Friday, January 30, 2009

What characteristic do you despise?

I got one of those email questionnaires that asks a bunch of questions about yourself that you fill out and then pass on (along with sending a copy back to the originator). Since it came from a friend I was going through it and came to the question, "What characteristic do you despise?".

Easy, I thought, and typed in "Hypocrisy."

But this one kept nagging at me, and just kept pushing its way back into my thoughts.

Okay, so why does part of my brain thinks "hypocrisy" is an inadequate answer?

Well, where does hypocrisy come from?

Self-centeredness, the notion that the whole world revolves around one and that the most important thing to the person is satisfying their own wants and desires. And anything goes in that pursuit, including spouting high-minded ideals if they'll help you get what you want--hence hypocrisy flows from self-centeredness.

But I still wasn't totally convincing myself that was what the characteristic I most despised.

I thought maybe narcissism, but that trait is more personal, being focused entirely on one's self, and so has less of the external effects of other personality defects.

I finally figured it out then. Hubris.

With self-centeredness it's still possible that you might recognize that in pursuit of your own gratification you're screwing over others, but they're just not as important as you are, so them's the breaks.

Hubris, though, is different. It's self-centeredness without the potential for guilt. Because one afflicted with hubris believes that they are always right, in everything, all the time. Any idea or action of theirs is always right, because they thought of it. There's no questioning, no self-doubt. Everything they do is by definition the right thing to do.

This can be highly destructive.

I've known and known of business owners, religious leaders, and governors and presidents afflicted with hubris, and the result has been damage in all scales across the spectrum.

Doubt is an essential component of a personality, the possibility that despite your best efforts you could still be wrong. It tempers one's actions, encourages one to plan contingencies if case things don't work out, and keeps your attention focused on what you're doing.

I'm a self-confident person, a software developer, and I've been very successful at my career over the years. Still, though, a not insignificant part of that success derives from the fact that I'm well aware that I make design and coding mistakes, and so I'm always on the watch for them. (Which led to my "Confessions of a Terrible Programmer".)

Doubt is part-and-parcel of a healthy, self-confident person, and those lacking it, those infused with hubris, can seriously harm those in their sphere of influence. That therefore is the characteristic I most despise.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The "Any Competent Programmer" BS

An columnist wrote an article asking "Why aren't developers interested in Ada", which was pretty good, but the first comment on the article kinda got me going.

Scottish Martin's comments do absolutely make some good points, and I had no quibble with them. He ends his comment, though, with one of my pet peeves: "A professional team can develop quality software whatever the chosen implementation language and toolset." (And that just set me off--though Martin's just in the wrong place at the wrong time. :-)

That statement is analogous to the "Any competent programmer can write good code in any language" trope.

The advocated language could be Ada, Lisp, Haskell, or any of many others that face an uphill struggle for acceptance. The advocacy is dismissed with the claim that programming language choice just doesn't make much difference, and after all, a competent programmer can write quality software in any language.

While this claim about the ability to create good code may be true, it's irrelevant, and is usually thrown in the face of a developer who is advocating the use of a programming language that differs from the corporate herd selection, in order to shut them up, which it too often does. The claim, though, begs the question of how much it costs, in time and money, to develop that quality software using a chosen language and toolset. And whether a different choice could lead to quality software being developed faster and more cheaply, thereby encouraging the creation of even more quality software.

I've argued about this before. Programming language choice does matter, programming toolsets do matter. Programming language and development tools are where the bits hit the hardware, and if you want quality work from a developer, you need to use quality tools.

Seriously, do Indy and Formula One racing mechanics get their tools at WalMart and Harbor Freight? Because "a professional mechanic ..."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Here Reverend, have a seat."

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 April 1968, Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters) Memphis, Tennessee

"I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible."

Barack Hussein Obama, II
44th President of the United States of America