Michael in Culture 10 minutes

The Missing Compiler/Unit Test for Feelings

As technical people we become fascinated early on by the numerous tools out there that make our jobs easier. A compiler or syntax checker is almost an afterthought these days: of course you would want some guidance on whether your code was in compliance with the language before running it. Unit tests are the same way; if I can run something and get a good answer on whether it is OK before I put it in a shared environment, then that will save me tons of time.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a similar tool for how people feel about you. A technical person can fall into the trap of looking at more technical-oriented clues to how people feel, but these often fall short:

Team Natural Alignment Natural Misalignment
Development Faster Delivery of features Have to be engaged in operations, more “work” to do
Operations Less fires, more consistency Have to learn a new skillset and be a beginner
Security More consistency, compliance Automation can cause unknown vulnerabilities
Business Faster ROI for development, lower cost for operations, and a scale model that works Takes ongoing investment in culture and tools

The first step in keeping this kind of thing from happening to you is to care about people. Put them before yourself. Follow the golden rule. Don’t be an asshole. The second step is to understand and embrace the true value in what people think about you when you’re not there. You can’t control this part, you can only influence it. If they think you’re an idiot or an asshole, work to show them that you have their best interests in mind and that you’re growing. Are you including them when we are solving problems, so they own it and won’t blame you in disgust if something goes wrong?

That approach is fraught with difficulty, especially for someone with a technical background. There is no compiler for it. There is no unit test. There isn’t even a clear answer on how people exactly feel about you. The only thing you can do is care about it and try to influence it positively. In technology, caring about this is so uncommon that it ends up going a long way.