The Tortoise and the Hare

The Productive Life is a Marathon, not a Sprint

Here’s Aesop’s classic fable, reframed as a day at a startup in SOMA. It’s a timeless example of how you can go faster if you slow down. Enjoy!

When the Hare and the Tortoise showed up to work, the Hawk was waiting for them.

“I got an email from the Bear,” explained the Hawk. “He needs us to add some new framework calls he can use in the next version of his app. He is on a tight schedule, so he needs us to turn this around today.”

The Hawk forwarded them the email with the details of the request, and the Hare and the Tortoise were off to the races.

Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / chalabala

At ten o’clock, the Hawk checked on their progress. The Hare pushed back his chair and smiled. “I just emailed the Bear the new version. I told him to call if he had problems.” The Hawk congratulated the Hare on being so quick. They spoke softly, to not disturb the Tortoise, who was on the phone with the Bear, clarifying a couple of the requirements in the email.

At eleven o’clock, the Hawk stuck her head in. “Hare, did you see the Bear’s email? He said he’s having problems with what you sent him.”

“Already on it! He ran into an edge case I hadn’t thought of. I’ll send him a new build before lunch.”

“Sounds great!” smiled the Hawk. “How are your changes coming, Tortoise?”

The Tortoise looked up. “Some of the code I need to change isn’t well covered. I’m writing some more unit tests to make sure I don’t break anything.”

“Ok. Try to send the Bear something as soon as you can after lunch. He’s ready and waiting.”

At one o’clock, the Hawk checked in again. “How’s it coming, Tortoise?”

“Now that I’ve got good unit test coverage, I’m refactoring the current code to make it easier to work with.”

“Have you started on the new stuff?”

“Not yet. Still improving the infrastructure.”

The Hawk sighed, trying not to show her exasperation. “The Bear is waiting. We need to get this to him today. Where’s the Hare? The Bear sent another email.”

The Tortoise nodded. “The Hare went over to the Bear’s den to debug on his machine.”

“Good,” said the Hawk, and walked away, glad they would have solved at least one of the Bear’s problems today.

At three o’clock, the Hare hurried in and dropped into his chair.

“Is everything okay?” asked the Hawk. The Hare had gotten off to such a good start, but he now wore a worrisom expression.

“I’ve got to adjust the API. The Bear is having problems getting what I sent over this morning to fit in with the rest of the app. Nothing I can’t fix—they just have a different model than we do.”

“Thanks for the update.” The Hawk turned to the Tortoise. “Please tell me you’ve gotten started on the new code?”

The Tortoise nodded. “I’m writing tests to cover the new functionality. Most of them are red now, but they’ll be green soon.”

The Hawk’s spirits rose, then fell. Tests. Tests were good, but you can’t ship tests to a client. But at least the Tortoise was making progress.

“Great!” She forced a smile. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you. Either of you.”

At five o’clock, the Hawk was coming back from a meeting when she bumped into the Tortoise and the Hare, who were on their way out the door. “Hare! Glad I caught you! I just spoke with the Fox, and he says that after installing the last build you sent the Bear, he can’t print.”

“That’s not possible!” cried the Hare in disbelief. “I didn’t touch the printing code. At least, I don’t think I did…” The Hare’s voice trailed off as he sat down, turned back to his monitor, and tried to figure out how he had broken printing.

“How’s it coming, Tortoise?” the Hawk asked windedly and warily. “Are we going to have something to show the Bear tomorrow, at least?”

“I sent The Bear my changes half an hour ago. The unit tests…” the Tortoise paused while he buckled the chin strap on his bicycle helmet. “…all pass. I also sent over a patch that shows the Bear how to call the new API. He didn’t have any questions when I called. I’ll check back in with him in the morning.”

The Tortoise swung his messenger bag over his shoulder, bid his coworkers a good evening, and went home to have dinner with his wife and children and read a good book.

The Hare worked late into the evening. He worked at a feverish pace, fixing bug after introduced bug. Around eleven o’clock, he finally had the new code peacefully coexisting with the old. He sent a new build to the Bear, sent a status update to the Hawk, and took an Uber home, where he fell into bed, exhausted.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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