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Posted on: Friday, 24 April 2009 by Rajiv Popat

Of all the people I've worked with in my software development career; every single one of them; in terms of what they do; can be grouped into one or more of these three categories:

Irrespective of where you work, what you do, what your business card reads, what your designation is or what your role is --- you fall in one of these three categories: builders, story tellers, whiners.

After years of analyzing people; especially people who work in software development; that is the conclusion I have arrived at. 

Everyone is one of these three.

It is that simple.

You may have traits of one or more of the three but overall you are one of the three.  If you are going to read through this book, it is important that you understand these three personalities well; really well.

Learning from builders and story tellers is what this book is all about; so it makes sense to introduce you builders first.

Ready?

Read on.

Builders.

Builders build stuff. Amazing stuff. They ship.

They are the ones who might be making your life interesting with remarkable and innovative products or services and you may not even know it.

Christopher Baus learnt the importance of being a doer while making a career choice. He explains:

Software isn't about methodologies, languages, or even operating systems. It is about working applications. At Adobe I would have learned the art of building massive applications that generate millions of dollars in revenue.

Sure, PostScript wasn't the sexiest application, and it was written in old school C, but it performed a significant and useful task that thousands (if not millions) of people relied on to do their job.  There could hardly be a better place to learn the skills of building commercial applications, no matter the tools that were employed at the time. I did learn an important lesson at ObjectSpace. A UML diagram can't push 500 pages per minute through a RIP.

There are two types of people in this industry. Talkers and Doers. ObjectSpace was a company of talkers. Adobe is a company of doers. Adobe took in $430 million in revenue last quarter. ObjectSpace is long bankrupt.

That is exactly what builders do to organizations.

They build stuff; which invariably ends up building organizations.

They change crappy organizations into productive ones.

Silently. Innocently. Sometimes, even unknowingly.

If you've ever stumbled upon a team of genuine builders and you are a smart individual, there are a few things about builders you tend to learn rather quickly.

Most builders as it turns out, are quiet; very quiet --- at-least that's what most 'managers' will tell you. The notion of the introverted programmer who is so busy talking to the compiler that he loses touch with reality and stops talking to human beings is the stupidest stereotype painted by classical managers who for reasons more than one cannot seem to connect to builders.  You will of-course find builders to be incredibly quiet; but only till the time you connect to them.

If you've ever stumbled upon a team of genuine builders and have connected to them you probably know rather well that there are exactly two ways of connecting to builders.

The first one is so simple; it almost sounds stupid to write it down; and yet it is so important that I am going to indulge in the act of stupidity and write it down.

To connect to builders, you need to be a builder yourself.

That is correct. Builders, as it turns out, can smell stuff getting built from a ten mile radius. If the stuff that's getting built is genuinely remarkable they can sense it from a different planet or even a whole different universe. Your best chance of connecting to a team of builders in your organization, while you work with them, is to indulge yourself in the act of building and work with them; hand in hand.

Put simply, roll your sleeves and do some real work if you can.

The second way to connect to builders, is easier and harder that the first approach. Easier because you can walk into office tomorrow morning and do it; just like that. No special technical training required; no classes required; no special sixteen hours a day of slogging required. Harder because you won't do it. It is in fact so darn simple, I can spell it out in two small sentence for you; which is exactly what I'm going to do.

Ready?

Get out of their way.

Then when you have learnt how to do that get the bullshit out of their way and let them build stuff; even if it gets you fired. 

Doing both of these things is hard and they don't even teach you how to do these in management schools.

Actually, it is as hard as being a builder. It involves putting yourself in the line and taking all the crap that is redirected to them with one isolated focus - that the builders in your organization do not lose their focus. If you can genuinely and honestly do this, and can continue to exist in your organization, without actually getting fired; the builders will connect to you.

Once you connect to genuine builders in your organization though; either by the virtue of the fact that you are yourself a builder or by the virtue of the fact that you are a bullshit buster there are things you will learn about building stuff; about innovation; about how a builder's mind works and about how things get done.

Things most organizations and individuals do not care to know about. Things that are often not published by the articles that tend to talk about the labor and toiling of builders as a glamorous overnight success stories. Besides trying to study builders at work, this book will attempt to describe, as articulately as it can, some of these things, that I and others were able to learn by connecting to genuine builders and watching them in action.

Are you a builder?

Do you work with a team of builders?

What have you learnt by connecting to and working closely with a team of builders; dear reader?

Discuss.

Note: This article is a part of a Work In Progress Book. To Read connected articles read the Builders At Work category of this blog.