I have been enjoying a writing guide by Steven Pinker, the best-seller author. Of all the lessons, I was most impressed by the argument that some grammar rules, which I studied to perfect, are overly correct; that a writer ought to strive for clarity even when that means violating some nitpicking rules. This point got me to ponder whether I would.
I started learning English as a second language since I was six-years-old. By now, I really don’t have a problem speaking, listening, writing, or reading. And I sometimes dream in English too.
Despite two decades of education, I still take extra care when I use English. I keep mentally noting my grammatical errors every day and make sure I don’t make the same mistake. I aim to be perfect because I think I am only borrowing someone else’s language. In this state of mind, there is no way I could intentionally break grammar. I now realize the ability to break away from rules is a privilege. Even when no one notices, I do and I will censor myself. This is the classic impostor syndrome.
This past week, I couldn’t let go of how China threw its weight against the NBA and Blizzard. When the money and the values collided, the organizations’ knee jerk reactions were to give up their values. It was unbelievable how fast they tried to appease their Chinese fans.
This series of events reminds me that leaders need more than technical or management skills. We need values as our guiding principles. Throughout our careers, we will be put into a position where we need to make similar tough calls. And it’s not just international politics; we need to think about racial and gender inequality, global warming, privacy, and more. The choices we face may not be as visible. But the tradeoffs and the consequences will be just as real. It will be crucial for all of us to have values we can be proud of and base our actions on those values.
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I concluded my month-long 1:1 experiment with Korean engineers last week. Of 16 people that signed up, I ended up talking to 5. I learned three lessons.
First, this format scales linearly. Sixteen hours a month was the most I could spend without affecting my work or my personal life. I loved talking 1:1, but it is also very time-intensive.
Second, the attendance was poor. Many people (11 out of 16) didn’t show up, so I ended up wasting valuable opportunities to talk to someone else. I was so disappointed. I hope this could be solved by adjusting my availabilities and sending notifications.
Finally, most conversations revolved around these three topics: how to become a “Senior Engineer,” how to solve technical problems they face at work, and how to find jobs abroad.
I am planning another month-long experiment at the moment and will share it next week.
But no more. Most starred repos are now Go or wiki-like projects. I am not discounting these repos. I am just disappointed about the lack of movement.
One bad habit of mine is to share materials to make a point instead of making a point myself. But my attempts usually weren’t successful despite the merits of those materials. I wondered why people didn’t see the “light.” But, recently, why sharing articles, reports, or some data rarely persuades anyone clicked in my head.
Persuasion and following commitment do not originate from our rational mind especially if the problem space is complex and the benefits and the costs are not obvious. Rather, they happen at the emotional level. So you change behaviors when you have others feel your pain.
For example, if I want to avoid slow review turnaround time and resulting big pull requests, the best way to persuade is to vividly describe how I feel that longer review cycles slow down my projects.
It is not easy to do, I know. I also keep forgetting this. But next time I feel the urge to share an article, I will take a step back and think about the pain I have at the moment.
Recently I was appalled to hear that my friend, who is a software engineer, was denied an internal transfer because his potential manager did not want a non-native English speaker on his team. As a native Korean speaker myself, it was unsettling to hear such a story. I thought that in this day and age, especially at Silicon Valley, we have figured out how to work together with those from different backgrounds.
I realize I don’t see many conversations around how this lack of fluency impacts some of us. I suspect that’s because most writers and speakers are already fluent in their languages. So we don’t talk about this issue and put the onus on the individuals.
We can’t expect people who spent most of their lives in different languages to understand all connotations and cultural subtext. It is not going to happen no matter how hard they try. Even some native speakers have a hard time communicating well. If we believe that communication is a two-way street, we have to meet in the middle.
Yes, I get that it makes communication more difficult. But we, collectively speaking, hired each of us because everyone was deemed qualified to do the job. Then, it is on all of us to create an environment where we all can be successful.
How? I admit I don’t have a great idea. But I will start by setting up 1:1s to build the relationship and the context. That will provide a sometimes necessary bridge for the lapses. If I notice how well or badly we communicate, I will share that too. And I will always try to remember that none of us is perfect. Language proficiency, or the lack thereof, is just another imperfection some of us have.
A caveat I found is that Promise.allSettled will never reject. It does make sense but at first I found myself thinking, “so when does it reject and what does it reject with?” I am interested to see how this behavior will be typed in Typescript.