As a software developer, I resonate with the technical practices of Extreme Programming. Software engineering, like other forms of engineering, should have common standards and practices, but we really don’t. Yes, we all learn programming languages in school but we’re rarely taught how to apply them in ways needed to build enterprise systems. This is like teaching a class in grammar and spelling, then expecting your students to go off and become great writers in the next few weeks. In his book On Writing, Stephen King wrote: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” As developers, we have to study others in our field and learn common ways of doing things.
And we are making progress. Design patterns represent a different order of knowledge that helps us understand and communicate ideas in new ways. But there is another set of practices of equal or greater importance than the technical practices, but we aren’t always exposed to them in school—or even in the workforce—so they can be difficult to pick up.
I’m referring to communication and collaboration skills.
Communication and collaboration are important because that’s what we mostly do. Most software projects are collaborative endeavors, and how we communicate in our corporate culture, as well as the structure of our daily lives, is of vital importance.
We can learn about communication and collaboration on the job, making sometimes job-ending mistakes as we go, but it can be helpful to note that many other people have studied these issues and have had similar challenges. There are a lot of great ideas out there. There’s a whole science devoted to the study of human behavior and tons of books written on learning and self-improvement.
There are many ways to be a good software developer but the very best software developers I know engage their whole brain in the development process. They’re not only good at making fine distinctions but they‘re also good at seeing patterns and making connections. These are fundamentally different skills, both of which are needed to write good, maintainable software.
What does it mean to be a great developer? It does mean writing good, maintainable code but it also means supporting the team, it means being a great communicator, it means being a great problem-solver, and it also means being a great collaborator.
Good software development is one of the few human activities that involves and engages the entire brain.