This week we interviewed our Chief Software Engineer, Patrick Guevara, on the topic of creativity in the technology industry. At Metric Loop, sparking creative activity and thought is instrumental in the development of our minimal viable product (MVP), Helix. Here’s an inside look into the mind of Patrick.
Q: What hinders creativity in the technology industry?
Patrick: One of the things that hinders creativity is the widely held belief that the devices, and the people working with them are just machines. Talking specifically about software, there's this idea that it's only a means to an end. It's to generate a report, or fill out a form, or automate a process. If you expect software to be a black box where you can feed it some inputs and receive some desired output, you will only see it as a functional thing. You won't see the design behind it that makes it easy to use. You won't see the logic inside that makes it efficient. You won't see the forethought built into it that makes it flexible. You'll view technology as a liability instead of an asset.
When creativity is undervalued, developers begin to subconsciously give weight to function over form. When your creative muscles atrophy your problem-solving skills dry up. This reduces your ability to effectively solve future problems. I've witnessed developers experience a type of depression as they muster up just enough energy to push the last project out.
Q: What do you think motivates your software development team to be creative?
Patrick: A healthy work-life balance. When developers are allowed to have nights and weekends to be outside, enjoy their hobbies, nurture relationships, and find fulfillment apart from work, they will undoubtedly come back to work with a wellspring of creativity.
Q: A “wellspring” [air quotes added for emphasis], really?
Patrick: Yes, a wellspring. The other motivating factor is the emphasis on professional development. Instead of requiring that every ounce of energy is focused on the company, I encourage my team to be active in the open source community and to keep their skills sharp. One, this exposes them to other developers and different code bases. Two, this shows them that I'm more concerned with them as people, not just developers pumping out lines of code.
Q: What do you do that allows your team to be creative?
Patrick: I value creativity. With software, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to achieve some desired output. The output, the function, is the easy part. Does 2+2=4? Sure. But I'm more concerned with the design, the logic, the flexibility. Will someone know exactly how to use this software just by looking at it? Will they feel excitement, or at least not dread, when using it? Is the logic clever, clean, maintainable? Can this be expanded upon easily if new requirements are needed? Did you have fun building it?
Q: What do you need from your peers to be innovative?
Patrick: In a perfect world I would be in their shoes on their worst day. What caused them the most frustration, the most confusion, the most dread? Addressing the "when" of a problem helps way more than the "why". The "why" is easy. The "why" gives you the black box of inputs and outputs. The "when" is harder but infinitely more illuminating. The "when" gives you the design, the logic, the flexibility. In my opinion, solving the "when" requires more creativity and innovation than solving the "why".