4 Development Lessons from Back to the Future.

One of my favorite movies of all time is a little known flick called “Back to the Future”. I’ve watched those movies so many times that I can literally quote them the whole way through when I watch it. (This is not a party trick that is much appreciated however.) It’s about a teenager and a zany senior citizen who travel through time in a two door car while unintentionally causing mayhem. It’s a trilogy of excellence, and something that my dad and I would bond over when I was growing up.

Here’s some lessons you can take from BTTF to your workplace with you.

1. To get somewhere nobody else has gone you need to do something nobody else is doing.

“You made a time machine?… Out of a DeLorean?..” – Marty McFly

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Doc Brown makes friends with a punk teenager and has created a time machine, so it’s safe to say he’s not your typical senior citizen. Logic says that you probably can’t make a car that travels through time and takes your best friend with you on a sweet adventure through the cosmos, but logic is a no fun party-pooper sometimes. Doc brown would have been a hermit shut in if he had accepted the traditional thoughts about someone of his status. Lucky for us, he didn’t listen to traditionalism. Traditional thought says that you should just make a new logo for a client or a new website that’s not too deviant from the norm. If you follow that logic, you’ll only ever be a logo or website maker. Instead, commit yourself to not being someone who just clinks out work like a machine. You have to invest your heart into what you do to come up with things that will blow people’s minds. Use “The Power of Love”! Turn can’ts into can’t believes and blaze new paths. Use the latest technology and paradigms to great effect. Go ahead. Make a time machine. Everyone will be amazed that you could do what they called impossible. Especially..

2. The Haters. They’re gonna hate.

“Why don’t you make like a tree, and get out of here.” – Biff

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So you’ve decided to make your own metaphorical time machine? Sweet! You’re going to see all sorts of amazingness and potential in what you’re working on, and naturally, you want someone to appreciate it. Just don’t expect everyone to think that you’re a genius. Every great thing that was ever done encountered resistance in some form or another. In back to the future, the Libyans try and blow up the time machine, a farmer shoots it, Biff steals it, a bear eats the gas line, all sorts of things try to break this brilliant invention. Does Doc just let it happen and be defeated? NO! He repairs the DeLorean, modifies it to keep it going however he can, and at the end of the last movie he’s wound up with something completely different than he started with. Having a great idea come to fruition isn’t about forcing it to work. You need to take your innovation and realize that no matter how married to it you might be, you gotta roll with the punches. If you want to keep your idea going strong you’re going to need…

3. A good plan.

“1.21 JIGGAWATTS! The only thing that could generate that much electricity would be… a bolt of lightning!” – Doc Brown

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The amount of diagrams and planning in BTTF is pretty substantial, and that’s for good reason. You can’t make a town fair pie without a recipe and you can’t get Marty back to 1985 without figuring out how to put 1.21 Jiggawatts into the flux capacitor (duh). If you have a great idea but no way to implement it, it’s like hitting your head on the sink without buying a DeLorean. Think about the technical needs or visual desires of your client and plan appropriately. Take a look at what platforms you want to support, how are you going to do code control, testing your code, and think about a deployment schedule and what a deployment would entail. The way you implement your idea is all laid out in a plan, so plan accordingly. Note, however, that plans in the movie include both the technical sort and the interpersonal sort, which are both equally important. Sending Marty back to the future without having his family situation sorted would work just as poorly as not sending him back into the future at all! So don’t just have a plan on how your layout or architecture is going to look, have a plan at how you’re going to handle your customers and support items too! Always remember the people who are going to get you from 1955 to 1985 are just as important as the machines that are getting you there. Planning are what keeps your great idea flying (through space time) and keeps the haters at bay. But as BTTF proves, it doesn’t always go according to plan. So when you gotta, don’t be afraid to…

4. Kludge it sometimes. It don’t have to be pretty to work.

“Please excuse the crudity of this model. I didn’t have time to build it to scale or paint it.” – Doc Brown

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We all love clean code and clean design work. But I don’t know how many times it’s been the 11th hour of a project and a crucial piece of the system isn’t working as expected. Naturally, you just duct tape and glue together whatever you can to make it work. It just happens sometimes. In BTTF, Doc and Marty both recognize the value of a last minute Kludge. Marty plays replacement on guitar at the Enchantment Under the sea dance until his mom and dad get together. Doc kludges together the wire on the clock tower at the last minute to save the day for Marty. When the clock is at 10:03 pm and you can’t fail, pull out your bag of tricks and use whatever works to make it happen. Just remember that you’re going to have to pay back that technical debt when the dust settles, just like doc upgrades the DeLorean when he has time in the future.

Well, I hope this article has helped you out in getting your DeLoreans up to 88mph. Leave me a comment below if you’d like to hear back!

Till Next time, X’s up!

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