Robots Have Feelings

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A Bit of a Departure

19 August, 2018

I don't usually do this

Pubicly self-reflect that is.

I usually write about tech stuff and programming. It's what I do; it's easy enough to pump out, and it's compact and digestible on the web. It looks good on a resume and it makes me look like a pseudo-intellectual. Writing about programming doesn't require poetry or prose. It can be about as engaging as a math textbook. And while I'm sure I have dear family and friends that read this, I can confidently say that they aren't reading anything on this site expecting to get any sort of emotional sustenance, visceral reaction, or a challenge to their beliefs.

In other words - my writing on here is pretty sterile. Maybe embarassingly so.

You can't hurt anyone by writing about how to implement something in code.
But that also means you can't connect to someone on a basic human level.

There is no spoon - there is no Neo

nospoon Waxing lyrically about silverware

In a way, my writing is a symptom or metaphor for the egotistical and pseudo-intellectual blandness that seems to be pervasive in the software industry. Rebecca Unicornninja may have written the best sorting algorithm in her company and gotten the complexity down from O(n^5) to O(n/2), but unless her company, her product, and her code have some sort of impact on the world or community at some scale, no one is going to care. This isn't to say that Rebecca shouldn't be proud. She should be. She should take pride in her craft, strive to improve herself and those around her, and participate in her software community as a mentor and as a foundation. To have a duty is to know pride, but pride doesn't entitle arrogance. Especially not an arrogance as milquetoast as can be found in certain tech circles. Unless Rebecca or her code can connect to others on a human level, she'll be doing a disservice to both herself and the community.

And if she's a great programmer it's no longer a disservice - it's a tragedy.

There's a trope that somehow persists and is suffused throughout culture. It exists in STEM, in the arts, in probably every field and subculture. There's this caricature of the asshole "genius". In tech it's The "rockstar ninja jedi" developer that carries the team and product. This isn't real. There is no spoon, but there also isn't a Neo out there to save Zion either. A good team will consistently produce better code, better culture, and pretty much better everything. I know that sounds generalized and sweeping, but in my experience it holds true. One person can't carry everything forever. That linchpin will break eventually. Again, being a "genius" doesn't excuse poor behavior. Spreading that genius amongst others, building a killer team by building up others, and acting in a colleague and customer positive manner will do way more to further the software field instead of being a dick.

Another trope that hits a little closer to home, and unfortunately has some truth to it, is the idea of the socially incompetent or socially averse tech nerd. Several great developers that I've had the pleasure of working with have a blind spot when it comes to customers or intra-organizational relationships; there's this feeling of having to "deal" with people. This is misguided, wrong, and will hamper and hinder lots of potential growth; personal and otherwise. Software development is about problem solving and problems don't exist in a vacuum. Problems exist in a context and are experienced by flesh-and-blood people. Thus, problem solving requires relationships. Besides being technically competent, the most important skills a software engineer can cultivate are those soft skills; Relationship maintenance, communication, honesty, empathy, and emotional intelligence - These (and more) soft skills are imperative to being a better engineer.

I'm not better than Rebecca. I can't say that my writing on here has served anyone. I can't say that my writing has been empathetic, honest, or connected to someone else on a basic human level.

Maybe it's the subject matter, or maybe it's me.

Meta-gazing

Writing doesn't come to me easily even though I like to pretend it does; or rather, putting words on paper comes easily but I'm not so sure substance does. Maybe that's a bit of imposter syndrome creeping in and casting a looming shadow over anything and everything that I do. I've come to terms with it. Mostly. Like Rebecca, I have both pride and duty in my work and in my writing. I'm capable, I usually know what I'm talking about, and I can pick stuff up given time. Some people have told me that they like my writing and that feels gratifying. People stroking your ego always feels gratifying, expecially when they're complimenting you on something you like to do, and I honestly like writing. I like putting my thoughts and ideas to paper, regardless of how superficial they are. But there is also that niggling feeling in the back of my head that what I'm writing isn't doing anything. I worry a little bit that I'm not impacting my community/peers/world at large, but beyond that, I worry that my writing isn't impacting me, sort of on a personal growth or introspective level.

I like what I'm doing, but am I just navel-gazing?
Ruminating on navel-gazing definitely feels like navel-gazing.

Navel-gazing is a weird word.

It's been awhile

I've been sitting on this post for a hot second. It was initially brought on by the death of my favorite celebrity-travel-chef-guru, Anthony Bourdain (dios bendiga). He has always been an inspiration to me (not to mention a hardcore man-crush). I binged his stuff recently and it made me realize the importance of honesty, travel, and human interaction and connection. Unfortunately, like all good things, this post fell by the wayside. Work is busy, life is busy, everything is busy busy busy; that doesn't mean I can neglect this part of my life. Again, I honestly and whole-heartedly enjoy writing.

Recently I had the pleasure of spending a week with some friends out in New York. I got to decompress, eat good food, watch trashy TV, and explore the city. I enjoyed every second of it. It let me sit and breathe - deep breaths - and that in turn made me want to come back to this post and writing in general.

While sitting in their cozy comfortable apartment I started to have a conversation with my friend about the nature of his work. He's a music therapist by trade. Not a crunchy or new age-y one, but a bonafide graduate-degree-toting, thesis-defending-and-presenting, dyed-in-the-wool-musician-and-therapist-master-class. The conversation was fascinating and engaging. I like summaries and big ideas because they help me navigate complex topics and synthesize them better in my head, so I asked my buddy to sum up or break down the overarching goal/mission/end to his particular brand of music therapy. Dude's been studying this stuff for quite some time, so this wasn't exactly possible, but one of my big takeaways was about the importance of relationships.

He works with children and adults with disabilities. Part of his whole shtick is helping them build upon their current capacities. One of those capacities is interaction. At the core of every interaction is a relationship. Those relationships both encompass relationships to others, but also the relationship one has with one's self. I hadn't ever really considered the importance of my relationship with myself; that sounds kinda weird to be honest. I've always been big on introspection and reflection, but never really considered that sort of process as an examination of my relationship with myself. Anyway, since relationships are at the core of interaction, it is his imperative to help others realize and foster relationships since they're the building blocks of society and the self.

This had an effect on me that I'm not sure I'm done processing. If you're reading this Nick, that was a trip man.

In summation

I feel like I need a summary, so let's give it a shot:

I want my writing, my work, and my efforts to push forward my tiny corner of software engineering by fostering relationships, enabling honesty, advocating introspection, kindling connection, and bearing both duty and pride devoid of arrogance in my craft.