free html hit counter
Posted on: Friday, 04 September 2009 by Rajiv Popat

Myth: Builders Are Not Good At Communicating With People.

During my early days as a young and budding developer; I was an introvert.

As I grew up and started observing others developers around me; I started seeing more and more developers; some of them who were even veteran heavy-weigh programming champions; being labeled as introverts who basically keep to themselves.

As developers quite a few of us have been or are labeled as 'shy' --- 'introvert' --- and 'quite'.  In general; we seem to have an image of pesky programmers who are not very good with people.

I dear reader; am here to tell you that; the whole notion of builders not being very good at communication is one of the biggest myths in the world of software development.

So; during my young and budding days as a developer; I was an introvert.Then somewhere along the line; I developed a keen interest in understanding how the human brain and humans beings in general; work. I got interested in management and entrepreneurship. Because of my interest in these topics the scope of conversations I liked involving myself in; increased and I could suddenly strike comfortable conversations with clients and managers.

It was at this point that I realized that I was never an introvert.

The problem with me was never not-being-good-at-communication or not-being-very-outgoing. The problem with me; like most software developers was that I; like most nerds was just not into small talk.

Michael Lopp in his nerd handbook describes this exact same phenomenon:

Your nerd might come off as not liking people. Small talk. Those first awkward five minutes when two people are forced to interact. Small talk is the bane of the nerd’s existence because small talk is a combination of aspects of the world that your nerd hates.

When your nerd is staring at a stranger, all he’s thinking is, “I have no system for understanding this messy person in front of me”. This is where the shy comes from. This is why nerds hate presenting to crowds. The skills to interact with other people are there. They just lack a well-defined system.

In the same article; Michael describes why Nerds are not truly the introverts they are presented to be. He explains:

People are the most interesting content out there. If you’ve got a seriously shy nerd on your hands, try this: ask him how many folks are in his buddy list? How many friends does he have in Facebook? How many folks are following him on Twitter? LiveJournal? My guess is that, collectively, your nerd interacts with ten times more people than you think he does. He can do this because the interaction is via a system he understands — the computer.

Your nerd knows that people are interesting. Just because he can’t look your best friend straight in the eye doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to know what makes her tick, but you need to be the social buffer — the translation layer. You need to find one common thread of interest between your nerd and your friend and then he’ll engage because he will have found relevance.

To be honest; it is not so much about the medium of communication being a well defined system as it is about the very basis of the conversation and small-talk. If you want to understand what I mean; go walk up to a genuine builder deeply submerged in his code and ask him how he was doing or what he thinks about the weather. Chances are the conversation will end even before it begins.

Now wait for a couple of days; and then walk up to the same builder seeking help with refactoring a function you are writing. Chances are; that not only will he fix your function; he will actually spend hours explaining to you why he made the changes he made. Drift the conversation towards whether now; and suddenly you will see this builder that you are talking to also has a strong opinion about whether.

The whole notion that builders are not good at communicating stuff back to the business or their managers is a notion full of a truck load of crap. When you are working with genuine builders what is really most important is the initial connection. Base it on a platform the builder feels at home with and you are in for a deep dive into the builder mind; and there is a lot going on in these minds.

Philosophies ranging from how to build better stuff; to how you should live a meaningful life and why you should do what you love doing or why you should give in a little bit extra. It is a gold mine of information; but the rules of getting in are simple --- you have to either be a genuine builder or at-least speak the language your genuine builders speak.

Every brain in your organization that belongs to a genuine builder is ticking and trying to communicate ---- constantly.

The real question is --- can you; communicate with your genuine 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.