Kindness: What Makes a Great Technical Team

How do you quantify what makes a great working environment, a good team, and work worth doing? An important piece for me is kindness.

Kindness is Human

At the risk of speaking to some stereotypes here, kindness is incredibly important in teams where members often lack patience and social skills. It doesn’t have to hinder honesty, expedience, or effectiveness. In fact, showing a small amount of kindness in your daily interactions reminds the people you often work most closely with on otherwise dry, tactical topics that there’s more to work than just code or tech. It reminds people that both you and they are human, not software-delivering carbon units.

Kindness is Engaging

When you show a little kindness, maybe a bit of sympathy about how frustrating a specific framework or project is to the team, it allows people the opportunity to open up if they want to. By sharing a short, discrete moment where you’ve felt the same excitement or frustration for a technology, you’d be surprised how often it elicits candid conversations that you’d otherwise not have during normal sprints or reviews. It gives people the cue that it’s okay to be themselves a little.

Kindness is Strategic

Looking for a promotion? Counter to kissing ass with a boss, expressing a little kindness to everyone you work with signals to intelligent management that you pay attention to social cues and understand how to play well with others.

Again, the level of kindness you show shouldn’t detract from your efficiency or ability to be straightforward at work; it should enhance your efficiency by proactively smoothing the interactions you have with co-workers, partners, and other non-technical folks.

Kindness is Admirable

Everyone has bad days. It’s how we deal with them that signals to others how professional, reasonable, and capable you are when you get down to business. And let’s be honest…technology is a revolving door. The relationships you make at one organization can indefinitely benefit future positions you may hold. Just as honesty and effectiveness are qualities people remember, being unkind never gets you on the list of people that others want to carry with them to the next gig.

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7 Practical Tips for Inclusion

This chick I know, I interviewed her last week for my upcoming podcast debut. She’s phenomenal in a way that makes me so proud, grateful and humbled all at the same time. Sufficed to say, I found a place to put one of the ideas I had been holding on to ever since I started going to the Women In Tech group at my work:

“Practical Tips to Help White Dudes Help Out”

Trust me, I’m a subject matter expert on this. I’m so white, I made the vanilla ice cream we had for dessert tonight say “daaaaammn!” (then I ate it up). And though I’m not into sports and don’t have lots of chest hair, I am definitely dude.

I’m the kind of dude that wants to help. I have a son and daughter and I want the world to be a less sexist, less broken place by the time they are out in it. It’s that attitude I look for in others, not the other things that differ between us.

Yet it still remains, there are huge imbalances in society no matter what angle you look at things from. Good intention matters a little, but action in the face of injustice matters a whole lot more. It’s what you do that defines you to others most because only a few people in life will ever spend the time to see past that.

What Can We Do to Help?

The difficulty with things like gender inequality, under-representation, privilege, and inclusion is that they’re too nebulous/vague/ethereal for the side of the crowd that can/should/doesn’t do something about it, namely white dudes, to take action on a daily basis. It’s not that we’re white or that we’re dudes, but for whatever reason, many dudes just need practical instructions, marching orders, or technical requirements to move from well-meaning to noticeably effective.

So I wrote some specific tips down. Their implementation might differ from person to person, so I wrote them in their most generic form:

WP_20160214_004

Since they aren’t exactly marching orders, more fortune cookie mnemonics, I’ll put down some examples. They apply to all people, not just dudes to women, white people to everyone else, they apply to people who want to help other people. For the sake of this article, I’ll write it as instructions to my fellow white dudes:

1. Step up by being willing to step aside

Instead of offering your own idea, ask a co-worker for her opinion first. This works best if you do it once or twice casually on a personal basis before doing it in a group or meeting.

Doing so privately before hand can establish trust and help you understand if it’s appropriate to do so in a group setting like a meeting, so that you don’t accidentally put them on the spot.

If you do successfully help to elevate someone else in a group, congratulations you’re using your white dude privilege properly, that’s why you feel good.

2. Invert the situation in your head

When people address a group as “guys, guys”, think about what it would be like if you were in a group and someone addressed you as “ladies, ladies”. It’s a trite example, I know, figure of speech, but ask yourself: why is there even a gender associated with that figure of speech? #culture

When was the last time you heard the words “aw, it’s so great to see a man programmer, really brings some diversity of thought into the group”? or “really? you like beer? are you sure you don’t want some wine or a fruity drink?”

Gender/racial/sexual bias is baked in to _every_ aspect of American life, so there should be plenty of opportunities to invert the situation and see how subjugating it would feel to be on the other side of things.

3. Learn where the gaps are around you

Be willing to ask your human resources department to provide you statistics of gender, race, and ethnicity in your organization. Look around at how many black dudes or women are in your group? How about people from outside your background? If they say no, ask why? You can’t be fired for asking about this stuff. If you are, then be glad! You’re no longer working at the wrong place to work.

4. Don’t chalk things up to a stereotype

Please, white dudes, please do not in your head justify the actions that a woman is taking with the fact that she is a woman. Do not think that he’s thinking that way because he was raised in the ghetto (a.k.a. where all ignorant white dudes think black people come from). And for the love of whatever, please do not justify your homophobia by saying “so long as he doesn’t try to hit on me, I’m cool with it”.

Stereotypes limit people to presumptions you have about them regardless of their actions, which are the one thing we all control about ourselves. Reduce how someone chooses to put themselves out into the world, and you reduce your capacity to see clearly, to respect, to love, and to be loved.

5. Listen; be more interested than interesting

I will never reach a point where I can’t get better at listening. I’m terrible at it today, I hope to suck at it less tomorrow.

The more you listen (awareness), the more you maximize your opportunities. It’s that simple. Action without listening is ignorance.

The practical way to do this is to write “STFU” on your hand, on your notepad or tablet before a meeting, or picture everyone in the room having it tattooed to their foreheads.

When you actively listen to someone, you express interest in them. People like to feel interesting, just like you, and giving that feeling to them as a gift is not a complicated or expensive affair. Both parties win in the end.

6. Find a liaison, socialize, and invite

It’s intimidating to visit someone else’s group or circle. The easiest way to smooth that social gravel is to have someone native invite you and liaise between you and the group.

This puts a responsibility on you to be inviting and socialize people not in your group. It also puts a responsibility on all of these groups to be inviting and look for opportunities to become a liaison too. Yes, I’m calling everyone out here.

Women in tech, take the time to bring a white dude to group. Black people, there is so much I don’t deserve, but the privilege I have you’re welcome to it so long as you’re my friend. We share friendship, we share privilege. That’s one way to get things flowing in both directions.

7. Don’t let failure stop you from trying again

All of these things will feel awkward, not just for white dudes, but for everyone involved. Creating something new doesn’t come easy. Easy is comfortable. If you’re going to be uncomfortable, let it be because of something worthwhile.

Other people are worth it. Try again. Don’t push it…if you’re doing #5 well, you’ll know when to back off. But don’t let failure stop you from doing the right thing. If there are others doing the same, the effect of trying will multiply itself in time.

CTO vs. CIO: How many tech “corners” do you really need?

Have you ever thought about what “departments” really means? The word “department” starts with another word: “depart”. Stop, think, continue reading.

Technical Chief Officer’s Dilemma: Departments and “Agency”

Are you in a situation where you honestly need people who purposely segregate themselves into groups that start with a departure from each other, rather than a congregation of ideas, people, and purpose?

If you are responsible for a technology “department”, you are responsible for a “failure”. #explain

Consider a geometric line, the most efficient way to connect one point to another. If only people were that easy. Get enough of them together and you start having to group them into manageable departments. IT, Development, Operations, Finance, Sales, Marketing, Management. Business lines to make things easy, right?

Departments are “Depart”-ments

Wrong. Department f*ck screw things up. Drawing lines isn’t a good thing unless if it’s to connect people with each other. They distract people from the simple truth that businesses who succeed are filled with people who instinctually understand that they are all on the same path, together.

Consider a geometric shape, the triangle. A line plus one point, an important point, an entire dimension. What good does it do to add another point beyond that? A square? Another department? Finance? HR? Marketing? Why?

I’m minimizing, I know wonderful, necessary in finance and human resource. Apologies to them, it’s just to make a point.

Only the Right Lines Need to Be Drawn

People who work with very large organizations know this inside out. Enterprises, government agencies, financial institutions. Corporations. The more lines there are, the more overhead and lack of progress there is. Sure, there’s stability, structure, fortitude; but the further we get away from connecting point A to point B in a straight line, the less efficient we are.

Truly effective business starts with figuring out how to define things with the least number of lines. Communication, organization, collaboration all benefit from simplifying how many lines are drawn. #karma

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DevOps, Burnout, and the Search for the Holy Grail

I’ll be speaking at APIdays Melbourne about the technological equivalent of the holy grail, continuous deployment, and why maybe we should re-think certain dynamics coming from the push to “do DevOps”, which like many good ideas is marred by poor implementations and shotty management.

2/2 Update: Things come up, shit happens, and I am incredibly bummed not to be able to be part of the crew at APIdays Melbourne this time around. However, priorities are priorities, and I’m not going to regret missing the 18 hour flight there and back.

Grateful for the opportunity, hope this doesn’t burn bridges, but sufficed to say I’ll be there in spirit. Thinking of shipping a TelePresence bot and asking @switzerly to set it up for me. 🙂

I’ll still be looking to find a more local forum for this talk, hopefully at APIstrat.

Of course, I’ll be showing how to inject comprehensive testing into a pipeline of API design, build, deployment, and monitoring tools, but I’m a people person more than anything else, so germane to my presentation will be the topic of how “doing DevOps” affects us at a personal level too.

Humans are tool builders, not the other way around.

Why are we talking about DevOps?

I love the ideas coming from that space. Any time people work closer, tighter, better together, I’m down. But revenue doesn’t care about you or me, and the impetus behind most practical implementations of continuous delivery are indeed revenue, over-trumped expectations from the business on IT as their main blocker rather than proper decision making.

Often the result of forcing unprepared teams to “do DevOps”: #burnout

In November at APIstrat Austin I stood up and said that teams are more important to get right than the software they produce, though they’re both very important. People produce software. If the people are buggy (i.e. bad team dynamics), you will see that in their product.

At the company kick-off last week, I sat in the front row as a panel of exec-level customers validated that the immense pressure to release software faster than ever before is real, is connected directly to revenue (loss not just gain), and is incredibly challenging due to people problems more than just technological ones.

Business leaders looking to implement new paradigms on technical teams will also find it surprisingly hard to “do DevOps” if there are cultural or personal issues laying around like land mines. From my last job, I know this first-hand.

I’m a Developer, but My Cape is at the Dry Cleaners

15 years professionally and counting. Right now, I see that code written in an IDE isn’t the only important factor to bringing excellent products to market. Code of conduct in teams, the responsibilities a business has to its employees, and how we treat each other along the way to building world-class software are just as important for a sustainable business model

Sorry startups who “do DevOps” because it’s cool, call me in 6 months if you still exist and want to talk for real. I would *love* that as a podcast interview episode.

For now, like an underwhelming version of Clark Kent, I temporarily hang up my [developer] superhero cape, put on thick-rimmed glasses, and work a job in the big metropolis during the day. I am educating myself and rounding out my ideas on what it really takes to be in cutting edge technology. I surround myself with very driven, passionate, fun, and smart people to get better…at everything I can.

I am expanding my understanding of how to bring about great technology beyond what an IDE can provide me. I work with people, code, and businesses.

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