Flow and Skills


Feb 2014

One of the most heard question as freelancer is: What are your skills?

Let’s briefly explore some ideas.

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the way how we apply our skills to problems defines how we experience work. This is a bit complicated, but the main idea is, if the problems that you tackle match your skills, you experience so-called “flow”. If the challenge levels are much higher than our skills, we experience anxiety, and if we are more skilled than challenged, we feel bored or relaxed.

So, simply representing skills in bar charts, as is often seen in infographical resumes, misses something. Therefore, let’s play with an idea how to represent both skills (“what can I do?”) and challenge (“what do I want to do?”).

We can start with simple skill bars. As a start, these look like:

However, these skill bars are a bit confusing. For example, although I have (almost) finished a book on Backbone.js, my skills in years should be much higher with Ruby-on-Rails (I started around 2009). And it is getting even more difficult to judge on skills, that were applied further in the past (like Java).

So, to bring some objectivity into this, we might first add a scale just representing years, and no personal judgement. Then, the situation would look like this:

Yet, something is not yet represented right. I want to get jobs for developing web interfaces with Backbone.js, and rather avoid the Java dolldrums (although much has happened, since my last Java job with JEE 1.4). And although I could get paid for working with Ruby-on-Rails, quite some Rails conventions don’t apply so well for single page applications. So, how could we represent our passions now?

According to the flow concept, we might try to bring in the challenge part, or, the “I want to” part:

What do you think about this essay? Is it a viable way to communicate as a freelancer on the market? What might be improved?

Special thanks to Designil for pointing at a codepen for skill bars, Chris Randall for a post on the flow concept, and Michiel Trimpe as well as Martin Gausby for feedback on freelancing.

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