Cathedral Builders

I just watched a very interesting video on YouTube about software development leadership which is on the Google Tech Talks Channel (here), it’s pretty long but worth a watch if that kind of thing is interesting to you. At the very end of the talk (at about 1:26:45) is an interesting story.

The story is about an Italian philosopher that was walking through a quarry a long time ago and came across a stone cutter. He asked the stone cutter “What are you doing?” to which the stone cutter replied “I’m cutting stone. I don’t like it but it’s the only job I could get”. So the philosopher moves on and asks the next guy he comes across the same question: “What are you doing?”. The second stone cutter replies “I’m earning a living. I’m putting a roof over my head and food on the table”. So the philosopher continues and asks a third stone cutter the same question “What are you doing?”. The last stone cutter said “I’m building a cathedral”.

In a software development team you want your developers to be Cathedral Builders not Stone Cutters. How do you know if a developer is a Cathedral Builder? The way to tell is what your developers do when there is something about the job that annoys them. If they complain about it they are stone cutters, if they ignore it they are earning a living but if they fix it then they are Cathedral Builders.

According to the presentation, you get Cathedral Builders by moving responsibility and decision-making to the lowest possible level which allows people to reach their full potential and become Cathedral Builders. It’s the individual that counts and allows them to use there own initiative. The leader’s job is to have the overall vision of the project and to guide the developers through it. If there is something that is annoying the developers, a good leader will help them fix it, not get in the way. You need to make your developers feel valued, help them to feel proud of the product they are making and you need to listen to their ideas. You need to create a culture of constant improvement.

I’m paraphrasing the presentation of course and propbably not doing it justice. So take a look.


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