I work with other two in a dev team. We all like to curl up on our computers and do things and we only talk to each other when absolutely necessary. Sometimes the necessity seems to be social because someone is just so bored that he needs to vent or have some relief using some “unnecessary” small talk. Relief is necessary, and so this “unnecessary” small talk is actually necessary! This is what I usually think about when one of my dev colleagues tells me a story about his home country or her child.
I’m the most junior member, not only on the dev team, but the whole department. I am finding it very difficult for people to take me seriously, and I really think this is unfair because I am making real contributions to the team and the department including discovering security holes in systems lazily built in a hacky way to “save time”. I believe that those shortcuts left us already in a mess that everyone is seeing, but no change in behavior was realized for some reason worth or studying but that is beyond the topic I want to discuss here.
Talking is not an easy task, especially when you want to do it right. A drunken person can talk. A president might deliver a speech to the UN about a vital global issue. Both of them are talking. I can talk, and so can Larry King. But in the details that characterizes “talking” there is so much that takes place and causes various kinds of effects including emotional and rational. And to cause the right effects, talking must be tailored carefully and that requires a lot of mental effort.
I am not fan of talking for socialization’s sake. But when it comes to communication, even superfluous, I do talk in a manner that people think I am lecturing them, that I’m a show off, or just too chatty. In reality, what I carefully look forward to is delivering an internal mental representation of what I have in my head in as much detail as possible, to achieve clarity, and to obtain other people’s opinion who will be more able to express their opinions now that they have a clear picture.
I support superfluous communication because of two reasons: first, you never really know how others may be able to use information that you think is superfluous (nor can they!), second, things might change in the future, and the third is that our magnificent human mind allows information to interact with other information in unexpected wonderful ways: the creative process is surely not linear and sometimes a lack of focus helps spark ideas, gives way to explore and discover, and see random useful connections that were just out of view. Sometimes when you expose yourself to unexpected things, you are able unexpectedly discover other things. It’s like going on an expedition, but only mentally and intellectually.
On another note, I always find verbal communication to be challenging, and I think people find it challenging to focus on what I’m actually saying and not be distracted by the way I am saying things.
I often find myself in a position wherein someone asks me a question in a light social context that requires a deep thoughtful answer. The question can be really simple, and the questioner is most likely insincere about obtaining a real answer and is relying on a typical social pattern of non-seriousness. But to properly address the question, a sophisticated answer is required, and such an answer is not suitable for the current social context. For example, sometimes people as me how am I doing. This is not a simple question. This question requires reflection at several existential levels and timeframes of consideration. Sometimes I say I’m not sure, prompting light-hearted laughter from others around me, which relieves me, and sometimes I just panic, causing embarrassment for myself and others around me. I also often surprise people with answers that escalates quickly from nice weather to extensive genetic diversity or why I don’t like probabilistic primality tests. That’s not to mention the technical ideas that I relate to what goes on in my social discussions: see Soy Sauce Conversations for a simple example.
There are several ways a conversation can evolve. Changing a conversation’s topic from ‘the weather’ to ‘extensive genetic diversity’ is an example of the evolution of the topic. I’ll call that “topical evolution”. Topical evolution simply means a change of topic, gradual or sudden, comfortably by an appropriate stimulant or related topic painfully through the interruption of an eager loud person. Of course a change of topic carries with it a change of emotions and thinking. That’s another kind of conversational evolution that I experience a lot even without topical evolution: it’s more internal to the mind and so I will call it conversational cognitive evolution. The Cognitive and topical conversational evolution types could happen together, but they are logically independent and can happen separately.
To illustrate conversational cognitive evolution consider the ways of thinking. A light-weight conversation about how bad the traffic is in the morning, might be just that, but behind what is being said, there is so much thinking about how one can model traffic changes mathematically. Of course you avoid telling your girlfriend this, because she’ll complain that you’re such a turn-off like mine usually does with me whenever I really tell her what’s on my mind.
Yesterday she made a remark about my car’s side mirror, but instead called it a window. She joked about how sometimes she calls a mirror a window for some reason. This provoked several thoughts in my mind such as how the brain is flexible enough to allow multiple modes of linguistic processing: a mirror is some form of a window indeed. Our minds are marvelous and we can see a lot of that through our mistakes. A robot would never make such a brilliant mistake, but then a stupid robot with an artificial neural network trained using an “extended text corpus” is just that. My girlfriend might be embarrassed and feel a little stupid, but she has no idea how smart I think she is, until she reads this article (the fact that I am obsessed with her body does not contradict anything here).
The obvious part of the conversation was apparently about a linguistic mistake, and about how being hungry makes you silly (or is it really some form of stress induced brilliance?), but behind the talking was a lot of heavy-weight thinking. Maybe she was thinking about a brilliant business scheme, or how to manipulate me like a chess piece to maximize her pleasure intake.
Well my girlfriend is not really part of our dev team but her influence on me indirectly influences the team. Just like my father, who is also not a software developer or even very tech savvy for that matter, but because he has always insisted that I “develop” a social life, and that I become more social, and that I need to deal with people, and that I need to learn how to effectively deal with people, and that I need to go out, and that I need to stop spending so much time on my computer and that I need to talk more and that I need to be charming, and that I need to always smile and be social and that I… I went crazy. But the traumatic stress is very interesting.
I think my dad learnt the necessity of being socially intelligent the hard way. I am also. Interaction with a system composed of emotional, intricate, barely stable human subsystems is not easy, especially when you are of a similar kind of subsystem. I think no matter how cold and rational one person is, they naturally have that emotional component, even if they are able to control it. I think those who are really unaware of the nuances of social interaction and the emotional part of it, are really lucky as they spare themselves a lot of distraction. This is why I often find myself wishing to be just as emotionally unintelligent as possible, so I can focus on the objectives, the technology, the software, the ambitions of a totally different reality, without even being aware of social or emotional aspects, let alone worrying about them. Just the opposite of what my dad wants me to be: emotionally intelligent and a social leader.
I think my dad has a very strong point in wanting me to be socially smart, because it would make my life a lot easier and would enable me to take leadership roles and as such progress in my career. Of course this is also beyond career success because leading in my personal life would require me to understand people, how to deal with them, how to love them and allow them to love you. Then why don’t I want it?
I think that just being aware of social things is a waste of brain/mind power (wait, I need to be very careful to not step into the infinite space of narrow mindedness! But how can I explain intricately everything I think without taking forever to finish this article?). The mind is a processor and consciously or not, exposure to social elements makes my brain, as an automatic information processor, process and evolve to accommodate the ideas and thoughts (the whole ontology) creating an underlying mental representation to be able to process these ideas and thoughts. I am not really passionate about social intelligence, I am more excited by number theory and algorithms.
To expand more on my desire to lock myself in a library for a couple of years and delve in a world of wonder and science, intellect and mathematics, I always find myself with a clearer and more rested mental state whenever I have time for myself (please someone explain this to that eager girlfriend of mine). This is why I am sure I am an introvert, but many times I act (only act) as an extrovert because I am curious and passionate as I elaborate in the following two paragraphs before I go back to my development team:
Curiosity makes me want to explore people: their behavior and what information they hold. People are very powerful information systems if they actually allow themselves to receive and learn, and communicate and exchange information with others thoughtfully. The way people behave socially is very interesting, unexpected, chaotic, biologically intelligent, very unlike the artificially intelligent systems -to what extent can we call it artificial anyways? I feel like I need paragraphs of interjections every other word I write here- computer scientists are building with the former being a reference point for the latter.
I also am passionate about achievement. And hence I am interested in motivating my team to talk more, or rather, to communicate useful information more. Communication can make my team much more efficient and effective in their software development process both strategically and technically. From deciding to create a solution and the why behind it, to the technical details of how. I found them doing things without me knowing (they do not report to me as I am just a team member at the same level) and then found out that they could have done things in a much better way. If only we took 10 minutes to talk about it!
This 10 minute is a professional investment. I don’t want to chat about the weather for 10 minutes. And if this 10 minutes investment is going to save us hours or even weeks of hard work later, then why not?! The resistance comes from the fact that talking is not easy as I mentioned above, because thoughtful conversations requires you to think, analyze and imagine. And then after all that, you have to convert all of your thoughts, analysis and imagination to that linguistic representation called natural language, or English, which, to make things harder, isn’t the native language of anyone on the team. The inadequacy of natural language to represent thought, or our inadequacy to use it to do the same, is compounded by the differences in native languages.
The three of us want our lives to be easier, we all want to be more efficient and effective because of the internal reward and external recognition, and we want to be better and spend our precious time doing precious things. Then why aren’t we talking?
Because of my failure.
I think things, I am writing them down now, I have communicated them before to the team by emailing and telling and yelling, yet what I want is not there. What does that mean other than I failed?
My acknowledgement of failure is not an emotional downturn, but rather a strategic move that entices me to ask myself: what can I do differently, since I failed all these times, to obtain the result that I need? How can I allow my colleagues to be more encouraged to make a change even when I have no authority over them?