build off

I’m lately watching The Great British Bake Off on my lunch breaks. Today I wondered what I found so appealing about the show, and I believe it’s best summarized as the calm of watching people perfect their craft. I’ve never baked anything more complex than brownies (and don’t really have any desire to if I’m honest) but there is something very centering about watching people spend time on a deeply complex skill they are passionate about, and being offered a window into their struggles.

I realized I’d absolutely adore a similar program about… programming.

But that’s silly, right? Immediately you think of the movie Hackers and every terrible hacking sequence you ever saw. Or you think of Mr. Robot or Silicon Valley which I’d call a drama and a comedy that are adjacent to programming, not really about it. Programming seems to have a lot of things working against it for on-screen depiction.

First, there’s impenetrable jargon. Second, huge plot points happen entirely inside your brain. Third, competition usually makes it worse, not better. Fourth, the timescale is prohibitive for many scenarios — no one bakes an enterprise payroll system in a weekend.

It’s said that movies show you the story while television tells you the story. They both have audio and visuals combined, but they leverage them differently. If you’re leading a team or department, aren’t you often really just telling a story that keeps everyone’s goals & priorities (or individual stories) synchronized? And don’t you mostly do that via dialog? That almost sounds like a TV show. Wait a minute.

First, isn’t over-use of jargon something that impedes onboarding and communication on your team? Second, if critical information and skills reside in only one person’s head, isn’t that a critical failure point and a bottleneck? Third, developers or teams who are focused on one-upsmanship over collaboration sounds like a major cultural roadblock. Fourth, isn’t the point of most of our workflow system (Scrum, Kanban, XP) mostly designed to chunk up the timescale into manageable pieces?

Maybe we’d all do our jobs a little better if we could crack the nut of the Great Programmer Build Off.