Let The Stapler Go

August 9, 2012

What do you suppose the average person thinks of when they hear the words “software engineer”? Perhaps they think of a famous (or infamous) entrepreneur who’s been forcing them to restart their PC for years. They might even think of a hip, well-built hacker with an earring who assembles software “worms” by racing to reconstruct some antagonistic digital Rubik’s Cube1. But I would bet that the majority of the population would think of a middle-aged man with high blood pressure and vitamin D deficiency. Well folks, I’m here to tell you that while that last group may have been right for years, the Age of Milton is over.

In the late eighties, software engineering was largely comprised of building back-office applications from white cubicle farms with fluorescent lighting. Nowadays, the profession has a sort of excitement and exhilaration behind it, primarily due to the nature of the products that are now being built: Facebook, the Curiosity, and Tony Stark’s car are all the product of modern software engineering. This profession which used to exile its implementers to dark corners of an office is now embracing, through methodologies like Agile, open and ongoing dialogue with them.

This can be extremely difficult if the engineer is a poor communicator or socially inept. The most effective engineers in today’s market are not only exceptional craftsmen, but are also great verbal communicators. It’s interesting to consider the correlation between communicating effectively with code and communicating effectively in conversation. Personally, I find the former to be significantly easier, and for a few reasons: first, you have time to gather your thoughts; second, you can assert and validate theories before you socialize them; third, you can refine your phrasing. In conversation, however, you must do all of that in real time, while also attempting to keep a compelling tone and cadence to your speech and constantly reacting to nonverbal queues. Ineffective communication from an engineer is no longer an option. We aren’t line workers; we are knowledge workers — it’s time for us to learn to articulate like some.

1. Please, like you know what the fuck he’s doing either.

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John is a serial conversationalist who spends entirely too much time engulfed in problem domains he knows nothing about and has no earthly business trying to learn. He can occasionally be found at your local coffee shop writing algorithms and trying to think deep thoughts.