Saturday, September 19, 2020



image via Peakpx
 I recently listened to an interesting podcast about burnout that stimulated some thoughts regarding this silent killer that could easily get rampant, especially in the software industry which is known to be very mentally demanding.

This industry attracts very passionate persons who -given an interesting enough problem- will voluntarily give up a lot of their time, energy and other aspects of their social and health lives.

While seeking the satisfaction of solving complex problems or under tight delivery pressure, developers "get into the zone" and spend extended hours without even noticing.

Commonly, developers take pride in this aspect of their work. Other developers consider this as a role model for how a dedicated developer should be. Managers celebrate heroic efforts of their developers and even more take it for granted and it become a normal expectation.

But what's wrong with this? If the developer is really passionate about his/her work, so what?

One of the light bulb moments in this podcast is when Dr Aneika (PhD  in Organizational Behavior and Human Resources) said:

 "…you would think that some research or previous research said, well, maybe engagement is the antonym to burnout. But no, what we really found out is that people that are really, really engaged are the ones that are most susceptible to burnout"

"…to be a great developer, to be a great programmer, or to be a great coder, you have to really be involved. And that involvement that takes you in and sucks you in could be the same thing that can lead you down the road of burnout."

No surprise then that developers could go through waves of extreme productivity followed by low performance, if not conscious enough to how their mind and emotions work.

Another important aspect to consider especially if you're a leader in tech is the impact of your burnout on how you interact with those who you lead.

One component of burnout is depersonalization, that is when you're burnt out, you get detached from the surrounding team members, and focus only on what you get out of them. To you, they become more like functions with inputs and outputs, and your relationship becomes merely transactional, which is very dangerous.

To me, one of the most important leadership traits is empathy. When you're drained to the extent that you have no emotional capacity for empathy, you lose the ability to connect and support your team members. And especially if you're normally understanding and supportive, your fluctuating behaviour might hurt the trust you've earned.

Take care of the signs of burnout. And remember not to deplete all your energy before taking the time to recharge.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Which language should I speak?

Working in a diverse environment with team members from many nationalities is a great experience. You get to know new cultures and recognize how similar people are across the world although the seemingly extreme differences.
In such an environment, you hear different languages all the time! And although there is usually a de facto business language, -English in my case, since I'm currently working in Australia-, some people prefer to have conversations in their native tongue with colleagues that share the same language even in a business context.

Well, is that OK?
There are many angles from which I see this matter.

It's good to feel natural

As a non-native English speaker myself, I feel very weird speaking with my Arabic speaking colleagues -especially Egyptians- in a secondary language, it just doesn't feel natural! Why speak in a language that we wouldn't normally use if we were having a casual chat? Put aside losing access to a huge stock of vocabulary and expressions that we share. This leads to the second point:

It's about effective communication

We need to get the job done, right? So why put a barrier in front of effective communication? Undoubtedly using my native language makes conveying my thoughts much easier. Besides, it gives better control over the tone of the conversation. I suppose the same goes for other nationalities as well.

But what are we missing?

Some people might feel excluded when others around them speak in a language they don't understand. However, I haven't seen this causing real issues.

A virtual wall?

I've been working in Agile teams for years. And I believe in the value of having collocated teams in facilitating communication. 
It happened many times that I overheard a discussion between other colleagues in my team area when I jumped in and gave help to solve an issue, guided on a topic, or threw in a piece of information that was necessary to solve a problem. Even if you're not intentionally paying attention, it's possible to save the team from consuming a lot of time going in circles.
Speaking in a different language defies the purpose of collocation and creates virtual walls. It's the same reason why some Agile practitioners recommend not putting headphones as they isolate the team member from the surrounding team interactions.

What about you? Do you prefer speaking in your first language if different from the common one used at work? On the other side, how do you feel about other colleagues speaking in a language that you don't understand?