Management

The Quiet Revolution?

facebooktwitterlinkedinmailfacebooktwitterlinkedinmail

The topic of introversion is particularly important in the IT industry, which seems to attract many people with such mindset. In this article I am reviewing ‘the book that started the Quiet Revolution’ (or at least that’s how it’s been advertised). Is it really that powerful? Read on to find out.

The Extrovert Ideal Considered Harmful

Susan Cain starts her book – ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ – with a brave attack on the icons of modern self-help techniques and business approaches, like Anthony Robbins, Dale Carnegie and the Harvard Business School. While the personality model promoted by them has dominated the Western world, she argues that it’s actually harmful for a large part of our society. The ideal of a dynamic, open, outgoing individual, attracting others’ attention, with great presentation skills, showing a lot of ‘energy’ and raising many ideas, is not natural for at least one third of the world’s population.

Those people, who we call ‘introverts’ for the lack of a better term, seem to prefer thinking before acting, calm behavior, limited amount of social interactions, careful decision making and working individually rather than in groups. On the other hand, they lead a very rich ‘internal’ life and usually have great imagination. Because of all these traits, introverts are often seen as shy, unpleasant, sad, or even cynical and unhappy. In most cases, this is far from true, yet extroverts find it very difficult to understand.

sad photo

Why are you so sad today?

– is one of typical, frustrating questions that introverts would repeatedly hear from family or co-workers. Many of them give in and try to comply with the established standards of behavior. They would fake enjoying interactions with people, appearing open and expressive – just to be more ‘successful’.

Susan claims that such forced behavior is not necessary, and many famous people achieved something spectacular not just despite their introverted nature – but even thanks to it. Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Gandhi, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton – she gives many examples of very successful people who demonstrated behaviors typical for introverts on a daily basis.

Introverts Are Not ‘Cool’

The author tries to understand the reasons behind such behaviors. One lead is that many introverts are also oversensitive (in psychological sense). It means they would feel stronger emotions in reaction to a beautiful piece of music or a poem, but also to explicit violence and ugliness, than an average extrovert. They also tend to be meticulous and conscientious. That’s why they feel more nervous in situations like meeting new people or presenting in front of a large audience.

You’ve got to come over to the party tonight – you will relax, I promise.

After digging deeper and reviewing some more research, it turned out that babies with highly reactive behaviors (e.g. squealing with delight when seeing colorful toys) tend to grow into rather careful and serious teenagers, which seems counter-intuitive. Further investigation suggested that such behavior is tied to having an exceptionally sensitive amygdala. The more reactive it is, the faster the baby’s heartbeat will be when experiencing new stimulus, the more cortisol will appear in its saliva, and so on. For a grown-up, who tries to control reactions, such response from the nervous system will mean more stress, and thus an incentive to avoid confronting the unknown.

Another interesting observation is that extroverts sweat less than introverts and therefore seem ‘cooler to touch’. Some people think that it may be the origin of the saying ‘be cool’. If you think that’s a positive thing, consider that the ‘coolest’ people in this context are sociopaths, who are the least reactive and thus don’t care or feel guilty about their deeds…

Why do you always have to be so anti-social? No excuses this time!

In general, the balance of introversion and extroversion for each of us seems to result from the ‘fight’ happening between our ‘old brain’ (the part coming from our evolutionary ancestors, primitive mammals – eat more, take pleasure, seek reward, take more risks) and the neocortex (think, plan, decide, be careful). Highly reactive people are more susceptible to the guidance of the latter, while extroverts’ behaviors are more frequently driven by the former.

Who needs introverts after all?

Susan claims that the world would be a much better place if we stopped pushing those people into the ‘standard’ model of behavior (the Extrovert Ideal). She suggests that some past accidents and tragedies might have been avoided if we had more introverts as decision makers, for example the global financial crisis of 2008. Wall Street was dominated by people with specific personality, who pushed away more careful people pointing to disturbing statistics.

Society doesn’t seem to trust introverts. They are too quiet, they avoid interactions, maybe hiding something bad or deeply hating humanity… That’s why it’s more probable for an extrovert to have a successful career, get promoted or sell a product.

However, this approach is gradually changing. Not only because of this knowledge being spread, but also due to more and more great companies and products being created by introverted minds, making them famous, rich and powerful. The software industry is full of such stories and this trend shall continue in the coming decades. The growing virtual world is the perfect space for introverts to show their abilities without negative stimulus for their brains.

Summary

I hope this article got you interested in this wide and important topic. I can certainly recommend Susan Cain’s book, as it contains much more detailed information and can prove very helpful not just at work, but in your whole life – regardless of where you are on the introvert-extrovert scale.

In the next post, I’m going to write about some practical implications of this concept for us as IT leaders, and what we can do to allow our introverted employees to reveal their full potential.

facebooktwitterlinkedinmailfacebooktwitterlinkedinmail
Standard
Technical Leadership

8 Very Specific Things about Software Developers

facebooktwitterlinkedinmailfacebooktwitterlinkedinmail

Software developers are a specific group. While every person is unique, some behaviors and qualities of many developers, or aspects of their work, are clearly different than the average employee’s. In this article, I am going to list what I believe is so specific about programmers, and how it may impact your job as their leader.

If you’re working in a different industry, the below list may help you understand some challenges that managers in IT (or software development, at least) face. And, quite possibly, see things from a bit different perspective the next time you want to blame the IT department for not solving problems in the way you would expect (like ‘why can’t you just add more developers to this project?’).

science photo

1. Developers are very smart

First of all, you’re going to be working with people whose IQ is usually much higher than the population average. It’s an honor and a truly exciting opportunity, if you think about it. It also means an extra effort for you in order to make sure that their work remains challenging and that you keep their engagement high.

Developers will also be more resistant to various pseudo-leadership techniques, and will easily see through even slight manipulation attempts. Forget about sugar-coating, feedback sandwiches etc. Be open and honest if you want their trust.

2. Hiring developers is difficult

Even if you haven’t had a chance to hire anyone yet, you’re probably aware that this job market is very challenging. Finding someone with really good skills can take a long time. You’ll be competing with many other companies to attract the best people, and it won’t be enough to just pay them higher than others. Organization’s culture, working environment, tools and processes in use, types of projects, skills of the current team members – it can all count for your candidates.

Opinions about employers spread quickly throughout developers’ communities, so you may need to work on your brand for a long time. Moreover, it’s not easy to properly assess a candidate’s potential, and hiring the wrong person could mean wasting another few months.

3. Developers are narrowly specialized

You can’t simply replace one developer with another. Not only are they usually focused on a specific technology stack (like Java or .NET), they also typically have preferred lower-level technologies, tools or system layers that they focus on (like front-end or database). Changing that can take a lot of time (we’re usually talking years to become an expert), and it may be a similar case with knowledge about a particular system or project.

This makes replacing people who leave the team more difficult, as well as affects flexibility when planning projects. You can’t just move developers from one team or project to another when the business changes priorities – you need to make sure they will fit in with their skills, and give them time to learn the insides of the other application. And for a complex system, losing a developer may mean an irreversible loss of knowledge for the company. This is a much higher risk than for most professions.

4. Developers can differ in abilities vastly

Another reason why you can’t easily replace a team member is the difference in their skill level. Being a great developer does not only mean delivering software a bit faster or with higher quality than an average one. Such person may actually be able to accomplish things that others won’t, e.g. due to the problem’s complexity or deep understanding of some technology that required years to master. For some types of software, you may not even be able to move on without hiring some top talent in the field.

5. Developers hate being managed

This point can obviously be related to other professions to some extent, but it’s the software development world where Agile concepts have gained the widest adoption so far. Because of that, many developers are used to working in self-organizing teams and are especially sensitive to attempts of interfering with the details of their work by management. If you don’t have a fresh technical background, better stay out of the way and trust your developers to make good decisions. Even if you do, avoid forcing the team to use your own ideas for technical solutions. Help your people grow, coach them and facilitate discussions, but allow them to find the path to building high quality software on their own.

boss photo

6. Developers’ work is a creative process

There have been many attempts to fit software development into manufacturing patterns, treating employees like factory workers that have a detailed plan and execute it in a predictable and strictly controlled way. So far no such process has been applied successfully on a larger scale, simply because writing code is a creative activity that cannot be defined, estimated and planned so easily.

Building software means solving a different type of problem every day, even for very typical, ‘boring’ business applications. There’s always some unexpected obstacles or issues to investigate, new technology aspects to understand, high- and low-level technical design considerations, not to mention writing complex algorithms or designing UI details. Each of these activities may depend on having the right idea ‘click’ in a developer’s head, and thus each of them may ruin a carefully crafted plan.

That’s why programming is difficult to plan in detail and estimates are frequently missed. There are also other implications, e.g. developers need to work in peace and quiet most of the time, to focus and eliminate distractions. However, they also need the freedom to discuss ideas in a group, consult solutions or get help from others. Think about it when planning the office space or coaching the team in communication practices.

7. Most developers are introverts

It’s usually estimated that between 1/4th and 1/3rd of the population consists of people with an introvert mindset, who are motivated by their internal thought process rather than interactions with other people (I’m simplifying greatly). Among software developers these proportions seem to be opposite. This has a whole lot of consequences from the perspective of a manager, starting from your daily communication with such individuals and their preferred work environment, to the way you deliver feedback for them and recognize their achievements. I am going to write more about this topic in future articles.

8. Developers don’t dream about a management career

Most people treat their job as just something they do from 9 to 5 to earn money. Then they go back home and spend the evening with their families, or engage in their hobbies, counting days down till the weekend.

But developers… They just love writing code and creating software. Well, not all of them, but many. It’s not frequent for an activity performed at work to be so interesting that you would eagerly do something similar in your free time – and developers are just that lucky. Because of this, many don’t even consider other roles and are good to work as developers for the whole career.

This means a bit different challenge from an engagement perspective. You won’t motivate a developer by saying ‘today you’re working on crappy stuff, but hey, one day you may become a manager of this mess…’ No, you need to seriously take care of ensuring that the work your people do is meaningful and interesting.

Summary

For the reasons described above, some of the generic leadership advice that we can learn from various sources will not apply to our industry, or at least it won’t be so straightforward. You might need to focus on different aspects than other managers, assume different priorities, and face problems that would rarely happen outside of IT or software development.

Do you have any observations of your own about this topic, or anything to add to this list? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

facebooktwitterlinkedinmailfacebooktwitterlinkedinmail
Standard