to provide this letter on his behalf. If you are looking for a thoughtful, accountable, rational, courageous leader who can work in positions of authority or influence with equal comfort you could not do much better than Rich.

This proved to be an interesting exercise for me. There are some interesting deltas between where I want to be and where I am right now. My next exercise (done in private) will be to address a few gaps. I highly recommend you future dating your own resume and seeing how your current or next boss would recommend you.

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