Comfortable with Uncertainty
By Melanie Sumner
By Melanie Sumner
A Samurai went to see a Zen Master. “Teach me about heaven and hell!” he demanded.
“Why would I teach you anything?” the Zen Master replied. “You are loud and dirty and an embarrassment to all Samurai.”
The disdain in the Zen Master’s voice instantly enraged the Samurai.
He pulled out his great katana and lunged at the Zen Master. Just as he was about to strike, the Zen Master looked into his eyes. “Now you understand hell,” he said quietly.
The Samurai froze, suddenly realizing that his anger and ego almost cost the Zen Master his life. He fell to his knees, weeping with gratitude.
"Heaven, now you understand,” the master said softly.
What if we brought a version of this story to today, though? What happens when there are things like surveys that claim to be taking the pulse of the JS ecosystem yet mostly ignore Ember? What happens when there are willfully ignorant statements on Twitter. Or HN. Or Reddit. Or even comments made by people who work at the same company you do?
I mean, idk about you but this has definitely been part of the reason I haven’t gotten as much sleep in my lifetime as I should have.
But in all seriousness
How we relate to this moment sets the stage for how we will relate not just to the next moment, but future moments.
How we respond has power.
We can open the door to new possibilities.
We can also close the door to new possibilities.
Responding with fear, or any facet of fear like anger or hostility, slams the door of possibility.
In the moment, react – I mean reacting - strongly may make us feel better. But it’s only temporary. It’s not a long-term solution. It temporarily makes us feel better because we are not facing whatever it is about Ember we don’t like right now. Staying where we are helps us become fully aware, fully awake. When we are able to be completely awake, we learn to stay. In the present. We don’t go from one thing to another. We stay where we are. We understand the truths, then. We all have fear. (slide) We all have discomfort.
We can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure. It’s also what makes us afraid. We can, however, learn to be comfortable with uncertainty. We can ask ourselves - Do I prefer to grow up, and relate to life directly or do I choose to live and die in fear?
We can be brave.
Being brave means we have chosen to cultivate our fearlessness.
We cultivate this fearlessness through the tools we give ourselves. Today, I offer three tools for your consideration- Observe, Analyze, and Think.
“Nobody uses Ember anymore.” - a person being wrong on the internet
How did that make you feel? Think about what the first thought was in your head when you saw that sentence. I had a few thoughts – “I know a lot of nobodies, then!” “I’m not nobody.” “wait, what if I am?” “jackass.”
• Step back • Observe the reaction or feeling • Practice speaking the observation
“I observe that you are incorrect.” - me, being right on the internet
The next method to empower ourselves is to learn how to analyze the claim. Maybe we’re talking about scientific research data or maybe we’re talking about developer surveys.
“The data says that 50% of developers use React.”
Before we analyze that statement, I’m going to pause here for a second and let you practice observing your reaction.
Step 1: Analyze the context of the data you are reading.
“The data says that 50% of people who do X use Y.”
“The data says that 50% of people who responded to this survey that do X use Y.”
How many people responded to the survey, then?
Scenario A • We can approximate that there are 10,000 people who do X • We know 1,000 people who do X took the survey • The survey represents 10% of all people who do X • The claim (“50%”) represents 5% of all people who do X who also did the survey
If 500 people answered this way, out of the 10,000 total, does this statement have enough significance to be meaningful?
Scenario B • We can approximate that there are 10,000 people who do X • We know that 8,000 people who do X took the survey • The survey represents 80% of all people who do X • The claim (“50%”) represents 40% of all people who do X who also did the survey
If 4,000 people answered this way, out of the 10,000 total, does this statement have enough significance to be meaningful?
However, these two scenarios alone isn’t enough information to determine whether or not the data should be considered valid, because it is possible to get a small population that fairly represents the whole. So let’s look at some of the other variables.
Step 2: Analyze the collection methods used to collect the data
How did they obtain survey respondents? This matters. Let’s consider our example claim, and think about places where survey respondents could have been obtained (such as coding bootcamps, social media, meetup groups, users of a specific website, etc.)
Did they obtain a survey population that accurately represents the whole? Again, it’s possible to have a small sample of respondents that fairly represent the whole population, and it’s important to be up front about that.
Did they try to determine some sort of data normalization? Or did they address it if not? For example, a group of engaged coding bootcamp participants are more likely to answer a technical survey than a group of developers in a large enterprise organization.
Does the study tell you who to contact if you have any questions about the research?
Are you able to reproduce the results of the study? Research should be reproducible. If the collection methods are not available, disregard the study entirely.
Step 3: Analyze the backers of the data you are reading.
Who paid for the study? Who performed the study? Do they benefit from a positive outcome?
It’s fine for someone to have paid for it. It’s also okay for them to benefit from a positive outcome. But the study should be up front about these things. Don’t fall for any ”research” that is merely a marketing ploy- lots of those exist. Faux research isn’t research.
Who funded this work? If you can’t figure that out, throw away the entire study. Scientific research is required to say who funded the study in the paper (it’s usually the last section of the paper, or in the footnote if it’s printed in a journal). It usually goes hand-in-hand with a conflict of interest statement. In general, if it’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever read, but you can tell that the person who funded the research will somehow profit from these results, then you should be careful when interpreting the results. Who benefits from this work? It’s easy to tweak any results to reflect what we want it to say.
Who did the research? If the research was meant to be, say, a study about the community at large, but then only has committee members from a specific circle of that same community, assume implicit bias.
When we learn how to analyze, we learn how to apply critical thought. Taking time to think critically and deeply about something means stepping away from the frenetic pace of fixing bugs and shipping code that just works. When we take time to think, we are taking time to unravel the why, and dig deeper.
So then… future of Ember. What does it hold? Over these last two days, we’ve heard some incredible things and have been inspired by a future that looks brighter than ever, and I am hopeful. But nothing is certain, is it. As we become comfortable with that uncertainty, we cultivate our fearlessness.
(I’m proud of you. I want to tell you that in case no one else ever has. Passion, patience, and persistence will win. Don’t beat yourself up. You are a work in progress which means you’ll get there a little at a time, not all at once. Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end. You are much stronger than you think. A little progress each day adds up to big results. You are good enough. You are worth it. I believe in you.)