This originally went out just to my Weekly Dev Tips mailing list, but I got a lot of positive comments and requests to share it, so I’m publishing it here. Sign up for Weekly Dev Tips to get a new tip in your inbox each Wednesday.
I’m not a big fan of country music (my wife is, however) but Tim McGraw’s Humble and Kind has it right. Don’t let success get to your head. You don’t know everything – be open to others’ input. You can disagree with others respectfully. Be kind when you feel the need to disagree or correct someone. Take extra care that your correction is actually helpful, especially if there’s a big power differential between you and the person you’re correcting, and especially if you’re doing it in public. Remember “praise in public; criticize in private” when you’re in a position of authority. It’s good advice and will serve you well.
Why am I writing this as a dev tip (if that’s not obvious)? Because being humble and kind is a part of being professional as much as it is a part of just being a good person, neighbor, coworker, and citizen. I’ve written and published before on the value of being thankful. See also this podcast episode. This ties right into that. It requires a measure of empathy. Empathy involves allowing yourself to consider how another person experiences the world. If you’re able to experience empathy for someone, it’s very easy to be kind to them. If you lack empathy, it’s easy for you to be a jerk. People don’t want more jerks in their lives – most of us know enough of them already.
So don’t be a jerk.
Professionally it’s obviously a good idea for you to not be a jerk to your boss. It’s probably a good idea not to be a jerk to your peers. It’s generally a good idea not to be a jerk in public, especially in public where things can be widely shared (with your boss, your customers, etc). But guess what? You really shouldn’t be a jerk in private, either. Not to your subordinates. Not to your spouse. Not to your friends. Not to your kids. Not even to strangers or when you think you can get away with it. Strive to be more humble, more kind, and more professional, when you can. And when you can’t, strive to at least take ownership of that rather than getting angry or defensive. It’s not easy, but it’s one more thing that will make you a better professional software developer. And person.