The Joy of Craftsmanship

I identify a great deal with the label of “Craftsman”, but some of the rhetoric around the current “Software Craftsmanship” movement bothers me. Why?

A little lightbulb went on recently as I read “Let my People Go Surfing”, by Yvon Chouinard, the founder of the outdoor clothing company Patagonia. Patagonia was founded by a group of friends who were social misfits: “dirtbag” climbers and surfers who only worked in order to save cash for their adventures. When they came to work, they wanted to enjoy it:

I wanted to have a company where people came to work on the balls of their feet, taking the stairs two at a time.

Yvon describes in the book how they’ve worked hard to keep this culture alive at Patagonia. Increasingly over, the years, I’ve prioritised enjoying my work over how much I can earn from it, and I believe that this search for joy is a fundamental part of my model of craftsmanship. When I haven’t enjoyed a job, either I’ve worked with people to change things so that I do, or I’ve left. I think it’s impossible to truly craft something when you’re working in an unpleasant environment with people you whose company you don’t enjoy. On the other hand, when I’ve had the privilege to work with great people using great tools, I feel like nothing can stop me.

So for me, craftsmanship is about finding joy in your work. Here’s Brian Marick on Joy:

Now, I could say that a joyful employee is a productive employee, and that lack of joy on a project is like a canary keeling over in a coal mine: a sign that something big is wrong and you better pay attention. Maybe that’s true. I’d certainly like to believe it. But, fundamentally, I don’t care. I think joy is its own excuse. We deserve it. More to the point, those people around us deserve it.

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The Importance of Being Idle

It says over there on the left that I like to be idle, but I don’t often take the time to write about it. I’m not going to write much now, really, but here’s a thought for you:

An idle mind is a questioning, sceptical mind. Hence it is a mind not too bound up with ephemeral things, as the minds of workers are. The idler, then, is somebody who separates himself from his occupation: there are many people scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation.

– Robert Luis Stevenson

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Battling Robots at Software Craftsmanship 2010

I’ve submitted a session for the Software Craftsmanship 2010 Conference. It’s a redux of the Robot Tournament I ran at SPA2010.

The idea behind the session is to simulate the life of a start-up software company. In the early rounds of the tournament, the priority for each team is to get a robot, any robot, out there an playing matches. As the tournament progresses, quality becomes more important as you need to adapt your robot to make it a better competitor.

This ability to adapt your approach to the work to the context you’re doing it in is, I think, really important for the true craftsperson to grasp. If you’ve been reading Kent Beck’s posts about start-ups and design, you’ll be familiar with this subject. It’s wonderful to be able to patiently produce a beautifully-worked piece of furniture, but what if the building is burning down and you just need a ladder to escape, right now? Can you rip up some floorboards and knock something together from the materials to hand and save your family?

There’s a great skill in understanding and working to the appropriate level of quality for the context you’re currently in, and I hope this session gives people a little insight into that.

You can watch my screencast audition for the session here. Please leave any feedback or comments here.

Agile / Lean Software Development

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