A wiki for odd influences on software practice
There's a big set of non-software books that have inspired software people to change the way they develop software. Sometimes those changes have rippled out to many other developers.
But the effects are second-order: people adopt changes in practice without knowing the odd influences that inspired them. Only old-timers have even a glimpse into the links among practices, people, and odd influences. That, I think, slows down new generations who we need to create new practices that match new situations.
I think it would be useful to have some sort of interactive, growing, hypertexty thing describing this particular part of the intellectual/practical landscape. I want to host it. Step one is to discuss how best to get started.
One of my niches, back when I was a "software influencer", was reading books that had nothing to do with software, and asking the question: "If this book's theory/attitude is true, what might it mean for software development?" It was a nice niche:
- Bruno Latour's book The Pasteurization of France inspired me to independently invent the idea that standups shouldn't be oriented around "what I did yesterday / what I'll do today / where I need help" but rather around the cards on the board (the actual units of work being done). I went so far as to propose personifying the cards, having team members speaking for the card.
- I used my reading of the philosopher of science Imre Lakatos' ideas about "the methodology of scientific research programs" to draw lessons about persuading techies to adopt new approaches.
But enough about me. A number of even more influential tech people have read widely in what I might sloppily call non-STEM fields. They were inspired by those ideas to change the way they approached software. Some of them changed the world.
Let's consider the book Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. I gave a talk at DeconstructConf in which I mentioned how that book influenced me. Surprisingly, two other speakers also mentioned it. It was a mini-theme for that year.
That's decent evidence that it's a valuable book for at least some cohort of software people. But the broader software community has no access to who values that book and (especially) why those people value it. So people are thinking about software without knowing about this book that would give them one useful way to think about software.
So imagine a website in which you could:
- Name a person you admire and see a description of the books that informed that person – and how.
- Browse to find a book and see how and why it influenced various software people.
I commit to do the work of creating that website. And, more, kickstarting it by, for example, interviewing people about how a particular book influenced them, then making the interviews available in podcast format and transcribed into text.
I have little expertise at interviewing, but I'm betting success is more likely if I interview people and write things down than if I expect people to volunteer the work of writing down descriptions of their own influences.
I would like to start by discussing this over email, where so many great schemes have been hatched. I've set up an email list: https://groups.google.com/g/odd-influences.
Let's see if this could work.