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Agile Careers

"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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Sign Up and Fight!

It’s hard to grow in an organization where everyone shares all your views.

You hope to learn when you sign up to a online discussion group; you hope to be challenged when you read a book. You take up a job not because you can do it perfectly, but because it will bring you to a point of creating value unachievable from your current state. Value comes in what the French call différance (different from the French word for difference, which is différence) — on ongoing interplay of conflicting ideas that play out in dialectic.

Conflict is an essential ingredient of growth. I’ll claim that the more intense the conflict, the more rapid the growth, within a certain field of play. That field of play is sometimes difficult to delineate, and this installment is about those boundaries.

I often join organizations for the sake of the challenge. “Joining” ranges from having beers with fans of the opposing football team during a championship match to devoting my career efforts to an organization that I believe I can better change from the inside than from the outside. Neither of these postures says anything inherently bad about any football team or any organization. However, no organization (or football team) is ever perfect, and the dialectic process changes both object and subject in the process.

There are always rules for “joining.” It means playing fairly by the rules of their game. If I join an online discussion group I should not represent myself as an unqualified opponent of the foundations that draw the group together, even if I think they are all misguided. I should instead play within the group’s own rules to deconstruct our respective posture and lead all of us into learning. This is respect for the individuals that I join and courtesy in my engagement with them. Play clean, by the rules.

The group may expect something of me for the prize of joining up. If it’s a job, I need to produce. If it’s a club, I’m expected to attend and engage. Joining only to affect your agenda is subterfuge. Be trustworthy and loyal.

One rule of the game is to tackle one issue at a time. If I jump all over the place, dodging when cornered, and ever charging up new hills, I’ll at best be viewed as a flake and will certainly not achieve my objective. Paradigm shifts rarely happen from within but rather through changes in the environment or in how we view it; it’s difficult to project those views from inside a system. One step at a time.

It is always important to be open for change myself. If I make myself part of the system and if I am changing it, then I must also be willing to change. This means being able to take a dispassionate stance, at least occasionally, and of course it implies great listening skills. Keep an open mind.

Be yourself. It’s important to be genuine. People have learned over many centuries to be able to smell politics. Let the chips fall where they may. Be friendly and helpful.

You may trigger emotion — emotion which in turn can cause fear or insecurity to rise in you. Follow your heart, and do what is right. Be brave.

Most important, be aware of the prize. By joining and fighting, am I giving or taking? It’s O.K. to benefit both from association with a group of people and from the debates that go along with that association. But you will lose trust if the prize is the pride of being right or personal gain from lining them up to your position. Be generous.

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