Since late 2014, I’ve been living in Belfast, Northern Ireland for my role as chief operating officer of Allstate Technology & Strategic Ventures’ international division. I’m thrilled to be working with colleagues from around the globe, transforming the way we deliver business solutions and ensuring that Allstate’s technology moves faster, meets the changing expectations of our customers and is delivered rapidly to market.
I’m also enjoying the many adventures and experiences of living abroad. One of the first challenges I embraced was driving on the “other” side of the road. It’s not just driving on the left hand side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right hand side I’m talking about the many other structural and visual aspects of the roadway. For instance, in Northern Ireland, roads are generally narrower, there are many roundabouts, the lights change in a different pattern I could go on and on.
In today’s world, in-car technology like SAT-NAV (GPS) and parking sensors are a huge help for drivers, but nothing takes the place of having a fearless companion in the passenger’s seat to help navigate unfamiliar roadways and quickly resolve dilemmas that come up along the way. A good passenger is very observant and can help avert a possible accident with some timely suggestions, such as someone calmly stating, “these hedgerows are pretty, but we are awfully close.”
We use this shared driving approach at Allstate. We have teams working in different Agile methods, including Pair Programming where two programmers partner together on the same piece of work. One person, "the driver," types at the keyboard. The other person, "the observer," reviews each line of code as it is typed, checking for errors with an eye on the overall design. I love hearing feedback from these kinds of engaged engineers as much as I love seeing the weekly results, such as the new executable versions of the apps they are building. These kinds of improvements are definitely helping us find the best route on our digital journey. Because of them, I am confident we will arrive at our destination more quickly and with better customer offerings.
Like driving in the car with a passenger, it’s a lot more fun and productive when both members of the pair are engaged in active dialogue and make shared decisions about where to go, when to stop, and what route to take along the way. For that reason, it is also important to trade roles, allowing each person to have experience as both driver and observer. I admit that I like to be the one driving and am sometimes reluctant to give up the keyboard or the wheel. I only came to truly appreciate the observer role when I took on the passenger role in Northern Ireland. Here, I have figured out how I can contribute constructively to a safe and fun journey. In fact, switching roles has actually helped me become a better driver. Similarly, I hear from our Pair Programmers that when they find the right rhythm for switching roles, the results just get better and better.
Although there may be differences between the roadways in the U.S. and Northern Ireland, I’ve discovered that, unlike our physical roads, there is no speed limit on the digital highway.
This blog entry has been republished with permission.
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