Consciousness and Software Development

I was attracted to the Agile movement through my interest not only in software but in conflict and collaboration.  I’ve had many fascinating experiences and met lots of smart, eccentric, warm, wily, and deeply fascinating people in the course of my career.  Many of those have also been attracted to Agile.  If it hadn’t been for Karl Wiegers and Norm Kerth I might never have found my way and still be out there diving ever more deeply into what collaboration is and what makes it work.

I also am interested in the nascent partnership movement.  You may have heard about it through authors such as Riane Eisler.  Partnership to my way of thinking, which has an admittedly feminist bent, makes room for men though there is great resonance between the feminist and partnership spheres of thought.  Perhaps I see this because I was taught feminism as “the doctrine of shared power.”  Having spent twenty-five years in software development, I think it’s important to make room for men, and I often speak up in the emerging women in STEM discussion to advocate against 6,000 years of female domination as a response to 6,000 years of male domination.  Women are not victims.  They are partners who are not, it seems clear, valued as would be in the best interests of society.  Their lack of presence in STEM says something about the consciousness of science, technology, and engineering as they exist today.

There are few things quite as fine as a good conversation.  Conversation, as in dialogue, is collaborative in nature.  It is a partnership in the exploration of ideas and the other.  When collaboration is present so is a dialogic, partnered orientation to creation and relatedness.

Several years ago, when I was working on my thesis, In Your Own Hands:  Personal Integrity and the Individual’s Experience of Work Life, I spent many months reading and building on my grasp of leadership theory, systems thinking, general systems theory, and Agile project management.  As I dove deeper into the pool of these ideas and the thinking of so many others, it occurred to me that, within five years, we’d all be thinking and reading about consciousness just as we were then thinking and reading about systems thinking.

Imagine my delight when Jeff McKenna published Conscious Software Development in 2014.  It was a firm signpost that I was right in my intuition.  I later attended a telesummit on the same topic that, while it struggled to take a stand on the same ground, did so on less steady legs.  I reached out to Jeff after reading his book and had many of my assumptions and intuitions verified, and I started looking for a partner with a deeper technical background than I have to verify the experiential reality of the evolution of consciousness in software development.

In our local Agile community there is a technical practices coach who, by my observation, appeared to grasp and to be susceptible to a similar view of the sociology of software development that I am.  Last fall we had a chance to work together when I negotiated a day of Coderetreat with him as facilitator for the day in the context of a broader coaching engagement with a client of mine.  The day and results of that day in the context of the team confirmed my firm conviction of the value of technical practices in raising consciousness.

Over the last several months of reading and writing, I’ve reached out to such industry thinkers as Jeff McKenna and Ward Cunningham to test certain ideas around consciousness and software development.  The article is in review now and is scheduled for publication the week of July 11th.

In that article, I hope you’ll see the same thing I do, something that might help both individuals and organizations.  Since “software is eating the world,” how we build software can help us make a better world.  And, we need a better world.

Last night I went to see Eye in the Sky with Helen Mirren.  There was much to see in that film:  how war has evolved as a bureaucratic, hierarchical enterprise; how women in positions of power are portrayed to function; what the nature of collateral damage actually is; and, most salient to my way of thinking, was the representation of each individual technical team member’s influence on outcomes.  In this film, it was clear that the man or woman at the end of the line, the one who held the controls, pushed the buttons, and noticed—or didn’t notice, spoke up—or complied had the ability to lead the leadership and their own lives more nobly—or not.

I have worked with so many teams who feel disempowered.  Yet, they have given their power away.  Software developers are some of the most powerful people in the world but, like Joseph Campbell said of the hero on his journey, “don’t know it.”  Arnold Mindell in Working on Yourself Alone made it quite clear that there are pre-existing practices to support the psychological health and wellness of the change agent, one of the easily most corrupting roles a person can hold in this celebrity obsessed culture.  Technical practices, as we discuss them in this soon to be published article, are the software developer’s answer to maintaining health and well-being as a conscious being in a mechanistic system.  We could use a similar set of practices for those of us who support the contexts in which software development takes place.

When the article is out, I’ll link to it from this blog and Tweet it. Let me know what you think.

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