What My Dogs Taught Me About The Tech Industry

"Stop a minute, right where you are. Relax your shoulders, shake your head and spine like a dog shaking off cold water. Tell that imperious voice in your head to be still." - Barbara Kingsolver

A list of things I've learned from my dogs and from working in the tech industry.

Sensitive creatures are sensitive. Dogs are extremely sensitive to their environment, so are teams and companies, whether they admit to it or not. If they've been abused, they become wary of someone trying to help them. You HAVE to earn their trust, even for things that seem pretty easy and have very little risk.

The counter to that is understanding when you might not be the best option for the dog, or the client. Some groups are never going to be comfortable with some consultant types, very much like some dogs who pick the people they think they can associate with the best. Don't try to force a client, or group, to like you. Show you can be trusted first, but don't be surprised if you need to do what is best and walk away from the client. Sometimes tough, heartbreaking decisions are made for the best reasons for all involved.

Oh the things you will smell! The sense of smell dogs have is amazing! Your testers have a similar sense of smell. Don't disregard it. Testers, don't disregard your nose/gut. There is something to that sense, especially if you see behavior similar to a previously encountered situation which you know could end in a defect of some flavor.

Food is a serious motivator. Both of my dogs love food. Love it! I can lead them into some difficult things through food or toys that I wouldn't otherwise be able to without those prompts. People have the same motivators. Find what works best for your group and use that motivator to help folks adapt to culture changes or technical changes and challenges. Lunch and Learns are popular because people look forward to the free food, and the chance to learn something. It's an effective tool for presenting information and easier to attract people to attend.

Culture of play is a thing. The more dogs play and exercise, the happier they are in their home and environment. Same for people. Stressed out people causes a cascade effect of other stressed people. Then before you know it, you have a lot of stressed people in a building too small and spaces too open to deal with all that stress. Being collaborative and playful can be a really good thing for a team of people.

Be aware though, not all dogs need a high level of interaction every day. Know your dog; know your human. You'll have a mix of extroverts and introverts. Encourage introverts to be involved, but give them space when they need it. Encourage extroverts to do things, but be a guiding force and help them not trample over the introverts.

Nurture a culture of play, creativity, listening, and interaction. Give people breaks too. If you have members of your team which haven't taken a vacation, get them to leave the office. Leave the office for lunch when you can. Find moments in the day to encourage people to take the breaks they need to be productive. Establish core working hours which aren't interrupted by meetings. Establish core quiet times, or a quiet space, so that those who need quiet aren't accosted with noise while they are trying to work.

Make small changes routine. Changes to a dog's routine, environment, and even additions or subtractions can cause issues. Just like dogs, present changes and new things as the dog can handle them. This is double-true for tech stacks and folks that write and/or maintain the code. Dumping a massive amount of change can cause odd behaviors and issues which take a long time to track down and much longer to correct, not only in the tech stack, but in your fellow coworkers too!

Reinforcing positive behavior and actions. It is much better than punishing or doing some kind of negative reinforcement. There are a lot of studies about the proven effects of positive reinforcement for both dogs and people. Sometimes it's necessary to point out that a behavior or action was wrong, but following it up with positive outlook or identifying when something positive happens is the best way for a dog to learn to change their behavior.

People have very similar responses to negative reinforcement. If they are always told they do everything wrong and that they can't accomplish something, or even when they do, all anyone sees are the bits that are wrong instead of the attempt, it can lead to very unwanted behaviors, like sabotage and quitting. Appreciate your people, your team mates and your community. Understand when things go wrong and try not be too negative about it. Being negative can spread like a virus and for those that are extremely sensitive to their environment, it's hard to ignore and hard to not fall into the trap of propagating the negativity. Do what you can if you noticed you are perpetuating the negative feedback loop. Find the positive moments, the lighter moments hang on to and share. Acknowledge a bad situation. Be truthful with yourself and your team about issues. Create an environment where feedback is welcome. Build trust through positive reflection of someone's actions even if they did get 'everything wrong' according to you. Help them find the help they need to start getting it right.

Bear & Lily


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