Bad Programmers

There was an article in the CACM recently that caught my attention entitled, “In Praise of Bad Programmers”

Still here?

Apparently the provocative  title really sets off some fire alarms for people. I shared the article, which I personally thought was great, with a team and we discussed it together. I thought the whole conversation went really well and I thought it felt very productive. Afterward, I discovered that everyone in the room had apparently been thinking one thing: “He thinks I’m a bad programmer”. I’m not sure they recalled any of the conversation after reading the article. In fact, I’m quite sure they didn’t.

That reaction probably says a few things about us:

  1. We don’t feel safe talking about our skills with each other
  2. The team felt some sort of judgement was being made by me
  3. How you frame the conversation really does make a difference

Having done this sort of thing for a while, none of the above particularly shocks or surprises me. It’s just a reminder that some conversations with teams are harder than others. You don’t avoid them, but you need to be prepared to set the stage well before the conversation, make sure the team feels safe enough to deal with the conversation, and have a way to check in with them afterward to make sure your read on the conversation isn’t incorrect.

Oh, and if they’re still angry after all that, then it’s really their problem. I’m a coach not a therapist.

One Response to Bad Programmers

  1. Siddharta says:

    Is there an open version of this article? I’m a big fan for Phillip Armour’s columns in CACM. Unfortunately I’m no longer a member & I can’t access this one at the CACM site😦

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