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Woodworking Relates to Building Software?

By
Tony Scherba
-
February 13, 2019

If you've ever been to Yeti HQ you’ve probably noticed all the custom woodwork. I might have very proudly even told you that I've done most of it myself. People often then follow up and ask "How do you find the time?"

Over the last 9 years of running Yeti, I've developed an affinity for woodworking. Everybody has a hobby whether its TV, sports, video games, going to bars, cruising reddit, shopping etc. I've personally found woodworking to be a very relaxing and personally gratifying hobby so I have been prioritizing it on the weekends. I started with small improvements around the office but it has slowly grown into a full fledge passion. Almost all the furniture in my new house I've designed, sourced and built by hand. I'm now spending time on the weekends learning about how to do intricate joinery work.

Sanding wood gives you plenty of time to think so I've often contemplated why I enjoy doing this so much. What I believe it comes down to is that at work my time is often spent contemplating and producing large technically sophisticated projects. These projects often require lots of people, time, money and/or complexity - at least much more than my woodworking projects!

The beauty of woodworking is that it offers me a creative outlet that encapsulates everything (in a microcosm, about the process of building digital products which I love. Funny that it is actually quite the opposite in many ways as well. Let me explain.

Planning and Ideating

Just like with digital products I need to gather all the requirements for my project, figure out what I'm trying to get out of it and gather inspiration. A skeptic at first, I've been blown away by how helpful Pinterest has been here. I often times will mix and match different things I see on YouTube and Pinterest to create the final vision for my project.

Sourcing

I try to get all of my building supplies as reclaimed materials. I quite regularly find that you can get better quality wood this way that has some character and a story behind it. While poking around a lumber yard I often find that I need to alter my vision or adjust my plans based on what I find. I have to be flexible and creative about how I’m going to execute on my vision. This practice I find mentally very helpful since in product development we often need to adjust our initial plans based on what we find out along the way: technical requirements, market pressure or what users validate for us.

The Build Process

This is where I find the processes are most different between software and woodworking but I find it best relatable to management. Whereas software will do exactly as it’s told wood doesn’t always act the way you want or expect it to. You have to understand the wood and make sure you don’t splinter it along the grain. Similarly its important to understand the strengths, weaknesses and breaking points of your team.

With woodworking, you can permanently mess something up and ruin your whole project if you are not careful and purposeful. A sloppy cut can leave you with a permanently crooked table unless you start over. Often times it’s easy to be careless as you are trying to get the structure of things in place. The lesson here is to not be careless when dealing with your team. A sloppy, assembly of a team with no structure could force you into a restart.

Finishing

After putting together the structure of a woodworking project it feels like it's pretty much done but in reality it is just a milestone. There is a strong urge to just quickly wrap the project up but that is a huge mistake. After a short amount of time an unfinished woodworking project will fade and start looking bad. Great care needs to be taken to sand, stain and seal the piece you just built. In software a product without this final dedication of polish will quickly look deteriorated and crummy as well.

Enjoying your work

I am an avid user of the software products we develop and an avid user of the woodworking I do. Using the products you make allows you to see small flaws and reflect on the process you went through making it. As a result, when the next project comes around you will be a more experienced professional able make something better.

A friend of mine recently posted in an online Entrepreneur’s forum I’m in asking what people did for their hobbies. Judging by the plethora of responses it sounds like there is a common trait among entrepreneurs, especially those in tech, to take up small side projects and hobbies that allow them to be creative and work with their hands. I’m glad I’m not the only one!

I would strongly encourage everybody to take up a creative hobby, embrace the process of building something from scratch and go on the adventure of inventing! ;)

Tony Scherba is a CEO + Founding Partner at Yeti. Tony has been developing software since high school and has worked on digital products for global brands such as Google, MIT, Qualcomm, Hershey’s, Britney Spears and Harmon/Kardon. Tony’s writing about innovation and technology has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post and Inc. At Yeti, Tony works on strategy, product design and day to day operations, hopping in and working with the development teams when needed. Follow Tony on Twitter.

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