It’s easy in the height of frustration to think of them [skeptics] as adversaries, the opposition, or even enemies … but don’t get stuck there. They are your co-workers and friends, and perhaps you have played this role to someone else. Don’t lose sight of that.
-Terrence Ryan (Emphasis mine)
When I read the above quote I felt like shouting it from the rooftops, making several copies and posting them around my desk and office. It resonated with me that much. Sometimes empathy gets lost when we advocate for our solutions of choice. After all, we’re a smart group. We thrive on knowledge and new discoveries. We get passionate about these new technologies because they are just. so. cool. Unfortunately, there’s a fine line between leadership and zealotry, informing and bullying. The words above demonstrate a more effective mindset. They are located very close to the beginning of “Driving Technical Change” by Terrence Ryan. In fact, it’s on page 8. Go read it now, get happy, and jump up and down for a little bit. I’ll wait.
All righty then.
The book itself is pretty short and very conversational in tone. It’s not a daunting read by any stretch of the imagination. You could probably get through it in a weekend. The layout is pretty straightforward. After a few introductory chapters he launches into identifying the types of skeptic patterns:
- The Uninformed
- The Herd
- The Cynic
- The Burned
- The Time Crunched
- The Boss
- The Irrational
Each of these patterns gets its own chapter. Initially I wasn’t thrilled by this setup. The chapters were very short and seemed a little sparse. I wondered if presenting the solution along with the problem might have been more effective, making the skeptic patterns into complete antipatterns and not just problems. As I read on, however, I started to understand why Terrence chose to structure it the way he did. Anyway, I digress.
Terrence then covers the countering techniques that one can use to win the skeptics over.
- Gain Expertise
- Deliver Your Message
- Demonstrate Your Technique
- Create Trust
- Propose Compromise
- Get Publicity
- Focus on Synergy
- Build a Bridge
- Create Something Compelling
Again each of these patterns gets their own chapter. What’s nice about these chapters is that he provides a list of skeptics that these strategies can work on. He also explains why the countering techniques are so effective against each type of skeptic, ultimately providing that connecting thread I feared was missing when I read through the skeptic chapters. In addition, Terrence is careful to mention the pitfalls of each strategy. Like I said before, it’s easy to go overboard. Better to have someone point it out before you run out and look like a dork.
After that there are some concluding chapters about getting management involved, and final bits of advice. The cautionary tales at the end were a bit of a downer after such an energetic read. They are however, important to remember. Change is painfully, aggravatingly slow sometimes. Maybe you have a great solution one day and the years down the road someone wants to kick you for even suggesting it. You might not see the rewards of the technologies you push. Terrence is quick to point out though that this is a journey and not a destination. This is very true. After all, software is never finished. Our quest for knowledge and willingness to teach others should never be finished either.
I really only had two problems. The first one was with spelling and grammar. There were several misspellings and awkward sentence structures. The second was that some chapters were very short and ended somewhat abruptly.
Overall, though, I really enjoyed reading this book. Although it’s short it is packed very useful advice that can improve communication between people of all stripes in the tech world.