Even people who run a kitchen everyday underrate waking up to a clean one and often leave the dirty dishes in the sink and leave the counters unclean. This clutter over the course of the days will bring two major issues. It will lead to tiring because of cleaning up first on waking up even before a coffee and the other which causes the fatigue in the long run due to the cycle of clutter and improper cleaning. When you enter the kitchen, you should be able to make your breakfast or coffee just right away instead of cleaning the kitchen and washing the dirty dishes. I also some time ago, wrote about parallels in running a kitchen and programming.

What if the cook wants to keep the kitchen clean but work piles up so much that they have to leave a wave of mess behind to achieve the dishes of that day. It happens once in a while during feasts and festivals, which is often followed by cleaning up the mess and cooking a little light next day. As a routine, it is always best to clean up the counters, rearrange the utensils and clear up the dirty sink before going to bed every night. Waking up to a clean kitchen is something that has a cascading effect on the peace of mind because a day always starts good. So one cannot plan feast after feast without resetting the state of the kitchen.

This is what you will hear from Software developers, they are never allowed to prioritise to keep their code clean, they are made to pile on tech and architectural debt to prepare for release after release. Developers end up starting on a back foot and will be inclined to add more mess to the existing pile. I like the idea of how Basecamp has a cycle of big and small batches, this gives enough leeway to the tech team to prioritise between features, bugs and debts and keep a healthy momentum going.

Waking up to a clean code is also an underrated feeling, but it will leave a great positive impact on the team that lives in the code.

I was speaking to a tech lead who was inspired by Dan Pink’s drive and motivation video. This person was speaking great lengths about how to motivate team members, how to set them goals etc and also went on to say that only if this person’s managers showed same consideration and handover more autonomy, then there are so many more things that can be done.

Below is the link for the nice presentation by Dan Pink, about his work on Drive

I asked a few questions to understand what kind of autonomy was working for this tech lead. The team size was around 8 with a mix of Developers, QA and BA. The team members were given a free hand on when to take a day off, go on vacation, flexible timings etc. The flexibility in working and taking a time off is not directly related to autonomy so I asked my favourite question next.

Given your team size is small, what is your version control process? The answer was that everyone works on their own branches, they will then raise a pull request to the tech lead, the tech lead will review the piece of work, some back and forth happens before it can be merged to the master. The tech lead controls the merge to master and it is a privilege to commit to master.

Where is the autonomy in this process? Code for developers is like a habitat, they should feel connected and own the place they are considering it as their habitat. By putting a very strong gated process that too in a small team is removing the autonomy away from the members. Will members be connected and own the code they are developing or is it just that they are following their tech lead says?

Then the question arises on ‘how to ensure quality’; in our teams we never gate someone’s commits as a merge request/pull request is not the only safety check we have in place. We have a huddle every morning and people demonstrate what they have coded & committed to main along with any observations they have on other’s code. This is repeated every day and this mob review works a lot better than a gating PR review because the learning as a group is much stronger and less hierarchical. This activity also enforces the collective ownership and every individual takes up the challenge of living upto the expectations. The only catch is, it has to be moderated well in the initial days before the new found inertia can take over and run without the chaperone.

I started following this style after reading the chapter “Habitability and Piecemeal Growth” in the book Patterns of software architecture by Richard Gabriel. Autonomy is not just about working from home, flexible timings or casual holidays, it is about the ability to own things at grass roots level.

In some professional settings, when I had to meet new people; often during the greeting people say “Hi, I am ABC and I am the <<insert fancy title>>” and look back at me, while my responsibilities were at similar level I did not have a fancy title. I have always been associated with companies which did not go for fancy titles and it has been a downhill when there needs to be a peer to peer conversation but it ends up in a hierarchical communication.

This has a big domino effect and people want bigger and fancier titles much earlier in their life. My dad retired as an engineer and when I looked into his career path, he was not called an engineer until he spent 5-6 years as a technical assistant to the engineer, another 5 years as deputy engineer and finally an engineer when he had enough experience and wisdom to handle a lot of things. Now we started calling people who connect cables to the modem as service engineers.

Different people are motivated by different things, for a few people status is one of them but by succumbing to that need we put a lot of others at a disadvantage because; now every one has to play the game to make sure there is proper titles associated to them based on the years of experience or the volume of things they are handling.

Looking forward to a future where titles do not matter that much and we stick only the basic ones. We should not have inflated titles to the point where people are judging someone’s worth by the title they carry.