Does Your Passion Invigorate or Irritate?

Being passionate about your work has emerged as one of the core values in the ALT.NET community.

I agree that encouraging developers to be passionate about their craft is probably the most effective way to improve our collective developer skills. It takes a lot of time and effort to learn to write software well and the fact of the matter is that nobody will be motivated to do it unless they are first able to nurture or rekindle the basic passion that causes coding to be fun.

I also think that it is possible to have too much passion, which can produce very unproductive and annoying results.

In religion, too much passion can lead to  intolerance, inquisitions, cults, mass suicides, and holy wars. In politics, too much passion can lead to nationalism, colonialism, ethnic cleansing, atrocities, and wars. What about too much passion in the software realm?

Well, it is doubtful that you will be tortured, oppressed, or killed by a software fanatic. At most, you will probably be flamed like Rob Conery was for his critical post on Ruby on Rails. More likely, you will probably just be irritated rather than invigorated by someone’s enthusiasm. This usually happens to me whenever I hear cult-like language used to describe a technology.

What causes developers to cross that line so that their enthusiasm stops invigorating those around them and instead starts to poison conversations and deteriorate the critical thought process? I think passion goes sour as soon as developers start fixating on a particular language or tool rather than focusing on higher level qualities like design principals or engineering best practices.

When this happens, then personal identity gets so wrapped up in the technology that any objective criticism suddenly feels like a personal attack. Then instead of improving a person’s knowledge of which tool is best for which job, criticisms suddenly lead to lots of time spent on pointless arguments and heated debate that could have otherwise been much more productively spent actually addressing the issues being raised and generally improving the language or tool.

One quick test you can take to see if your passion has taken a wrong turn is to see if you can list off five bad things about the language that you love and five good things about the language you most hate.

If you can’t do this, then it is time to take a step back and re-channel your passion. Otherwise, it is likely that you will end up stuck in flame-war purgatory rather than being part of anything truly innovative. You will also spend much more time irritating rather than inspiring those around you.

5 Comments

  1. Dewayne Christensen October 14, 2007 2:17 pm 

    So, are you a Passion.Net developer? :)

  2. Jeffrey Palermo October 14, 2007 2:32 pm 

    I think I’ve run into those types of people from every technology now. I’ve seen it from Java folks, .Net folks, Ruby folks, Delphi folks, PHP folks.

    Thank God they are still the minority and most people I run into are well-reasoned and professional about their craft.

    I think it has more to do with their personality and being self-aware than it has to do with the technology. When I say “self-aware”, I mean the ability to detect how they are affecting (annoying) people around them and the ability to alter behavior to improve their social situation.

  3. Russell Ball October 14, 2007 7:12 pm 

    @Dewayne – Since this is .NET, I think we should go with something a little more low-brow like “ALT.Lust” or “.NET sluts”…:-)

    @Jeffrey – I agree that these types of personalities can be found in all technology camps and that being self-aware is usually enough to modify most people’s behavior. But I’ve also seen people who are aware of the affect they are having on people justify their obnoxious behavior by saying that they are just being passionate about what they do. That’s why I think it is helpful to draw the distinction between good and bad types of enthusiams.

  4. Troy Tuttle October 15, 2007 12:22 am 

    @Russ: Would you extend this to software development methodologies as well? I see the same thing from folks adamantly for or against agile. You have the “Church of Agile” and the “RUP is the Only True Way” folks who get in the way of rational examination of development approaches. It seems to me, that zealotry really doesn’t serve any useful purpose whether it’s about the technology/tools or the latest methodology craze.

  5. Russell Ball October 15, 2007 1:24 am 

    @Troy: Yes, Excellent point. In some ways it is even worse with methodologies because there is often even less objective proof that something does or doesn’t work. I remember getting several “because that is the way you are supposed to do it in Agile” answers to questions rather than a legitimate explanation of the rationale behind a practice. If you are passionately advocating a practice without even knowing why you are doing it, then you are definitely in it for the religious perks rather than for pragmatic reasons.

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