Leon Gersing

Empathy and Self-acceptance @ Software Craftsmanship North America Chicago 2012

  • Leon is just one of those guys who has a good time programming and wants you to know that it's okay for you to have a good time too.

  • HI, I'm Mike here again with... Right now I'm sitting down with Leon Gersing. Leon gave a pretty interesting talk at medicine ruby a few weeks ago and it's spread around quite a bit in that it was such a positive message to the people in the technical communities, so I just want kind of... where did that come from?

    So, so I've been speaking for a long time and working with folks just wherever. I have this like rule, like if I can drive in a single day to your location, I'll come hang out and we'll have some fun and I'll get to meet a bunch of people. And over time what I noticed was that there was a lot of ceremony that went into actually engaging with other developers. And it usually started with a very long explanation of where they were and how they got there and then it's followed on by a lot of apologies...

    Yea I'm sorry, this is crap

    Exactly, a lot of self deprecation and the irony is that it all stems from somebody saying, like I really want to get better, but I don't know how, and ... my current social circle isn't providing it, I need some help. And even the courageous act of asking for help did not mitigate all of the shame kind of preservation that people are trying to get away from. So the talk is basically just that. It's an artifact of not understanding why the best parts of people are the things that we suppress. And just we chase kind of this weird semblance of perfect or mastery that doesn't really exist. So that's really what I come to say which is that, hold yourself to any standard, that's great. But you define that standard, like be excited for the little things, be excited about the big things, but just be excited. You're awesome, you're already here, you're awesome, yaay, now what, now what do we do?

    Now we're here, we're alive, let's have some joy

    Right, yea it's a third of your life right? So why would you hate a third of your life, like that seems really odd to me.

    Well it makes me wonder if it's hero worship and sometimes I think one time in a user group, I was going to do a talk about solid principles. And who walks in, but Uncle Bob, and I immediately froze. And it felt like I can't do anything that's going to be good enough, I'm only going to mess this up and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. It becomes, oh now ... and now I'm going, but it was ok if I had gotten up there and he said well maybe your understanding wasn't, and that's actually what happened and then actually it turned out to be great, because he said well maybe the way you described it isn't the best, maybe if you described it like this it might be better. ANd then that was a lot of fun.

    If you, and in the minute you remove the barrier, that you remove that ceremony that we're just talking about, like for in your instance, like I'm going to give this talk and therefore when the time comes I'm going to open up my mouth and start talking about it. You've essentially, because of the structure of what you're doing had to. So that anyone in the room can say, I hear what you're saying, you're close, then that shouldn't embarrass you in the slightest. It should be almost affirming, like wow, I really am on to understanding this, and now somebody who has more wisdom, more time, more experience, was able to enlighten me further. So the next time I do this talk or the next time I have this conversation it's going to be that much better.

    Yea, I think a lot of times when somebody goes to a user group or a conference, it's always under the guise of the person who's talking is an expert. And therefore they should be experts. ANd experts should be experts. But sometimes in our, we forget that there's an ammatuer aspect to what we're doing, that you're a professional programmer, and you should be competent in your skill, but when you come to a conference, you're not a professional speaker, you know maybe if you're somebody who gets paid big bucks to come and talk about a topic, Ok, there's a higher standard, but you go to a user group that it's a, I've learned this, I want to share it back out, and I want to just at least reciprocate back what I've learned and what I've come, but I'm an ammateur speaker ...

    I think that puts too much on the persons... And I think it actually does the group a disservice as a whole. The person who's getting up to speak simply has something to share. I think putting them on an artificial...

    So does that mean... ammateur or professional... just come to share

    I have a friend, Joe, who, he does this thing when he likes a topic but isn't an expert, right? He will start his talk with, Hi I'm Joe and I don't really know everything about this, I'm just sharing what I've learned, and I think is cool, and I would love to discuss it further. I'm not going to get everything right. And he just ... puts it out there and goes and do his thing. And what's amazing is, he's so good anyway, that he's just killing it and he's doing great things, and then there will be challenge from the audience, like well you could have done it this way, whatever, and he goes, Thanks, awesome, boom boom. And then it will be in the next version, and he just takes that knowledge and goes on...

    Even in the act of presenting, he's still learning

    Absolutely, I've never met a great teacher who wasn't actively learning. I've never met a great developer who's said that they were done, or they were a master and that they don't touch anything else. My coworker, Jim... is this way. It's like you pair with Jim, and he'll just start presenting new while you're pairing together and..

    And he's actually brilliant, but I did have the fortune of playing a board game with him once

    That's is unfortunate

    Yea, he is one of those people that if he wanted to be, an arrogant so and so, he could be. Because he's at that level, but he's not. And I think that's a beautiful thing...

    Because it's a losing proposition. Like what do you gain from isolation? You gain zero. And one of the things that I talk about it recognizing individualism in the context of the whole. It's letting those people be themselves no matter where they go. They don't have to homogenize, they don't have to conform entirely, and they can still create a cohesive unit. I think he's one of those kind of people, like he does it his way, has a good time always learning, and you can present him in any kind of context and it works, right? SO it could be all junior developers, it could be all expert developers, and he's just there to contribute his part as him, rather than as a facsimile or a ... of him. ANd I think that the hero worship, the celebrity stuff, and it's subsequently, dogmatism that kind of goes with it, is an artifact of us holding to a standard that really doesn't exist and I think internally we know it doesn't exist. We recognize that it is a falsehood that there's no way that Uncle Bob is on the ball all the time or like you know... all the time. They're people that have these external personas that are distilled, but that's not the entirety of them, of the person.

    Yea and even then, not all of us, well I think that sometimes when people get up and they talk, they put on a persona, put on a mask... the term comes from some psychology that I haven't read yet, but I've heard that term mask, that we have our masks that we wear and that it's a little bit of a protective thing though. Sometimes we do it because we're afraid...

    Like imposter syndrome, that kind of thing?

    No, I don't think it's imposter, it's getting up in front of an audience and figuring out a way to engage with them that isn't entirely natural to our personalities.

    Oh ok, I see

    And some people are more comfortable of getting up and sharing and being very like, here's my heart, check it out and others are more like, ok I'm a little bit guarded, I have to assume this kind of identity so that way I can feel safe engaging with those people. You seem to be more of the check it out.

    I find that a defense mechanism that's typically shielding shame. I'm not good enough, I'm not, you know I don't belong here, so you put up a guard around it that allows you to defense and mitigate the amount of shame that you can be subjected to at any given time. This is why, I think public speaking is like the number two fear next to like death right? And it's something that humans really kind of confront. Ironically, we're also extraordinarily social, so we need to interact with people we don't know, we need to constantly have that, but then putting us in front of a bunch of people, ... you know our brain is just like, you're about to be attacked by all of these individuals, so yea a mask does come on. And I find that you need to understand yourself before that mask can be then kind of dissolved, not necessarily removed, but fads back further and further until it's like, well no this is it, I'm comfortable with it and I'm actively trying to be better at life. Just anything. And I think when you start to understand and see that in yourself, then that kind of mask, that bit of obfuscation of the real self versus what you want to present can go away naturally and then people can accept you for you versus you having to deny you so that you can be accepted by the whole.

    So learning to love yourself, so that way others can love you, is kind of the way I summarize that. Well thank you very much for taking the time to sit down with me, I appreciate it.

    Yea no problem, happy to be here.