I’m an Introvert and You Don’t Know What it Means

I’ve just listened to Scott Hanselmans podcast From Enterprise Developer to Tech Startup CEO with Tiffany Mikell and it reminded me of one of the big issues I’m facing in the industry. Here’s a (badly) transliterated quote from around 27:50 of the podcast:

I’ve always been surprised when I see amazing work done by single individuals. You know you go to Hacker News and you’re like “Oh I’ve build a Commodore 64 emulator in JavaScript in my basement all alone.” You know are you just locked in there? I have to walk around, talk to people. I got to go to Starbucks and talk to random strangers and say “what you think about this?” When I was an enterprise developer I was always wandering in another peoples cubes. Just because I wanna be there. I mean I’ve always found coding as a social experience. It’s a social thing.

You’ve probably read an article or two about agile communication. All of them seem to advocate face to face meetings, talking and whiteboards. Everyone always seem to object text chats, personal offices and even having a team where everyone is not sitting next to each other.

There is one thing that is not mentioned or maybe even not realized by authors who talk or write about communication in software development: it is not a social thing for all of us. Some of us actually get annoyed when someone keeps walking on our cubes and distract us with things we’re not currently concentrating on.

I’ve had an opportunity to work remotely for over a year in a fully remote company and several months straight in a not-so-remote company. For me being alone is not an issue and communication via chat and with documents is not difficult nor frustrating. It’s actually quite the opposite. Being alone allows me to be myself and having a backlog of all communication allows me to refer to it when I need the information. Having a backlog means I don’t have to remember everything all the time and it allows me to concentrate on what I’m doing at the moment.

On the other hand, standing next to a whiteboard while having a conversation with multiple persons requires a lot of mental energy and is very exhausting. Getting exhausted in a meeting means I wont be as productive as I could be and most of the conversation will slip through my mind without me even noticing. And because talk is transient, I will not have anything to refer to afterwards. To get the required information, I need to ask someone if they remember what we talked about. And often we’ll end back next to the whiteboard wondering what that thing we drew there last time is. And no one remembers every detail. And the worst part is everyone knows this and still think it is the superior method of communication.

To me, the persons who like to have meetings and talk next to a whiteboard, have always appeared as extroverts. It also seems like they’ve had difficulties understanding what it actually means to be an introvert, like me. Many socially active persons I’ve met in my career have had difficulties expressing themselves with text only while thinking aloud in front of other people seems to come naturally. To me and other less socially active persons I’ve met, communicating via text interface is or seems to be much easier and much more pleasant.

Based on my experience, in a fully remote team the chat is not an issue and good documentation has obvious value which is instantly recognized by everyone. In a team where you’re the only one working remotely and the rest of the team likes to use their mouths to communicate, you will be alone. And the worst part is, the lack of communication will be your problem and you need to fix it. The office team wont even realize there’s a problem before you make it a problem. Their fix? Be in the same office, of course. Remote teams don’t work. Why did you even try?

Do I have a better idea? Well, I see this as a problem between two types of people and one group should not be forced to fit the mold of the other group. I think it’s time to accept that one size does not fit all and allow everyone decide what works best for them. And I’m not alone with this opinion. I agree with the Async Manifesto so much that I’ve could have written it myself.