Sunday, October 7, 2007

Programming and Community

So my last few blog posts got me thinking about how I personally approach programming and the job I do from day to day. In fact a sermon delivered by my Unitarian Universalist minister this morning solidified for me how I think about my approach to programming. The sermon was on Big P and little p politics. What struck me about the sermon was how well a conversation about our little UU community fit with the programming communities that we all work in (assuming that we do not work for ourselves or alone).

The sermon described Big P politics as things like espousing to vote for certain people, or telling people that they should think a certain way. While little p politics, our minister goes on to describe, are the things and actions that we take in our community. The important part of this second "little p" politics to me was how she described what was vitally important to the topic, the ideas of D and P.

In this case, she joked, she was not talking about Democrat and Republican and by using it I am not talking about Theory D and Theory P but rather she was speaking of DIALOG and RESPECT.

These two ideas should be one of the corner stones of what we do as programmers. We should all be capable of entering into a dialog with our fellow programmers in a mutually respectful way. How does this translate into the world? Any and all of us should be willing to have our minds open and be able to enter into any conversation about programming being willing to change our minds about a particular topic that previously we may have taken for granted. i.e. we should treat our community of programmers with respect and always be prepared to have our pre-conceived notions challenged and overturned by someone else.

This idea of dialog and respect can be powerful - and transformative (along the lines of Reg Braithwaite's post on blog postings he would love to read), but we must be careful about the definitions. By dialog we are not talking about flame wars (these are dialogs yes but not constructive ones in my opinion) - but rather an open and free conversation between people of mutual OR dissonant intent. This second idea (of speaking to non-like minded folk) is very important to the this topic of dialog and respect in the following way:

If we choose to spend our time only talking to people that we know hold the same ideals as us we are not challenging and we are not learning.

If we only speak to like minded people we are foolishly sticking to our guns and have become logically 'stuck'. We may also have stopped acknowledging that others may have something important and vital to contribute and as such are not respecting them and their learning. Only when we are open to having conversations with both like minded and dissonant thinking people, having our minds changed/challenged, are we approaching any dialog with respect. This is what can make us better, raise us all up a level, make our community stronger - help us All to get along.

The idea that little p politics can play this roll in our every day lives can easily be missed, but I encourage all readers of this blog not to ignore it. Take time to realize what effect you may have on people you work with from day to day. Pay attention to the effect you may have on the organization and community at large. Use the little p politics to strengthen yourself and our programming community - the large and the small - the world as well as the Big Co. programming group you work with.
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