What’s your job title? What does it say about you? What doesn’t it say about you?
We are human beings, doing what we can with the tools we have, filling a role as best we can. A job title doesn’t define who we are, and it doesn’t define all that we bring to that position.
Being a parent, for example, can change how you write code. That label brings with it a cascade of images and stereotypes – our parents and our friends’ parents as we grew up, maybe June and Ward Cleaver, or Carol and Mike Brady, Danny Tanner, or Mike and Vanessa Baxter in the TV we watched. Our lifetime of experiences shape our idea of being a parent, that same lifetime of experiences that shapes how we write code.
A friend of mine once asked, “how much of myself should I bring to work?”
My answer, of course, was “all of you!” You can’t leave some part of yourself at home when you come into work. Well, maybe your glasses, but you know what I mean. If you’re suppressing something, it’s going to be a stressor, and you won’t be able to concentrate as well on what you’re doing.
Our jobs need our whole attention and our whole selves. The problems we have to solve are complex. Sure our core skills we bring to bear are critical, but when we’re solving those problems we draw on all of our experiences and knowledge. I learned things in wood working, or craft brewing, or quilting, or growing up with five siblings, or skiing, and when this crazy thing happened, I solved it that way.
“Party Animal” you from back in college might have something helpful to bring to the table, if only maybe a little enthusiasm. “The Quiet Kid” might be good at listening. “Dad” might need to come out and broker peace between co-workers.
I have a personal perspective on all of this due to my own life path. As a transgender woman, I lived much of my life where the world around me believed I was a man. I felt I was deceiving people. I felt I was cheating at life, accepting what I knew was male privilege, when other women had to deal with all these struggles. I put a large part of who I was into a box and left it at home every day, and it ate me up inside.
In 2011, I changed all that and showed the world who I am. Well, truthfully, transition is complicated. That process started 3 years before and I don’t think I’m done yet.
But after that point, my life became markedly different in ways most of the world never saw. I was me. All of that stuff I had left in the box, I lay out on my desk in front of me, and it changed so much of how I approach things now. I still have all the same skills, the same work ethic, but now I’m unafraid to bring parts of myself to bear that before this might have made me seem feminine. A man appearing feminine still carries so much stigma it had terrified me. I shed an entire layer of vulnerability, and it felt amazing. I got better at doing what I do.
Your journey has probably been a lot different from mine. That’s awesome because I didn’t learn the same things you learned, just like you didn’t learn the same things I learned. Together we have a better chance of solving the complex problems in front of us.
So how is this relevant to the coaching work that I do? It is the essence behind many of the practices I bring.
Pair programming brings two people together to tackle one problem. Research has shown us that it works – it results in higher shared understanding, and higher quality code that requires less rework, but it’s hard. Sometimes people resist. As a coach, I can help with that. I can observe and suggest changes as a neutral party that can help that practice work better for you.
Retrospectives bring the team together to talk about how things went. A good retro has people talking openly and honestly about how to make things better. If they don’t feel safe, if they feel vulnerable in some way, the retro is going to be a waste of time because they won’t share what needs to be said. As a coach, I can help with that. I can observe and make suggestions that can make the space safer, make it easier to say those hard things that need to be said so that we can work together to overcome them.
I could go on, but this post is long enough, so I’m going to leave it here. I think you get the idea.
What labels do you wear?