Although you may have landed on this page thinking you'd get clever insights on how to tell a coworker that bathing is not optional, I'm actually talking about their computer desktop hygiene. Look at the following desktop screenshots and imagine you have to hire a software engineer for your firm... who would you hire?

Clutterred 1920x1200 Smooth 1600x1200

What? You actually picked one of the two? I'd fire YOU for deciding without knowing anything about the context! :)

You might not be able to guess at first, but these desktops come from very similar people who are equally important in their respective teams. Both are perfectionists, both are versatile, both produce quality code, and both are pragmatists. Both loved Arrested Development and can't wait for the movie!  Both care about usability and software engineering. However, both are also very dissimilar in many regards. Instead of boring you with an enumeration of differences, I invite you to look at a coworker's desktop and see what you can learn.

Different people, different desktops.

As research for this post, I wanted to examine the commonalities and differences between the best software developers. I found lots of interesting classifications for software engineers. Rather than repeat what's already been said, let me point you to a few different sites.

  1. Synthesist, Idealist, Pragmatist, Analyst, Realist
  2. Scientist, Craftsman, Playboy (and regular "Employee")
  3. Elf, Dwarf, Ninja, Pirate
  4. Morons and assholes

 

One could also extract common personality traits:

  1. Pessimistic
  2. Angered by Sloppy Code
  3. Long Term Life Planners
  4. Attention to Detail

 

The more I did research, the more I was overwhelmed with a feeling of "Who the hell cares? Why am I wasting my time doing this research?" (which might ironically be due to the fact that I'm a pragmatist). Concretely, flagging someone as a particular type of person (with their strengths and weaknesses) appeared to be pointless because it's impossible to systemize people and, quite frankly, it's downright condescending.

Different individuals, great teams.

Although trying to assign personality types to people is elitist, the act of looking at the various classifications is an enriching experience. Taking a step back and evaluating yourself using personality traits instead of how many features you built this month, you'll learn more about yourself. I'm the first one to push self-help books into the shredder, but identifying key strengths and weaknesses with regards to your current context allows you to build a stronger software startup thanks to diversity. Anyone can have a great idea but you need strong people to execute on that idea. If you've ever watched Dragons' Den (Canadian version or UK version) where entrepreneurs try to convince angel investors to put their hard-earned money in their startups, you've probably noticed that the idea means nothing if the entrepreneur isn't as brilliant as their concept.

Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood?

Last week, I was surprised by the announcement that Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood were launching a new company together. Jeff points out that occasional disagreement is healthy and normal, which is totally true. If you'd have a week to waste, you could compare and contrast these prominent bloggers but you'd end up seeing they complement each other. I listened to their podcast to figure out what they were going to do with stackoverflow and the idea is quite interesting. Simply put, a developer community based on the right values of collaborative problem solving. (Question: Am I the only one who gets impatient listening to conversations and who prefers straight to the point blog posts?)

I can't wait to see what they're going to come up with, because they're basically solving a problem similar to one we've identified in the franchise world. If you spend 15 minutes googling franchise websites, you'll discover that all these sites have a sleazy-edge to them, just like experts-exchange. Commissions are big in the franchise sales world and it has basically corrupted the web community. A nice software engineering capstone project (at the end of the bachelor's degree) would be to create such as site and allow people to collaboratively identify the best franchises for potential new franchisee (minus the sales gimmicks). (Sidenote: Turning that into a profitable business is another story and would require careful thought but it does seem like a startup with benevolent aims).

Speaking of Joel Spolsky, have you heard of the upcoming Business of Software 2008 conference? The speaker list simply knocked my socks off (and not just because a higher percentage of speakers have names starting with the letter J). I hope we can free up the time and find the money to attend this event because it certainly will be an enriching conference for all those attending. Apart from Spolsky's great books, I'm a big fan of Eric Sink's Business of Software and Jessica Livingston's Founders at Work

Conclusion

In case you're wondering, I'm the one with the horrible looking desktop (weird side note: my second monitor actually has no icons on it) while our keyboard-bashing friend Jean-Philippe has the elegant looking one. We can also see is that his office desk is as nice and clean as his computer desktop. I'm not at all ashamed of my desktop even though people usually can't contain their surprise when they see it. One of my strengths is to quickly and efficiently find my way through chaos and it reflects the volume of diverse tasks I tackle each and every day. Seeing someone's desktop can help you learn more about that person, but you can't jump to any conclusions. I pay close attention to detail when it's important (pragmatism again!) but you'd never be able to guess that after looking at my cluttered desktop (unless you're reaching for explanations).

In any case, if anyone has cared to read up to this point, I'd be curious to glance at your desktop! 

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