(Software) people have the power!

Where the pure air recognized
And my senses newly opened
I awakened to the cry
That the people have the power

People have the power (Patti Smith)

Hollywood blockbusters have depicted software developers or computer scientists as unstable freaks, unable of living a normal life. Best case, we were performing as a sidekick for the hero, assisting him with some dark security issue, so he can go on, kicking asses and kissing the girl.

average_software_developers

Average software developers discussing how to hack John McLane’s way for saving the world today. One lives in his mother’s basement. The other has no friends at all.

This kind of role is normally associated with comic relief based on clothing, being fat and socially incompetent.

comic_relief_software_developer

You are the one preventing T-Rexes from wrecking havoc so why should you worry for cleaning your desk (or yourself)?

The other role a software developer could play was as assistant to the bad guy. Just a tool for some business or military master mind who is carrying the task of dominating the free world.

average_evil_software_developer

Bad guys: the brain, the brute and the software developer

But, while everyone was having a good time watching this social outcasts helping the main characters, software was already filling every hole, crack and space in real life. First through the internet. Then through digitization and through cell phones. And this software is done by real developers. Not like the ones portrayed in the movies.

Programmers don’t think of themselves as people with the power to change the world. Most programmers I know, including myself, grew up as nerds, geeks, social outcasts. […] What do you do when you wake up one day and software has kind of eaten the world, and it is no longer clear if software is in fact an unambiguously good thing, like we thought, like everyone told us … like we wanted it to be?

To serve man, with software (Jeff Attwood)

And now, without anyone even realizing, real programmers are ruling the world.

We rule the world. We programmers. We rule the world. We write the rules that make our society work. […] Without software: Phones don’t ring. Cars don’t start. Planes don’t fly. Bombs don’t explode. Ships don’t sail. Ovens don’t bake. Garage doors don’t open […] Nothing happens without software. And what is software? Software is a set of rules. […] To protect our society from the power they have unwittingly ceded to us, we should adopt a code of ethics that describes our sworn promise and duty to humbly use our power to serve.

The obligation of a programmer (Bob Martin)

With great power comes great responsibility. What are we doing about it?

Then he waited, marshaling his thoughts and brooding over his still untested powers. For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next. But he would think of something.

A Space Odissey. (Arthur C. Clarke)

 

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Quote on being done

Science isn’t about being right every time, or even most of the time. It is about being more right over time and fixing what it got wrong. (Scott Adams, Sciences biggest fail)

Sometimes, some things are just never done. You just need to iterate until the result is not perfect nor complete, but good enough for your customer.

Quote: The magical power behind deadlines

nano-bernsteins

[To write a novel] You need a super-powered, diabolical device that will transform you into a bastion of literary accomplishment. And I’m happy to report that this implement is in the house, and it’s just waiting for you to pick it up.

Without hyperbole, I can say that this tool is the most awesome catalyst that has ever been unleashed on the worlds of art and commerce. Nearly every beautiful and useful thing you’ve ever touched or witnessed was born in its mighty forge. It’s portable, affordable, and nonpolluting. 

[…] What you need to write a novel, of course, is a deadline.

Deadlines are the dynamos of the modern age. They’ve built every city, won every contest, and helped all of us pay our taxes reasonably close to on time for years and years.

Chris Baty. Why deadlines are every writer’s secret weapon

I first published in my school’s newspaper when I was eleven. Since then I started to write a novel at least three times, never achieving more than a dozen pages.

Then NaNoWrimo came to scene, with its gigantic deadline. 50.000 words. 30 days. A novel from start to end, while doing your best to keep up with your life.

NaNoWriMo. A challenging but clear goal in an agreed, achievable time box. I couldn’t do anything but commit.

A deadline is, simply put, optimism in its most ass-kicking form. It’s a potent force that, when wielded with respect, will level any obstacle in its path.

Chris Baty. Why deadlines are every writer’s secret weapon

Optimistic ass-kicked as I was, I won. Four times. Thanks to the magical power of deadlines.


Related: How to make deadlines actually work, Jason Fried at Inc.com
Related: Why deadlines are every writer secret weapon, Chris Baty at NaNoWriMo.org
Related: About NaNoWriMo at nanowrimo.org
Related: Quotes on planning, Quotes on time pressure

Trying is harmful

Do, or do not. There is no try.
(Master Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back)

  • We’ll try to meet tomorrow
  • I’ll try to be on time
  • We try to improve every day
  • I’ll try not to let you down

The verb ‘to try‘ is the shield behind which we hide when we are not sure, when we don’t really feel like doing something, when we try to avoid uncertainty, when we don’t want to make a commitment.

The verb ‘to try‘ is a wild card, is the way we can walk through without burning any bridges.

Up to what point does inserting to try into the sentence affects our mood, our will, the results of our actions?

Are we doing our best when we are just trying? Or are our words leading to a path of failure?

How different do the words sound when we rule the lack of commitment, the laziness and the fear out!

  • We’ll meet tomorrow
  • I’ll be on time
  • We improve every day
  • I won’t let you down

How different do they sound when we stop trying and start doing!

Embed purpose beside the goal

Every project, every plant, every firm has one goal.

So this is the goal: To make money by increasing net profit, while simultaneously increasing return on investment, and simultaneously increasing cash flow.

Eliyahu M. Goldratt.

Sometimes you don’t agree with the goal. Sometimes you don’t understand the goal. Or even you don’t know about it.

But whether you are aligned with the goal or not, you can always work beyond the goal. You can always embed purpose on the project. On your work.

What is purpose?

Purpose is not the goal. Is beyond the goal. And it touches everyone involved in a deeper, more personal way.

mike-tysons-punch-out

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out was a milestone on videogame development.It probably fulfilled its goal.

But the people working on the game also instill purpose into it by inserting an inspiring declaration from world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson into the box.

punchout_advice.jpg

Quitting is for people who are not serious about their goals. If you give up trying, you will never achieve your goal.
Mike Tyson.

Maybe you can’t choose the goal of your project. But you always can choose which kine of purpose you instill on it.

Short run vs long run

Lisbon is quite a beautiful city, with a beautiful past.

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It seems that Marques’ pastry shop was thought, many years ago, as a business in the long run. So long that, at least, one other store has taken over.

Very few business, if someone at all, will today be built on stone. Flexibility and fastness have overcome stability and steadiness.

You will need many work hours, and a municipal permit, to erase Marques’ name from the main entrance. But you can replace the Stradivarius nameplate in a matter of minutes.

Sometimes you just can’t chose betting on robustness, and have to work on speed and readiness for change instead.

But I can’t help thinking how nice it must have been working with Mister Marques.

 

Why are you doing what you are doing (2)?

Matlab, the computing environment, had quite a nice sense of humor while presenting examples of applications to do with it. From drawing a penny to simulate the flushing flux of a toilet, a list of hidden commands will give you some interesting hints about how to use the environment.

But my favorite was always the why funcion. I could imagine a pair of mathematicians implementing the environment, reaching a dead-end on a development or failing to find the origin of a bug on the software. They both ask why the system is failing. Why they can’t find the error. Why do they need to implement this part of the system in the first place. Why. Why! WHYYYY!!!

And then, one told the other, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if there where an automatic way for finding it out?”. And the other one smiled. “Let’s work on it”.

Matlab’s why function is just a random generator of answers to this typical question. Things like “Because she asked some system manager” or “Because Bill wanted it this way”.

The funny idea and the random answers don’t hide the fact that we need to know why. Besides, we need to ask why. We need to know if we’re doing what we should be doing.

If you’re not doing it because of this, maybe you should stop doing it. And start doing the right thing you only can do.

In fact, one of the randomly-generated answers to Matlab’s why function is “Don’t you have something better to do?”