Doing great work is extremely difficult when power trumps intelligence in the workplace.
The Grand Game of Software Engineering is a rare practical example of a technical meritocracy where less qualified and generally inexperienced neophytes enter and gradually work their way up the ranks from generic pawns to powerful niche fitting power pieces.
We, for the most part, look after each other and bring each other up through a blend of gentle recommendations and nuclear war style exchanges on everything from choice of operating systems and programming languages to the holy war surrounding tabs or spaces in code indentation¹.
It’s easy to recognise experts in our various fields through their choice of attire (i.e. what’s written on their t-shirts), style of hair (short, long, dyed, platted, or indeed missing), size and aspect ratio of monitor (even refresh rate too), or even the decals that may be present on their laptop (and whether it’s made of aluminium or not²).
We look to each other for both inspiration and technical detail which, at least to me, describes the utopian case of the Grand Game where we are continuously curious and continuously learning.
Hell Is Other People
However, as with most political, economic, or generally social systems that inevitably involve primarily people and not machines³ it’s the real and practical operation of such systems that is the real headache.
A salient political example would be communism which sounds interesting in theory but has never actually worked when put into practice, quickly coalescing power into a small group or single individual, and descending inevitably into dictatorship.
Similarly, it’s often extremely enlightening to extend social, political, and (my favourite) philosophical constructs and ideas into the Grand Game of Software Engineering — and, commonly, it’s the people therein that are also the major problem.
By people I’m painting with a broad brush of course, as I’m referring to those who have either infiltrated or migrated through the Grand Game as notional managers, leaders, or evangelists of various kinds.
Where we, the engineers who do the actual work, toil away at the coal face…