Monday, August 27, 2012

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose -- Software Engineering

Software engineering is hard. We all know from a technical perspective, we hit our heads against the desks trying to figure out solutions to problems that have the most constrained environments and it's up to our ingeniousness to think outside the box and solve it. This is why I love software. In today's blogpost,  I won't be talking about the technical aspect of software engineering but the human side: team building.

The next generation software engineering companies that create the most interactive, engaged, and fun environments will be built on top of 3 core concepts: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. This is a widely used phrase and it's evangelized by Dan Pink. In his book, "Drive", it dives into the problems of current working environments for software teams but then it goes into a few studies and examples of how to evolve the working environments to create teams that know how to hustle, have fun, and drive value to their customers.

Valve, Github, Atlassian, 37 Signals -- all great examples of teams that know how to hustle, think outside the box, and ship amazing products that provide a solid amount of value proposition.

Why does autonomy work? At the core of autonomy is self-direction. A teammate has the ability to take the reigns of a project and apply their own creative thinking to solve a customer's problem. Human beings naturally want to build ... things. We're made to be creative -- our minds are so expansive. We've put a man on the moon, we've created microprocessors which can calculate results in milliseconds on extremely large data sets, and we've created medicine that heals people's pains. With such an incredibly valuable tool (the mind) to the human anatomy,  the question isn't "why does autonomy work?" it should be, "why do we hire managers to tell smart people to sit down, shut up, and code XYZ"? Self-direction is the result of a teammate having an amazingly positive attitude, the willingness to learn, and the initiative to take ownership and get things done.

Mastery is another core aspect of motivation. Mastery can be defined as the level of subject-matter expertise one has in any particular topic whether it is sales, engineering, or user experience. Adding to that, having a level of expertise also is complimented by the attitude to consistently keep learning new things -- getting better through practice -- constantly evolving and improving.

Purpose is the drive towards accomplishing the mission. Having a team with shared vision -- with a purpose to ship an amazing product -- is the most satisfying and exciting feeling one can have. I always like to think of this as an NHL team putting their hearts and souls into winning the Stanley Cup.

The management styles of the 1900s which are militaristic, iron-fist, and hierarchical will die off at an internal level (there's political sides to "showing" that you have hierarchy for example to investors) to make way for a much more humanistic, evolved, and scalable solution that obviously puts the team, customer, and product first -- not hierarchy. It is becoming widespread and it's clear that software engineers prefer the freedom to create: to experiment, take ownership, and drive value proposition in their own way than have a fancy title and a large office.
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