I did some training recently that covered the importance of tone and body language in communication and I was reminded of this video of a patient suffering from an extreme form of fluent Aphasia.
This is caused by a stroke affecting part of the temporal lobe that deals with the conversion of “words in your head” to actual speech but what is incredible to me is the way that the gentleman uses his intonation, the pitch of his voice and his body language to communicate when he can only say the word “tono”.
What’s more amazing is when he is asked to count to 20 about 1m45s in. What did you think would happen?
If you haven’t seen this awesome parody video already, you need to. It’s a great example of what it can sometimes feel like as an expert in a meeting with non-experts.
Buzzword bingo, massive management overhead, ignorance of implementation details, solutioneering, management shutting down needed discussion, condescension, it has pretty much the full package of the worst the world can throw at you.
Of course it’s a taken to the furthest extremes otherwise it wouldn’t be funny but if you’re don’t think there’s a grain of truth to it, ask any technical person if they’ve ever been in this sort of situation and see what they say. It’s not that techies are geniuses and everyone else is an idiot, it’s just that without sufficient understanding almost any area of technical knowledge can be over-simplified to a level that defies reality. This is true for science as much as it is for technology.
The thing is, there another message other than experts have to suffer dealing with idiots all the time; it’s that experts need to be better at teaching and communicating to stop this scenario from happening in the first place. Continue reading →
After a brief hiatus (who are we kidding, it’s been nearly a year!) I’m going to be picking up the writing again.
Moving to Australia has been slightly more involved than I thought and that along with a new role has kind of eaten up my time. There have been so many cool thing going on recently that I’ve wanted to write about and now things have calmed down a touch on the home front I should be able to post a bit more often.
If you know me it’s no secret that over the last few months I’ve been looking for a new challenge (stay tuned for more on that later!). While I was doing this I was struck by just how many organisations still don’t have blogs written by their technical department.
At a time where social media is EVERYWHERE this seems almost perverse. With the dependence on the web and mobile almost every company is now an internet company to some degree. An airline is in the business of moving people around in flying boxes but they have an enormous technical infrastructure. Banks are in a similar position and so are pretty much every company that sells something. Okay, not everyone is going to have a large development organisation but almost nobody has zero and because of this all companies will suffer similar issues around:
How do you attract quality technical staff?
How do you communicate complex technical issues that have a fundamental impact on the business with a wider audience of laypeople?
How to inspire and fulfil technical staff?
These are notorious hard problems to solve. High quality tech staff are far more productive than average tech staff and you only want to hire the best. Technologists are notoriously bad at communicating their domain to non-technical people, both internally and externally, and also tend to be driven by different motivations.
So why does having a technical blog help?
It’s free advertising for recruiting technical staff
Transparency drives quality both in the product and in the engineering culture
You are upskilling your technical staff for very little cost and can produce content for talks at conferences/whitepapers
You are engaging with your community and raising your profile which is turn means free brand marketing
Admittedly it’s only my experienceand not a rigorous survey but there does seem to be a fairly strong correlation between companies with a good engineering culture, i.e. places I would want to work at, and having a good tech blog. If your technical staff don’t have a voice what are we to think? That you don’t value or trust them or that the standard of your technology division is fairly low and you don’t want to expose just how bad they are? Either way, my interest in working there is going to be non-existent.
It might sound harsh but if you are in a technical leadership position you owe it to your company to have a blog written by your technology staff. I would go as far as to say that every technical person should have “write a blog post” in their yearly objectives.
If your technical department does not have a blog you might as well be announcing to the world that you are second tier and are happy to stay that way.
“I’ve noticed that them that has it in them to shine will shine through six layers of muck, whereas those who ain’t shiny won’t shine however much you buff them” – Nanny Ogg in Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time
There is a brilliant article here written by Yammer’s VP of Engineering Kris Gale. The article is covers a talk that he did at Hack+Startup on why the traditional engineering organisation structure is dead.
The truth is that in many ways he is absolutely right. The rise of Agile, Lean, DevOps and Continuous Delivery all show that the landscape has moved wildly within the last few years and the structure of engineering organisations needs to adapt to this.
Kris points to a new engineering organisation which follows the following rules:
Small teams (2 to 10 people) doing small projects (2 to 10 projects)
All projects have a definite end date
Team members only assigned to one project at a time
No code ownership
Bug fixing is done by everyone
In his talk that went along with the article, he mentioned that he was deliberately contrarian and wanted to make people think and he’s succeeded and I agree with almost everything he says. Traditional engineering organisations need to follow this approach when it is right. The issue is that it is not always right. Continue reading →