Digging into Diversity

A few of nights ago I had chat with Scott Hanselman about diversity in teams.  This experience and the .NET Rocks experience were really important learning moments for me.  Although you have the opportunity to “rewind” and be edited, I decided not to do that and just let me be heard as I am – unedited.
As usual, we all tend to be our own worst critics and I know I have some bad habits.  These are the ones of which I am most aware.  (a) I ramble on a bit before getting to the point and I miss the point sometimes, (b) I tend to interrupt people when they speak, and (c) I unconsciously complete people’s sentences.  Have a listen to the Hanselminutes podcast and please give me your feedback, good and bad.

The show could have gone in any number of directions but Scott did an amazing job of keeping it on a particular path.  There were some things that I thought about after the show and just want to elaborate a little bit.

The code that you write affects people on your team. Although we glossed over this and it felt like a weird application of Ubuntu, I really believe that your code impacts other people on your team.  I always joke about not carrying code to your grave.  Seriously, your code will be visited by the “second” team because your project is never complete until the “second” team comes into play after your first production release.  So writing code that is a positive experience for someone else is important.  Anyway, your code is collectively owned, and read more than written, right?

Greetings and introductions should be meaningful. The words that Scott used to describe me are nothing more than tangled mess of words that are superficially meaningful.  From that description, all you can do is categorise me by your previous stereotypes associated with those words.  Knowing people and learning how they feel at that moment in time and making that meaningful is all about discovery focused conversations.  Most people know that I really look for simple solutions to everything.  Having a conversation is easy, but choosing the right words to say is tough, especially if you are protecting yourself with a personal space wall or probing through someone’s personal space wall.

Learning is more important than being the best. I now really believe that just learning to be better for yourself is the most important thing.  It is a personal thing only.  It is not about being the top dog.  Aiming for top dog is an ego trip and power positioning becomes a vehicle for the journey.  Power destroys lives and spirits.  I have been down that road, practiced it, hated myself and been a subject of it as well.  I call it power oriented architecture.

Values and behavior compromises are contextual. We spoke a bit about clashing of value systems and I said that it is about compromise.  I think compromises only work in a context.  I have a  friend and it bothered me that he was, on occasion, a snob.  After a long time, I made peace with his snob-mode.  He was a snob in certain contexts and I acknowledged that and looked passed that and realised that the value systems and derived behavior we exhibit changes as we shift through contexts.  Ideally, it shouldn’t but we are humans and are fallible.  (Sure, we do have core values that are consistent across contexts.)  Knowing when people are applying altered values and behaving accordingly can help you create contextual compromises that can lessen the possibility of conflicts in teams.

Soft skills do not have hard recipes. Scott kept pushing me about techniques that we can use to work through these challenges in our teams.  I really did not have any.  After we stopped recording we both said that these are soft issues and there are no hard techniques.  Soft is soft. Period. It is really about becoming a better person – for yourself – and in so doing you become a better person for others.  I can’t coach this or teach this.  I can just share my experiences and thoughts on this.  And I am so very far away from not “being a jerk” as Scott politely put it.  The one thing I have seen consistently is that your “jerkness” is inversely proportional to your humbleness.

Voting for the first time in 1994 was significant. I opened the discussion about the important junction in time when apartheid was abolished and we voted freely for the first time.  This was significant because it divided our search for identity into two distinct eras.  It’s hard to manage diversity if we don’t have own identity.  Secondly, it was the most harmonious, collective experience of my life.  We stood in a queue from 8am to 6.30pm in Yeoville in Johannesburg.  In the queue we had old, young, black, white, Rastafarians, Muslims, Jews, almost every categorisation you could think.  But it was peaceful and celebratory.  It proved to me that human beings are capable of living together when we share a common ideal that we all believe in … even for one single moment.

If the real me is not Scott’s intro, then who am I? I am Aslam Khan.  I am a software developer.  I am a father, a husband, a brother and a son.  I am a neighbour, a friend and nice guy and a jerk. I am 40 and I am looking for balance.  I have two kids aged 8 and 5.  My thoughts are pre-occupied by the challenge of being a parent. I treasure my time with my family immensely but suffer serious guilts by not doing so.  My 5 year old child has a terminal disease and is classified as cerebral palsy which changed my view on many things.  My 8 year old child amazes me at his simplistic maturity and makes me realise that I am unnecessarily complicated.  I am a citizen of this world.  I wonder how many people will come to my funeral – it’s my measure of meaningful engagements.  I question whether writing software is a good way of becoming a better person.  I am hopeless at character assessments and my wife is my Deanna Troi.  I exist.

8 thoughts on “Digging into Diversity

  1. ROFL! I misred that for a second and thought “Deanna Troi” WAS your wife! Getting the podcast tonight and can’t wait to give it a listen since I am now actually on an AGILE team.

  2. loved the show! I sat “answering” all Scott’s questions in the car regarding SA and as I thought it you said it! I really really enjoyed the show and being the first “non-technical” podcast I’ve listened to, I learned a TON! A lot of the things you said make so much sense when working within an AGILE team and I’ll be recommending to the show to my colleagues.
    Most important thing I took out of the show was that I should remember that different team members value different things. This is something that should be obvious to most of us but we seem to miss it!
    Thanks a million!

  3. Aslam, once again, you’ve been exceptionally thoughtful, inspirational and yet so humble. Exposing your weaknesses and fears requires bravery, I really respect that.
    As you know, I’m a great fan of yours. We often try so hard to project an “ideal us” to the external world that we forget what we value most. There are many, many lessons each of us can learn from you that go well beyond our professional career. I’m planning to leave this world well before you, but just in case, I’ll book the flight ticket to your funeral party (hopefully it will be cheap on ebay) 😀

  4. @Claudio
    Hehe! Very kind words (thanks!).
    Since you’re planning an earlier exit, you can crash my after party in the cloud 😉

  5. Hi Aslam!I’ve only had the privilege of working under you for a brief period, but I’ve never been so inspired to become better at what I do.
    Thank you for sharing. It’s brilliant!

  6. @Cobus
    I don’t think you realize how much _you_ inspired all of us. Hanging on to grenades without pins and not dropping it is an amazing ability. I tried it and failed. And you just showed me the way it should be done.

  7. Wow that was truly inspirational. Always thought you you to be deeply philosophical. On a lighter note I am going to tell mr d you think he is snobish

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