The empathetic programmer

http://www.flickr.com/photos/adrianruiz/Long time ago – I was interested in all those fancy personality tests that you can take and they will analyze and tell you what your strengths and weaknesses are. I don’t recall it correctly but I think it was the Strengths Finder 2.0 book. Anyhow, after the test it told me one of my strength (out of couple of others) is – Empathy. I have the ability to feel other’s pain, pleasure and understand them/their situation better – sometimes even better than themselves. It was kinda bummer to me. You know I was more like looking forward to some super mental skills – like x-ray vision and mind reading!

So, I didn’t pay attention to it that much and never thought about it. After I started my own business – I had a bunch of Clients and there was a moment where we were working on like 8 projects at a time. I was talking to Sangita and how I was getting lucky with closing the deals and knowing what to do with the project – she reminded me of my strengths finder test. She mentioned may be in addition to luck I am able to read their requirements a bit more with my madz skillz of empathy! It clicked to me and I thought may be it’s not that bad of an idea to accept my strengths even if they are not super human like. I kept it in the back of my head in all my meetings with my clients and in some cases I was able to see the affect it had on my conversations with them.

It always irked me though that – the one top strength I have on my list will never be able to help me in my first love – programming. It still bothered me. Not until couple of months back where I had an insight and everything fell in it’s place. I was grappling with a programming issue. It was a tough bug to crack and when usually I am stuck with an issue – I try to stay with it as much as possible skipping food etc so that I can understand it much deeply. In that wariness – for a moment I saw what I was doing. It just occurred to me what actually I was doing internally. I was using my strength to solve a software issue.

I know this sounds corny, but what I was doing was being the bug. I was sitting there and literally imagining myself to be the issue and see how and why I am getting stuck. And using that information I perceive to solve the problem. I am sure a lot of people do this, but for me more important was how my top strength fell into this big maze of my life. That was it – I am the empathetic programmer. I solve and write software based on how I feel the program feels!

Having Empathy as your strongest point isn’t easy. I mean, c’mon the best suited job for my type is a psychologist or a social worker. How far away is that from building programs? After I understood my strength application – it all made sense. That’s why I can’t watch any medical shows. I mean I literally cringe and sometimes depending on how much I feel – feel the pain of the person who is suffering medically. There were so many occasions where people would describe to me in most vivid details of their symptoms and boom I see them in me too.

Thats the reason why it took me 4 years to finally come around and start watching Gray’s Anatomy and House. Scrubs, I could take but nothing with gory details and blood spewing scenes. It’s funny in it’s own way, but if it would let me solve my programming bugs and make me a better programmer – then so be it. Ultimately, the best debugger in this world is between your ears. 🙂

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