Guest Post: The Human Side of Software Craftsmanship

This week at MCM we’re going to start posting guest posts from developers in the community. The honor of first post goes to Jon Kruger. Thanks for contributing Jon!

If you want to become a future guest blogger, just send an email to mashedcodemag@gmail.com.

The Manifesto for Software Craftsmanship states that they “are raising the bar of professional software development by practicing it and helping others learn the craft.” As a software developer, I take pride in my work and have high standards for myself, and I appreciate it when others do the same. But if those high standards turn into arrogance toward others, then maybe we’ve gone astray.

They told us back in grade school that you shouldn’t pull yourself up by putting others down, but even today that wisdom can be hard to remember. I admit that I’m guilty. If you work at a company that has any code that has been around for a few years, you’re going to find some horrible code, and it’s really easy to make fun of it. I still do it all the time, but I’m trying to stop.

Arrogance and software craftsmanship don’t mix. While the technical aspect of software development is extremely important, the human side of things is just as important. It doesn’t matter how good your code is if the software doesn’t meet the needs of the users. If you refer to people in the business as “stupid users”, how are you going to be able to understand what life is like in their shoes? If you know all of the SOLID principles but you have a bad attitude, your teammates would probably rather work with someone else.

People who don’t know what we do sometimes think of software developers as a bunch of people who sit in front of a computer all day and never interact with anyone. In my experience, that hardly ever happens, and in fact, we often get rid of cubicles in favor of more collaborative workspaces where we can communicate easier with other team members, and sometimes even have business users come sit near us so that we can have their constant feedback.

I remember a situation several months ago where I had to meet with some users to design some functionality. After the first few meetings, I had to present a potential design idea to them. Before I went into the meeting I had already thought of potential issues that the users might bring up and the rebuttals that I would give. The users expressed some concerns and I wasn’t winning them over.

I stopped after that meeting and took a step back. Maybe I was listening to the words coming out of their mouth but not actually hearing what it was that they were really saying. Maybe their concerns weren’t petty after all and they had good reason for bringing them up.

The next time we met, I tried to go in and just listen. I mean really listen, like let them talk without thinking about what I’m going to say next. I tried looking them in the eye and processing every word that they say, the feelings they were expressing, and the reasons why they believed that way. Then when they were done talking, then I would think about how I’m going to respond. And this time I finally saw what they were talking about. It really hit home when one of the users (who was excited about me finally getting it), said excitedly, “That’s what we’ve been saying for the last month!”

I’m glad that I finally got it right, but I’m disappointed that it took me so long to get there.

In my mind, in order to really consider yourself a craftsman (or craftswoman), we need to not only value technical expertise but skilled human interaction and communication skills, and that starts with having an empathetic attitude toward others instead of finding ways to put them down.

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