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Why it’s time to break developer stereotypes

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Ryleigh Stangness | September 8, 2022

“CTO Brett Popkey explains why developer stereotypes are not only tired, but can be harmful to the industry both internally and externally. In this article, we dig into the surprising truths about developers.”
6 min read

    If you’re a software developer, you’ve probably heard it all: Usually something along the lines of all developers are introverted, shy, and antisocial.

    There’s a reason why developer stereotypes like these bother Helcim CTO Brett Popkey.

    Perhaps it’s because stereotypes like these are not only reductive but are often untrue. He explains that while this type of personality appears in software development, like most industries— there is more than one type of personality.

    Boxing developers into this stereotype can not only deter individuals who don’t meet the “norm” from pursuing a career in development, but it can also limit individuals from busting through their own comfort zones in the pursuit of growth in the industry and the job. In this article, Brett dives into some of the common misconceptions around developers with insights many might find surprising.

    Developers — they’re just like everyone else (Ok - maybe a little cooler).

    Stereotypes can be particularly frustrating because when you look at the diversity within dev teams, like ours at Helcim, you quickly realize how absurd it is to try and box in the diverse and wonderfully unusual array of personalities you would meet.

    In an internal diversity and inclusion survey done here at Helcim, nearly 60% of staff said they feel their colleagues “understand who they really are.” While there is still room for improvement it does speak to the growing culture of inclusivity and diversity we are trying to nurture.

    And you can see it. Like anywhere, you’ll find your social butterflies, your hobby eccentrics, your social committee influencer, or, yes, your introverted gamers - All equally contributing to a flourishing culture and ecosystem.

    And no— it’s not a requirement to build your own keyboard and play Elden Ring- but it is encouraged if that is your thing. Of the eclectic collection of personalities you’ll find among the developers here at Helcim, you’ll find Jane, for example, who is a Taekwondo master who’s studied for over 18 years. Raf, another one of our developers, made a slight career pivot from a bachelor in zoology to software development while achieving the “highest Black Mage parse in your local Final Fantasy XIV raid” status in their spare time.

    You don’t have to be on the social committee, sign up as a fire warden, or go dancing every Tuesday in your spare time like our colleague Thiago. You'll be just as welcomed if you are a bit on the shy side and prefer to do your work and contribute to your team, then go home.

    Yes, devs have people skills too.

    It's a more social job than people think it is. “I think it's arguably more social than other jobs at times,” explains Brett.

    For example, “weak engagement on code reviews— we see that as the marker of a weak team.”

    When you are working on two-week projects at a time and pushing code into a live environment every day, Brett explains you need to be able to give feedback. This social skill is something that not only are software engineers responsible for developing but often become quite fluid at.

    “It has to be good feedback [referring to code reviews]. It has to be done in a way that's not just you ripping apart their work. It has to be constructive. That’s just part of the job, and we do it daily.” explains Helcim CTO Brett describing the importance of building strong communication skills within the Development Team.

    The role is more collaborative than you’d think.

    Brett adds that while diversity and communication are assets to our team regarding personal and professional interests and personalities, it is also crucial for creating a well-rounded (and ideated) product.

    “If you have a non-diverse team, especially with devs or technical people, you build things that don't actually meet the needs of people across the spectrum." explains Brett.

    When building products for others it is a complex and iterative process. Often implementing features without real-life context. Having a diverse team in the room to share different viewpoints and potential use cases means you’re building a better product.

    “It's not even a dev argument necessarily. I think that is true of any organization in general — If you don't have a diverse team that works on things, you're not going to have a diverse solution that actually works.”

    That said, developers are great at internal creativity and collaboration (cue more of that social element).

    The product development process often involves devs reaching outside their teams for testing and feedback, says Brett.

    “As soon as they give it to a non-technical person, that person's going to use it differently, offer a different perspective, and then we will catch more opportunities to better our products.”

    Stereotypes are not the golden standard.

    “When I joined Helcim, I fit the developer stereotype. If you were to describe one hundred percent of that stereotype—that's exactly how I was.”

    And it’s not all a bad thing. In fact, many developers find belonging and relatability in stereotypes. In recent years it has become less stigmatized, and developers embrace this community of like-minded people and geek culture.

    However, through his journey to CTO, Brett has had to leave his comfort zone to embody the social requirement of the role- something that is stereotypically difficult for developers.

    Brett explains stereotypes can serve as safety blankets that prevent developers from needing to challenge themselves in areas they are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with.

    Areas like public speaking, giving presentations and pitching the value and importance of their projects and products is a lifelong skill that budding professionals, and developers need to challenge themselves to practice, says Brett.

    Developers at Helcim are regularly asked to practice these skills by getting involved in the interview process for new candidates or even presenting at our internal tech conference, for example. While sometimes nervous, Brett says those who struggle the most have become the first to volunteer- having acquired a taste for this new experience and the opportunity to build well-rounded skills.

    "There are people that come into these roles, and they think, ‘I shouldn't have to talk to people. I don't wanna do this and that,’ and I think this mindset will limit your own career and personal development.”

    Understanding that not everyone needs to love public speaking or flock to the social committee, software developers should be pushing themselves towards certain attributes associated with growth as with any role.

    When asked what qualities he looks for in a leader, Brett points to a growth mindset, curiosity, and a high degree of ownership.

    “Those are the two big ones. People who take a lot of ownership over their role and people that are open-minded to improvement. I know they will make good leaders," says Brett.

    Finally, Brett states, "you can find the right developer, the right tech, the right specialist — they will make the best leader if they want to be. I stand by that."

    Time to retire the stereotype.

    In this article, we looked at why we need to break software developer stereotypes both internally and externally, and how they are harmful and reductive. Here are the main takeaways from this article:

    1. Developers can be shy and introverted people, but also social butterflies. They are unique people with varied interests and personalities.

    2. They aren't necessarily true- developers have very social jobs and require strong communication skills.

    3. While they can create belonging and community, stereotypes can also discourage growth, and deter people from branching out or taking opportunities.

    4. If you want to become a leader or progress in any field, you will have to push yourself outside of stereotypes, boxes, or comfort zones to demonstrate curiosity and a willingness to learn.

    5. Let's stop reducing developers to these tired old stereotypes and start celebrating the amazing diversity of this community!

    So, the next time you meet a software developer, don’t be surprised if they are also a part-time DJ on the weekends. And remember, we could all use a little more empathy in our lives.

    Let’s break the stereotype that developers are all super tech geeks (we love those ones too) who hate social activities or general interactions. Anyone with the skills and motivation, regardless of their background, personality, or weekend past-times, can be an amazing software developer.

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