(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

Winning is overrated

OK, Jason. Failure is overrated.

The lessons learned from doing well give you a better chance at continuing your success. (Jason Fried, signalvsnoise.com)

But winning is too.

Sometimes you have no other option that losing. Your competition is far stronger than you. You are an amateur playing against a professional. You are in bad shape this season or in a wrong mood today. Or you don’t have enough experience… yet.

You are going to lose. But you won’t get shaper, nor stronger, you won’t reach pro level, nor acquire enough experience just by quitting.

Sometimes you just need to lose, and losing while making your best effort is far better than winning by default.

Beppo Roadsweeper and the state of flow

You see, Momo,’ he [Beppo Roadsweeper] told her one day, ‘it’s like this. Sometimes, when you’ve a very long street ahead of you, you think how terribly long it is and feel sure you’ll never get it swept.’
He gazed silently into space before continuing. ‘And then you start to hurry,’ he went on. ‘You work faster and faster, and every time you look up there seems to be just as much left to sweep as before, and you try even harder, and you panic, and in the end you’re out of breath and have to stop – and still the street stretches away in front of you. That’s not the way to do it.’

When there is too much work to be done, you don’t need to hurry up. You need to slow down. You don’t want to arrive late because of the shortcut you tried.

[…]’You must never think of the whole street at once, understand? You must only concentrate on the next step, the next breath, the next stroke of the broom, and the next, and the next. Nothing else.’
Again he paused for thought before adding, ‘That way you enjoy your work, which is important, because then you make a good job of it. And that’s how it ought to be.’

A focused work is enjoyable.

[…]’And all at once, before you know it, you find you’ve swept the whole street clean, bit by bit. What’s more, you aren’t out of breath.’ He nodded to himself. ‘That’s important, too,’ he concluded.”

Finally, a focus work is productive in the short run and even more productive in the long run.

When you are trapped by tons of work to be done, divide the task, prioritize, let you fall into the state of flow, and do and celebrate on each step. And then repeat.

 

Related:

Why are you doing what you are doing?

Batman: It’s just something I have to do.
Vicky Vale: Why?
Batman: Because nobody else can.

Bruce Wayne: People are dying, Alfred. What would you have me do?
Alfred: Endure, Master Wayne. […] that’s the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.

Why are you doing what you are doing?

  • You aren’t doing it because they told you to do it.
  • You aren’t doing it because you think you should.
  • You aren’t doing it because they’re paying you to do it.
  • You aren’t doing it because you think it needs to be done.

You are doing it because you know it’s the right thing to do, and because if you didn’t do it, nobody else would.

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

Quotes on power and responsibility

“with great power comes great responsibility” (Uncle Ben, Spiderman)

“Management now builds companies around people, not factories […] this gives employees far more power than ever before. Truly talented individuals are worth more, because when they move from one organization to another, they bring more value with them. But this power also brings a huge responsibility to the individual. If your boss isn’t giving you the opportunity to zoom, you have to protect your personal mDNA and leave for a job in which you can improve it. […] Smart, talented employees will work to maximize the value of their mDNA. Smart, talented bosses will work to find and keep those smart employees” (Survival is not enough, Seth Godin)

When looking for a job, search for companies that let you grow. And then do your best, until you have grown enough.

When looking for an employee, search for people that want to grow. And then empower them to do their best, until they have grown enough.

Whether you’re hiring or being hired, you have both power and responsibility. Use your power. Accept your responsibility.


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