How much time are you willing to spend in order to master your craft? This is the $64,000 question. There are many developers in the world and there's a single trait that separates a great developer from an average one: dedication to craft.

Greatness in any creative pursuit takes dedication. For instance, if you want to be a writer, you have to do all the things that make writers great. You must write, and I mean write a LOT. You only get better at writing by doing it. You must also read. How can you expect to be a great writer if you don't take the time to read other people's work? You must also search for and receive criticism. It's only by dedicating yourself to being a student of all the forms of a particular craft that you can achieve greatness. This is true in any creative endeavor. Want to be a singer? Sing. Want to be a painter? Paint. Want to be a photographer? Take pictures. Want to be a chef? Cook!

It's this last craft that formed the inspiration for this editorial. My son and I are hooked on watching cooking shows and documentaries. We watch “Top Chef,” “Chopped,” “Chef's Table,” and many others. One of my favorite documentaries is called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” “Jiro Dreams” is all about sushi chef Jiro Ono, who owns Sukiyabashi Jiro, a Michelin three star-rated restaurant in Tokyo. This documentary is a study of sushi, tradition, and dedication to the craft of making perfect sushi. The most striking part of this documentary was the amount of time that people serve as apprentices.

An apprenticeship at Jiro lasts 10 years. When a meal is started there, the customer is first given a hot towel. This is the first lesson for apprentices, who learn to properly prepare towels for customers. The apprentices then move on to tasks like preparing rice, preparing fish, and ultimately, after 10 years as an apprentice, how to prepare the traditional Tamago (egg omelet). Yes, the final step is not fish but eggs. In this documentary, one of the apprentices spends literally months perfecting making Tamago. I believe it took over 200 tries for the apprentice to get it right. When the apprentice finally achieved perfection with his Tamago, he received one of the highest accolades an apprentice can achieve: Jiro called him shokunin.

Shokunin is a wonderful Japanese word.

"The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning. The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people. This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin's responsibility is to fulfill the requirement."

– Tasio Odate

I love this term. The concept of shokunin as “craftsman” or “artisan” is pretty cool, but it's the “The shokunin has social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people” that really stops me. It's a truly striking statement. This means that when you achieve greatness, you have an obligation to the community you serve.

I always look for the reasons I like being a software developer and I believe it must have something to do with shokunin. Software development is a service industry and it's our responsibility to deliver a product that ultimately makes people's lives better.

One of my favorite activities is watching people use the software I've created. Sometimes the software is boring and mundane stuff, like an accounting tool. Other times, it's something that makes a person's work or life truly better. It's in those moments when a user says “Thank you. That really helped,” that we've lived up to our obligations as a shokunin.

So now you need to ask yourself: Do you have the dedication to achieve shokunin?

Figure 1: Jiro, my daughter, and I enjoyed ourselves in Tokyo.
Figure 1: Jiro, my daughter, and I enjoyed ourselves in Tokyo.

PS: This last summer, I had the honor of dining at Sukiyabashi Jiro. Was it worth it? YES! And the omelet? It was AMAZING. When they asked if I would like anything more I said, “Yes! More omelet please.”