Back when I started grad school, one of my housemates asked me to help her with a project. For a Sociology class, she had been asked to interview five people using a questionnaire given by her instructor, then write up the results of her interviews along with a summary and analysis.
It took us 30-45 minutes to finish the interview. I figured for the whole project maybe four, five hours for the interviews, and another five or so for the write ups. All together this was about ten hours spent on a two week project. Meanwhile, each programming assignment in my Computer Science classes routinely meant 30 to 40 hours of work over two weeks, and there were usually two or three of these going on at any one time.
One day I was sitting in a classroom, waiting for a class to start, and basically griping out loud and in great detail about the disparity between these assignments. To my surprise, one of my fellow students sitting in front of me turned and said, “I would rather spend 40 hours by myself in the computer lab than have to go talk to five people.”
The Social Side of Engineering
Coming from a liberal arts background, I had encountered a few people who were more comfortable with machines than humans. They would spend hours working on cars, or building sets for plays, or in an art studio painting or making sculpture. It was not until I came into engineering that I found a large percentage of my fellow students who had become engineers specifically so they would not need to deal with people.
Many engineers like this become quite successful, despite their social and emotional challenges. However, they do so in environments where their contact with other people is limited; in large organizations where they can work by themselves, deliver the products of their work and have no need to interact with other engineers or even the end-users of the systems they put together. Many sales, marketing and technical support departments deliberately separate engineers from customers, supposedly for the benefit of both.
On the other hand, I have also seen engineers with limited aptitude or even interest in working with people create significant problems despite their technical skills. As a manager several years ago, I had to intervene between two of my team leads whose relationship had deteriorated to where they were barely talking with each other. This situation impeded more than just their work. It poisoned the atmosphere for the entire team and threatened to derail a multimillion dollar project.
Technical Skill is not Enough
In his groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman challenges our idea of intelligence as something that can be measured through a standard Stanford-Binet IQ test. He describes “emotional hijackings,” fits of rage, despair and withdrawal suffered by those not aware of even their own feelings. He also shows how these hijackings destroy relationships, thwart the goals of otherwise competent organizations, and even produce violent crime.
Dr. Goleman goes into great detail about how one’s ability to solve technical problems is less a predictor of success, especially in a knowledge-based organization, than the abilities to network and participate effectively in a team, to be a leader in building consensus, to see things from the viewpoints of others, to promote cooperation rather than creating conflict, and to have the initiative and self-motivation to accept responsibilities beyond the confines of one’s job description. All these abilities are based on a set of skills simple to describe but difficult to master: persisting in the face of frustration, controlling impulses and delaying gratification, regulating one’s moods so that they do not interfere with thought, awareness of one’s own feelings and those of others, and a realistic optimism about what one can accomplish.
Applying Emotional Intelligence
Once when I was at Lexmark, I got a call on the phone from a field engineer about a problem in one of our printers. He was under serious stress since a big sale depended on this being fixed for the customer. I was on the verge of irritation myself since I already had plenty to do despite this interruption, plus I was not entirely sure I could help him. Being aware of how I felt allowed me to set that aside and focus on how my coworker must have been feeling. At one point in the conversation, I said simply, “It sounds like you’re really frustrated with how things are going.” After hearing that, he calmed down tremendously. It was much easier from there for us to work together and find a solution to his problem.
As 8th Light Craftsmen, we do not work by ourselves. We recognize the importance of collaborating both with our fellow Craftsmen, and with people outside 8th Light. We are not cut off from our customers through a separate sales, marketing or technical support department. We interact directly with our customers to flesh out requirements, negotiate schedules, and demonstrate the work we have completed.
We recognize that developing our Emotional Intelligence is just as important as our software skills, and we develop all these skills through our efforts to continue learning the many facets of our craft. We reach out to our broader communities by giving talks, participating in user groups, attending conferences and hosting our own conference: Software Craftsmanship North America.
Our success is not individual; it is collective. As Craftsmen we work as a team with each other and our customers. We can do this only by recognizing and valuing our relationships, and by using and developing our Emotional Intelligence to sustain these relationships.