Hey, what’s up? If you’ve worked in any kind of tech organization since 2013 or so, you’ve probably been using some kind of chat application for work. It doesn’t matter which chat application you use, you’ve probably been in one of the following scenarios (as Alice or Bob or both):
In the first scenario, Alice sends a message to Bob. Bob is away from his desk and doesn’t see the message for a while. By the time Bob responds, Alice is also gone. Two messages have been sent but no useful information has been passed between Alice and Bob. Only the 3rd message, delayed by who knows how long, is actually useful.
If you’re part of the software industry you may have heard of rubber duck debugging. The idea is when you’re trying to debug an issue, you’ll explain it to an inanimate object and the answer will present itself. This sounds cute, especially if you visualize yourself speaking to a rubber duck, or teddy bear, or cat. But trust the software industry to find the dark side of any cute idea.
Many software engineers, particularly when they’re just getting started (but not only!) find it hard to strike the right balance between asking questions and figuring things out on their own.
First, they’re afraid of looking “dumb”. Second, many engineers convey (whether on purpose or inadvertently) that their time is too precious to answer “unimportant” questions. Third, often effective communication is neither engineer’s strong suit, and things may break down in that area.
A while ago I was telling a friend how I was frustrated at work. I had been adding support for a really important product feature, and our platform teams were making it impossibly difficult. It felt like every line of code required a month of negotiations to get approved. Let’s be honest here — I wasn’t telling, I was complaining. “Do they think we’re idiots?!”, I asked.
She was smiling with what I thought was empathy, until I was done and she said: “You are idiots”. Then she proceeded to explain that from her experience as a platform engineering manager, product engineers and platform teams live in a parallel universe. Finding common ground is quite a challenge. I believe at one point she used the words “silly baboons” (which gave this post its title).