Friday, March 19, 2010

The Cult of Software Engineering Academia

This morning I was online checking-out a software architecture conference that I had attended before and was considering to attend this year. I was looking over the keynote speakers and found the bio of one particular speaker to be interesting.

The speaker, a PhD and college professor is a leading authority on modern software development methodologies.  Her focus is guiding organizations to institute the cultural changes required to adopt modern software development methods.

Her bio included a quotable-quote or catch-phrase that went like this: "You can take a man out of the Stone Age, but you can't take the Stone Age out of the man".

I was rocked-back by the arrogance of that statement.  I am sure that she and I would be on the same page regarding software methods and the need for cultural change, but to publicly blast those who are not ready to accept your opinions as "less-evolved" is arrogant and absurd.

Perhaps we are seeing the deficiencies in her culture. The culture of academia. A culture accustomed to feeding bright, fresh, hungry minds. A culture accustomed to unquestionable omnipotence over its audience.

This culture of education has attempted to recast itself into a "culture of change", targeting the software industry. But in the process of recasting itself, it has done little in the way of introspection.

Perhaps the most important skills fostered by working software professionals include communication, collaboration and negotiation. Influence does not come easy and neither does experience. Both have to be earned.

Veteran software professionals have learned to listen as well as to speak, to accept criticism and to consider the ideas and opinions of others. Veteran software professionals would feel negatively about a one-way monologue that targets topics so close to the practice of their art.

I am not suggesting that "change agents" engage in conversation as a way to "handle" an audience, using dialog merely as a soft-skill. Instead I would hope that any discussion would be an honest, open, two-way exchange of ideas.

Of course, this may require the "change agent" to closely engage with her audience. In effect, to lose some of her elite status in order to gain the acceptance of her ideas.

To be a participant instead of a prescriber.

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