Adapted from Damon’s Lightning Talk at Big Sky Dev Con.
I find that stereotypes of any kind can lock us into a false narrative of expectations and identities. They can cause the loss of opportunities and forward momentum in both life and business. Software engineers are no exception.
We tend to think of the perfect software engineer candidate as an “introverted, non-social, logically minded” individual who is at home in front of the computer all day.
This stereotype hindered me from finding my vocation for nearly a decade. I love creativity, being social and spending time outdoors. Yes, I enjoy working on the computer, but I would gladly put that down to have a get-together with friends.
Basically, because I considered myself an artist and a creative person, I couldn’t be a software engineer.
…the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story. — Chimamanda Adichie
The truth of being a software engineer includes so much more than the single-sided story of a stereotype. Programming has always been a creative outlet: from architecting databases to foreseeing application structure to envisioning users’ workflow.
So what happens when you allow for the growth of the logically minded person into the passionate creative sphere? Well, let’s name a few:
- Albert Einstein
- Nikola Tesla
- Ada Lovelace
- Benjamin Franklin
- Grace Hopper
These individuals were industry disruptors. They forged new paths in untouched spaces of thought and imagination — logic and creativity.
How? Even though these scientists were highly logical — some even to the point of being unable to communicate on a social level — they lived with the truth that without creativity and imagination, nothing new is ever produced.
The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. — Albert Einstein
Creative intelligence combined with the logical mind is what makes a great software engineer.
As soon as I discovered this, my shackles were loosed and I became a programmer. Out from under the burden of the stereotype, I was free to create through logical confines — to craft robust scalable databases and APIs while solving big problems by molding the programming language into a scalable, beautiful, practical and artful application.
So I ask developers, how do you churn the pot of inspiration and creativity? Listening to music, taking walks, participating in dance/yoga? Find what can jumpstart your creative intelligence and write industry-changing code from that place of imagination and innovation.
And I ask managers, how can you help facilitate a culture of creativity for your engineers? Do you expect them to be typing 8 hours a day? Or can you help them expand their creativity by allowing them to work remotely at times, enabling that inspiration?
As we break down the stereotypes of the software engineer and radically accept the creative imagisphere into our realm, the possibilities become endless.
Let me leave you with this final question — in thinking about the Albert Einsteins, the Grace Hoppers, the da Vincis:
Where could this industry be in 10, 20, 30 years if we began to cultivate logically creative minds now?