The Ascent and Descent into the Software Journey

There is a saying in mountaineering that goes: “when your reach the summit, you are only half-way through your journey.”  Reminders to the mountaineer that they still have to return alive. There are too many stories of the mountaineers who made the summit but lost their way, or fell to their deaths, because they underestimated the amount of effort, coupled with a sore and overworked body, requiring the climber to resort to physical will power in making the descent possible from the mountain.  It is no surprise to those who climb regularly that the descent is the most demanding and risky part of the journey, especially when you consider the amount of energy used by the climber in getting to the summit.  This is often undertaken in the demanding conditions that come with high-altitude climbing, which include severe weather, extreme temperatures and incredibly thin air.  An experienced mountaineer knows this and plans accordingly to remove all the preventable risks from the equation.  Ensuring a successful bid for the journey requires preparation both in terms of fitness and logistics, where the climber has to be wise enough to understand themselves, the environment in which they will be going up against and how to apply their acquired experience with the right skills and equipment, to ensure a successful bid for their summit, while making sure they get back down alive.

This analogy can be aptly applied to creating software and those of us who have pursued this field as a profession.  I spent ten years professionally preparing for my first foray into the expeditionary world of software startups and, in my enthusiasm to get coding, I forgot that I have in fact only reached the halfway point in one of many journeys that I have been on in this space.  A startup is full of risks that can result from a lack of cash, finding the right people to have on your team, a lack of focus on the real priorities and not having the right cultural mindset to secure your long-term success.  Let’s not forget the market or the competitive landscape hammering at you from the outside, whilst you are focused on getting your internal dynamics aligned, so you can combat the proverbial barbarians from the outside.  It is a heady mix of highs and lows that can sap the energy out of the most mere mortals, and yet as a player on the startup team you are expected to take this into your stride.  There are many who do not have the stamina for the intense journey that represents this world, but imagine if you have a toxic culture where you cannot stand the team or leaders who are on the journey with you.  It is clear that the endeavor will be like the slow death march down from the summit and most in the team will be personally scarred, while the startup itself will probably be doomed.  As we know 8 out of 10 expeditionary startups never make it back alive.  But how can you make sure you are not one of the eight?

I was one of those students who graduated thinking that I was ready for the world and that my days of study were over.  Considering that I had spent the almost 16 years in continuous education, it is not surprising that I was impatient for the world of work.  It was a rude awakening to me that what I had learned for those 16 years was nothing more than getting a stake at the table.  It was a small stake to boot!  In mountaineering terms, this is like experiencing your first high-altitude climb and encountering the thin air for the first time.  You rush in not realizing that you need to change your pace and technique to be successful in reaching the summit.  The same goes for software, where the concepts you were taught to master at school need to be applied in the real world, where speed of delivery, cost and scale are the thin air challenges you need to cope with. Most of us are not prepared for this lesson as we rush into the software profession, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed to impress, only to be slapped down with a healthy dose of commercial reality.

It takes passion, experience, adaptability, trust and skills to build a team that succeeds in mountaineering.  These key tenants in a mountaineering team are the essential ingredients for great software teams.  Software environments demand that you become adaptable to change, trust the people around you to bring the skills necessary to support this change, while constantly learning to find ways to ship great products.  The software team also innately recognizes that shipping is the most important feature; for without customer feedback there is no improvement or accountability.  In short, both these environments recognize the simple fact that all of us are journeymen in the development of our craft, where we seek mastery in our return from the summit.

At Ivy Softworks we get the simple fact that the great people in software are passionate about everything: innovation, reinvention, each other and their recognition that software is the ultimate team sport requiring diverse skills/people.  Good software craftsman are always learning to advance their knowledge and they do so with a bias toward action.  It is for this simple reason that we are focused on getting those craftsmen who have the right cultural mindset to join our team, because we are committed to investing in these people.  We invest in people by providing a safe space where they can experiment, be trained in the right techniques and tools, while working on bold ideas.  We make this investment, because we simply recognize that it is people who make the difference in effective execution, where everyone works towards the same goals with the same exposure to the risks and opportunities.  We’re building a more effective ideation and development ecosystem while fostering an enduring culture that incentivizes entrepreneurs – and their backers – to stick together and launch multiple big ideas as a team.  We see the journey as one where we can help you achieve mastery, while minimizing the risk in the pursuit of producing seductive software that our customers will love to use.  How exciting is that for the software craftsman in us all?

Although my journey has taken me on many different paths, the one thing that remains is my continued thirst for knowledge and that comfort that one gets knowing that nothing ventured is nothing gained.  It is now time for you to prepare for the next expedition of your mind.  With Ivy Softworks and your experiences as the supporting foundations, we will be ready to make this climb together for delivering kick-ass software.

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  • Laurent Bourscheidt

    Great article and analogy. From the perspective of innovation and advancement, it may also be about how many different ways you can find to climb to the summit and how many ways you can find to get back…

    • Kaj Pedersen

      Thanks for the comment Laurent - I appreciate you recognizing the value of alternative paths to finding your innovative summit.