Being a software developer comes with lots of ups and downs. The emotional roller coaster is endless. Will the stakeholders find the product great or awful? Heated discussions, disagreements or good communication? Kind words or brutally honest feedback?
How can programmers keep up with this and at the same time stay on top of everything else in their work flow?
As Kent Back says - “The craft of programming begins with empathy, not formatting or languages or tools or algorithms or data structures.”
Empathy is defined as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another person. Simply said: empathy is the capacity to see the world from someone else’s point of view.
It’s not a surprise that the ability to show empathy helps in every job that involves working with other people. What's crucial is to develop some sensitivity for how your words will be perceived by the receiver, which requires to put yourself into their shoes and reflect how they will feel. This is easier the better you know the person, otherwise, you will have to make some assumptions.
Some people think that developers are anti-social and don’t communicate with others, but if you’re developing software, you know that’s not true. As a programmer, you always communicate with others - your colleagues, managers, clients, and so on. Even if you work remotely, you still have to communicate with others.
Having a better connection and communication with others will boost collaboration and employee retention. Furthermore, it’ll make your office a better working space for everyone involved, and it helps create better products because we better understand the people who will be using them.
Let’s review in which situations empathy will be useful and helpful for you:
Developers build software for people and empathy is needed for successful software. Software is an expression of an idea. Coding is building that idea into a tool that others will use. If you’re using empathy, you’ll have a better understanding of the people who interact with your software.
By having empathy for someone else, and even for your future self, you’re able to build a more effective tool.
Some developers may choose to take a logical approach, but if you’re also using empathy, you’ll have a clear way to stay focused on the important tasks and establish an emotional connection with the needs of the end-users.
Code is another form of communication. That’s why when developing a system, you should try to understand the people who will interact with your code.
An empathetic developer tends to write cleaner code with proper documentation. That’s because they think about the people who have to work with the code. Some developers who lack empathy may sacrifice maintainability for speed, but they do not think about the advantage that empathy gives them. They don’t think about other developers or their future self.
There are multiple roles on a software team. One person could be doing many things at once, but typically each role is done by a single team member.
If you want to have better communication, you should think about how your work influences their work.
Empathy helps to understand better and allows you to comprehend what it’s like for someone else to clean up the mess you’ve made. Developers that have empathy would try their best to minimise the messes they will create for others. That means the developer is taking responsibility for their own work and doing a basic level of bug checking as they develop their code.
Empathy is essential when you’re leading.
If you are a team leader, empathy will help you to identify the root cause of failures, understanding the needs of your co-workers and employees, and support your team effectively. Understanding your team helps you have a clear idea of the challenges ahead, and you can evolve the most fitting solution for that.
By giving them the leadership they need, they’ll turn out to be a better, more creative team with great collaboration, leading to better coding.
As Stephen Covey (a leadership expert) stated, "When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down and positive energy replaces it. That's when you can get more creative in solving problems."
As we live our lives at work and home, we are interacting and balancing relationship dynamics. When we lack empathy, we are unable to develop those connections, leading to strained relationships, broken trust, loss of relationships, and isolation. It is more difficult to resolve conflicts, work collaboratively, or solve problems when we don't practice empathy.
Our society relies on empathy to support and boost connections. When the empathy piece is missing, we become more disconnected and less effective in our productivity and innovation of new ideas.