Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’

No, I’m not a mason

October 27th, 2010 5 comments

“Danger! Software Craftsmen at Work”

Now that’s a great title! I wish I could have used that for this post. Instead, that’s the title of the QCon 2010 David Harvey presentation that is the foundation of this blog entry.

In his talk Mr Harvey places the “Software Craftsman” ideas and practices somewhere between distracting and dangerous, and claims these ideas builds a wall between developers, organisations and customers.

I claim he exaggerates the dangers, but I welcome the stirring in the pot and I do agree in parts of what he says, mainly regarding the emotional associations of the metaphors used by the Software Craftsmanship movement.

I agree with Uncle Bob‘s views on “The Empty Manifesto“, “Engineering vs. Craftsmanship” as well as “The Craftsman Connotation“, the last one being the one I’m expanding upon here. Plus, he sums the whole thing up nicely, so if you haven’t yet, please read that one first. (Yes, you may read Gael Fraiteur’s post too if you must, but please then leave a trail of breadcrumbs so you find your way back here.)

A masonry brick wall

So, on to David’s talk:

My first issue is with his first analogy; why would wearing a white T-shirt with printed instructions make it any worse walking into the lion’s cage? …ok sorry, that’s not the point. And, to give hime some credit, the print was in fresh blood and lions tend to like that, so fair enough, I’ll let it slide. After all, he was standing inside the lion’s cage saying it.

And thanks for putting yourself in that cage, David. It was refreshing to see an alternate slash controversial view presented on this subject.

My biggest issue

My biggest issue, however, is that he picks on a great movement with the noble goals of achieving a larger recognition of software development as a profession and to “raise the bar of professional software development”. Why would anyone want to do that? That’s just mean.

Or, is it? He is, after all, a developer himself…

Please, let me shine some light on an important point he makes, one that I’ve brought up before: We should be careful with our wording! We are already perceived as loners, nerds, Storm Troopers sleeping in line for Star Wars premiers. We don’t need to enforce that perception.

For me the timing of watching this presentation was great. It aligned perfectly with a conversation I had the other day:

The conversation

I was sitting out on the lawn, (re)reading a book* about apprenticeship and craftsmen, when my neighbour approached me.

-Are you working?
-Yep, reading up on some important professional elements.
He shot a quick look at the cover.
-But aren’t you in IT?

I began explaining, but it wasn’t until I started using words like professional instead of craftsman and mentoring instead of apprenticeship and that the book was really about learning and improving that the coin really dropped and the conversation took off. Turns out he, being an ambulance driver (amazingly enough, the very one that drove me and my wife to the hospital six months ago, when our bub #4 decided he wanted out in the middle of the night), knew and practiced many of these patterns. New ambulance drivers work with experienced ones to pick up on the large part of that profession consisting of working in the field, in an often critical atmosphere.

-They have to. Can’t read that in a book.
-So ok, you do that too, he said, I get it. Cool. But what with all the old guild talk? You’re not a mason, are you?


So, why do we fight so hard for recognition?

Well, for one, it’s still a fairly young profession, but I also think some of it has to do with our characteristics. Software developers are smart, analytical people, lacking the social and communicative skills required for many other professions. (Generalising. Trying to make a point here. Moving on.)

I don’t care if you’re socially inept, as long as you can code. It’s actually better that way, since you’re going to spend most your waking hours in the basement anyway.

This has changed, greatly and quickly, and we are now in contact with the users, the business, no longer sitting in the basement. But even so, to the outside world that’s still us, the loners.

We see all that – we’re smart and analytical remember – and we’re tired of standing back to the sports jocks from the school yard, now turned corporate leaders. And we just don’t understand why people have such a hard time seeing the complexity, the necessity, the importance of what we do, just because it’s not tangible.

So, maybe we get a little bit too eager to get that recognition and forget there’s a gap that needs bridging first. (…and now, also a brick wall to tear down. See, we’re not making it easy on ourselves.)

Bridging the gap

That gap will be brigded though, sooner or later, through continously working on doing what we should do and doing it well. I agree with David’s advice; developers, stick to what Kent Beck described as the four basic activities of XP:


Do them well and stop worrying so much about recognition and acknowledgement. And by all means, use whatever names and metaphors you want for learning and improving, but do it internally. On the outside, make sure our organisations and customers understand what we’re doing too.

And anyone suggesting writing software is not hard, not a real profession, is welcome to come and give it a go…

* Not just “a book”, ladies and gentlemen. The Book! Apprenticeship Patterns – Guidance for the Aspiring Software Craftsman, by Dave Hoover and Adewale Oshineye. Read it. Please do. For your own sake.

(Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

Rising to the occasion

May 21st, 2009 No comments

About a month ago (wow – time flies when you’re having fun) we had the great honor of having Linda Rising guest starring at our, and I’m quoting myself, biannual “internal technical workshop weekend”. (Hey, that weekend has actually gotten a name since my last post, thanks to Geir Wavik: Miles Camp!)

And in the mean time…

…and while I’ve been at it, writing this blog post, averaging about one word a day, we’ve also finished a Miles Session – another one of Miles’ professional development initiatives. This month’s special guests here in Bergen were none less than Mary & Tom Poppendieck! Phew, busy days among the A-players… I’ll get back on my personal impressions from that one later. But now, back to this post’s leading star:

Linda who?

I didn’t know who Linda Rising was before I attended JAOO in Ã…rhus last year. Now I know! …now I know she’s an amazing lady who somehow manages to inspire the [beep] out of room full of people with her fascinatingly intuitive findings on the inner workings of our brains, delivered through her great storytelling.

Linda how?

Here’s the amazing part (besides her actually being a remarkable person. In person.) :

It’s not just that she inspires us, her audience, with her great storytelling techniques letting shine through both her passion for what she does as well as her openness and willingness to share. She actually manages to convince a bunch of engineers that the quality of an idea does almost nothing to help influence others. She tells us that the rational argument – our only source of light in life – is void of significance.

I mean, that’s like telling that saber-toothed squirrel in Ice Age to forget that acorn!

(Actually it’s not. That acorn is more equivalent to one rational argument that we should let go of. That’s probably why Martin Fowler says he doesn’t like analogies.)

Martin Fowler is a caveman

Still in the cave

Forget Mr. Fowler – let’s stick to that analogy for a while. Chronologically it has put us in the right setting. We’re all in the cave you know! We act and react based on what has kept us alive through evolution. There are things here that we simply cannot escape – they are hardwired into our brains. That’s just how we humans work. That can of course make one feel almost powerless, but once you start to understand these simple but oh so powerful triggers that rule our behaviour and interpretations things really start to lighten up and make sense.

a == b. Ergo, you have to do it my way

As I said (that she said), we salute logic arguments in our business. We core dump the results of our inner brainstorm and leave the room disappointed that the clueless washouts don’t get it right away, not understanding we have actually triggered their instincts of self-preservation. Evolutionary speaking, that reaction is a sound one: If Garog comes knocking on your cave one day eagerly explaining in his most persuasive manner his newfound idea of defending against angry mammoths by tickling them to death that self-preservation instinct can prove quite useful.

-No Powerpoint? What then?!

First we smile overbaringly. We know she’s wrong. You can’t argue with logic. The best idea always wi… oh, shoot. Strike one.

But still, how does she manage to convince us through theories of cognitive psychology? After all, that river between our camps is a pretty wide one to cross.

Well, not necessarily, not if you’re Linda Rising. By expressing and explaining our behaviour, our actions and reactions, as Patterns – a “style” that is both familiar and authoritative in our simple engineering world of mathematical reasons – she wins us over.

– Really, you can apply patterns to this psychological mumbo jumbo? And she gets to present at QCon and OOPSLA?! Hmm, ok – maybe she has a point here…

And once she starts telling (and sometimes acting) her stories with her calm and reassuring voice you’re lost.

Show me the patterns!

So, how does these patterns look then? Well, some of them are roles, like the Evangelist – the person (you!) introducing his/her passionate idea into an organization, but most of them are advice, or the “rules” if you wish, to play by in order to get your idea through all the way to the Late Majority.

Here are a few samples:


First, my favourite: Do food: Food makes people lower their shoulders and relax. It was an unwritten law among the vikings not to attack anyone during meals. It was considered cowardly to fight someone with their defences down. Not only the vikings I’m sure; food has always been considered a friendly gesture in all cultures.

Bringing food to a meeting changes the nature of the event.

Ask for help: This can be a tough one for some, but those people (/you?) will be surprised how open and helpful people can be in a change friendly organization. That last part is important. (If you’re in an organization not open to change, good luck.).

Just Say Thanks: The follow-up on the previous one. This one is so powerful, although so seemingly easy to implement. Anyone can do it. It’s just one word, and a nice one too. Sometimes that’s not enough though. As with most things in life, even the simple ones, mastering it is an artform. Just saying thanks folks to a group of individuals may disserve the intended purpose. But don’t let that stop you. Just go ahead and start thanking people – it’s a reward in itself just saying it. You feel good about yourself. Oh, wait. May I change my mind please? I think this one is my favourite pattern.

External Validation: As Linda said, most people may have had experience of a spouse not listening to advice or ideas only to find out he/she gets all enthusiastic reading it in the paper the following morning. We tend to be more attentive to outsiders, especially outsiders also being (looked upon as) authorities. That’s good news for us consultants. Instead of complaining – as we often do – on our powerlessness, being outside the organization, we should focus on our excellent position for providing external validation. After all, we where hired as experts in whatever area(s), brought in to help the customer solve problems.

And so on. There are about 40 more of these little babies in her book

Interesting theories, but couldn’t we just read the book?

Since these are are cognitive, behavioural patterns that exist within each and all of us – couldn’t just anyone get up there and convince just any paleolithic squirrel? Did we really have to fly in a woman all the way from Arizona? The answers are No, definitely not! and Yes we did. The real killer here is Linda’s background and experience combined with her speaking skills and smart brains. That makes her very credible, both technically, organizationally and psychologically. (Should you ever be looking at bringing in someone from the outside to explain such patterns as External Validation, she is the one!). Without that credibility we would run back to our Powerpoints before you could say “halv sju”.

And what about me? Why do I write such a loong post about this?

Both at JAOO and Miles Camp I could feel my inner strings resonating. This is really something that hit a note with me. On both occasions I thought maybe it was just me, but I can see, not only on Linda’s crazy conference schedule, but also on the reactions from my colleagues and my tutorial friends at JAOO. This is really interesting and highly relevant material.

I will return to some of these patterns here later. I just have to start trying them out first; both on “my” organizations and on myself. Yes, that’s right – some of these patterns work well applied to influencing yourself too, introducing new ideas into your own life. Well, doesn’t  that sound nice?!…

On a final note: I urge you to to read her book and – even more urgently – to attend one of her tutorials and/or sessions if you get the chance. You too will be inspired…

Reemerging from the internal deep dive

April 17th, 2009 2 comments

The first post was easy. This one has taken me 861 days to write. It better be good right?!

So why then? Why do I try this again?

Let me spend this post exploring the metaphysics of blogging. A gazillion people have done this before me; there are twitterers(?) (rhetorically) asking Why use Twitter and bloggers stating 29 reasons to blog… There’s one thing missing from all these though: They are not my reasons! So here they are:

Why blog?

  • I love to write. Hopefully it will make me better at it.
  • Telling stories is interesting! No, not just interesting – it’s important!
  • I suffer from input overflow. I need to output some too.
  • I want to share. (It’s hereditary: Whenever my mom stumbles upon something interesting, she calls her nearest and dearest to share. It’s very sweet)
  • I want to learn. (Hopefully there will be insightful comments here in the future, readers to interact with, to learn from)
  • It’s a discipline. It disciplines me.
  • I get to collect and articulate my thoughts.

That’s it for now. I will probably, hopefully find other bullets to add as I go along.

These reasons are not applicable just for blogging. It applies just as well to intranet contributions, actively taking part in study groups, workshops, discussions etc. (…and of course, to a far lesser extent; tweets…)

Also, these important reasons for me to blog are all part of a two-fold mission of mine: To share, engage and interact with my “tribe“, AND to inspire (and maybe help) others around me to improve in the same areas.

Now, officially setting out on this voyage, I’m really excited about getting another chance to listen to Linda Rising this weekend, as she joins us for our (Miles‘ that is) biannual “internal technical workshop weekend” in Oslo. Now that’s a story teller…