I’ve been toying with the phrase “mindful engineering” to describe my approach to work for the past several years. Recently a mantra has been forming in my head to give mindful engineering a bit more of a cohesive identity:
Create Value With Integrity While Learning
Slogans are dangerous because they can seem to offer easy answers, which is why I’m calling this a mantra instead—it should raise more questions than answers. I’ve been complimented by clients on my ability to ask good questions, and while I hope that I’ve given a few good answers over the years as well, I think that questions really are more powerful than answers because they open up new possibilities.
The word “value” reminds me to reflect on the actual impact of my work. What kind of value am I creating? Whose point of view does that value represent? Who benefits from that value? What other values and stakeholders could I be considering and serving? Is my work harming anyone else’s interests, or my own, in service of creating value for some?
The word “create” emphasizes the importance of creativity. How creative am I being in my work? Am I jumping to conclusions prematurely? Have I unpacked the client’s request to understand their actual needs and problems so that I can be creative about the possible solutions? Am I considering solutions beyond, or instead of, software?
The word “integrity” reminds me to align my thoughts, words, actions, and feelings. How closely does what I say the product does match what I honestly think it does? How reliably does the product actually do what I think and say it does, and what users think it does? How well does the code express my mental picture of it? How do I feel about the product and how I’ve built it?
The word “with” emphasizes that integrity is not something that can be traded off in favor of some desired value, because sacrificing integrity makes me less effective at creating whatever value that I intend to create. Am I cutting corners in the hope of meeting business demands? What corners am I cutting, and how well are they understood? Could I trim scope instead of cutting corners?
The word “learning” reminds me that I don’t know everything and that there’s always room for improvement. What have I learned lately about the value that I’m creating? What have I learned about users and other stakeholders? About their needs and perspectives? About my ability to create value? About my resilience in the face of challenges to my integrity? What new questions have arisen for me?
The word “while” emphasizes that learning happens continuously, not only at discrete events such as workshops or retrospectives. Am I taking every opportunity to learn, when things seem to be going well just as much as when things seem not to be going so well? How much am I learning from my colleagues and sharing my learning with them? How can I enhance our learning?
A mantra, not a methodology
This is a very personal mantra, relevant to any kind of work that I might be doing. While the specific techniques and methodologies that I use will vary depending on the people I’m working with, the product we’re working on, and our relationships to the work and to each other, I can always practice mindfulness myself. The questions above are a somewhat arbitrary sample, and I hope that they inspire many more.