The “Tur-Tur” problem

“Tur-Tur” – Mr. Tur-Tur actually – is a fictional character created by the Augsburger Puppenkiste as part of the play “Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer”. The problem of the poor man is that he is an “appearance giant”, meaning whenever someone looks at him from far away he appears to be a giant. As giants are considered to be quite dangerous most people wouldn’t dare to approach him, leaving him alone and themselves frightened. Those who are brave enough to do so, become rapidely suprised, as Mr. Tur-Tur shrinks the closer they get and ends up with the size of a normal person.

Over the years I have realized that this often something that happens to people when being confronted with completely new tasks, technologies or fields of knowledge. The sheer vastness of something frightens and discourages people at the first look.

A nice example is programming in Java. Let’s say you want to apply for a J2EE programming job, but you have only little experience in this area. First you sit down to write a list of skills, that you think are expected from person applying for such a job.

Simply listing Java surely is not enough. If we are talking about Java EE we are dealing with a client-server-model and as such with a multi-tier-application. This means we are having different layers to serve. One is the presentation layer. You easily come up with Java Server Pages, Servlets, Taglibs, Struts, Java Server Faces (to name a few) and XML related techniques like XSL, XPath and FO. Then there is someting like business logic and communication. So you extend your list with JNDI, EJB, JMS, SOAP/Webservices. Finally data persistence comes into your mind and you note Java Persistence API, Hibernate, Oracle and XML. This is already quite a list as you realize that you don’t have application server yet – add e.g. JBoss. Still you don’t have an IDE, therefore add Eclipse or IntelliJ IDEA. A configuration management tool like CVS/Subversion, MKS or ClearCase is missing too and someting for the build like Ant, Maven or Ivy. The list is still far from being complete if you want to cover it all or spread up topics, but this could already scare someone to death.

Assume a 400 page book for each of the items on your list and you will be busy reading for the next months or even years. This can really demoralize someone who is actually motivated in learning something new. The pile of imaginary books seems to be a mountain as big as the Mount Everest and at his moment a lot of people become desperate and simply give up before they have even started.

Don’t do that! Never say die! At least give it a try. You don’t have to know everything right from the start. For our example above try to come up with a small project that uses some of the technologies from the list (you can add further stuff later) and take your time. Start setting up the environment and your IDE. This will take a little while, but afterwards you’ll realize that the first steps didn’t hurt at all. A first success provides you with more confidence in yourself and motivation for the next steps. The way might be rocky and rough sometimes, but if you keep going you’ll see how all those things on your list magically connect to each other and you’ll understand the bigger picture. As you draw nearer to your goal the mountain will start to shrink. Like the folks you dared to approach Mr. Tur-Tur you’ll realize that you had to overcome your own fear first. The fear of failure can paralyse people, hurt their selfconfidence and make them feel insignificant, but if you take your time, go step by step and see the journey as the reward you will make it in the end.

It’s up to you whether you strike the flag or have a closer look and simply start somewhere.

I know, that this is a simplification of things, nevertheless it should encourage everyone not to give up too early. You can achieve nearly everything someone else has already achieved – although it will most likely take longer. That someone might be more talented, but if you are persistent, see the task as a challenge and believe in yourself you can succeed.

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4 Responses to “The “Tur-Tur” problem”

  1. Mario Gleichmann Says:

    Pleasure to read, I fully agree with your point of view!

    I’ve made and still make the same experience, accompanied by your before mentioned feelings. I believe that staying curious and giving the unknown a go are in fact good ‘companions’ for personal progression, therefore i would fully sign for your advice to ‘simply start somewhere’ (the main thing is that you start at all)

    When reading your post, the word ‘kaizen’ (you surely know the book ‘Pragmatic Programmer’) immediately came to mind, a Japanese term that captures the concept of continuously making many small improvements (The “zen” in kaizen emphasizes the learn-by-doing aspect of improving – i think this idea pretty hit the nail on the head in regard to life long learning, especially in our industry).

    Greetings

    Mario

    … and … happy new year, Alex

  2. ake Says:

    Hallo Mario,

    thanks a lot for your affirmative and positive comment – I’m glad to hear you like the post.

    It has been quite a while since we’ve heard from each other, so you really caught me by surprise with your comment. Hope you’re doing well and wish you a happy and successful new year too.

    Cheers
    – Alex

  3. Mario Gleichmann Says:

    Thanks Alex,

    as i read your post, i realized that fear as a kind of paralyzing emotion not only belongs to software development or learning new technologies but also to the field of human relations and interaction.

    I’ve waited way to long – maybe because of that fear…

    But as you underlined so well in your post – and that was maybe the strongest push – if you only sit and wait, nothing will change, you have to start somewhere …

    Best Regards

    Mario

  4. ake Says:

    Mario,

    I completely agree with what you wrote.

    The longer we postpone things the worse they get. I believe this is true for almost everything where we have unfinished business to attend. After a while we may reach a point of no return, where all bridges seem to be broken behind, but still there are these thoughts in the back of the head that torture us. Some people manage to lock them up, while for others its true that wounds heal, but scars remain. Nevertheless as an optimist I believe that there’s always another chance.

    So, one good advice to finally start with no matter what, comes from Dale Carnegie (author of “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”). He suggests that whatever (unpleasant, frightning,… pick your own word) task might be ahead, you should ask yourself: what is the worst thing that can happen, if things don’t come out well? After you have figured out what this could be: accept it! Accept the consequences of failure and you’ll feel relieved. Invigorated you can now concentrate on doing everything in your powers to avoid disappointment. Sounds simpler than it actually is.

    I have another, quite similar tip from, please don’t laugh, the movie “Kevin – Home Alone”. This one fits better for the field of human relations and interaction. You surely know the scene when Kevin is sitting in the church along with the old guy from the neighbourhood, whom some of the kids suspect to be a kind of mass murderer. Well, some years ago this man had a fight with his son and they don’t talk to each other anymore. He does not dare to call up his son, because he is afraid of being rejected. Little Kevin gives him the advice to give it a try and call him up anyway. Even if his son would tell him, that he does not want any contact, at least he would then know what the situation is and could stop thinking about it. Guess how it ended…

    Now, let me get my act together regarding the initial post. It really seems to be true, that the greatest fear is fear itself.

    Kind Regards
    – Alex


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