Zeroth Draft of "The Role of Footwear in Software Development"

Last week at the AYE conference, Naomi Karten and I facilitated a writing workshop. We ask people to write for five minutes and then for ten minutes. We find that people who are stuck on their writing make significant progress in five or ten minutes. However, we need to set our expectations low — very low — for a zeroth draft. We each took the challenge of writing on a subject of the attendees’ choice. I took on the “The Role of Footwear in Software Development.”

Here’s my zeroth draft on “The Role of Footwear in Software Development”

Earth shoes. Running shoes. Sandals. Hiking boots. Software developers wear all kinds of footwear, and all footwear has a common role.

Footwear for software people serves one simple purpose: to disguise the owners’ foot odor. You’d think that software people — people with desk jobs — wouldn’t necessarily smell. However in a surprising number of cases, they do.

Some software people forget to bathe. You might ask, “How could people who put a man on the moon, or create a clearinghouse for the Federal Reserve or manage your health insurance program have such a difficult time with such a basic skill?”

The answer is simple. Bathing is not an intellectually challenging task. Bathing is simple. Bathing is something you have to at home — not at work — so you have to be home to do it. Given the state of many software organizations, too many people aren’t home enough — at least — not long enough to bathe.

That was the end of my five-minute timed writing. As you can see, it took me a long time to figure out where I was going:

  • that software people may not rank intellectually simple tasks at the same priority as intellectually challenging tasks, even though the “simple” tasks are just as necessary
  • that the state of the project may create a situation where people can’t perform the most simple of tasks
  • smelling your project is an indication that something might be wrong on your project.

The subsequent draft, the 10-minute timed writing, was nowhere near as funny, but started to link in the idea of code smells.

If you’re writing and having trouble, try timed writing. I find it a useful technique to extract that useful nugget so I can start writing the real work.

And, I now have a partial draft of an article that may be useful to project managers. When I finish it, I’ll let you know.

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