Sam Edwards, a Lead Android Engineer on Capital One’s Identity Services team, wasn’t always good at doing handstands. But after testing and learning in an established safe environment where he provided enough space to fail gracefully, he has now documented his travels around the world and posted more than 500 pictures of himself doing handstands on beautiful beaches, in front of landmarks, and in the streets.
In many ways, the handstand has become a perfect analogy for his approach to his work. Working up to do a successful handstand — much like learning Android development — requires that one minimize the bad effects that could happen. Handstands require appropriate balance and velocity, and much like coding, Sam previously had to work through form, mental, and environmental exceptions as he learned to master handstands.
“The first time you try anything, you will fail,” Sam says. “And that’s okay.”
A Balance of Learning and Sharing
At Capital One since 2014, Sam and his team are working on Android modules for authentication and identity that are used across all Capital One apps. His work is a “front door” for online banking—the first thing customers see on the Capital One app and is a key component of the technology that ensures their identity and banking transactions are secure.
Sam has been designated by Google as one of 100 Google Developer Experts (GDEs) for Android and Kotlin. The GDE designation is highly recognized in the developer community and is only given to people who have made an impact on the Android community through their sharing of expert content.
To achieve the GDE designation, developers must have several years of experience with Android development and sharing their knowledge with the community. Now that he's a GDE, Sam says he's even more motivated to share.
For Sam, that balance of learning and sharing drives his passion for his work. He says he liked programming when he first graduated from university, but he didn’t have a passion for it. He found his inspiration later when he started getting into API and web development and realized he still had a lot more to learn.
“The only places I could find the content about the new things I really wanted to learn were online or in blogs or maybe in a meetup or a conference talk. I’d go and I’d learn and I’d find it super interesting,” he says.
Learning about the latest developments on the bleeding edge of technology ignited a passion for Sam as a developer, and it inspired him to share what he’s learned with the developer community.
“Because any time I learned something new, I’d realize, ‘This is an insight that nobody else has had or that I’ve seen anywhere. Let me share that so hopefully it can help somebody.’ It really is a community, and you get back what you give.”
Tips to Build a Learning Mindset From An Android Expert
For Sam, the learning mindset has been key to his philosophy and approach to coding. It’s also part of his learning journey to build community, extend his network, and influence others through leadership. Here, he shares his tips to build a learning mindset:
Talk to someone who changes your perspective
It’s always nice to meet new, interesting and influential people who are doing good. It’s also particularly important to meet with someone who will change your perspective. Whenever you’re in one environment, you get shaped by that and you don’t really realize it. It’s important to understand other points of view and have a bigger perspective.
Seek out new ways to experience the world
It’s core to my learner-teacher to tie together lessons from work and from home and to share those learnings with other people. I learn through inspiration. At the moment, I’m particularly inspired by my kids, who are ages one and three. It’s so interesting to see things you thought were basic or introductory and look at them through the eyes of someone who’s just learning. Just like somebody who’s learning programming for the first time. When you look at things through a beginner’s eyes it widens your perspective.
The desire to explore, learn and push myself to try new things was part of my personal inspiration to start a first handstand project, as I drove 12,521 miles in a minivan across the U.S. and Canada, and now updates on an interactive map.
Surround yourself with continuous learners
At Capital One, I am surrounded and supported by continuous learners who like to solve hard problems. To excel at a place like this, you need to constantly re-evaluate everything, constantly improve your skills.
It’s okay to be a beginner, but find something you want to be good at. Don’t be afraid to fail. Learn, grow and then share. When you fail and you pick up and keep going, you build confidence, and that puts you on a trajectory to become an expert.
When I was a kid, I did handstands at the beach. Sand lets you fall. And I used that as an analogy for one of my talks at an Android conference keynote presentation titled, ‘How to do a Handstand.’ It’s all about learning things in a safe environment. Learn how to do handstands—or code—somewhere safe where you can sharpen your skills.
What do you like to do in your free time? Travel. I also have a private pilot’s license and a scuba certification, but now that I have very young kids, it’s mostly about them. We like to ride our bikes, so we recently got a trailer so the kids can come along.
If you could meet anyone in history, who would it be? The creator of the universe. I’d like to know what happened there. Or anyone influential who is doing good in the world.
What’s the last movie you watched? My son and I watched the animated film “Up.”
Other than what you’re working on, what new technologies are you most excited about? I’d have to say machine learning and AI—the ability to control things with voice and have intelligent answers. It’s exciting, and it’s the next level of computing.