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Category “Software Credo”

Signal Gathering: An evening of talks with Ashe Dryden and Friends

Les Speakers photo credit Lillie Chilen (@lilliealbert)

Les Speakers photo credit Lillie Chilen (@lilliealbert)

 

In my credo, I state that I will always be a writer first.  I’m working on the 2nd draft of a novel, I write everyday and I attend a writing class every other week.  This class is precious to me, but recently, I made the extremely painful decision to skip a writing class in order to attend the event “An Evening of Talks with Double Union and Ashe Dryden.”

 

And so I gathered with others, our reflections co-mingling with the Bay lights in abstract patterns and crossing signals releasing an energy collected  through resistance into the San Francisco night.  The purpose of the evening was to raise funds for San Francisco’s first feminist hacker/maker space, Double Union.  You can read more about that effort, here.

 

The featured speakers were Ashe Dryden (@ashedryden), Valerie Aurora (@adainitiative), Missy Titus (@missytitus), Dr. Kortney Ryan Zeigler (@fakerapper), Alaina Percival (Women Who Code) @alaina, Shanley Kane @shanley, Amelia Greenhall @ameliagreenhall.

 

It was refreshing that:

  • I didn’t have the usual space bubble around me that I normally do at tech events.  Unless I go with someone, I find most meet ups and conferences are actually pretty lonely and there is usually this space bubble of a chair in every direction between me and other people even if I use double deodorant.  Ok, it’s usually guys who are at the outer edge of the bubble.  Although I didn’t know too many people, the crowd was quite friendly which cut down slightly on the terror.  (Yes, I actually am very shy like everyone else in tech).
  • Shanley’s slides emphasized the general state of fucked up-edness in tech and software and it was like basking in the harsh daylight of reality.  We need more of this.
  • There were none of those stupid, heckling, troll-types in the audience discounting the points the speakers were making or trying to play the speakers off of one another.  I get so sick of stupid people saying, “well HER blah blah blah was SO MUCH BETTER.” Like it’s only ok to allow 1 female to be good at anything.  There were 7 people on that stage and they were all awesome.

 

What I learned:

  • That I need to take stock of my own privilege.  I hadn’t heard about this before last night, but it makes sense.  Before you can understand who is different from you, it’s important to know your own self and the benefits that you’ve had in life.
  • Ashe Dryden suggested wearing a color to a conference and introducing yourself to others wearing the same color so you get a different type of cross-section.  I really want to try this and see what happens.
  • There is a need for a harassment policy at every conference, even ones that are all women because women can be homophobic and/or culturally insensitive.  I’ve reached out to Cascadia.js about their policy and pointed them towards the template on geek feminism.org
  • I’m really really really really done with tone policing myself online, on my blog, etc.  Although I’m already fairly WYSIWYG in my writing and in life, I can do better.  This includes engaging with men I know already in the tech community.  The post I wrote on Medium still stands because I’m committed to supporting people around me when they try to do better.  It’s just that I’m done with people patronizing me or playing me off of other women online.  This will likely require me to educate myself more about feminism, and I look forward to that.
  • I want to write more about diversity in tech AND THAT’S OK.  I can write as many blog posts as I want about being a woman working in tech AND THAT’S OK TOO.  I’m tired of feeling guilty every time I have an idea for a blog post on gender or diversity as if I’ve written too much about it or that the world doesn’t need to hear more.  At this point, I’ve written a few (Links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and every time I think to myself, “How badly do I need to say this at the expense of looking less technical.”  This is who I am and what I want to write about it.  If you want technical, go check my Github. FUCK IT.

 

The Bay Lights on Bay Bridge, San Francisco

The Bay Lights on Bay Bridge (romanboed)

I feel an awakening in the tech world and in San Francisco.

It’s needed in many ways.  Aside from the misery of the many who are marginalized, tech has been invading San Francisco’s friendly, collaborative culture and razing it to make way for Nerds Acting Like Jocks.  It’s about time some of San Francisco began bleeding into some part of the tech community because we’ve bled enough of our own city.

Ashe specifically mentioned the need for everyone in the room to bust out of our own tech bubble and put more energy into experiencing the non-tech world.  In San Francisco, we live in the heart of the counter-culture and it’s time to be more open to the lessons our neighbors and our city have to teach us.

Even without much of a membership or much of a space, the collective of people that makes up Double Union has already managed to bring us together in a way that reverberates through time and our own static-y channels.  It was a privilege to attend this signal gathering.

 

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Welcome to the Walled Garden: When leadership is really just bullying

holes in the garden wall

holes in the garden wall (Photo credit: Badly Drawn Dad)

There is a person in tech, let’s call the person Engineer X, who thinks I am a blight on the industry of software and that my opinions deserve to be seen nowhere other than inside of a black hole.

 

This happened after a really awful conversation on twitter that I won’t be talking about here.  Let’s just say that it happened, and it doesn’t really matter if anyone was right or what either of us said.  For Engineer X, this culminated with blocking me from their twitter and removing the link to my blog from their much viewed blog roll.

 

For me, it began a genuinely awkward couple of months.  I got in trouble at work as my then-boss thought and still thinks Engineer X hung the moon.  I showed up at a small conference typically attended by Engineer X (Engineer X was away that year) and had to introduce myself, for the first time, to people who knew ALL ABOUT the whole twitter fight.  Between my boss’s anger and my own personal anxiety, there’s not much I remember from that conference that wasn’t awkward, and it was no one’s fault but my own.

 

Eventually, though, I moved on and realized that it didn’t matter that much because there is a whole community of people who have been left behind in the wake of Engineer X publicly denouncing them, even threatening physical violence in public against them for the opinions they have expressed about software.  One of my friends tweeted to me, “Welcome to the Walled Garden.”

 

In this age of extended contact through blogs, twitter and other social sites, it’s much easier for anyone to interact with someone they view as a “leader,” and we do.  I’ve actually become pretty close friends with some of the bloggers and people from twitter I followed and originally, idolized.  Sometimes, however, it can be much harder to get a real picture of the people we idolize, and sometimes that picture is vastly different in reality from what we think it will be as we build a pedestal for our uninformed perceptions of these people.

 

I’m a big believer in forming my own opinions about things, but when you start following people on twitter and they start following you back, not to mention having conversations with you, it can be easier than you think to relinquish control over your own thoughts and opinions.  Twitter is always on and fairly asynchronous.  Thus, while I initially thought Engineer X was amazing and a thought leader, when things went so far downhill, so quickly, it hurt even worse because here was someone I had really looked up to telling me that my opinions were worthless.

 

It was upsetting for a while.  Having a harsh conversation in public is unsettling, but everyone has their own personal tipping point.  When this happened to me, I went back over what happened and found that while, in some ways, I had acted rashly, there were good reasons for doing what I did, and I wouldn’t take it back today, even if I could.  There was even a point at which I tried to apologize for my part in it to Engineer X and it didn’t work out at all.  I guess there are some people in this world I’m not meant to get along with and this person is one of them.

 

We all have favorites on twitter and in the software industry.  We all have our false idols.  We hold them up as better versions of ourselves.  Maybe they are who we want to be “when we grow up.”  The truth is, they are all humans.  They say things they don’t mean, they talk out of turn and I’m sure that there is a time, every now and then, when they take out anger and frustration on someone undeserving, just like every human does when we are at our worst.  In this age of blending professional life with personal faults and idosyncracies, where do we draw the line and how much should we be willing to forgive?  How bad is it ok for Engineer X to be?

 

Personally, I’m happy to have this person out of my life, but it still hurts when I see them dump on other people I care about.  What’s even crazier is that there is this weird silently understood reaching out that happens when Engineer X dumps on someone.  This is how often and how widely the person is known for dumping on people.

 

I hope we’re on the edge of a polar shift in software and in social networking.  The “No Asshole” rule has been read by plenty of people and we even have industry segments such as conferences beginning to recognize the importance of emotional safety.  This stuff matters and it makes me happy that it is slowly, but surely infiltrating our culture.

 

It’s time to recognize that we live in a world where our personal and professional lives mix more than ever and that this usually happens in a good way.  But, also, we deserve better than to have bullies in charge of thought leadership in software (or anywhere really), (and before you hold up Steve Jobs, I’d like to remind everyone that there was exactly one Steve Jobs, he is deader than a doornail and you are not him).

 

This blog post comes with an ask.  My ask is that you, dear reader, commit to standing up when you see someone getting bullied on twitter, at a conference or wherever and, even if the bully is someone with influence, letting the bully know that you don’t approve and that IT IS NOT OK.  If you end up being the person who steps out of line because you’re human like the rest of us, at least make the effort of a sincere apology when you are ready.  It will be humiliating and it might not be well received, but it is important to try.

 

As for people like Engineer X who don’t seem to understand how to not bully others, I believe they are in a slow process of building their own walled garden because, eventually, they will block out everyone who’s opinions don’t seem as perfect as their own.

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Credo Work: My Professional Credo Unveiled

I believe:

 

  • Writing will always be the thing I do first and best
  • At the crossroads of collaboration and craft stands an open well of deep creativity.  Great software emerges from those who gulp from and bathe themselves in the water of this well
  • Software thrives with transparency and reciprocity between its makers, its users and its surrounding community
  • Workplace safety is non-negotiable and includes emotional safety in the milieu of conferences, email lists, twitter and meet-ups.  If someone (a boss, peer, industry expert) says or does something that compromises my safety, I have the right to walk out whether it’s a conference presentation, workplace brown bag or one-on-one meeting
  • An open web, open information, open data and open source software are all critical for social justice on a global scale
  • Humans and their expressions are too complex to ever be completely definable by technology or labels.
  • Software is better when it is made by a team that functions not as a well-oiled machine but as a team of humans who respect each other and know how to collaborate
  • Focusing on the values in the Agile Manifesto means that software is built with heart and balance no matter what the process is called.
  • If safety and humility are a primary focus, confidence and risk-taking flow.

 

This is my professional credo which was included in my slide deck for Better Software West.  I will get around to uploading the slides although there is actually more information in the blog posts I wrote.
My presentation focused on the process I used to build my credo and why I think this type of thing can be valuable.

 

I had a great audience with lots of questions.  One person observed that some of my statements seem like a reaction, and that is absolutely correct.  There are some hard-learned life-lessons in that credo and publishing it on my blog is the equivalent of me showing off my battle scars.  I wear them proudly because I’ve fucking earned them.

 

Someone else pointed out that one time or another we all cave on our principles in order to earn a paycheck.  Let me emphasize that that these are areas where I am not likely to compromise very much, if at all.  I am also willing to put in the work on my skills, my career and my professional network so that I don’t have to worry about compromising these.  At the worst, things will shift around me and I will find myself in a place where I realize the compromise is happening, but that is the point of this whole exercise.  I will know that as the sands of my job, my career and my place in technology shift I’ve got my own values and priorities to steer my decisions.

 

Another person was asking how I plan to keep up with this credo.  This is an excellent question, because this is the point where I start living with my credo.  As I’ve watched my numerous posts in this project creep over my blog, I’ve come to realize that this is heavier than a few posts and needs more of an afterword than this one post.  The conference might be over, and my credo might be posted, but the project, itself is far from complete.

 

A few times during this process, I have been asked where the activities I’ve blogged originated.  It’s all from the workbook for a Unitarian Universalist religious education class called, “Building Your Own Theology” by Richard S. Gilbert.  (If you don’t know what Unitarian Universalist is, stayed tuned!  I will get around to posting about it.)

 

My current plan has two parts.  I’m working on putting together a short e-book of the posts I’ve written already (Don’t ask when it will be out. I don’t know).  That takes care of what I’ve written so far.  As for the afterward, I’m going to paste my credo into the about page of this blog and continue blogging about different pieces within the credo itself or link to posts I’ve already written that cover a part of the credo.  If Leanpub works the way I think it does, there will be a way for me to add those posts to the e-book as they happen.

 

Is it just me or have I made more work for myself with this?  Although my credo is up there, I don’t see an end.  I see a beginning.

 

Thanks to everyone who came to see my talk or who have posted comments, retweeted or sent me feedback about this.  It’s been one of my crazier blog jaunts and the feedback has reminded me that it is crazy AND worth doing.

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Credo Work: The ‘So What?’ Test

I have wandered into an oasis in the middle of a desert…

An Oasis in the Desert

Water!!!!

 

O wait. I’m at The Mirage in Las Vegas. I’m presenting tomorrow at the Better Software Conference in Ceasar’s Palace.

 

The Mirage in Las Vegas

The Mirage in Las Vegas

I’m here to wrap up my credo series by presenting my credo and the steps others can use to create their own at the Better Software West/Agile Development Practices Conference.

 

But first, it’s time to really shake out my credo. I’ve been adding to it for quite a while now and it’s been good to see it grow. Writing down things that I believe has been a great confidence builder. Now it is time to go through each part of it and edit.

 

As a nomad in the desert can pack up all of their belongings and carry them from place to place, my credo is supposed to suggest ideas and values that are so core to who I am that I can take that they survive even among the shifting sands of the tech industry. They should be succinct and easy to remember. In fact, Bret Victor in his talk, “Inventing on Principle” suggests paring it down to one and only one guiding principle. (His talk is worth setting aside an hour and contains some amazing UX technology guided by his one principle).

 

This editing down of the credo is the “so what?” test and it involves looking at the credo through the lens of clarifying values.  I really like the list of clarifying values listed in “Building Your Own Theology” and found them to be a great guide.  After all, if I am willing to say I believe something, I should be willing to affirm it in public in front of my peers, act upon it and practice it consistently.

 

“Values, meanings and convictions are:

1. Freely chosen
2. chosen from among alternatives
3. chosen reflectively and deliberately
4. prized and cherished (you feel good about them)
5. willingly and publicly affirmed
6. acted upon
7. part of a consistent pattern of behavior”

 

It is also worth asking for each statement in a credo if “you practice what you preach” and rating that on a scale from 1 to 7.

 

I’ve written about the concept of congruence before.  This is matching what you think and feel on the inside with what you do and say on the outside.  Going through your beliefs and asking yourself if you practice what you preach is a great way to assess your congruence.  If something is out of whack, maybe there are some changes you can make to bring yourself more in line.  I realize that this is much easier said than done, but following through on that is necessary for building self-worth and confidence.

 

Here are a few more questions that round out the so what test:

 

How do the statements in your credo interfere with your career today?
What are the main obstacles for living your professional values?
What plans can you make to bring your professional life more in line with your values?
What will you do differently after today?

 

If you’ve been reading my blog, you may have noticed that I made a rather big change recently when I switched jobs from Software Engineer in Test at Mozilla to Support/QA for Pivotal Tracker. That was a direct result of noticing that I wasn’t living out my beliefs and values.  My life has been fairly nomadic in the past few years and if there is one thing I have learned it is that life is too short,  too precious and too wonderful for me to spend even a minute of it with my values out of whack with the way I live.

 

Tomorrow, I’ll post my credo here after I have unveiled it in my session.  If you are at Better Software West/Agile Development Practices, you can catch my session at 4:00pm in Florentine Ballroom III.

 

 

Credo Work: At the end of the world

“In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
Waves of regret and waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You…you said you’d wait
’til the end of the world”

 

-U2
Until the end of the world

 

This credo work is nearly over.  Next week I will be presenting the whole of the journey at Better Software West which includes the unveiling of my own Credo.  There is still, however, a bit of work to be done.  In this post, I explore the meaning and purpose of professional life.  If we were hiking through the desert, this would be the point in the trip where we reach the edge of a great precipice and, peer over the side, pondering our next move.

Road Follows the Twists and Turns of Island in the Sky, a Mesa in the Northern Section of the Canyonlands, 05/1972

Island in the Sky - U.S. National Archives

This photo is from a cliff I stood atop years ago with my husband.  It is in an area called, “Island in the Sky” in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.  I remember standing at the edge, my husband politely suggesting in a louder-than-normal voice that I step back.  It was exhilarating because I was staring at the end of the world.

 

This is the raw place I have written about where everything is stripped away and all you can see is your own bare reality.  All of the activities I have blogged about are levels of stripping away bullshit until you get to this moment and the meaning of your life is staring you in the face, intertwined with your physical mortality.

 

All of our careers have a shelf life, and before that day comes, it’s worth asking questions about the meaning of our careers and what we intend to leave behind.  If this seems too abstract and distant in terms of your current context, never fear!  There is a “purpose in life” quiz you can take!  It is not a magical cure for anything, but if you have lost your way and are too caught up in a daily grind (which happens to everyone at one time or another) this test will make it fairly obvious.

 

I took this test and managed to squeak over the edge of having a clear purpose.  I’m sure there are improvements I can make, but I’m in a pretty good place with what I’m doing.

 

Here are a few open-ended  sentences you can complete.  Some are from the book, “Building your own theology,” by Richard S. Gilbert.  Some of them I adapted to those of us working in software.  Don’t overthink them, but rather, jot down the first thing that pops into your head:

I most want:

My career is:

I hope I can:

I have achieved:

My highest professional aspiration:

The most hopeless thing:

The whole purpose of my career:

My day-to-day job:

My role in software:

To me software is:

I am accomplishing:

This should get your writing juices flowing.  Now try writing a paragraph about your professional aims, ambitions and goals.

 

In writing my paragraph, there were no surprises, but then, I’m nearly at the end of this journey.  At this point, it’s all about distilling the most important bits out of all of the work that I’ve done.  Whenever I find myself standing at the edge of a cliff, faced with my own physical mortality, the important stuff typically finds its way to the surface.  Who cares about stand ups or the commute or the fact that the office I work in is always so freaking chilly!  Whatever I want to accomplish most unfurls itself and hangs over the earth as I gaze out into the distance.

 

To end this chapter in the credo work, I’ve written a cinquaine which is a variant of the haiku.  Here is the structure if you would like to write your own:

 

start with a noun
two words modifying the noun
3 “ing” words related to the noun
a related 4 word phrase
a synonym of the noun

 

Here is mine:
data
messy unparsed
illuminating, clarifying, expanding
now you see it
information

Credo Work: A few bits from Software History

The Cathedral & The Bazaar

The Cathedral & The Bazaar (Photo credit: Hades2k)

Even though the software credo I am writing is a personal thing, I’m not writing it in a vacuum.  We are all writing the history of software and, at this point, the history of computers and software is big enough and old enough to have it’s own corners and back alleys.

 

In this post, I’ve researched into some questions about computer & software history. I’ll be writing about some events that were important in my corner of computers, some of moments which were not the best, and the event I would most like to have witnessed.
Who are some of the important people or events in your particular area of software and what did they contribute.

I’ve already blogged about The Ultimate Nerd and my ultimate nerds so I’ll be focusing mainly on the events in computer and software history that has meant the most to me.

 

The fight between Internet Explorer and Mozilla
I may have just left Mozilla as a corporate employee, but Mozilla and its mission are still very much alive to me.  If you don’t understand what the whole fight for the open web is about, it is worth Investing 40 minutes of your time to watch Mitchell Baker talk about the history of Mozilla.

 

Back in the nineties, I remember listening to NPR every day for news about how the lawsuit between Microsoft and Mozilla was proceeding.  I hope that, at some point, a book is written about the history of Mozilla and some of its projects.  I had chills more than once as I watched Mitchell Baker give this talk on the history of Mozilla.  A lesson she learned from the Mozilla project and her most memorable quote from this talk is something I will carry around with me until I die, “Leadership depends on who will follow you.”  (It’s at 11:30 if you wish to listen for yourself)

In fact, the fight isn’t over.

 

The blossoming of the open source software movement
The theology of the open web and open source software is deep water which I’m not expecting to plumb in a couple of paragraphs, but if you give yourself the time to really dive into the history and its ideas, you will be rewarded.

 

If you wish to wade into these waters, I highly recommend reading through The Cathedral and The Bazaar by Eric Raymond.  It is beautifully written and I think I must have highlighted half of it.  Although there are frequent references to the creation of Linux, the paper itself is timeless like K&R or Unix Shell Scripting.

 

Reading through this paper, I could see some of the groundwork for agile being laid.  There is a spirit of egalitarianism coupled with a “need for speed.”  Raymond mentions in a few places that it is important to “release early, release often.”  He also writes about the very inclusive development philosophy of Linus Torvalds which was counter to the more exclusive “cathedral” model of isolating a few geniuses and letting them polish the software creating a longer release cycle.

 

This actually deserves a longer post and critique in the context of what we know about open source today.

 

The signing of the Agile Manifesto

Looking at the number of people who were present for this event, I will never understand how they were all able to agree on the document itself.  It appears to me to be one of the greater examples of consensus.  The fact that what’s in the manifesto meant enough to these guys to get together and agree on it sends a strong message.  I consider myself lucky to swim in this every day at Pivotal Labs and I hope my blog helps you push further with it in your own professional life.

 

Historical Software Defects
These are the moments in software history that are not the greatest but they have valuable lessons to teach.

Therac-25
The, “primary reason should be attributed to the bad software design and development practices, and not explicitly to several coding errors that were found. In particular, the software was designed so that it was realistically impossible to test it in a clean automated way.”

 

The Therac 25 was designed to automate the delivery of radiation therapy to cancer patients.  Tragically, it sometimes injected patients with levels that were too high, even tragically high.

My software engineering teacher, Dr. Susan Duggins, first introduced me to this in our software engineering class. It’s important because it highlights that testing should be involved earlier in the software process and that building software is not just about typing out the code.  I am in love with the idea of ecosystems as they apply in software and in open source.  This legal case points the way towards software occurring in an ecosystem.

 

The Mars Rover
Imagine that you’ve spent months working on a small vehicle that will land on Mars.  Imagine the pressure of knowing that many millions of dollars has been spent for you to do this work.  It’s a crowning achievement involving your team and other teams as well.

 

Imagine that the Rover lands and doesn’t work because you’ve been programming in standard measurement units, but an external team you’ve been working with has used the metric system.  I would have cried for days.

 

The failing of the Mars Rover demonstrates the power of good communication and how major defects can occur without it.  If you are a tester and you sometimes feel like the team therapist because you’re trying to get developers to talk with each other, I have news:  You are not alone in feeling like a therapist.  If you ever wonder if you are doing the right thing or sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong, think of the Mars rover team.

 

If you could only witness one moment in computer or software history, what would it be and why?
For this question I am brazenly cheating.  I’d like to watch one of the great visualizations being drawn just to see the tools that were used and the place where it was being drawn.  These had to be hand drawn as there was no machinery to produce them.  I’d like have a look at the instruments used to make the measurements and the drawing implements.  I’d like sit in the chair that William Playfair sat in or watch Charles Joseph Minard explain his visualization of Napoleon’s March.

 

This concludes my look at software history for my blog post, but it’s brought up some threads I’d like to push further.  I’m not quite finished reading and writing about “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.”  I’m also not finished with “Leadership depends on who will follow you.”  It’s a funny thing about these credo posts.  They tend to open more doors and windows than I have time to close.  I don’t mind leaving them open, however, as this is letting in some fresh air.  Wherever you are, I hope that when you get to the end of my post, you take a minute and just…breathe.

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Credo Work: My Many Manifestoes

Prologue of the Code of Hammurabi

Prologue of the Code of Hammurabi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

Trust in your calling, make sure your calling’s true

Think of others, the others think of you
Silly rule golden words make, practice, practice makes perfect
Perfect is a fault and fault lines change

I believe, my humor’s wearing thin
And change is what I believe in

“I Believe” by R.E.M.

 

These are some words from a song I listened to on repeat in high school.  When I listen to it now, I hear some irony in the lyrics that I don’t remember hearing before.  We get handed so many rules in our lives.  When we are younger, many of us are taught about different creeds and rules at our parent’s chosen place of worship.  When we begin our professional lives, we might encounter mission statements at work or within our professional network.  What do we with all of these?

 

For this credo post, I’m examining some of the manifestos, mission statements and declarations I’ve learned from and used in my life.  Some of them are historical, some are from jobs and some are from teh tubez.

 

The Golden Rule:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

This rule sets the bar for my behavior in all aspects of life.  It just doesn’t get any more basic than this.  When someone treats me like crap, this rule is what pulls me back and helps me center myself.  It also leads me to the second rule in life.

 

The Code of Hammurabi:

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…

The reason why I’m including this is because it’s an example of how not to treat people and a code that I learned about and decided to toss out.  If someone screams at me, this doesn’t give me the right to scream back and only makes a bad situation worse.  I think that the Code of Hammurabi is, in actuality, a great way to escalate a situation from bad to worse.  As the saying goes, “if we all followed the Code of Hammurabi, the world would be toothless and blind.”

 

The Declaration of Independence:

This one may come as a surprise, but if you take time to read it, I think you’ll see why I’ve included it here.  It was written 236 years ago, but people then had many of the same basic wants that we have today and at work, even.

 

Here’s my favorite bit, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.”

 

This is all about personal empowerment.  The people who wrote this were far from perfect, but they made quite a strong and enduring statement here.  Not only is it ok to want liberty and happiness in your life, but it is your right as a human.  This is strong stuff.  If the government is crushing your liberty and path to happiness, it is your right to change it.

 

It’s very easy for life to drag you down and tell you that you should be content with having a roof over your head, a flush toilet in the bathroom and decent beer in the fridge, but this document suggests that there is way more to it than that.  We have a right to find happiness and contentment in everyday life.  This includes our jobs even if they are in the tech industry.  In software today, we’re often expected to work crazy hours for a release or do our best to work with programmers who are brilliant assholes because their code is so fantastic.  I don’t think so.  It violates our right to happiness and ultimately creates software that is harder to maintain.

 

But that’s not the end of it.  There’s also an implication in the Declaration of Independence that if your rights are being violated, it’s on YOU to do something about it.  For this reason, if I see shitty software practices, I tend to stir the pot.  In some places it’s welcome.  In other places, it’s not welcome.  In the places where it’s not welcome, I know I’m not welcome either.  These truths I hold to be self-evident.

 

Agile Manifesto:

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

There are several reasons why the Agile Manifesto is my “go-to” document when it comes to software and also when it comes to framing my own credo.

  • It is short and memorable, especially “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” If someone asks me what’s in the Agile Manifesto, I don’t necessarily have to look it up. When I look at the list of people involved and then see how boiled down this Manifesto is, I know that there must have been some very interesting conversations about what to include and what to leave out.  That fact that the people involved were able to come up with something that is at once concise yet filled with meaning is quite an accomplishment.
  •  Instead of talking “beliefs” this is a statement of “values.”  I noticed that the Software Craftsmanship manifesto which seems to be sprung from the Agile Manifesto is also a statement of values instead of beliefs. This gives both more flexibility because a belief seems more black-and-white but a “value” can happen on more of a sliding scale.  My sliding scale of value in the Agile Manifesto might be different from yours.  Maybe when you think of the Agile Manifesto, you think of “Working software over comprehensive documentation,” first. We can still share these values and it’s all good!
  • The content squarely places emphasis on humans and their patterns of interaction as being important to the making of software.

The Atlassian Core Values:

Open Company, No Bullshit

Build with Heart and Balance

Don’t Fuck the Customer

Play, as a team

Be the Change You Seek

Although I no longer work at Atlassian, their core values still resonate strongly with me.  As is the case with the Agile Manifesto, they are succinct, memorable and from the heart.

I especially like that they included “play as a team.”  The team work ethic I experienced at Atlassian was magnificent and has now set a high expectation of teamwork for me.  Maybe it’s just my personal stereotype, but I noticed collaboration and teamwork seems to be an understood commodity in Australia more so than in the United States and especially Silicon Valley (Note: I differentiate Silicon Valley from San Francisco).  Although I hear that Silicon Valley is what it is today because it had an open culture in the early days of tech, I’ve seen enough exclusivity and competitiveness in valley culture, that I’m convinced it needs a few lessons on collaboration and “building with heart and balance.”

These core values remain one of Atlassian’s competitive advantages, and if they stick with these, I’m sure their established freight-train of success will continue.

 

Thus concludes my look at manifestos, values and mission statements.  I’ve been writing down my beliefs and have seen the list grow week over week.  It looks like there will be “value” in distilling them down to something short and memorable.  Although a credo is supposedly a statement of beliefs, writing them as values gives them more flexibility so I plan to reframe some of the belief statements I’ve made as statements about what I value. There are more than a few of my belief statements centered around humanity in software, but I might also have a think about the heart of software.

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Credo Work: A few of my ultimate nerds

Previously, I blogged about “The Ultimate Nerd.”  In this post, I will introduce you to some people who make my list of Ultimate Nerds.  The only rule I made for my list is that I’m not writing about people I know personally.  I’ve done this to force myself into doing some research and thinking through the reasons why each of these people have made the list.  There were people who I initially thought were no-brainers that came off and people I added much to my own surprise.  It will be interesting to come back to this list in a few years and see how things have changed.

 

Español: Bjork en Jalisco.

Español: Bjork en Jalisco. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bjork
Fans of Bjork won’t be surprised to see her on my list.  She left “has a good beat and you can dance to it” somewhere in the last millennium in favor of risking weird crazy experiments that don’t always work out but can be quite inspiring when they do.  Whenever I read about her projects, it’s not just about her singing or coming out with a new album, it’s about some new technology she’s exploring for making her music.  ReacTable?  Check!  Tesla Coil?  Check!  Swinging pendulums?  Check! Check!!  This is someone who sees technology and pushes it through music.  In my dream of dreams, she and Jack White have a love child.  But that’s another blog post.

Charles Joseph Minard
There are so many reasons why Minard makes my list of ultimate nerds.  Aside from being a pioneer in the field of data visualization, he’s a study in sticking with what you want to do even if it’s not something those around you care about or immediately understand.  He earned his living as a civil engineer and retired as a superintendent for a school of roads and bridges at a French university. It was only during his retirement that he started producing visualizations.

Charles Minard's 1869 chart showing the losses...

Beyond the fact that his visualization of Napoleon’s Russian campaign is ground breaking work, this is something he created at seventy-eight years old. There is so much focus in tech on completing your most important work in your twenties or maybe early thirties at a stretch, and it’s bullshit.

While Minard could have chosen any number of subjects for his visualizations, he chose to visualize the loss incurred by war.  Looking at his flow map of Napoleon’s Russian campaign the horrific losses of troops are immediately visible.  Minard has set an example of visualization as humanitarianism that I intend follow with the open data available on today’s web.

 

Eric Schmidt
In addition to being the former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt wrote the forward to one of the few “business books” that managed to hold my attention, Artful Making.  You can see Chris McMahon’s blog about it here.

Recently, James Whittaker wrote a post about why he quit Google.  In the post he talks about the culture of innovation that Schmidt fostered at Google and it’s right in line with what I read in Artful Making.  In the testing world, Google has recently gone through an exodus of A-talent in testing.  It’s quite telling that a good number of the folks whose talks I most enjoyed at the last Google Test Automation Conference have quit the big G.

By all appearances, the company is undergoing a lot of change and seems to be embracing more of a top-down management.  Seeing this change and looking at the “leadership” I’ve experienced in my own career has shown me that it is much more challenging to embrace the path of trust and letting smart people do what they will than it is to throw on the black turtleneck and go all Steve Jobs on people.  Screaming may have worked for Steve Jobs, but those who decide to follow his leadership path should take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves 1. Am I really that brilliant?  2. Am I living in the same context?  (Hint: the answer is NO.)

In my own work life, I often hear ideas that I myself would not reach for.  I work at saying, “let’s see if this will work out” instead of “you are freaking crazy.”

Eric Schmidt makes it onto my nerd-of-nerds list because he had the audacity to hire smart people, trust them and let them go.  Look at what they built. The ideas about software and software testing that came out of Google under Eric Schmidt’s leadership changed me and my career forever. I suspect I am not alone.  We need more leadership like this in software and software testing.

 

Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg
These two people are a dream team of data visualization.  Although they both do solo work, they work mostly as a team.  In fact, Google hired them as a team and they lead Google’s “Big Picture” visualization research group.  Although their work is always gorgeous, it’s also thought provoking and always has a solid basis in data.  Their first collaborative project, a visualization of Wikipedia, highlighted the controversy amongst some of the pages which, to be honest, I’d never stopped to consider before.

abortion on wikipedia

http://www.research.ibm.com/visual/projects/history_flow/gallery.htm

The artist statement on their website reveals how connected they are to what they do.  Although it’s worth reading the whole thing, (it’s not that long, actually), here are a few of my favorite bits:

“…our artwork complicates and subverts a tool that is largely used by the business and military elite. Unlike these traditional uses, we believe visualization to be an expressive medium that invites emotion.”

“Eventually we start to ask questions that can’t be answered by direct observation.”

For me, this team is an example of being open about collaborative work they do to move technology and mankind forward.

 

Ward Cunningham
There are a few reasons why Ward Cunningham makes my list of ultimate nerds.  He’s the father of the wiki which is a tool I consider mandatory to be effective for exploratory testing and can also be a framework for automated tests.  He helped lay the groundwork for design patterns.  He was also involved in the writing of the Agile Manifesto which is something I frequently reach for to remind myself about the human aspects of software.

Currently, Cunningham is a fellow in the “Code for a Better World” program at Nike where he oversees the Smallest Federated Wiki project.  This is a really neat project as the focus seems to be creating a community of wikis that can talk with each other.  It is also completely open and available on Github.  You an look back through some of the closed issues and see the constructive way in which Ward engages contributors to the project.

Part of the skill for maintaining longevity in a tech career seems to be the ability to simultaneously have a vision but also the ability to break that vision down into pieces small enough to implement.  Cunningham’s engagement with the idea of a wiki over time has shown me what this looks like.

 

So that’s my list of Ultimate Nerds.  In these people, I see what I wish for myself reflected back at me.  There are themes of collaboration, creativity, experimentation and longevity.  It’s easy to get burned out in this industry, but we are surrounded by fantastic mentors and role models if we choose to seek them out.

Last Fall, I ran a half-marathon.  Everything after mile 8 happened through a wall of exhaustion, but I stuck it out.  When I made it to the finish line, there were people lined up outside of the barricades on the street, cheering all of the finishers on.  I ran over to one side and got high-fives from anybody who would give me one, and ended the race feeling ecstatic.  When I feel burned out or when I just don’t know where I’m going with my tech career, it will be easy enough to picture these people lined up and ready to give me a high-five.  Now, there’s a visualization.

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Credo Work: The Ultimate Nerd

Through this process of building my own software credo, I’ve been taking liberties with the Unitarian process of building your own theology.  For this post, I’m taking an ultimate liberty and switching the chapter on examining my personal theories about “ultimate reality” to examining my concept of the ULTIMATE NERD.

To begin this exercise, I’ll examine my take on the stereotype of nerd and “ultimate nerd” during these various phases of my life:

 

  •  As a child
  • As a young adult
  • As a Computer Science major
  • Now

As a child
Let’s just get this out of the way, because we all know it’s coming:  If you grew up in the U.S. during the ’80s, it’s highly likely you share a youthful vision of a definitive nerd with me.

English: An illustration of a stereo-typical &...

It’s quite difficult *not* to associate “nerd” with the nerds portrayed in the movie “Revenge of the Nerds.”  The stereotype was pretty abstract for me and didn’t change that much for a long time.  As I got older and went through high school and college…well…the first round of college, a nerd meant an unattractive man with glasses who liked computers.  There’s no depth to this stereotype, but that was to change…

As a young adult

If you lived in Atlanta or even possibly other places in the Southeast during the 90′s, chances were that your ISP was Mindspring.  This had a big impact on my ideas about nerds.  As I began to cultivate a healthy respect for computers and even began dabbling in programming, Mindspring became it’s own cultural nexus in my hometown of Atlanta.  I swear they must have blasted the lunchtime 80′s radio show, House of Retro Pleasure, at lunchtime in their offices since half of the song requests came from Mindspring employees.   Calling their tech support was fun!!!  Nerds were no longer the cardboard cutouts of my youth.  They were now friendly, vibrant people with enough intelligence to work with computers.  My vision of the ultimate nerd switched to a guy my age, slightly gothy with a dark sense of humor.

As a CS Major
AND THEN…I enrolled in a CS program.  Did I think of myself as a nerd in my Programming 101 class?  Not really.  I was learning C++ and conquering Computer Architecture but there was always that guy in the class who had owned a Mac or Commodore since he was 4 years old.  It is really hard to claim street cred when you are the only girl in a class and struggling to make a B (sometimes I made A’s but not always).  This eventually changed when I attended a Grace Hopper Conference and saw a presentation on what we see when we think of “nerds.”  I realized, I had assumed for many years that to be a nerd, you have to be male and/or have snuggled up to a computer like it was a security blanket every night since infancy.  It took this presentation to help me let go of those particular stereotypes.

Now
“Nerd” is definitely a stereotype and a label. As with any stereotype, it can be used for good or for bad, but in my case, I see it as a positive label and one that I’m happy to own.

I believe a nerd is someone with a deep understanding of technology, but it doesn’t end there.  A nerd is someone who has a deep understanding of technology and who also understands the connections between technology and real life.  As for “deep understanding of technology,” that can be parsed forever and I’m sure there are plenty of nerd fights about what’s more technical.  I’d rather focus on the second half of this because it means wanting to share technology with others.  What good is all of the technical knowledge in the world if you’ve locked yourself away, sneer at everyone you see as “less technical” and refuse to explain anything to them.  Good luck with that.

A nerd is someone who gives their Mom an iPad or who loves making crazy websites and having their friends play with said crazy websites.  They might wear glasses or they might not.  They might be transgendered or they might be a family guy who wears khakis and a plaid shirt everyday.  They might live in Silicon Valley, Conyers, Georgia or Mozambique, and keep in mind, this is just my version of a nerd.  Yours might be different.
The Ultimate Nerd
An ultimate nerd is someone who embodies these qualities I consider to be “nerdly,” and takes them further.  Ultimate nerds not only have a deep understanding of technology and a willingness to share it, they change what’s possible and they don’t have to put people down to do it.

This significantly narrows the field, but that’s ok.  There are plenty of asshole nerds out there who have dazzled us with one thing or another while treating the people around them horribly.  I demand more than that from anyone I consider a leader or “ultimate” anything.

While “nerd” is a label and a stereotype, it holds relevance for me because it describes something I found in myself at the end of a wild and uncertain journey.  The idea of an “ultimate nerd” points me towards places I want to go in my career but haven’t yet reached.

In my next credo post, I will indulge in labeling a few people as “ultimate” nerds.  Hopefully, they’ll be ok with that.

Credo Work: Human Nature

This credo assignment was a lesson on the different aspects of human nature.  The beginning exercise was to read through a bunch of statements about human nature.  Here are a few of the quotes on human nature that spoke to me:

 

You have millions of virtues, but you post-pone their practice.
– letter from a friend to May Sarton

I see the right, and I approve it too, condemn the wrong, and yet the wrong pursue
– Ovid

When all the doors of opportunity seem closed and your precious dreams have turned to ash, remember the human race ranks first in the realm of wonders.

– John A. Taylor

The next section is to think of historical examples of the worst and best in human nature.  Here are my answers:

 

Worst:
Genocide – any occurrence, any time period
The closing down of so many mental health hospitals in the U.S. during the 80′s

Best:
The Civil Rights movement in the 60′s
The Renaissance
Penguin Sweaters

 

The next part of the lesson was an examination of this “continuum” of human nature:
The Human Continuum
Freedom
Environment
Animal
Fate
Genetics
Spiritual

 

There were also a few questions that went along with “the continuum.”  I won’t reproduce all of the questions, but one of them really hit home:

 

Are we trapped with the ancient Greek notion of the mind as good and the body evil?

Although this question is, itself, a leading question I am a big believer in the connection between mind and body.  Our stress reactions have a lot to say to us.  Our body language is half of what we are trying to say when we talk with someone.  Perhaps in the past, all of this has been irrelevant to making software, but we are living in an age when some software processes are beginning to recognize humanity.

 

What do I mean by this?  There are some places where the release of software is a low-drama, non-heroic process.  Releasing the software does not require crazy hours or last minute herculean efforts.  It does not mean weeks of testers, developers or anyone else sleeping in their cubes.  These things are not required because it is understood that  the human brain does not function at its best under these conditions.  Our ability to be good teammates suffers when we are over-tired as does our ability to think logically, find bugs, write code, etc.

 

This is a dialog from Esther Derby and Johanna Rothman’s book, “Behind Closed Doors” that brings this together and is foremost in my mind when I hear about a release which required heroic efforts and/or serious overtime.  Their book is written partially as the story of a manager leading a team.  In this scene, Sam, the protagonist and a software manager is discussing the features that can be included in a release with Marty, his boss:

 

Thursday morning, Sam strode to Marty’s office, plan in hand.
“Marty, I’ve spent the last two days working with my team to replan
this release. We focused on the most important features based on
the list you gave us. We’ve organized it and reorganized it and
arrived at an achievable plan. These are the features we’re going to
work on.” Sam handed Marty the list. Sam waited a minute while
Marty scanned the list. “Not all the features originally planned
for this release are on the list, but the most important ones for
BigCompany are.”
Marty examined the list. “Is this the best you can do?”
“Yes. We’ve spent the last two days figuring out how to get this
much done. If you see a better way, let me know.”
“Couldn’t you just add these two features back in?” Marty asked.
“Not and meet the release date. We know what our capacity is, and
we’re at it.”
“I better talk to the sales guy if this is the best you can do. What if
you put everyone on overtime? Or hire more people?” Marty asked.
“The learning curve is too steep. If we hire people now, they won’t
be up to speed before the release date. And extended overtime—
three months—would guarantee the developers make too many
mistakes and the testers will be too tired to find them.
“I’d be happy to talk to the sales guys with you,” Sam finished.
Marty harrumphed but agreed.

This is what it looks like to recognize human nature when you are making software, and I think we all know that in reality, the dialog doesn’t typically end with “Marty harrumphed but agreed.”

 

The beginnings of my credo
I’ve now written a few posts involving work that will end with my own personal software credo.  With this chapter on human nature, I’ve written the first few belief statements in my credo:

I believe humans work best when we are allowed to be human.  To deny our humanity, our emotions, our physicality and the ways these work together to form us is to cut ourselves off from ourselves and results in work that is less than our best.
I believe that if we don’t, as individuals, understand our own human nature, we will not be able to understand anyone else or what they try to say to us.
I believe that people mis-use or over-use technology when they don’t understand or are fearful of their own humanity.
I believe that there are a few people in this world who willfully damage others.  Those people don’t belong on any software-making team.

 

 

 

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