Avoiding conformity and doing art

how an extensive software process can impede the real work

In The E-Myth Revisited, Michael E. Gerber describes the perfect business model as

Operated by People with the Lowest Possible Level of Skill. Yes, I said lowest possible level of skill. Because if your model depends on highly skilled people, it's going to be impossible to replicate. Such people are at a premium in the marketplace. They're also expensive, thus raising the price you will have to charge for your products.

It's perfect because lowest possible skill level leads to the highest replaceability. High replaceability moves all control into the business. If you don't conform we will just replace you.

To some extent this is expected. I am not investing and taking on risk. Why should I expect to do anything but to implement what I am told? Why is it important that I do much more than that?

Doing what you are told

A little background on my job: We use processes like scrum and tools like Jira to increase visibility. Tickets are created by product with engineering and design input, and this system usually works well. It's a nice way of iterating the product in a controlled manner.

In a recent rebranding however this system has failed. Under the pressure of having to redesign all our systems at once, design was swamped, and we were given a half-baked mock. This is frustrating because ... I am not the designer ... I am just a dev. The very system that is there to eliminate all of my unknowns, so I can just program, stunts my creativity in situations like this. I am not supposed to think creatively I am just supposed to change the app to match the mock.

We are three weeks in, and I just realized that I can take liberty fill in where the mock lacks. The incomplete nature was intentional. Why was that such a hard conclusion for me to come to? Because when you are trained to obey it's hard to think for yourself. It's not your job.

Hot takes 🔥

  • Systems like scrum are "sold" to us with promises of increased productivity, but they trade our humanity in for visibility.
  • We should be optimizing for effectiveness not efficiency, but our systems are set up so that efficiency is rewarded.
  • If all you do is move tickets across a jira board, you are a factory worker.
  • There is still some art left to be done in software engineering, and that is where the premium in our market will be found.
  • People that shed the notion that they are just the implementer will be the same people that create the best products.

How the process can get in the way

Great software lives at the intersection of humanity and innovation. When I have to obey all the time I lose the humanity I have and just follow.

The systems we stand up to track points, increase visibility, or spread the work around are the same systems that create a 1000 extra little questions. This indirection adds to the hard task of thinking creatively and makes the whole effort exhausting.

In this world coasting is easy and making a difference is hard.

Don't just conform - do art

The path forward for me is to fill in where the design is lacking. To bring my whole self to the product. To not wait for approval or someone to ask me to do so.

And for the future, even though it's "not prioritized right now" and "not apart of our sprint goals" I will find the root of the problem instead of just shuffling tickets on Jira.

  • I will practice my craft and get better at what I do instead of waiting for a training to be approved
  • I will be proud of my humanity and what I bring to the table
  • I will work undistracted instead of searching for certainty in meetings and notifications

Have some empathy

Have empathy for the people behind the process. In my own situation, I doubt that the way our systems have made me feel was intentional. There are some great people out there that have just accepted "this is the way the world works." They aren't the enemy.

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