The Power of the Unconversation

On the 9th of March 2017 twelve enthusiastic Foundery members attended DevConf 2017, South Africa’s biggest community driven software development conference: an event that promised learning, inspiration and networking.

Courtesy of DevConf 2017 (devconf.co.za)

On the 9th of March 2017 twelve enthusiastic Foundery members attended DevConf 2017, South Africa’s biggest community driven software development conference: an event that promised learning, inspiration and networking.

With a multi-tracked event such as this one there is usually something for everyone, and yet if you speak to serial conference attendees (guilty as charged), the talks aren’t the greatest reason to attend.

People like me go to conferences in part for the scheduled content, but mostly for the unscheduled conversations in the passage en route to a talk or around a cocktail table during a break. The “unconversations”, I’m calling them. It’s the conference equivalent of another well-known creative outlet: “water cooler conversations”.

I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a conference butterfly – actively seeking out these “unconversations” so that I can join them. I especially take note as crowds disappear into conference rooms. I’m drawn to the groups of people who stay behind wherever they might have gathered. That’s where I’m almost guaranteed to participate in really interesting discussions and learn something new. When I attend conferences, it’s this organic and informal style of collaborative enquiry I look forward to the most.

Courtesy of DevConf 2017 (devconf.co.za)

Ironically it was one of the DevConf talks that helped me understand why these “unconversations” tend to work so well as creative spaces. In his talk on Mob Programming, Mark Pearl mentioned a study conducted by the American Psychological Association which established that groups of 3-5 people perform better on complex problem solving than the smartest person in the group could perform on their own. See “references” for more information.

Loosely translated, a group of people has a better shot of solving a complex problem together than if they tried to solve it independently.

As a Mob Programming enthusiast myself, this makes complete sense to me. What’s interesting is that this research is not new, yet many organisations still discourage “expensive” group-work and continue to reward individual performance, and I can see why. For people with similar upbringings and educational backgrounds to mine, this is the comfort zone. We default to working alone and feel a sense of accomplishment when we achieve success individually. As children we were told to solve problems and find answers on our own. Receiving help was a sign of weakness, and copying was forbidden.

In contrast, the disruptive organisations of the last few decades encourage the complete opposite. These organisations recognise the value of problem-solving with groups of people who have varying, and even conflicting, perspectives. There’s no time for old-school mindsets that favour individual efforts over collaboration. We need to cheat where it’s appropriate by knowing who can help us and what existing ideas we can leverage.

I don’t mean to trivialise it. There’s a bit more involved than just creating opportunities for people to solve problems in groups. According to the book “Collective Genius”, innovative companies such as Google have developed three important organisational capabilities: creative abrasion (idea generation by encouraging conflict and high quality feedback), creative agility (hypothesizing, experimenting, learning and adapting) and creative resolution (deciding on a solution after taking new knowledge into account) all supported by a unique style of leadership. The case studies are incredibly motivating.

Since joining the Foundery I’m discovering that we are practicing these things every day, and the amazing ideas and products born from our “collective genius” serve as confirmation that we’re on the right track. Is it always easy? No, absolutely not. It’s requires a great deal of mindfulness.

When I’m reflective I notice that the greatest ideas and most creative solutions I’ve brought to life were conceived with input from others. Many of the dots I connected for the first time happened during completely unlikely meetings of minds, and some through passionate differences of opinion. In an environment that calls for constant collaboration, it’s wonderfully refreshing to find that the “unconversations” I enjoy so much are happening all around me, every day.

And so long as I’m participating, I am always reminded that together we are more capable of solving really complex problems than the smartest one among us, and I’m becoming more and more OK with that.

References:

By Candice Mesk

 

The changing world around programmers

In today’s ever-changing world, we find that businesses have become more concerned about what you can do rather than what qualification you have.

Gabriel blogIn today’s ever-changing world, we find that businesses have become more concerned about what you can do rather than what qualification you have. This paradigm is becoming more apparent as companies have an unbelievable shortage of decent coders who are able to deliver to their expectations. This gap in the employment market is increasing as the average university turnout of BSc Computer Science graduates is far less than actual demand.

 This situation has led the industry to change the way they look at qualifications and to focus more on a person’s ability to code and learn. If you are a self-taught coder and have an understanding of industry-relevant technology, you are in a much better position than someone who still has to go into university and learn coding there for the first time. A few companies are willing to take the risk of hiring someone without formal coding qualifications, and have reaped the rewards in taking those risks. The coders that they hire generally seem to be more aware of what new technology is available, and are more willing to learn something new in order to help them grow further.

 We are starting to see a paradigm shift in the industry and the way in which people think. The stack overflow statistics show that the proportion of self-taught developers increased from 41.8% in 2015 to 69.1% in 2016. This shows that a lot of developers are self-taught and a lot more people are teaching themselves how to code each year. People who start to code from a young age show such passion for coding and in combination with their curiosity for learning something new, their love for it speaks volumes. To have the ability to create anything that they can think of on a PC, and to manipulate a PC to behave like they want it to and have a visual representation of this, is unbelievable.

 For those interested in teaching themselves how to code there are many websites to look at. Here is a list of 10 places you can learn coding from, but I will list the top 3 places that I learnt the most from:

Those websites have their own way of teaching code and if youcombine this with some Youtube videos from CS50 and MIT OpenCourseWare you will be all set to learn at your own pace. Hackerrank is a good way to test everything you learnt and you can see how you rank against the world.

 WeThinkCode_ is an institution to learn coding, for anyone from ages 17-35 years old. Their thinking is that you do not need to have a formal qualification to be a world class coder. More institutes like this are opening across the world. Having a wide age gap illustrates that you are never too old to learn how to code. There are also more and more coding education opportunities for young people. It is really easy to learn how to code from a young age as that is when your mind is at its prime to learn new things and adjust to constant change.

 In a programmer’s world you are constantly learning new things and this is what makes our jobs exciting.

The world is ever-evolving and we all need to keep adjusting our mindsets on how we look at things, otherwise we will be left behind while everyone moves forward.

By Gabriel Groener

The Modern Programmer

IT professionals often don’t get an honest portrayal in the entertainment industry and, for better or worse, the mass perception of Computer Science has been influenced by what people see on their TV screens. Either we sit in a dingy dark room, littered with empty energy drink cans, staring at a terminal with green font flashing and passing by at light speed – with sound effects, or we are cool rich guys creating programs that become self-aware.

IT professionals often don’t get an honest portrayal in the entertainment industry and, for better or worse, the mass perception of Computer Science has been influenced by what people see on their TV screens. Either we sit in a dingy dark room, littered with empty energy drink cans, staring at a terminal with green font flashing and passing by at light speed – with sound effects, or we are cool rich guys creating programs that become self-aware. There really isn’t a middle ground and these perceptions either drive people to developing an insatiable curiosity in the field or becoming fearful and believing that they aren’t mentally fit to join the club.

http://i.imgur.com/heb9csO.jpg
http://i.imgur.com/heb9csO.jpg

The demographic of the modern programmer isn’t what it was back in the 70’s. Most IT professionals were – well…Professionals. They were mathematicians, engineers, scientists, accountants, etc. often in their 30’s or 40’s. The programming industry was almost 50% women. What on earth happened?

Well, I have a theory. Computer Science (CS) wasn’t a course at any universities at that time, so youngsters really had no way of entering the field. Not to mention the fact that what they called a computer back then isn’t what we have today. They were big, expensive and obviously fewer. There were no operating systems. They wrote code by hand which was then converted into punch cards that could be fed into the computer and you had better pray that what you wrote was correct – which, if you code, you know it often isn’t – because then you would have to start that lengthy process from scratch. Blessed are those that came before us, for they were a resilient few. By the time we had a CS course it was the 80’s and young adults could learn how to code.

http://i.imgur.com/27vs3iD.jpg
http://i.imgur.com/27vs3iD.jpg

The 80’s was definitely one of the most defining times in modern history. We saw technology really being embraced in the media. Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Star Wars, Terminator and many more franchises showed us a world of technology that seemed almost impossible. In lots of ways we are still catching up the imaginations of the filmmakers and science fiction writers. But I find this time very interesting because it gave birth to the geek culture which has lasted to this day. This culture was very young and male dominated. It was a kind of cult to those who were part of it. This must have driven the women away. Women in general still don’t get the culture. Heck, even I don’t get it to the degree of hardcore followers. Now think about how we perceive these “geeks” in society. Beady eyed, brace faced, drooling, good-grade-getting teens with bad acne (is there good acne?) and thick glasses, always getting bullied by the “jocks”. Truth is, in a quest to fit in, teens only hang out with the group that they relate to and/or accepts them. Learning became the uncool thing and Disco was in. The media neatly crafted and packaged nerd culture. Being a cool kid meant you didn’t even greet the nerd – unless shoving someone into a wall counted as a greeting. And so that was that. Programmers were part of a culture that embraced creativity, logic and intelligence and frowned upon anything less, because in order to be a programmer you needed to love learning and solving problems. Being a cool kid meant you had to love partying, gossip and creating problems.

http://www.philiployd.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/geek.jpg
http://www.philiployd.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/geek.jpg

Things have changed somewhat. Programmers today come in different shapes and sizes. Still not many hourglass shapes, but we’re getting there. The next generation of teens will definitely be more in-tune with technology and the true culture of the geek or the “hacker”. Those that fail to see the power of new technologies will be left behind. Computers are so much more accessible and all schools are starting to teach coding. With innovative colleges like We Think Code and 42, the future of what we perceive as an IT professional will be completely different to what we have today.

we-think-code-banner (003)

It’s now up to us to make sure that our kids become programmers rather than the programmed. It’s in the small things that we spot the young coder. The little kid that breaks his/her toys to find out how they work. Kids are naturally curious and it’s up to us to nurture that curiosity and not reprimand or punish them for it. We interact with technology every day and we would only be empowering them by encouraging them to learn how to control that technology as creators in the same way that we might teach them how to play a musical instrument. I envision a world where the modern programmer is anyone, in a society that frowns on those that shun learning. Let’s make it happen.

by Sherwin Hulley