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The Software Craftsmanship Attitude

Do you own your career? In this chapter from The Software Craftsman: Professionalism, Pragmatism, Pride, Sandro Mancuso discusses how we can own our careers, keep ourselves up to date, practice, and discover the things we didn’t know. He also talks about how to create time for all these things.
This chapter is from the book

If we think that a piece of code we wrote some time in the past is still good enough today, it means we didn’t learn anything since.

For us, software craftsmen, caring about and being proud of the work we do is a given. Constantly finding ways to become better professionals is a lifetime commitment. Satisfying and helping our customers to achieve what they want to achieve, in the most efficient way, is our main goal. Sharing our knowledge with less-experienced software craftsmen is our moral obligation.

A few years ago, I was speaking to a colleague of mine. We had joined the company at roughly the same time, hired at the same position, and worked in a project together for almost one year. Since we were working for a consultancy company, after some time we went separate ways to work on different projects and for different clients. It was only after a few years that we had the opportunity to work together again. I then asked him how things were going with him and he said, “I don’t really like this company. This company sucks.” I was surprised by what he said since I had been really enjoying my time in that company. So then I asked him why he was saying that. “In all these years, they never bought me a book. Never sent me on a training course, and never gave me a project using modern technologies. They never gave me a promotion either,” he said. “I haven’t learned anything new for quite a long time,” he complained.

I was not quite sure what to think or say about his comments. I had had two promotions during that period, worked on quite a few good projects, and learned many new things. “Who owns your career?” I suddenly asked him after a few seconds of awkward silence. He didn’t quite understand my question and asked me to repeat it. “Who is in charge of your career and your professional future?” I asked him again. Even after a few years since we had this conversation, I still remember the puzzled look in his eyes.

In this chapter I discuss how we can own our careers, keep ourselves up to date, practice, and discover the things we didn’t know. I also talk about how to create time for all these things.

Who Owns Your Career?

What if the company we work for does not buy us any books? What if the company never sent us to any training course or conferences? Would that be the only way we could learn anything new? Does it really mean the company is bad?

Imagine that you need a plumber to do some work in your house. Imagine that you need a lawyer to solve any legal issues, or a doctor when you are sick, or a dentist when you have an aching tooth. You normally go to these professionals when you have a problem, so now imagine them turning back to you and saying, “Could you buy me a book? Can you send me on a training course?” What would you think about that? To make things even worse, imagine that you, for some really bizarre reason, decide to buy them a book or send them on a training course, and once they acquired the knowledge you gave them, they come back and charge you for their services. How does it sound to you?

These professionals need to invest in their own careers so they can do a good job, satisfy their clients, and hopefully be referred to other clients. They use their own money and time to keep themselves current. Those that don’t do it end up losing clients, receive fewer referrals, and will slowly be forced out of business.

On the other hand, factory workers, for example, rely on training. Factories need to train their employees to use new machines so they can do their mechanical and repetitive work well. However, factory workers have no say in what machines the factory should buy or how they are going to do the work. They are just told what to do.

Clients pay professionals with the expectation of receiving a good service. They pay professionals to solve their problems in the best way possible. Clients don’t pay professionals to learn. Clients pay professionals for their knowledge and skills. Professionals are expected to provide solutions, viable alternatives, and ideas to their clients. Professionals are expected to help their clients to achieve whatever they want to achieve in the best way possible, and that is how they build their reputation.

We all want to be treated and respected as software professionals but before we achieve that we need to start behaving like professionals. That means that we should use our own time and money to get better at what we do. We should own our own careers and be in control of what we learn and when we learn. We should be in a position that we can help our clients and employers to achieve their goals. Developers who rely only on their companies to provide them knowledge are not professional software developers. They are just factory workers in disguise.

“So companies should not be investing in their own people?” you may be asking. No, that is not what I meant. Companies should invest in their people but software professionals should not see that as their obligation. That should be seen as a bonus, a win-win situation. Companies that provide time to developers to get better at what they do are much smarter and can become far more efficient. Passionate developers will always favor these companies when choosing who they work for.

Our industry moves, possibly, faster than any other industry. Languages, frameworks, practices, and processes are all constantly evolving. Keeping up to date and constantly getting better at what you do is key for a successful career as a software craftsman.

Employer/Employee Relationship

In creative work, the employer/employee model is the wrong model. On one hand, we have a contractual model that states how people should be paid and that also states the legal and behavioral obligations that need to be respected by employers and employees. On the other hand, we have the type of relationship that professionals have with their clients. The old top-down, command and control style of management became very popular during the Industrial Revolution and arguably still has its merits when the majority of the workforce is doing manual or repetitive work. However, it does not work well for creative workers. This style of management can be extremely damaging to the morale of software professionals, making the company far more inefficient. Companies that are still using this style of management normally struggle to hire talented professionals and are slowly losing the ones they still have. But, of course, this is just one side of the story. Keeping our heads down, working hard from 9 to 5, and doing only what we are told to do is not professional either. That is what factory workers do. If developers want to be treated as professionals, they should start acting as professionals. A software professional must, among other things, get involved and contribute to the business, provide options and solutions, and offer the best service when it comes to the implementation, technologies, and quality of what we produce.

The relationship between software craftsmen and their clients should be seen as a productive business partnership, regardless of which contractual model we may have. Being a permanent employee, a contractor, a consultant, or a developer working for an outsourcing company should not affect at all this relationship or the attitude we have toward our clients.

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