<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=443149619225659&ev=PageView&noscript=1"> What Does Pottery Have to do with Software Development?

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What Does Pottery Have to do with Software Development?

What Does Pottery Have to do with Software Development?

At Small Footprint, we’re proud to say our team is quite skilled (and we’re not just talking about building great software). Whether it’s cycling, playing music in a band or roasting coffee, there seems to be a consistent theme that what we’re passionate about outside the office has a direct parallel to what we create for our clients.

Recently, we sat down with our Senior Solutions Architect, Brian White, to discuss how his love for making pottery correlates very nicely to software development.

Question: How did you get into pottery?

Brian: I started taking classes in 2001 at the Sawtooth Center, a local community arts center here in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I was looking for an activity to refresh/recharge and have a break from technology related thinking. I’ve found it really helpful to completely change contexts in order to be able think more creatively.

Question: Where do you make pottery today?

Brian: A number of years ago I invested in some studio equipment (a wheel, a kiln, work tables, etc.) so today my studio is in my basement. I use a kick wheel, which has a large concrete flywheel that you kick with your foot to keep it going. I use an electric kiln and typically fire to Cone 6 - so it gets pretty hot in the kiln - around 2200 degrees Fahrenheit (1200 degrees celsius). Thankfully it’s well insulated so it only gets slightly warmer in my studio on the days that I do a firing.

Question: What type of things do you like to make?Brian Pottery_2-1
Brian: I enjoy making functional pottery - plates, bowls, coffee mugs - those sorts of things. There’s something pretty cool about being able to make something that can be used every day. I get a lot joy at seeing people use things I’ve made.

Question: Is there any overlap between pottery and what you do as a solutions architect?

Brian: While I like to get in a zone while doing pottery, I can’t help but compare these two parts of my life. Here’s a few concepts I’ve been thinking through recently:

1. Having the right tools is important, but understand the basics first

Some potters use a lot of different tools when working with clay. I am of the mind that there’s often a right tool for a job and once you figure out what that is, it really makes all the difference. However, I think it is also important to know how to do something manually first so that you understand the concepts before using a shortcut. One example with pottery is centering tools for trimming. I learned how to manually center a piece for trimming and while tedious, I spent the time to figure it out and understand. Today I use a tool that almost makes it too easy - which I appreciate a lot more for knowing how it’s really done. I think the same concepts apply to building software because if a developer doesn’t understand how something works and just uses a tool that automates or kind of “auto-magically” sets something up, they might not really understand what’s going on, how to fix it if something isn’t working, or how to modify it to meet a specific need.

2. Continuously improving is a necessary mindset

I have a mid-size kiln that probably holds about 40 or so coffee mugs. I try to spend a few hours a week on it and it takes several months for me to make 40 mugs. With my pace, it’s a pretty long cycle between the first piece and actually having a finished product. I know I’d improve my pottery skills faster if I could more quickly go from concept to finished product. If I could snap my fingers and apply a software development technique to pottery, it would be continuous delivery. I love the instant gratification of building software and all the automated deployment tools that are around today. It’s so gratifying to be able to make a change and see it immediately and then continue to innovate and improve.

3. Looking at different perspectives helps achieve better results

Since I’ve been throwing pottery, I definitely can see and appreciate more what are good examples of pottery. I pick it up, I can feel the consistent thickness of the walls of the piece; I can tell from picking it up if it’s too heavy or too light for what type of piece it is; I can see how it was glazed and where imperfections might be. Most people might like a coffee mug based on how it looks and how it feels in their hand but they don’t really look for all the other qualities. The same can be true for various skill sets in software development. I think QA engineers are really good at finding and thinking about edge cases and how something should respond to various conditions. I think UX experts are really good at quickly seeing optimal user experiences and noticing when something is harder than it should be. I think developers and architects also just can intuitively know when a system is designed well - whether from looking at the code for code smells to seeing how systems interrelate. Each one of these skills are really important in order to build great software. Just like with making a coffee mug, if some part isn’t right, the whole piece falls apart or isn’t as easy to use as it should be.

When Brian’s not throwing clay at his home, you can find him designing software architecture for our clients. Follow or connect with him! 

Twitter: @bmwzero LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bwhite1/

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About the author

With a background in business and as a weekend studio potter, Brian White’s unique experiences fuse his creative passion with technical problem solving, bringing software solutions into form. As a senior solutions architect, he questions the status quo and asks if there’s a better way to do something. Brian is a self-taught developer who has worked on projects across many industries and technologies since 2001. He has juggled many roles as a full stack developer - having a hand in everything from requirements to architecture, testing to deployment. Since moving to Small Footprint in 2012, Brian has blended his attention to detail from the developer-side with a keen understanding of the business and technology needs of his clients.
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