Erik Assum, 19th September 2018, at @FFSTechConf
>> Without further ado, Erik is going to talk about for fuck's sake, don't expect me to be passionate about my work. Passion is for family and hobbies.
Full Stack Developer
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For fuck's sake!
How many consider yourselves a full stack developer. How many of you are passionate? [Laughter]. So the rest of you who are sort of passionate, how many of you are geniuses? And now for a more serious one? How many of you are women?
With job ads like this, the thing is when we recruit like this, we are taking away at least half of the candidates just by creating this environment of neediness that you need to be both passionate and genius, simply because women have a more realistic view of their skill set.
I don't like that.
So, the job-ad that I just read is something that came through on my LinkedIn feed on Sunday, by random. I must admit I was expecting something like it, but it sort of came randomly.
Through my career I’ve been in the business automation part of software development - boring stuff.
Now I'm a fairly engaged person: I like to limit waste, make code better, make the processes we have at work better, and, eventually, I tend to get interested in the company that I'm working in, and I want to make that better as well. The problem is that most companies that I have worked in, cannot handle such engagements, and the thing is that I tend to get frustrated and leave.
So, imagine if I were passionate, I would not just get frustrated and leave, I would probably go Van Gogh cutting his ear off or crazy, and I would not be a happy person to be around.
So the company with the job-ad above, they develop apps. [Laughter]. Like for fuck's sake! [Laughter]. And I can't develop an app for the life of me, but you don't have to be a genius to do that, and you probably don't have to be passionate about it, either. And the third thing is that the companies that look for people like this, they're solving uninteresting problems. What are they solving? They want to give you ads or what they like to call "personalised content". This is what we are throwing our passionate geniuses at.
This is not where we should spend them.
We should spend them on cancer research, and maybe, I don't know, maybe fly people to Mars, but I'm not sure about that one. And the fourth thing about companies looking for passionate programmers is that the only thing that I see is a lack of copy-editing qualities in their job-ads. It’s like “What is it that we’re looking for? The first thing that comes into my mind is passionate, let’s use that”. How about accurate, committed? How about thorough? How about exploratory? How about attributes that describe you as a developer or as a tester?
It is important to understand that a Java developer isn't just a Java developer. You have some people who thrive on hard problems; you have others that like to just jump into a mess and sort it out; and then you have others that like to clean up after that mess.
I'm one of those.
You want a developer to solve the problems at hand, and you want a developer who says no, you should not do this. This is not the right way to solve this problem.
As a hiring manager, because I can do two things at the same time but not at the same time, but sort of sequentially, I can also hire people. And if you say on your CV that you are passionate about this or that kind of technology, I look at you as a liability, because I see code and technology as a by product of our solving problems. I would rather solve our problems without code. I would rather solve our problems without containers, and probably also without servers because then they would be serverless.
So for me, the important thing, the thing that you might want to be passionate about is solving problems. And I hope that if you are passionate about solving problems, then I hope you choose to solve the important problems and not the menial ones that we do in our day-to-day work. This is very short, and very done. [Applause].
FLOOR: For fuck's sake, it's van Googggh. And also, as a Dutch person, if you want to move abroad, my company's hiring! [Laughter].
FLOOR: Can you say it again?
>> Van Googh!
ERIK: It's -
FLOOR: It's A here. Confusingly looking like one of the people handing out the mics there. If you get there is the bit about the thesaurus question about passionate versus engaged, enthusiastic, and so on, one of the things that I have the misfortune of working a lot in corporate development, and one of the most common things you see there is flaccid scrum, and that sort of thing. People who are not engaged. Again, are we throwing the baby out with the bath water in terms of passionate, saying we want, you know - as you say, it's just a case of finding the right word, but we want those behaviours where people will be proactive and actually bring the energy to the work, and it's maybe, you know, has "passion" got a bad rap, basically?
ERIK: My answer to that was in the first part of it. Most companies are not capable of handling engaged employees, so that's a blanket statement for that. As technologists, what you will see is that it's really easy to be engaged in the little things where you are able to do change, so, okay, I will just clean up my little code here, because I'm free to do that, and so I don't have to do the refactor thing, right? But I think that as developers, or at least I do personally, I develop sort of a self-defence mechanism, which is to not engage in stuff that I'm not able to change because that leaves me frustrated, so, you need to create an environment where that engagement is valued and that is used. I think.
FLOOR: D again. This thing about language and copy-editing, it's not just the recruiting hirers and recruitment departments in companies that put these things out, I have the misfortune of looking through CVs applying to our company, and there is a generally paragraph at the beginning of each that you can basically ignore. You know, "I am a passionate, committed ...".
ERIK: I tend to ignore those candidates, not the paragraph. It seems to be built into the expectations of people both advertising jobs and recruiters and agencies are clearly doing this, but people who are submitting CVs, and we can do without it. For fuck's sake!
FLOOR: My name's S. Over here. So, you said that we have all this energy, and that's what we have in this room pretty much, people have a loft energy and opinions, and you're saying we should direct those energies at things that are really important, like you said, for example, curing cancer. The day-to-day of it that most of us aren't curing cancer every day, so what is your advice for aiming as high as we can if we're not medical researchers curing cancer.
ERIK: I think P there said something quite important -- well, she said it before she was playing the violin: think about the one thing that you want to go out and do and think about the first step how you want to do it. You can, maybe not cure cancer, but you can certainly contribute your passions to something that is worth while outside your work. We don't have to realise ourselves within work. We can realise ourselves outside of work.
FLOOR: J again. I tend to, whenever I see any job advert, whenever I see the word "passion" anywhere, that's a massive red flag to me. Partly because, in my mind, saying we are looking for someone passionate seems to - it indicates to me they're looking for someone whose whole life is tech. Again, this comes back to Paula's talk earlier about don't make tech your whole life. Get outside, for fuck's sake. It doesn't seem to be so bad here, but certainly in Silicon Valley, the adverts you see there are often outrageous, and it was interesting the kind of example you spoke about, the passionate genus such as van [Guttural] Gogh, it seems that some companies are trying to hire and exploit that kind of personality, and that leads to crunch, and that leads to horrible, horrible personal costs, so don't do that for fuck's sake.
FLOOR: D again. We've heard about don't put your life into your work but there's something important about the dignity of work which we miss if we say find your passion elsewhere. I will strongly recommend some of the writings of Richard Senate, who has written very convincingly about the way experience of work has changed between generations, and I think that purpose in work is important, so we can't simply say, "Don't put your passion into work and don't find your identity in work", it's part of our identity.
ERIK: I certainly agree. We've talked about synthesis and anti-synthesis this morning, we're over here right now, right?
FLOOR: Another D. D117 I think I described myself as earlier! So, what does this sort of good job advert look like, when you're looking for someone who is good and enjoys the work, enjoys programming but not to the extent that they actually want to write reams and reams of code, because that's a problem, it is someone who likes writing code but even likes not writing it even more, and wants to go home at the end of the day, and not be just - just obsessional enough almost is the - where you have the attention for detail but you don't go OTT. What does that advert look like? We know it's not passionate and some of the words you've used, but ...
ERIK: First of all, I would, instead of looking for the passion, maybe you should start by describing the interesting problems that you're trying to solve. Go that way. I don't think that if there are job ads for doctorates at Harvard, they don't demand that you be passionate, right? It's because you work there, you're passionate, right? Describing what problems you're solving, maybe trying to solve what the potential employee will look like, or what kind of things will the employee be doing one year or two years down the road, because we might want to be concerned with continuous improvement, right? So, I want to be able to be at a place where I learn stuff. That's me. But maybe you don't want me.
FLOOR: Describe the job, not the person.
FLOOR: M again. So, in answer to do I think D’s question, what should be in the job advert, I think the things I personally look for are hard-working, smart, intelligent, and compassionate people, rather than passionate. Those are the things I would like to see if I'm looking for a job. The other thing is really a question to the room and to yourself, Erik. Do you think having passionate and having drive are the same things or not?
ERIK: I can't answer that. They sound similar!
FLOOR: P here. That job description you read at the beginning. That said to me these people don't work on teams, so I would never consider working there. That's a great indicator. Why are we doing this? Secondly, someone else mentioned proactive people. I'm a proactive person at work which means I do twice as much as everybody else on my team, so that's great. And I think next time I apply for a job, I will say I'm competent and leave it at that.
FLOOR: R here. I'm surprised often at how many developers don't really pay much attention when they're selecting an employer to what the purpose of that business actually is. Often, they are selecting on the basis of the work environment it might be, or the kind of technologies they will get to use, and I think everybody would be better served, the society, and the individual developers, if they just paid more attention to whether that business even should exist. [Applause]. I worked in the oil and gas industry for 15 years, so that's one aspect of that! More recently, my own business was approached to help build a what was described to me as a fashion aggregator for 15-year-old girls. I could not conceive of any way in which that would change the world other than leading to more anxiety amongst 15-year-old girls.
ERIK: Which leads us back to today's first talk, doesn't it?
FLOOR: Hi, I'm R(2). It might be because English is my second language, but I think we are confusing passionate with fanatical. I describe myself as passionate, and on my way to work I like to read technical books, and when I come back home, I like to read sci-fi or listen to music. I don't think that makes me insane! I like what I do, and I like to be good at what I do, so I'm more than happy to invest some of the time that I have to spare, especially if I'm not doing anything more productive. If the alternative is I'm playing Candy Crush on my phone, I'm more than happy reading a technical book. At home spending time with my girlfriend at home, probably, I will choose her! It depends what mood she's in, I guess! [Laughter]. I think that keeps me passionate without making me insane. So I think, you know, that job advert was clearly not written by people on that team, I'm pretty sure that was written by some random HR dude, I want to say, that was just asked to put together.
ERIK: It's written by a dudette, by the way.
FLOOR: Interesting. I don't think anybody would read that and go, "Oh, that describes me, I should apply." Because most sound like that. And I don't think anybody really would give a shit about that. So, yes, I think we are confusing passionate with fanatical. Passionate is good. I would rather be at a company where people describe themselves as passionate other than, "Oh, it's nine to five, I guess I have to do it."
ERIK: I can agree with you. When I go to work, I generally listen to audio books or podcasts relating to my work. But I don't like for that to be sort of the baseline. I like for us to have room for people who are - I have three kids and a mortgage, and that's basically why I work. If I didn't have that, then I would do something else. I like - I would like for there to be room for us. I think we are missing out on a lot of good people if we don't have that room.
FLOOR: My name's D. I'm over here. I think there's possibly a much more straightforward and cynical interpretation of those job adverts which is when you see something asking for people who are passionate and geniuses, you're asking for people who are prepared to be overworked and underpaid.
ERIK: Yes, I've left that out.
FLOOR: This is LJ. Well, words, words, words. For fuck's sake! They're just words. If I see "passionate" on a job application, I am not going to throw it away. I am looking more at the other things on the page. There are so many words people get conniption fits over like MVP and requirements. Does that belong in Agile? For fuck's sake, it is just a word! I should have submitted that too ... . I should have submitted that to, but I was thinking of submitting it, that's one of my bugbears is just get over the word.
FLOOR: It's S again, hi. So no surprise, I have two things to say. The first is, I don't know that fanaticism is a bad word. I know people who get so intensely interested in something that they find it difficult to focus on anything else for days, weeks, sometimes months, and that's just how their brain works, and I think if we can allow people to work in that rhythm, and then maybe have a month off, awesome, and I also know that, you know, folks with ADHD have this super power with hyperfocus where they can focus on this thing to the exclusion of everything else, and I don't want to see those people excluded because we say we don't want fanatics in this industry. I think that's like not a great thing. The second thing that I wanted to say is there's been a lot of talk about just walking away from jobs if they're maybe in certain areas, or whatever, and I think we have to recognise, there is the privilege to that choice. Like maybe I'm somebody who - like is amazed that I managed to get a job in IT at all. Maybe I'm a single parent, supporting a family, and all that kind of stuff. I may not feel that I'm able to walk away from those things, and I think we have not to forget that as well. That was a rant, for fuck's sake! [Applause].
ERIK: Just to comment on that, I'm extremely privileged. I'm a white male, I live in Norway, in Oslo, and I have 13 job offers, if I choose to quit today. So I'm free to do that. Not everyone has that privilege, definitely.
FLOOR: One final point of information relating to information we said before about how we can use our powers for good, but the charity sector is crying out for help, the smaller political parties are crying out for help. I work with the coding clubs, and they're always short of people as well. Especially now there's a huge amount more of local government data being released. We had this in Northern Ireland. They opened up the floodgates a couple of years ago, and there are lots of charities, as I say, local government organisations, that could get so much value from that if only they knew what a json file was. If you want to add positive value to society, a few phone calls, and you would be overwhelmed with requests.
ERIK: That's the sort of passion, because that means you might have to lower your wages a little bit, or you might have to work at inopportune times, you might not have to go scuba diving tomorrow. Then you have to make hard choices if that is your passion. Thank you. [Applause]. [Break].