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Giuseppe Aiello

5 “mistakes” I constantly pursue – a collection of bad things I learned to love doing as a professional

Author: Giuseppe Aiello, CTO @Fleka 

As far as I can remember, I always wanted to learn. I started developing websites when I was a teenager and the best way at that time was to buy and read books; there was a book for everything, usually with an attached CD-ROM where to get the source files and copy the code because, don’t forget, the code was written on pages… inside books! And I’m not saying “also” on books, I’m saying that it was ONLY there!

I remember opening a book of GW-Basic for my Commodore64, choosing one of the code that promised to let you draw an astonishing animated pentagon… after 5 pages of code, copying the code letter by letter, reading it from the book and typing on the keyboard, finally reaching the moment of hitting Enter on “run” and, ERROR on line 127… thinking that there were people that went to the Moon with something similar to that, only less powerful, is amazing! 🙂

 

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Margaret Hamilton, lead software engineer of the Apollo Project, stands next to the code she wrote by hand and that was used to take humanity to the Moon. [1969]

My past experience as a professor luckily put me in direct contact for several years, with a lot of young students that aimed to their path to success in different ways: some of them were enthusiastic and 1000% charged, firmly believing that no one could have ever stopped them, that they understood which was the right way to do things and that the only limit was the sky! Someone else, on the other side, simply expected for things to happen, just like that, out of nowhere.

Back in the days, students were usually asking me for suggestions and tips about how to start to work into this digital environment of the web development, later, the mobile.
After another 12 years of work experience, I want to share other lessons that I learned on my own skin while founding a new web agency company and trying to start several side projects.

1. Copy!

Don’t be afraid to copy:

Good Artists Copy; Great Artists Steal — Pablo Picasso

At one point I asked myself: do I really want to reinvent the wheel all the time? Today we have a lot of resources we can use to develop smart solutions: Github, open source projects, Stackoverflow, and gigallions of others. Of course, don’t limit yourself to copy and paste, but instead try to copy something online to learn how that thing works.

I wanted to learn HTML? Well, I opened the source code of pages I liked and tried to replicate them, checking their CSS, the .js resources, learning things during the process, like: what’s minification, cache, how to speed up requests, etc.

PHP? Same thing, checking some of the open source projects available out there, taking a look at the source code, stealing code from my collaborators and asking them. I tried to replicate what already existed and I learned a lot by “simply” copying their source code.

And the same applies for all the languages, the tools, the different job positions I learned to cover and the new markets I had to discover. First of all I copy what I like, and then I try to understand how I can do that by myself.

I don’t limit myself to replicate something, but I copy it, like I copied the GW-Basic code, copying it one time, twice, three times, n times to succeed to obtain a wonderful pentagon at the speed of light. Repeating is the key of success, and one day I will be the pentagon-drawer master!

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I became (but I realized that I always have been) a fan of Pixel Art, and in order to learn it (or at least to start learning it) I started copying, literally pixel by pixel, the original SuperMario, NES version.

And I ended up, for example with something like this:

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Montenegrin “Gospodine” pixel version

2. Forget old concepts

I’m really curious. And if you, like me, know that the previous quote does not have a substantive evidence for the attribution to Picasso, you’re curious as well! It’s nice to be in a good company 😉

Every time I read something that sounds to me like a clickbait title/news, on my Facebook feed for example, or that seems too crazy to be true (and in the majority of the cases it’s actually not true) I tend to:
1. ignore it;
2. search for evidences somewhere else online.

And I do that not only digitally; when someone tells me something that sounds like an urban legend I tend to:
1. ignore him and continue to drink my beer together with him;
2. argue about it and, if beer is not available anymore, search for evidence somewhere else online.

This is something that is part of all aspects of my life; when I dig into a new technology, language code, tool, etc, I start focusing on it and this results in forgetting old, maybe useless, knowledges. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it happens to me; that’s why I learned to write things down; I comment my code, I take notes during my meetings, I use /remind me on Slack for work related things, I write down thoughts in the Notes app on my smartphone when there is something that I want to review or analyze later, and so on.

Be curious, my friend — Bruce Lee.

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c’mon…you should have learned now how the game works 😉

3. Share knowledges

I noticed that developers and wannabe founders usually think that their code or ideas should remain secret, more secret, secret-secret! Otherwise someone else will steal your work, your code, your ideas, and… and… well and they simply don’t want it! I never met anyone who created something so specific for a project and at the same time easy to be used by others, for who knows which purpose…

Copy is the key of learning, and I believe that being part of a community that knows how you work, how you think and how you solve problems is only a plus, not a problem.

And regarding the ideas, well, it’s not important to have a good idea, the very added value is being able to convert that idea into something that really exists, into something that you can sell or distribute, solving several problems. Having the idea is the “easiest” part, having a good idea means instead analyzing and solving a lot of problems —  usually something those afraid to share can’t even imagine.

I learned to distrust of who want to make me sign an n.d.a. agreement before start talking!

4. ‘Stalk’ other professionals

Ok, stalking is wrong, it’s a clickbait title, you got me! But what I really mean is that reaching other professionals is always a good experience. It usually doesn’t matter the way you do that, over a cup of coffee (espresso of course) several times greatest collaborations were born, good working experiences and exchange of opinions.

It’s not always strictly related to work and business; I believe that business is not “a thing”, but it’s something that I build with credibility, passion, spending time loving what I do and trying always to do something differently somehow from what already exists. And people can love, hate or ignore what I do, and I’m ok with that; I learned that I cannot be appreciated by 100% of the people out there, and my ideas cannot be embraced by the majority of the professionals that already have their way to do their own things; that’s why I focus on that small amount of people that actually listen to me, that notice when I do something interesting, and it’s their critics that I listen to the most.

‘Stalking’ other professionals means also meeting people that are way better than you; when this happens, I usually receive critics about my work or my way to see business. How to react to that? I think we have only 2 options:
1. don’t accept the critic, meaning that instead we’re looking only for approvals;
2. accept the critic and analyze it in order to understand if there is actually a mistake or not in the project/idea.

I always try to analyze what people tell me, also if I’m very well aware that there are those trying really hard to touch my nerves — and you know, I’m Latin, I’m volcanic, I tend to explode! 😛

One thing that really shocked me moving to Montenegro is that no developer is knocking on Fleka’s door. It seems that it’s normal for a company to go to the people and not viceversa, while I’m convinced that if you want to have success, or at least enjoy what you do, you have to be proactive in the first place, trying with the tools that you know how to use the best to attract what you like the most. As a developer I always sent to companies my work, not only my CV; my work always spoke on my behalf, and I’m still attracted more by people who, during the interview, pitch some of their work, experiments or ideas, much more than those showing me an A4 paper with the schools that they frequented.

5. Fail big

I mean, guys, fail big or go home!

I’m Italian, from Milan, living in Podgorica; after a working experience in Madrid, comparing Podgorica to Milan and Madrid is not an easy task.
If I chose to start a company in Montenegro I really then had to put all my guts into this and not be afraid to do things that no one did yet! If I will not leave a mark on other people, at least I want all those efforts and sacrifices to leave a mark on me, a scar that will let me be able to tell a story in case this adventure will not work as expected; you know, women love scars on men! 🙂

I agree with all the influencers and successful men that suggest to fail several times. It’s only when I failed that I learned things and I made those experiences mine. I worked at a call center underpaid, as an employee for other companies, both small and big agencies, I worked as a workman in an assembly line for months on the night shift, I then became a freelancer and finally a co-founder of a company in Montenegro. I hated the path while I was in it but I thank for every experience I went through; I had the opportunity to see business from so many different points of view, that it’s easier for me now to understand the needs of clients when they pitch us their projects or ask us for suggestions. There are so many things that I learned on the ground that I didn’t at the University where I received a completely different education, important of course, but still complementary to the rest.

Nowadays I believe more in people that failed several times, more than those who can show only huge successes behind them…

So, I’m not perfect, but I don’t think anyone is supposed to be; if this would still be one of my lessons, I would end it with a “Be hungry, be foolish” quote, just to win easily 🙂

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