We're all a little silly, but we keep on trying

Laughter's great. Laughing at ourselves, with each other, at the absurd situations we find ourselves in.. it's healing. But too much tends to lead to cynicism and distrust. We should remember after the laughter how much we really do try, and how awesome the work we do really can be.

We're all a little silly, but we keep on trying
Photo by Diane Alkier / Unsplash

If you've been writing software for more than 15 minutes, you've probably seen one (or 50, or 500) of those O'Rly? book covers (a play on O’Reilly books) that take jabs at the ever-glorious life of software development. Some are rants about tooling; others point out the stressful situations we find ourselves in. But most of them just remind us not to take life or ourselves too seriously. We can all be a little bit silly at times, or find ourselves in silly situations. Sometimes, all you can do is laugh at the absurdity and share it with someone.

But the other day I saw a post on LinkedIn with a dozen fake covers and the caption "some book recommendations for software engineers!". Most of the responses were just laughing at it, but it made me cringe. Is it just me, or does seeing so many at once seem to cross some line, from funny to depressing and maybe even alarming?

Do we really just copy/paste most of our code, munge up the rest, and move on to the next thing? When something fails, do we really just blame the user, our coworkers, anyone but ourselves? If all this stuff is simultaneously true, what's it say about the sorry state of development and how we approach it? Are things really that bad?

When I saw the post, it reminded me of The Office. One of the best running gags were Jim's pranks on Dwight. Usually just a minute long, at the start of each episode, they were funnier because they were bite-sized. A quick laugh, put Dwight in his place, and move on.

But then there's this one episode where Dwight finds out their manager's been hiding all his complaints about Jim in a box instead of filing them properly, so the three of them grab a conference room and Michael starts reading them all out loud. Hearing everything at once diminishes the humor. Even Jim realizes how awful it sounds.

We need to be able to laugh with each other, but does too much do more harm than good? The world is a cynical place, already defaulting to distrust. If I hired a lawyer to defend me and then saw memes about what hacks lawyers are and how they blame their clients for a guilty verdict posted all over her office, or if I hired a mechanic to fix my car and noticed comics posted all over his shop about how they just bang on crap with a hammer until it starts working again, what message would that send? It wouldn't instill a lot of confidence tbh.

People need laughter, but they need hope too. Hope that people are generally trying to do the right thing with whatever hand they've been dealt. It's easy to write about all the one-off absurdities, but what about the rest (the majority)?

Looking back over my career, most of the people I've worked with have been passionate and trying to do the right thing, in their own ways. Sure, personalities sometimes collided and priorities sometimes conflicted, but they did care. I work with some dedicated people right now, who try to do what's best - best by the company, the team, the software. We don't get it perfect, but we don't throw our hands up and blame the user either.

One more thing - if you're in software development and feeling that all's lost and great (or even good) things aren't achievable, remember there's a tremendous amount of really cool software out there. Amazing, creative projects that are inspiring humanity, protecting it, driving it forward, and there's nothing holding you back from doing amazing things too!

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