The social touch

Larry Osterman's recent blog entry gathered stories about a passed-away core Windows Multimedia developer, Syon Bhattacharya. I had never even heard about Syon before Larry's post, yet the memories and stories collected managed to impress me. My condolences to everybody who actually knew him. But allow me to publicly iterate some thoughts raised by Larry's post, as many things said therein jibe well with my recent thoughts on people in the IT business.
It seems Syon was a paragon of a truly dedicated hacker-spirit in the most positive connotation of the word. This is the type of person the IT world could use: the person who relentlessly pursues perfection in their field, but still does it in a spirit that benefits the end user of the product, the fellow developer and the IT field in general.
The problem is not lack of pursuit for perfection. We have plenty of that, even if the methods – or perhaps even the definition of "perfection" – may be suboptimal. Now, it's easy to guess my point: The problematic part is the "spirit that benefits [somebody else]" part. The selfish attitude is a growing problem, and it's further emphasized by the competitive spirit dominant in many companies (perhaps also fueled by the ever-increasing role of money as a work incentive). "Since information is power, it is not be distributed" – and this attitude alone ruins projects, not to mention human relationships.
Eric S. Raymond's old description of hacker attitude is a good start. However, the hackerisms described are a slippery slope. It's very easy to slide into extreme arrogance once you've become competent at something… An excellent start for a row of failures. While you may get away from it in an open source project with little direct social connections, real life jobs are another thing.
The business direly needs more people who not only understand the technology, but also can mediate between people from vastly different backgrounds. I'm not talking about meetings with salesmen, I'm talking about the developers, architects and project managers who, for example, get that new coder with Java-only competence into their .NET project and face the task of making the dude useful. Close-minded extreme focus on technology is a key ingredient in certain types of development, but most everyday programming tasks and teams benefit more from the open information sharing and supportive attitudes – which is, by the way, a surprisingly good substitute for bleeding edge competence on new technologies.
It's clear Syon was an excellent programmer – a programmer of a level most of us will never reach. Still, his kind character dominates the memorial writings over his significant abilities as an engineer. Since it's likely most of us will fade away with less respectable programming skills, wouldn't it be about time to focus on the character? Technical superiority is far from being the be-all, end-all target for becoming an excellent software developer. Social skills and the vibes you emit are far more critical in determining your true status. I think we've just seen a prime example.

December 19, 2004 В· Jouni Heikniemi В· No Comments
Posted in: General

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