Denys Mishunov: debugger; for Developers

published Oct 19, 2017

Keynote talk by Denys Mishunov at the Plone Conference 2017 in Barcelona.

It's been a long time since I have been in the Plone community. Good to see so many old friends! Literally old. :-)

I am Denys and I have a problem. I am a developer. Should I use Angular or React? Plone? I am not going to talk about that. I am going to talk about us as humans.

Goldman's dilemma, phrased in 1982: 'If I had a magic pill and it would let me win every match for the next five years, and then kill me, would I take it?' A lot of people would do that, for five years of success. There is no such pill, no single road to success.

As developer your life begins, you read a first book, you do a first project, you get your first job as developer, things look good. But: our program starts raising errors. When that happens, you stop, debug, and fix.


One of the bugs is: perfectionism. 'Denys, your work style is like champagne. The company that we merge with, their style is more like prosecco. Less good, but at a party no one notices the difference.'

Perfectionism can be really good and bad. It can be healthy and unhealthy, positive and negative. Steve Jobs was a perfectionist. That worked out good for consumers, but he could be hard to work with, having problems picking the perfect beige color.

Several perfectionist problems:

  • Perfectionist paralysis. This can be one reason for procrastination, waiting for an ideal moment to start with an ideal project. Fear of failure: not getting a perfect result. They want perfect tasks, where they know they will succeed.
  • Picking a detail.
  • Unnecessary task. 'This can be improved. It is not hard, it would not take more than fifteen minutes.' And you spend a day on something that does not give value, or even makes things worse. Perfectionists never know when to stop.

So stop being a perfectionist? No, make your perfectionism positive. Henry Ford was a perfectionist, constantly improving the design, and never going in production. He failed at two companies before investors stopped him.

Think: 'My product should be perfect. And this release/feature/commit moves me one step closer to this perfect result.' Stephen Hawking: 'Perfection simply doesn't exist.'

Imposter phenomenon

  • You think that your success is due to luck/timing/etc.
  • You think that others might discover that you are not as skilled as they think you are
  • You think that others are more intelligent than you are.

Will Smith: 'What people think is my self confidence, is actually my fear.' Lots of people have this. Among them very successful people. Both men and women have this, also in science, shown by studies.

I read websites, Twitter, news feeds, RSS, I get a lot of information, but I cannot read everything. And I still have to work. So I stopped reading them. I may skim the titles, and open a few browser tabs, and leave them open for a few days. I did not want to read it, but my imposter syndrome wanted to read it.

What do we do about it?

  • Embrace imposterism. When you are about to read yet another news story: stop and enjoy. You are learning.
  • Measure yourself with your own yard stick. That is a good comparison.
  • Communicate your fears. Writer Neill Gaiman met Neill Armstrong. 'If he feels like an imposter, maybe everyone else does.'

Long hours

Have you ever worked long hours? Once? Regularly? Did the code work the day after?

A regret of many people before they die is: why have I worked so hard?

Long hours happen. It can be temporary, which can be normal for a hard worker. But it can also be permanent, which is a signal for a workaholic. It is hard to spot the difference. Hard working people have some balance. Are you working and thinking of skiing? Or the other way around?

If you normally work 40 hours, and you work 20 hours more, then this raises productivity for three to four weeks. After that, it drops. Why? Our brain gets tired. So we make errors. So we lack accomplishment. So we make long hours to fix those bugs. And we are in a loop.

The Japanese have a word 'karoshi': death by overwork. Same for 'Guolaosi' in Chinese: 1600 deaths a day.

When the brain detects stress, it sends signals: the chemicals adrenalin and cortisol. This couple is essential for our well being. But when applied for a prolonged period of time, things go wrong: premature ageing of our brain, drop in learning abilities, weakened memory. So it leads to mental disability: you work long hours, and you end up with dementia or alzheimer.

How do we prevent stress?

Look at Harvard University, established 1636, home to 133 nobel laureates and 8 presidents. Students asked if they could do a four year study in three years. Answer: 'Slow down. Get more out of Harvard by doing less. Take a year off.' It helped those who returned after a year. 'College can help you learn how to think, more than what to think.' We need room to think.

Our lives have only version 1.0. We need to fix bugs live, in production.

We need more healthy and happy developers. Acknowledging a problem is the first step to mental health. Debug yourself often and stay healthy and happy. Thank you.

See also my article in Smashing magazine which was published yesterday.

Trust me: at thirty five, either you start thinking about health, or health starts thinking about you.