The Middle Way, Part 5

14 Oct 2013

In 2006, Kent Beck gave a talk entitled Ease at Work. Presented is the transcription and links to further share his valuable introspection into the way we view ourselves, our relationships, and our expectations in the role of a software engineer.

Transcript for segment 5

I would like to close with a little information about sustaining change.

I know in my own life that pursuing a sense of ease in my work is a large-scale change. I have to change in my behaviors, my beliefs, and in some cases my business model. Its a large scale change in what I do to pursue a sense of ease in my work. And I suspect that will be true for a lot of other people as well.

Making changes is easy. Sustaining any kind of change you make... whatever change your making to move towards a sense of ease is going to be difficult. Because a lot of people, you included, expect you to be doing something else, believing something else, and acting in a different way. When that changes everyone is going to get a little ruffled.

So the two things I know that make change sustainable for me...

One is public commitment. To say "I am going to make this change. I am going to test first. I am going to have a more open planning process. I am going to stop working when I'm tired."

If I just tell myself that is true then when I'm tired I might think "If I was only a good person I should get some more accomplished today" and who is going to know? But if I told Jeff, "Jeff I'm just on this treadmill and I'm working too many hours. I have to stop working when I'm subtracting value and I make that commitment to you and Friday I'm going to check in with you and tell you how I did with it." Then when its Wednesday afternoon, I know that I made a public commitment even if just to one other person to making that change and I can use that to sustain myself.

And the second part is accountability. That on Friday your going to check in with me and ask "How did your work hours go this week?". And then if I really want to make the change and I made a mistake I'm going to own up to it with no excuses.

These are similar principles that are under alcoholics anonymous. "Hi my name is Kent. I overwork. It's been 6 weeks and 3 days since my last overwork." And now the process becomes one of accountability. I need to say this is what I did. It was this time. I made these choices. I broke the build the following six interesting ways.

Now already I'm shading it. I'm trying to make it seem like I'm contributing to everyone else's life by making them fix the build which isn't true. Here are all the consequences of what I did. Its no one's fault but mine. These are the choices I made. That is going to help keep me on the straight and narrow. Its going to help me sustain the changes I want to make. To see play out in my life, even when its difficult.

And when I make mistakes I'll be able to learn from them if I open myself up in that process and say "Here is what is really going on and here is what really happened. Here are the decisions and the actions that I made."

And again this is kind of a new process for me and sometimes its very difficult.

But its also freeing. Once you go through it, you know its over and done, which is a great feeling.

"I screwed up. Here is exactly what I did. Let me listen to the consequences for everyone else. Now we are finished with that."

Not "Here is what I did and its really not so bad and besides its your fault anyway, yada, yada." And then I go home and I'm still thinking about it. Instead get it on the table, have the talk about it, listen and then you can move on.

So this is such a new idea that I don't have the big dramatic closer slide yet but that is what I have to say about "Ease at Work."

I think that programmers as a group (and I'm a good example of this) spent a lot of time acting entitled to things I wasn't entitled to. I acted like "I should get lots of money." Lots more money than a kindergarten teacher. Someone who makes significant contributions to society. It was right that I made ten times as much.

Sometimes it was the flip-side. I wasn't making much money but I thought I should act like I did. You know, that wizard. The wizard can do no wrong. Sometimes the entitlement is in terms of social entitlement. I don't have to dress like other people. I don't have to talk to other people. I can be rude and demanding and because I'm a wizard what are you going to do about it.

The funny thing is the one thing for which I was entitled to that I never laid claim to was self-respect.

To be able to say "I'm OK at doing what I do." And I would really like to be able to do that.


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