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"Cope" Coplien

Jim ("Cope") Coplien is an old C++ shark who now integrates the technological and human sides of the software business as an author, coach, trainer, and executive consultant. He is one of the founders of the software pattern discipline, and his organizational patterns work is one of the foundations of both Scrum and XP. He currently works for Gertrud & Cope, is based in Denmark, and is a partner in the Scrum Foundation. He has authored or co-authored many books, including the Wiley title, Lean Architecture for Agile Software Development. When he grows up, he wants to be an anthropologist.

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The Whole Person

My friend Lizette is very conscious of the "parts" of her life: her family, work, and spirituality. She carefully balances all three and takes time to reflect on the balance. Sometimes she consciously leaves them out of balance in the short term with an eye to catching up in the long term — but the point is, it is a series of conscious choice rather than whims of the moment that define her. Lizette is a whole person.

It's important to me to think of myself as an integrated, whole person. It isn’t like there is a Me who goes to work and a Me who is at home with family and a Me who is involved in community. Though home life has its holy moments and absolutely begs sacred time, I don’t change my values according to life’s settings. While you're at work, you're still You. It’s still your life. It isn’t a lesser Me that is at work than is at home, because it’s the same Me, just doing something different.

Looking at life from this integrated perspective makes work-life a bit more worthwhile. This perspective has consequences. It brings spirituality and humanity to one’s work, and problem-solving discipline to the domestic stage. A professional engagement isn't just a job; it's a relationship.

The tricky part is the interference between family and work. Though it's hard, with discipline it is wonderful to work together with loved ones. Unfortunately, modern society often frowns on this as "bringing work home," but that vision is based on the isolated and probably unsustainable prosperity of the 1950s. In her book “Everyday Revolutionaries,” Sally Helgesen compares 1950s life in the midwestern US with its modern counterpart, and looks in particular at the role of women in shaping the community fabric.

Much of U.S. culture still clings to this 1950s ideal of the woman at home and the man at work, with each of them leading two different lives. But for much of human history the family has had a much closer relationship to the wage-earner than we found in the 1950s or even contemporary times. Farmers, innkeepers, and soldiers have always known this. Here in Denmark, the professional woman is a fixture of culture, and it’s always a pleasure to run into partners who are partners.

One place the issue of work and personal identities looms large is in how your employer’s values reflect your own. As has long been true in most professions, every act has ethical repercussions. Engineers must consider their impact on the environment, on how their work effects neighborhoods, and how their software enhances or erodes social ecosystems. Consider the relationship between social networking and contemporary political events, for example.

But on a humbler scale, do your corporation’s values reflect your own? I once worked at a company that asked me to remove error checks from our software because it was more important that the client believed our code wasn’t destroying millions of dollars worth of their data, than that we suffer the embarrassment of the code stopping when it detected an internal problem. Whether they actually justified that practice to their own selves or whether they left their scruples at home, I don’t know. There is grave danger here. It is not only our personal lives which shape our professional behavior, but it is our professional behavior that publicly shapes and speaks for our core selves.

It isn’t that corporations are socially responsible or immoral. People are. It comes down to you. Change your company — and yourself — for the greater good. Be yourself.

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Interference between work and family (and work and self) is what David Whyte's book "The Three Marriages" is about - you might enjoy it. In it, he says similar things: that these should complement, be synergistic, not compete. http://www.davidwhyte.com/Three_Marriages.html

Posted on 2/22/11 11:16 PM.

Stimulating thoughts, indeed! Once again I'm pretty much on Jim's line.

Recently, I've got the feeling that many, if not most, prefer to keep
their private and professional lives separated because of reasonable
safety concerns. On the one hand, the private trickling into the
professional might expose some sociopolitical bias somehow
incompatible with their job -- even without taking it too seriously,
in some environments, saying "this is just for making a living" would
mark them as "not committed". On the other hand, bringing too much
work home might have nefarious consequences, as some families might
perceive it as an attack to human relationships. Of course, I
wouldn't blame those who prefer to just keep those two aspects well
apart: sometime it's really a matter of survival.

Even though Jim doesn't say that explicitly, he seems to proposes a
solution based on the respect of our own integrity. I would paraphrase
this into a somewhat softer motto: "private is professional" (from an
old well known adage). Which means that, even if one cannot, for
whatever reason, behave at work exactly as she/he would do at home, at
least, he/she shouldn't ever be (pushed to be) afraid to expose
her/his ethical stance with respect to common professional interests.
I believe that, without trying to look hypocritically "transparent",
we should strive to be open and honest as much as possible; proving to
be ourselves even on the workplace is a powerful positive attitude,
because it builds up consensus and stimulates cooperation; and
bringing home some of our professionalism helps reinforcing family
bonds, as it improves task organization.

Incidentally, I also had an unpleasant professional experience where I
was asked to overlook system critical defects for the sake of planning
-- it goes without saying that that's the first sign of a project
approaching its fate. Anyway, under an ethical career perspective,
scenarios like that can be real decision points. On the contrary, and
I'd say paradoxically, for some employers that's a chance to show that
they can always make a deal in the (wrong) equation "lots of
deliveries" = "high productivity" -- in other words, commitment
translates to just unconditional respect of management
directives. Please, try to imagine what would happen if we adopted the
same strategy for family/home businesses: "your kids are getting over
weight? Yes, but discount food is so cheap...".

A boss once told me "all in all, as consultants, we are
mercenaries". He was wrong: I'm not one of them, I'm an engineer.

Take care.

Posted on 2/23/11 11:09 AM.

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