Episode 14: The intimacy of coding (a scary thing but a good thing)by@thatdania
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Episode 14: The intimacy of coding (a scary thing but a good thing)

by Dania MahNovember 9th, 2017
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Whoever has been following my delayed episodes, you probably have noticed that I haven’t been writing in the past couple of days. I’ve been <a href="" target="_blank">coding</a> for three weeks now at this crazy but wonderful bootcamp at Makers Academy. I suppose I haven’t been writing because I’ve finally felt the warnings that the academy told us about.

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Whoever has been following my delayed episodes, you probably have noticed that I haven’t been writing in the past couple of days. I’ve been coding for three weeks now at this crazy but wonderful bootcamp at Makers Academy. I suppose I haven’t been writing because I’ve finally felt the warnings that the academy told us about.

Everyone claims that the journey at Makers Academy is like a roller coaster (it’s true) where you’ll experienced being on top of the world to then diving into a dark well, and this is ongoing till the program ends. I can tell you that I dived into a pretty deep well, as I was the exact replica of that Spongebob GIF above for these few days. However, today I sit in a bucket, pulling myself up to the surface, alive, well and now here, to share great thoughts on this lesson.

If you’ve read my rant on “what to do when your pair partner is more amazing than you”, then this post is being written for the exact same reason. I believe the feelings we feel or the things we experience based on the blog post title is something many of us let sink into our bones till it gets comfortable in us. I, intend to not let this make a home in me because it feels as such:

I don’t expect you to be persuaded or truly believe anything in this post by the end of it. In fact, what I hope is that I keep your attention till the very end and that you consider the idea that coding can be intimate and there is a possibility that it could benefit when coding with people.

Where do we start with this?

Intimacy. What is intimacy?

According the google that means it’s when we have “close familiarity with friendship.” Let’s ignore the second definition of it being a “cosy room” as people are not rooms and the other definition known as sexual intercourse, because coding doesn’t go that deep in. Intimacy takes time, as does building familiarity in friendships . It’s something that can’t exist over-night and something that takes more time than one imagines. It’s also something that we are secretly scared off when we feel it at first (or maybe that’s just me)

All of what we’ve just mentioned can only exist in the times, that we’ve just been circling around. Yep, familiarity in friendships and intimacy can only grow in moments of socialising or whilst interacting with people. But…

Can you even call coding a social thing?

It sounds like the answer is obvious right? Of course not! How can it be? What possible argument would you have that declares coding to be a social thing?

That’s like saying:

‘ A girl who is on her phone whilst hanging out with her friend who is also on her phone means that these two people are socialising’

Like when any piece of technology that sways the human attention from another human, I agree with you. Being on your phones when you’re hanging our with your friends isn’t socialising at all. In fact, it’s a pet peeve of mine but trust me on this one, coding together with people is different.

On the surface, it may look like a group of people chose to be nerds by sitting on a table to concentrate on their individual laptops. But in fact, coding makes these people more connected than ever! How, and how does this differ from any technology distracting us from real interaction?

Well, when people code together, I like to think they are brought into an isolated space where they are about to build something exciting together, something that perhaps could make a difference. You probably would never guess this, but coding together actually requires the most social interaction from every member in the team.

It is ten times the challenge of any phone game, it’s twenty times the emotion of when you get a match on Tinder (by that I mean the win of actually getting your coding vision functioning ) and it’s certainly requires fifty times the amount of attention you would give to someone on your phone.

Coding requires you to use every communication skill in your bag of tricks. Whether it is drawing, talking, listening, explaining, delegating tasks, debating or giving people their space, the formula for a coding team to progress is to simply communicate with each other to make sure everyone is on track and on the same page.

It doesn’t matter how good of a coder you are. You won’t move forward until you help your teammates who understand the concepts they are struggling with . You also won’t make something work in the time you are given until you and your team mates are connected on the same page and schedule.

Then why work in a team? I could just work alone? That would not only be sad but you would be limiting yourself to the fact that a project could never grow bigger than you.

Now, I know this mega quote of “you are only as strong as your weakest link” is sliding itself into the picture but the great thing about a coding team, is that most times, there are no weak links. From my experience of feeling like the weaker player or seeing others feel like their weaker players, as long as every person in the team is willing to learn, every person can be a benefit. The great thing about coding is that a great coder is not about knowing everything but to be able to find the stuff that what they need and learn it.

By the way, if a person is not giving it their all, I wouldn’t call that person a weak link, I would call that person a slacker and slackers are easy to get rid off, cause in industry, people just kick them off.

But where were we? Ah, yes! Why are there no weak links in a coding team?

  • These people are your second eyes.
  • They will cement your knowledge on code by challenging you with questions of trying to understand.
  • They will also shine light into new knowledge you never would think of exploring or thinking about!
  • They could say something that they may not know, but is the answer! (Haha my life-story!)
  • They could be the people who step back and see the bigger picture, when you are stuck in a rut .

With all that stated (if your team-mates are in it to win it as you are) and the fact that all these benefits can truthfully progress the team forward, most coding team sounds like any dream team any of us would want to be in!

Though, back to my point, can we now say coding is a social thing? Hell yeah, we can! And on that note, that is where intimacy can grow. At this point, however, we don’t even have to look at a group of people coding. In fact, intimacy is felt more when your coding with just one person because the light can only focus on either you or your partner. There is less room for escape. As most coders know, that’s call Pairing (Dun dun dun) and feeling intimacy in that can be a scary thing.

How does intimacy exist in pairing?

So, we know pairing is when two people code on a project together. Great, we’re on the same page (Get it haha, if not it’s fine). It sounds like a simple one liner sentence but do we know what other things we are actually doing when we pair? (Clue: This is probably why pairing is hard).

For instance, at Makers, we pair with someone for a day but let’s say (given it’s not 24 hours), perhaps 6–7 hours. In those six to seven hours, what are we actually giving without knowing?

Our time, yeah an obvious one. Our patience, good one as we have to make sure both of us understand what we’re doing (That’s tough to be patient for a stranger and it’s more tough you are admitting that your patient). More importantly, it’s actually our human space and an insight to ourselves we wouldn’t show to people instantly.

  • our behaviours,
  • our ways of working
  • our ways of thinking
  • our ways of emoting stress (screaming)
  • our vulnerabilities (when we cry, shout and turn into babies because we don’t know what else to do. Our bag is out of tricks at this point)
  • our insecurities (that we look like total idiots, that we’ll never get a coding job, that we are useless human beings right now)
  • our ways of showing other ways of how we function as a human being.
  • The secret courage we have to pull out of ourselves in order to communicate all of these things to our partner

I can’t really explain this in depth, but coding shines the light on all of these things very quickly in humans because the situation we’re in is the fact that we’re talking to computers. Talking to a computer is very similar to talking like a baby, you have no idea what it needs in order to be work or to be happy.

Now, think about this and how we socialise. When we meet someone, we barely scratch the surface on how a person behaves or how he or she works (depending were your from). It takes days of effort to actually get to know a person and ways of what he or she is like and to decide whether we’re comfortable with that.

That “days of effort” or that form of time doesn’t exist in pairing.

As a matter of fact, pairing makes us jump right into it and most of us probably don’t even know it! I’ve seen many people struggle to find out what’s the hardest part of pairing is when it really is just this one thing.

It’s jumping into intimacy too fast and the fact of people pushing to try to be comfortable with that.

Yes, I can feel the question bubbling up already. How is this different when you’re in a team or coding in a team? It’s not.

At some point, there will be a time where a team will experience intimacy whether it is felt as a friendship of as a discomfort. Haven’t you seen a football team all hug each other when they score a goal or an office team go for a celebration dinner? Yeah, that’s a team being intimate, all right

I suppose, it’s just that the time of feeling out a team, working with a team. It has an amount of time to let people grow towards feeling that intimacy, rather than jump into it. It’s like the “right time” to feel comfortable for the intimacy will come gradually (if you get what I mean)

So, in the sandpits of intimacy, the actual chemistry of how two people figure out each other whilst figuring out how to code together is really interesting to watch. Even more so, it’s really tough to accomplish. There will be times where we feel people’s attitudes instantly, times of when we’re not so sure and times where we are no where near close of getting use to a person’s attitude. Yet both of us know we have to click and progress with our code, somehow.

Intimacy stories! (Why intimacy is good?)

As I’m going to get quite personal to explain how intimacy was scary yet a good thing for me, I’ll explain the context of how this is going to go down. I will explaining a time where I felt great when experiencing intimacy and a time where I didn’t. Both of these situations were freaky, both of them were when I was pairing and both of the people I experienced this with are lovely, kind and awesome and I swear I have no grudges against them.

AGAIN! Not being sexist! There are 16 guys and only 6 girls in my cohort, the probability of me pairing with a girl is lower! By the way, (If you are these two people and your reading this, I hope that we’re still friends. )

Story no.1:

I paired with this guy in my first week whilst I was at Makers.

I normally can sense what a person is like or at least, what his vibe is but this was a time where I couldn’t. It was almost as if he had this invisible mask that shielded his identity. He was just that quiet and that reserved. I don’t think many people could predict what he was like and there I was, spilling out myself like an open book that I am. (Great).

But that day wasn’t a bad or uncomfortable day. We could talk things out, I could ask him questions if I didn’t know what something was, I could talk things out with him and hell, I could even debate whether we were doing something right or wrong with him. The problems that we faced weren’t that hard (yet, cause I know I’ll be pairing with him again hah!). I guess it all worked because he didn’t have an uncomfortable aura either. In fact, he seemed quite open although I figured out at the end of the day, that he wasn’t the kind of person to open up that easily. I thought, “what a privilege.”

Then, when we realised we had done quite an amount of work and the information started to feel heavy in our brains, we agreed to take a break by going outside for a walk since it was not that cold. We strolled on Commercial street, through Spittafields market and made a round back. I remember it being quite a nice stroll given that it wasn’t peak time where people were rushing back and forth on the streets. It was our own space, strangely.

He mentioned his plans for the weekend whilst I was figuring out if I was doing anything on the weekend in case I had to tell. We found our common love for cats, and talked about cat cafes in London. What common tv shows we were watching now and what we recommended. Our past lives, of what we were and why we wanted to come here…not anything deep.

Although, in that short time frame, it felt as if I had knew this guy for years and that our break was a normal thing we had done over those fictional years. In the moment, it felt enlightening and nice to get to know someone that way. Who knew a walk was a sweet way to get to know someone on that level ?

Though, at the end the day, I started to fear it. The fact that I had just done something I would only do with someone comfortable but with a stranger and felt that “ friendship fuzziness” freaked me out because the links in my brain couldn’t connect. The logic didn’t make sense thinking about what happened and how we connected so quickly. The idea of opening up to someone quickly didn’t scare me. It was the idea of how I got familiar in the friendship so easily because in my experience, trust doesn’t just happen like that.

It was a weird connection. I remember being in awe by that for days, yet if I remember, it was one of the easiest pairing days I had. We did as much work productively after lunch as we did before lunch, and we all know doing work after lunch is tough. I felt we both knew when we had to step in or take a step back when solving a problem. However, we especially smiled and laughed even more so when we were coding things we had no idea about, things we were trying to figure out and on code that we found tough to comprehend.

The lesson here is that even if the code gets tough, intimacy can help two people can feel safe and laugh about stuff that is difficult or that they don’t know. It can kick intimidation to the kerb and quickly make two people be on the same page to know when to be the leader and when to be the supporter to make the team progress.

Story no.2:

I paired with another guy a few days ago actually, and I believe it’s a more concrete story that focuses on the hardship of intimacy

(i.e showing vulnerability)

Let’s start with the fact that I was having a bad day. I was in the situation of the “spiraling schedule” (I’ll talk about this another time) where I slipped up on one event and suddenly, all my sense of time flew out the window.

As an naturally organized person, I was in a place of no focus, a place of discomfort and a place of just, “ergh!” Don’t you know the feeling of wearing wet socks, and you just wanna go “ergh”. It’s like if you’re a person who hate cuddles, fuzzy feelings and optimism, you would say “ergh!” in your head.

Anyway, I was pairing with him and I genuinely knew he was an awesome guy. A master at ping-pong with an honest heart since I had talked to him here and there. It was just a day, where he had shone a light on my weak point in coding (Doubles, Mocks and Stubs)!

I remember that day feeling intense but with good intention. He was getting me to think of where all the code belonged and how it all flowed. He was making me say it over and over again, till I got it. It was tough love and I knew in this situation, I was his little sister and he was making sure I knew my stuff for the next exam I could have. All the intentions were good and I knew that in my head. However, with my head just clustered with other stuff, my heart was feeling different things.

I was sick with the flu, tired and feeling I was in a deep well and had a long way to climb before I felt balanced again. There was a moment I wanted to cry, and felt really vulnerable. The fact that someone I didn’t know well was giving me tough love for my benefit or consideration put me in a spotlight of shame. The thought of that intimacy really overwhelmed me.

It was a scary feeling as it was something I wasn’t used to from a stranger. It was that situation where you probably could choose to ignore what he has to say but because you know he was doing it out of compassion(to get me to understand Doubles, Mocks, Stubs) and you just had to figure out a way to pull through. I remember taking a while to process that because there would be times in my day where I would feel strange even though I was not even in a coding situation. I couldn’t identify that strange feeling inside me till I was writing about it in this moment.

Reflecting on that moment, I realised intimacy still scares me but it was to my benefit, that I pulled through to understand what I was weak at and push aside my emotions for that. Sometimes, intimacy could be the thing that gets us through the hardship of a challenge. It’s like how Will Byres found the strength to communicate with his loved ones when being possessed by the Upside Down. He taught me love always wins in a battle against hardship.

What can we do?

Think about this movie and what I’m about to say.

Well, I’m no guru on intimacy as I still fear it but I can lend you my opinion on it. The only similar thing in both of the stories I shared was courage for communication.

Communicating to someone that you need your space, that you need time to process something, that you need to do something alone or anything for that matter, takes guts when you are communicating to a stranger. Although it’s strongly emphasised that in pairing, you should be open to people’s ways and be cool with it, we all know to some degree it’s still a theory no matter how long it’s been practiced for.

How can we attain this?

Let’s put it in the context of Finding Nemo. Marlin (the clownfish) would have never found his son nor been friends with a great white shark unless he attempted to communicate with the shark about his lost son. Marlin wouldn’t have found out that the shark actually believed in “fish are friends, not food.” Don’t you remember? The fish and shark created a bond when Nemo was found, and that we see right at the end of the movie.

What I’m getting at in terms of finding nemo, is that Marlin had a serious cause. A cause he would do anything for in order to solve it (i.e find his son) and I’m sure we all can dig deep to find our cause as well.

Although there are many ways to get over this, whether it is asking someone how they are or picking out a question from a fun pub quiz list in my head to find out something quirky about them….I like to think of the situation in a more professional way.

Professionally real.

“Well, the only to move forward is to be real with the person. If my partner wants to progress, I’m pretty sure that he or she will agree to this as well.”

I’m sorry if that was underwhelming, my blog post aren’t gonna have all the solutions, I’m not a guru and all I wanted to do was get you to this point and consider the fact okay!?

Fun fact of the day:

This was probably the hardest thing (so far) to overcome. As I mentioned earlier, I was in a deep dark well and was pulling myself out. Whilst I was pulling through many things that caused the “spiralling syndrome” (that’s for another day) but this one took a while to figure out. I was physically feeling strange for hours but if you take the time to reflect on it, it actually switches on as easy as a light bulb.