Reps

Most nights, after my ~1 year old son goes to bed and my wife and I eat dinner, I find myself cleaning bottles. I don’t mind it. The bottles have gotten bigger and less numerous over time and I have a pretty good setup now where I set my iPhone on a shelf and watch YouTube.

Sometimes it’s NBA highlights or conference talks, but more often than not it’s cooking related. I’m something of a cooking nerd, and in a past, pre-baby life even chronicled some of my culinary conquests on a cooking blog. And YouTube is an amazing resource for discovering both the hustling, apartment kitchen internet entrepreneur and recordings of questionable copyright. I enjoy them both.

One chef I watch a lot is Gordon Ramsay. Yes, that Gordon Ramsay. I’m not interested in the veins popping out of his neck, let’s humiliate everybody in sight Ramsay as much as the chef who will sit in front of a camera and literally cook 100 meals right in front of you. Say what you will about his shows or brand — the man can cook. And he has the confidence to prove it, on shows and in competitions, in both low and high pressure situations, over and over again.

In short, Gordon Ramsay gets a lot of reps. And it shows.

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I’m most familiar with using the word “reps” (short for “repetitions”) in the gym. While the specifics vary based on your goals, the only way to get better at an exercise is to do it more frequently. There’s no silver bullet. The more reps you perform the stronger you become.

I think a lot about reps when it comes to my own career development.

As an industry we value seniority. Seniority, to me, is the skills, smells, and intuition you build via reps. And similar to building muscle there’s no silver bullet to seniority. The only way to get better at programming is to program. The only way to get better at interviewing is to interview. The only way to get better at managing is to manage. The only way to know what a healthy team and unhealthy team looks like is to experience both.

A late, over-scoped project is reps. An on-time, high impact project is reps. A disengaged, uninspiring manager is reps. A manager who leads and delegates effectively is reps. Both extremes are valuable for their own reasons but only if you take the time to step back and think about why. The responsibility is on you to analyze what made the project or manager good or bad and learn from it. This process of learning will build your skills, smells and intuition.

There’s one catch: bad reps can be harmful. It happens all the time in the gym; performing a lift without proper form is a good way to get injured.

The distinction I’ve experienced in a work context is you can still have good reps in a bad situation. You can still ship good, scalable, timely code on a project that should’ve never been started in the first place. You can still lead your team with excellence in an organization that feels on fire. The reality is you’re not in control of all of the factors that impact your work, but you are in control of pursuing excellence no matter what those factors are.

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Recently the UVA men’s basketball team won the NCAA championship. Their road to the championship was one of the best Cinderella stories in sports over the last year, as the UVA men’s squad suffered the worst loss (a 16th seed beating the 1st overall seed in the first round) in the history of the NCAA tournament last year.

In the press conference following the championship game, a reporter asked their head coach, Tony Bennett, how the team (they returned the same core players from last years team) could bounce back so strongly after suffering such a devastating end to last season. He mentioned how he’s been repeating a phrase to his team all season:

“Don’t run to the finish line, run to the starting line.”

I love that. No matter what’s been in your rear view, the next task/project/role/company is one more opportunity to do great work.

One more rep. Make it count.