Cohort (n): A group of people banded together or treated as a group.

Recently, I was reading a book called “The Practice” by Seth Godin when I came across a passage that so perfectly describes one of my creative tools that I decided to dedicate this editorial to that section. The passage is on page 221 and reads as follows:

192. Look for the Cohort The stories of amazing cultural institutions (Juilliard, Black Mountain College, the Blue Note, The Actors Studio, etc.) imply that something secret and magical was taught or experienced inside these hallowed buildings. What probably happened was a cohort. Cultural standards and normalization have enormous power over whether we choose a practice and how we find the guts to commit to our work. Bob Dylan moved from Minneapolis to Greenwich Village for a reason. Most of the famous painters of the Renaissance came to Florence for a reason as well. When you are surrounded by respected peers, it's more likely you'll do the work you set out to do. And if you're not, consider finding some. Find this cohort with intent. Don't wait for it to happen to you. You don't need to be picked; you can simply organize a cohort of fellow artists who will encourage themselves.

The Practice contains a little over 200 little gems and nuggets just like this one. This particular nugget provided me with an understanding of how my life and career has flourished over the years and, in many ways, this success can be attributed to the many cohorts I have been associated with over the years.

The first time I can recall a cohort having a significant effect on my career occurred when I worked for the Juiceman. During my interview, I recall the manager saying something to the effect of: “I've been assembling a team of highly skillful developers, and if you can rise to the occasion, we might just hire you.” This was music to my ears. I was working for Computer Science Corp in a cohort of “misfit-toys” and was looking for a place to shine. I was eventually hired, and I did my best to live up to the expectations placed on me. One thing I can confirm is that the hiring manager did, in fact, assemble a killer team of developers. Heck, one of them went on to found DocuSign. Go figure.

After leaving the Juiceman, I took an engineering job at a different company. It was at this company that I met someone who would forever change my life. This person's name is Erik Ruthruff (former CODE Magazine editor and good friend). A few months after I started at this company, Erik left to go work for a training company called ADTC (now called AppDev) and said, as he left, if I ever wanted to try teaching, he'd give me a shot. Well, six months later I was downsized, and I gave Erik a call: “Hey if the offer is still good, I'd love to start training for you.” The offer was indeed good, and soon I found myself in a cohort that consisted of a real “Who's Who” of software developers, trainers, and book authors. I learned a lot from this cohort and continued perfecting my craft. Over a period of years, I found myself adding many skills to my repertoire. I authored courseware, taught hundreds of developers, trained other instructors, and learned a ton from my new set of peers. I'm still friends with many of these folks, who continue to teach, write, podcast, and sling code with the best of them.

These are two of the cohorts that I was lucky enough to fall in with. There have been many, many more over the years. These two were pretty work-specific, but there are more. Some that come to mind for software developers include user groups, online communities (Reddit, Stack Overflow, Facebook), conferences, etc. I still participate in many different cohorts.

So why do cohorts work so well? There's a saying that my friend and colleague Charles Serian is fond of: Steel sharpens steel. I love this saying, as it so perfectly describes the effect that a cohort can have. You see, cohorts challenge you to be your best. They sharpen your skills to strive for more.

I have a small tale from one of my current cohorts. This cohort could be called a tabletop gaming cohort. Currently, I'm learning how to play Warhammer 40K. My buddy Cargill is the Obi Wan Kenobi of this game and week after week, my flailing army is shellacked. You know what? I'm okay with getting my butt kicked. I'd rather learn from a tough player than stomp a soft one. Steel sharpens steel and I'm starting to hold my own.

Issue after issue, I try and give you, the reader, ideas on how to improve your skills and, after almost 20 years, I think this one is probably the most important. Seek out your cohort and sharpen your steel!

PS This editorial was reviewed by my cohort of trusted peers. Thanks John, Jason, and Greg for reading my rough prose.

P.P.S Excerpt from “The Practice,” by Seth Godin, published by Portfolio, 2020. ISBN: 978-0-593-32897-2.