adrift on a cosmic ocean

Writings on various topics (mostly technical) from Oliver Hookins and Angela Collins. We have lived in Berlin since 2009, have two kids, and have far too little time to really justify having a blog.

Finding inspiration

Posted by Oliver on the 13th of July, 2011 in category Thoughts
Tagged with: inspirationknowledgeopencv

I fully own up to and take responsibility for my unending perfectionist streak (although of course I am far from perfect) - I am never happy with the work I have done, am always looking for new challenges, and constantly think that I'm not doing enough (in various different areas of my life). This generally applies to work and associated pursuits but also to just about any other area I care to mention - learning languages, fitness, music etc. The inevitable time sucks aside (being a parent, Facebook, movies, RSS feeds, writing blog posts etc) I'll try to describe how I find inspiration from day to day. This may sound rather vague but I guess this is mainly a post to give some anonymous credit to some people who have inspired me and continue to inspire me, mainly on a technical level.

I was fortunate enough to have found my last job through a friend, and while I didn't have much idea of his tech background at the time, when he left I ended up filling his position until I left a little less than two years ago now. He ended up going to a rather large, well-known search engine company so you can guess he set a fairly high standard. Looking back, I was extremely green coming into that job and his presence was invaluable to me. He was always working on some system or writing some code that was a couple of steps out of my reach. I didn't realise it much at the time but I unconsciously strived to catch up to him in some way (a futile effort) and he definitely inspired me to get into programming again, which has served me very well the last year or so.

When he left the company, I felt very uneasy stepping into his shoes, feeling completely unworthy of the role. It was actually a very good thing and I feel like I grew into it, and eventually felt that I left my mark after I myself had left. It was a big challenge stepping into the position of the lead tech for systems and networking in the company but definitely rewarding, and provided a lot more scope for bridging the gap between what I would call more standard sysadmin work and lead tech/architect work which is where I find myself these days.

Something I feel like I needed a lot more at that time was someone I could always fall back on who had all the answers when I came up stumps. The technical director of that company is extremely experienced, knowledgeable beyond all reason and very fastidious. I learned my sometimes excessive attention to detail and obsessive compulsive approach to work from him, and while it also comes with bonuses like constantly washing your hands, doubling back to make sure you have turned off light switches and so on (or maybe that's just me) it has served me well. It was also incredibly reassuring to know that someone around would have the answer even if you didn't, and when we were trying to solve problems in often unexplored ways, his presence was invaluable in that process of development.

Right now I feel a lot more self-confident in my own decisions and capability to find the right answers either through brute-force or learning that I don't need that reliance, but it is still useful having peers you respect to bounce ideas off. You might call these things "knowing yourself" and "distrusting yourself". Something I only discovered over the last few years is how my mind actually operates. I know I don't take knowledge in immediately, but percolate through it unconsciously - so it doesn't bother me as much when I don't understand things as soon as I read them or someone explains it to me. I take a break away from thinking, or sleep on it and can relax knowing the answer or realisation will be there without forcing it.

And so, I feel like what is almost two years now at Nokia have been some of my most productive, mentally and developmentally speaking. I think I have done much less typing but much more thinking, which is a change, but also appreciate my inspirations and goals a lot more. I did accomplish the goal of programming more, and I do enjoy it (which was the whole point in the first place). I'm not sure if I'm good at it yet, but that's another matter. So the last person I wanted to mention is actually a reasonably new recruit to my team (and ironically from that large search engine company). He again seems to be constantly two steps (actually a lot more) ahead, but has an odd array of hobbies strongly rooted in Electrical Engineering (which is where I started out at Uni).

This is another area that perhaps I had only vaguely wanted to get back into, but exploring it now has got my imagination going wild. Right now I'm having a look at building some kind of motion detection system (for various reasons which may be revealed over the coming months) using OpenCV on his suggestion. There is a wealth of other embedded systems and electronic projects that could be extremely fun and hopefully rewarding both in terms of what can be built and the knowledge acquired. It's good having someone around to guide me in this field that I have been out of for perhaps a decade now.

The main takeaway from this all could be something along the lines of the trite adage of standing on the shoulders of giants, but I think it is simpler than that. You don't need to be surrounding by renaissance men (although it helps) who can pull you up - you just need one or two people in your life who inspire you and do things you hadn't perhaps thought of doing, or it hadn't occurred to you to do. If you can find the time to better yourself by exploring these curiosities rather than just leaving them as such, I think you'll find yourself a happier person in the long run.

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