Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Affording Agile (Emotionally)

A few ideas rattling around my head need a place to live while I think them through, so I am shoveling them into the ole blog so I can think about prepping materials and exercises for a class I am teaching soon.

I was considering an archetype developer that we've all seen (heck, half of us have been) and how hard it is to reach this particular type when doing any kind of a technology or methodology change.  Here's the stream:
  • There is this guy who believes he's an exceptional programmer, but underrated and under-respected by his peers. Why does he think he's good?
  • Maybe he doesn't really believe it. maybe he's afraid. (@RonJeffries)
  • A guy who never thinks or reads about programming off-hours, never goes to talks, hates pairing, skips reviews. Thinks himself an expert?
  • b/c folks like that have a Darwinistic career advantage over peers who /are/ good but think they're mediocre/overpaid/overrated (@LancePurple).
  • I suspect Dunning-Kruger Effect. Not good enough to know he's not the best there is. Needs to get out more.
  • There's an old chestnut that 80% of licensed drivers believe themselves to be above-average in driving skill.
  • Svenson, O. (February 1981). "Are we all less risky and more skillful than our fellow drivers?". Acta Psychologica 47
  • McCormick, Walkey, Green ('86). "Comparative perceptions of driver ability— A confirmation and expansion". Accident Analysis & Prevention
The idea bubbling under the surface of all of this is that maybe there are entire groups of people who can't emotionally afford to work in an Agile way.  In addition to those who have various social dysfunctions (like my friends with Asperger's Syndrome or those simply untrained to social forms of work as I was) there are people who suffer from illusory superiority or from imposter syndrome
An advantage of working in an agile team is the feedback you have with your team members. You differ in approach and mindset, and you get to enjoy each other's genius and mania. I have learned great tips and techniques from people without a tenth of the experience I have, and have often felt surprised when people feel they've learned from me when I didn't think I was doing anything novel or smart. 
But now I wonder if that synergy isn't seen as measurement as well as an opportunity. Learning about "incremental" and "entity" theory of intelligence has me holding to a new appreciation of how hard it is for people to make this change. 
Where does that leave me? I still don't know how to reach my archetypical developer who isn't interested in finding out that he's not as good as he thinks. His life doesn't center on his development skills, and "it's just a job." He is working heads-down doing the same stuff he's been doing the past n years and has every intention of carrying on the same way until retirement or death. How can I spark an interest in the craft? Can it be done? Can I reduce the personal threat of changing to an agile way of working? 
There, now it's on a blog and I can freely return to it later. All comments, suggestions, feedback, criticisms are welcome in the comments below. Thanks for bearing with me. 


  1. Would love to hear a bunch of experiences around this. "I threw a Seth Godin book at them." "Sent them to a conference." "Required they join an open source project." "We book clubbed this/these:..."

  2. It was suggested that because the doesn't get out very much, the archetype here probably has written the best code he's ever read (the sampled authors being a mere handful, and any code he doesn't understand being "bad").

  3. I remember a silly blockbuster-oriented martial arts movie in which the sensei says to the young student "I cannot teach you. Your cup is full. Come back when your cup is empty."