Three essential developer values

value-coinThere is the notion of “professional attitude” in software development. In the recent years, the agile movement, the craftsmanship philosophy, the pragmatic approach and the clean code developer initiative all tried (and certainly kind of accomplished) to install a set of values in developers. Most of these values are important and probably self-evident to those of us that can transcribe them into actual work decisions. It just feels right to do certain things or do something a certain way.

Local values

But what if you are challenged to articulate your own core values without using a common template like “the values of the clean code developer”? Let’s say that recurring conflicts force you to spell out the (in your view) most self-evident things to be able to describe the root of your unease. Every group of collaborators shares a set of “unspoken laws” and common beliefs that lay below the threshold of conscious application and are hard to describe to outsiders. We reflected on these core values in the last time and came up with a set of “local values” that are important to us. This blog post tries to explain them.

Probably trivialities

Before I list our three essential developer values, I want to damp your expectation about a great revelation and a whole new set of values that nobody’s ever thought about. All the value set templates listed above had and still have a great influence on us and are explored in our daily work. So you’ve probably already heard about every thought we could come up with. And our results are probably trivialities to most of you. That’s great! We didn’t set out to research something new, we tried to articulate our most mundane motivations and standards.

The three values

The following list is ordered. I start with the least of the three values and end with the most important one. That’s not to say that this list includes all values of ours, it just lists the three most important ones to adhere to the spirit of brevity (and relevance).

Efficiency

Yes, efficiency is the third most important skill to master when working with us. It’s a platitude in the sense that “you should be efficient” – of course you should. But we defined some aspects of efficiency that are vital to our work culture. Our developers need a heightened capability of self-inspection in regard of “being stuck”. You know that feeling when your work breaks apart into an overwhelming amount of tedious little steps? Or when you always feel like success is right around the corner, but always just out of reach? That’s just two of many aspects of getting stuck. We expect our developers to raise their hands and ask for help as soon as they sense the faintest amount of “stuckness” in their work. It takes a lot of self-confidence to admit that the task at hand is too much to handle alone, at least right now. We don’t count your report of being stuck as a personal failure, but a team-wide possibility to gain efficiency by reducing waste (wasted time in this case).
To avoid getting overwhelmed by a task in the first place, we expect our developers to assess their abilities and “readiness” towards a specific task and give an honest evaluation if they think to be “the right one for the task”. There again, pride and over-confidence can prove utterly destructive and diminish overall efficiency.

Communication

While communication itself is a tool, not a value, we rely on the proper application of this tool enough to value it our second most important trait to master. The most important question to ask is “has anybody done something similar yet?”. There is no point in re-inventing the wheel or re-learning the same lessons again and again. Don’t make assumptions – ask for specific details if necessary. Don’t be afraid to appear dumb – you’ll look even dumber if you didn’t ask and screw up. There are many aspects to communication that can go wrong.
In accordance with the efficiency value, we also expect you to be proactive to report problems or even uncertainty. Every failure contains a failure in communication. Even if you can just announce that everything goes smoothly up to this point, this is an information worth noting. After each waypoint or iteration in your current task, make a commit and leave a comment in your issue. Stay in touch with your team and don’t retreat into a “me against the world” kind of solitude. In short, we expect our developers to be open, honest and proactive in their communication.

Reliability

Our most important value is reliability in the sense of trustworthiness. We want and need to trust our developers, their estimations and commitments and the repeatability of their successes. There is no benefit in “faking it” or taking credit for something you achieved by pure luck. We try to have a working atmosphere were we can rely on another, trust another and also be open with our shortcomings. There is no need to pretend, for we will ultimately see through the ruse. We want our developers to contribute to the team, not to groom their ego. In a reliable work relation, you can trust the other to deliver what was mutually agreed upon or report problems at the first moment possible. And you can expect to be valued and commended for “just doing your job”. There is a lot of the craftsman ideology in this approach and it ultimately resolves to the commandments of egoless programming. The result is a fearless, positive environment for everybody to develop their unique abilities and strength. And don’t you worry about your weak points – the team got you covered.

Epilogue

I hope that my shortcomings with the english language didn’t stop you from grasping the core concepts of our local value set. We mostly apply it subconsciously and definitely aren’t perfect in any aspect. But just to articulate our deeper motives helped a lot to dissect certain conflicts and gain a broader understanding exactly why we do certain things. I don’t suggest you should adopt our values, that wouldn’t probably work out. But I encourage you and your team to invest some time to reflect on your local value set and try to find a mutually understood verbalization of them. If you can share your insights on this topic, please leave a comment! We would love to hear from you.

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