Our industry is filled with loud voices.
There are often quieter voices. There are often people who are kind, helpful and considerate, but the fact is, this there seems to be something particularly prevalent in our industry; these loud voices coming from people who basically feel they are very, very clever and nearly always have a very academic approach to things.
Now, the issue with these loud voices, is that, for the newer people who are trying to be heard, or trying to make a contribution, these voices can be very daunting.
For many, it’s our nature not to be to forthcoming with our opinions. Asserting that we definitely know what’s right and what’s best is just not part of who we are as people. Certainly we can be sure of things but littering assertions with statements like “in my opinion” or “as far as I can tell” is not something I’ve come across much and especially from more senior developers.
There are unfortunately environments where being active in mentioning your confidence values (to borrow the AI term) by saying things like: “I’m pretty sure X is…” or “honestly I’ve not much idea about Y” can be a really damaging thing. Especially in the more competitive environments where many try to be the smartest person in the room.
It’s interesting you know, that there seems to be this need to constantly show off, often by denigrating people or being loud for the sake of it. This can often be a by-product of how incentives are managed at work. For example asking people to act like a team, but then incentivizing people individually. Surely these things are at odds?
I’ve seen many times, developers who absolutely assert, with all the conviction in the world, that technology X is absolutely and unquestionably the right way to go (- the facts be damned!). There is absolutely no room for any shadow of a doubt, as far as they’re concerned. This is as clear and true as the difference between night and day. If you’re that guy and you’re reading this thinking “but I’m always open to debate” I want you to know that this is in no way how you’re coming across! Please stop.
The newer or more timid software developers who hear the noise you make often think something along the lines of “well – I don’t have opinions as strong as that. So perhaps I should keep quiet until I’m as confident as him”.
The problem with this though – as well intentioned as it is – is that your nature, especially if your quieter, or considerate person, may never allow you to have an opinion as strong as that – no matter what.
Being genuinely open to other people’s input may mean that you will never presume to assert anything as absolute, because deep down you feel no one can ever honestly be that sure about anything 100%. Because we can always learn more.
Did you know for example that gravity is likely not even constant? Or that our atoms could theoretically be anywhere in the universe at any given moment? Even reality itself is rarely 100% (at a quantum level at least).
Without consciously accepting that you are never going to be as confident as that loud person (seems), you are likely to find yourself on one of two paths: either 1) endlessly trying to research an area well enough to feel confident in speaking as loud as they do (you never will) or 2) just giving up and yielding to the louder voices forever until you finally realise that they are harming you mental health and leave. The very rare third option is that they change. This is very rare though, and often needs a wider cultural shift in order to stand a chance of happening.
Now being forced to leave because people have made you consistently uncomfortable (option 2), whether they meant to or not, is not nice and it shouldn’t happen. But it definitely does. It is – whether intentional or not – a form of bullying and I can’t stand bully’s. Having gone through enough to make me recognise that standing up for yourself is sometimes your only viable option I’m doing something about it, in my own way by writing this. The first step is after-all, recognising the problem.
So to the loud voices out there. Recognise that not everyone thinks the way you do. If you’re unintentionally loud or dominant about what you think are the right ways to do things, consider this a gentle prompt to remind you to be mindful of respecting others. If you’re senior – you’ve already won. People respect you, give them a chance to shine and they will always think of you in a good light. Sometimes they need to be actively encouraged to participate. They may even have a lot to say! These alternate perspectives can make you and your whole team stronger, if only to provide confidence that you’ve considered all of your available options.
If you though, you know what you’re doing and do it regardless, please know this:
People will also remember you. They will talk about you and you will slowly be cut off from interesting people and forced to be surrounded by the same old people who’ve learned to put up with you because it’s just easier to yield. Like a piece of flesh deprived of fresh oxygen, you will be starved of new perspectives and eventually become useless. You may well already be.
Please be nice.