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Necessary Skepticism: Skepticism is not Pessimism

In the software realm our opinions are often polarized (perceived in extremes) with no middle ground – you’re a pragmatist or an idealist, you’re a Windows or *nix person, “you’re either with us or against us”. This train of thought is referred to as Black-and-White Thinking, or All or Nothing Thinking. This thought process continually manifests itself in the software realm for good reason – we’re under pressure to produce, but have limited time, and can’t exhaust all permutations or combinations of technological possibilities. So we develop coping skills, and make quick decisions (even if they are wrong). As IT professional we’re constantly in The Fight or Flight mentality:

All or Nothing thinking … is part of the most primitive of human responses: The Fight or Flight Response. When faced with a life-threatening situation, we must make a snap decision and act on it. There is no time for ‘maybe this’, or ‘maybe that’. -All or Nothing Thinking

Some Polarized Views

Views or labels that seem to be commonly applied to people, organizations, and people:

  • A Pessimist or an Optimist
  • A Cynic or an Proponent
  • A Skeptic or a Dreamer
  • A Pragmatist or an Idealist
  • A Tigger or an Eeyore

These labels are generally mutually exclusive – you’re usually labeled a Pessimist or an Optimist, but not both. Then there’s this general acceptance that Skeptics are Pessimists and these are Curmudgeons, and Eeyores (but everything in moderation). Switching between views is healthy and advisable (be a Skeptic and an Optimist), because inherently “[a]ll programmers are optimists” (1) and too much Enthusiasm, and Optimism often results in Hype, and “Hype is the plague on the house of software” (2).

Why not embrace all these views? Take on the role of a Skeptical Dreamer, then an Optimistic Cynic, or a Pragmatic Idealist. Let’s throw off these polarized thinking models and fill in the gray areas. As Fred Brooks once said: “Skepticism is not Pessimism”, and critical thinking is also not Skepticism.

(1) Fred Brooks, The Mythical Man-Month (2) Robert Glass, Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering

Author: Adam Kahtava Categories: Musings, Software Tags:
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