It's a slightly-hidden secret that the subject came a very close second when I originally considered what I might pursue as a career, and in more recent times with a different perspective on life I've begun to pursue it again.
Call it time of life, call it a mid-life crisis; the workings of the brain are tremendously exciting to me, not least because we all own such a highly complex piece of machinery.
Here are the keys, there's the Autobahn, good luck!
When they don't, it is unfortunately still a real stigma that there is only limited help, empathy and acceptance from even our modern society. Education and mental health professionals of all walks of life are working hard to redress the balance, but it's likely going to take a long time before "it's all in your mind" is treated with the same rolling of the eyes and, sometimes, disgust as "it's just because she's a woman" does now.
The Impact of "Quiet"
First, I came very close to a serious mental breakdown. 20 years of high anxiety levels pushing me to work both 'harder and smarter', the modern ideals, had taken their toll and the sudden lack of control evident in my divorce pushed me over the brink. Suddenly, Psychology and Philosophy became personal.
Secondly I read a book. This on its own is not too surprising, many who know me will sigh at the thought of the literary weight that needs to be shifted even when I consider moving house. But this time I read one of those wonderful, perspective-changing books. It was "Quiet" by Susan Cain.
This beautiful book tells the story of being introverted in a society that has bought into the Extrovert Ideal. With both personal and society-wide implications, Susan conveys with frustration, sadness that:
- Introversion is a choice and that you just need to "get out there"
- Introversion is a handicap to be avoided
Susan's book ends with a search for change in recognition of the real value of introverts, and this got me thinking about my own experiences as a software developer.
I started to look at contemporary processes and practices in software development differently. I began to ask different questions...
Is Modern Software Development Anti-Introvert?
I began to look at my own software development practices, even advice I proffered, under a different lens and found to my dismay that I too was potentially advocating processes, practices, tools and techniques that could run counter to an introvert's needs, simply because a vocal extrovert 'majority' (rarely a majority in fact, just the loudest voices) had made the original arguments.
The dismay turned to incredible embarrassment when I realised that I too was an introvert and had completely bought into the idea that this was something to be overcome. So every time I felt deeply uncomfortable with a practice in software development, I would find myself only focussing on the confirmation-biased induced outcomes rather than the real value and impact on my own mental health.
I had, quite by accident, become something of a snake-oil salesman around the processes and practices of software development that all seemed quite reasonable, until viewed as to their impact on an individual's mental health.
Is Modern Software Development Mentally Unhealthy?
Of course that debt is also manifest and increasing in many different domains and industries, but our industry makes its money off of an intellectual pursuit and so I'd like to look at how that intellectual pursuit might be being hamstrung by its own good intentions.
There are also rich pickings for analysis in software development when cast through the filter of their effects on mental health. Just for starters it is worth looking at:
- Pair Programming, especially mandated Pair Programming
- Team working
- Brainstorming and its constraints around creativity
- Task-only focussing
- Keyboard Ballet... (or stop thinking, productivity only happens when keyboards are clacking)
The list does quite literally go on.
We have an interesting area of analysis, an area where someone's brain can be all the different between a world-beating product and a failure, and a collections of half-proven (at best), extrovert-centric processes and practices. It'd be akin to industry-abuse if we didn't consider these things more closely wouldn't it?
Time for a closer look
I'd like to start an interest group, let's call it the "Psychology in Software Development" group for now, initially here in London but possibly with a more far-reaching mailing list at first if there's interest, that discusses and calls for action around improving the mental health of software developers. I would like that group to take a careful look at the processes, practices, working environments and pressures of our day-to-day work and begin to illuminate where those factors work against the mental health of the people involved.
It would also be really great if existing groups that touch upon the human interests of software development also picked up this thread. I particularly like the look of the PPIG, not least for the iconography involved. PPIG have been working in this space for some 25 years, and an organisation with that wealth of experience could make real headway in respected empirical research around the effects of software processes and practices on mental health.
The PPIG is not alone. Others who might take an interest and bring much to this space could include The School of Life, and it's accompanying truly wonderful periodical The Philosopher's Mail could likely also provide important insights into these topics.
In the coming days and weeks I'll be updating this space with where my thoughts and actions are going in this potentially fascinating space. If you'd like to get involved or are just interested in hearing more about how things are going, feel free to get in contact with using the following form: