The passionate programmer

Posted by steve | Smalltalk | Monday 26 October 2009 3:29 am

I was thinking about how you can tell if someone is really interested in something. Sometimes you will hear it described as being passionate. “He is passionate about musicianship”, for example.

Dictionary time. Passionate: having, compelled by, or ruled by intense emotion or strong feeling.

It has been my observation that being talented is not what it takes to be exceptional about something. It’s passion. The lexicon of those individuals who have created products, companies, or content, seem to always include that those individuals were passionate about it.

To follow the musicianship idea, the outstanding examples of musicians you can think of are probably all individuals who are passionate about their craft. Somewhere in the equation we probably assume that genius or innate natural talent is also required. I believe that passion in a subject also drives someone to a high level of focus and detail. A passionate guitar player will never have to be reminded to practice their craft to become better musicians. Passion can also make up for genius. Although I think talent, is required.

If someone is passionate about something they think about it a lot. Morning, noon and night. Perhaps the passionate amongst us are even seen as “unbalanced”.

If you are interested in creating an excellent orchestra you would think a lot about having passionate musicians included. Your First Viloin is probably going to be someone with a lot of passion about playing the violin. You don’t have to remind them to practice.

I’ll bet your First Violinist is not a “9 to 5” musician. Doing only what it takes to complete the work. They are probably not in it just for the money either. We’ve all met those folks.

To carry the orchestra metaphor along, a successful orchestra has the full range of musicians. People will demonstrate different levels of passion about their craft. It doesn’t work if all your Violinists are First Violin. Everyone should be passionate, but they also need to play well together. In an orchestra a skilled musician is listening to what the others are doing while playing their own instrument. They both know and can hear where they fit in.

Obviously I’m also writing about software development teams. The metaphor works.

I think it works when you interview someone to join your little software development orchestra. I pay attention to the level of passion the individual demonstrates. Do they practice their craft after hours? Do they read, write, and talk about their craft all the time?