No Hashtags

[Tl;Dr: #No… hashtags are aspirational, not didactic.]

I seem to have been labouring under the misapprehension that most folks in the Twitter software and product development communities have come to understand the mode of use of the various #No… hashtags we see regularly these days. Particularly with the widespread exposure of the mother of them all: #NoEstimates.

(Note: I use the #NoTesting hashtag in a couple of the examples, below, mainly because recent discussions thereon have suggested to me a need for this post.


For me, #No… hashtags are a short invitation to interested folks to think again about what, often, are near-autonomic responses. For example, I regard each occurrence of the #NoEstimates hashtag as an invitation to ponder whether, in each case, estimates are giving us value and meeting folks’ needs (in a relatively effective way). An invitation to checkpoint ourselves, and to discuss whether we are just us going-through-the motions without thinking too much about the role of estimates – and estimating – in any particular situation.


Also, I see #No… hashtags as being intended as aspirational: Articulating or labelling a future state where things could be different. Aspiring to change.

For example, I use #NoTesting to advertise my aspirations for a world of development where testing is no longer the chosen path to quality, replaced by other means for more economically delivering products, etc., with agreed levels of quality. So, in that case, #NoTesting really does advertise my aspiration for an end to testing – which I see as hugely expensive and wasteful compared to other, less well-known means – but NOT at the expense of product quality. It also implies – easy to miss, I guess – a responsible, calm, controlled transition from todays’ approaches to that aspirational future state.

“Ask not ‘how are we going to test this?'”
“Ask rather ‘how are we going to ensure this goes out with the agreed levels of quality?'”
“And when you’ve got a handle on that, ask then ‘how are we going to ensure that everything we do henceforth goes out at the agreed levels of quality?'”


And yes, too, #No… hashtags are confrontational. They invite us to challenge ourselves and our entrenched beliefs. To consider change, and its implications. And that’s often uncomfortable, at the very least. Particularly when the topic challenges folks’ self-image, or seems to threaten their accumulated wisdom, reputation and experience, or their livelihoods. I hope we can all see these things in the spirit of mutual exploration, rather than as an opportunity for reiterating entrenched positions and protecting the status quo.

“[#No… Hashtags are] the social media equivalent of poking people with a stick.”


When I use #No… hashtags, I’m being metaphorical rather than literal. Some folks may not understand this and get upset, by taking them literally. For my part, I believe that’s on them.

For example, with the #NoTesting hashtag, I have had some folks assume that I’m advocating abandoning any concern for the quality of e.g. a product under development. This is not my position. Although denying it seems only to inflame the situation once folks have got their teeth clamped on that particular bone. I guess their assumptions stem from not having knowledge of other means to quality.

In using the #NoTesting hashtag, I’m basically saying “under some circumstances, maybe there are other, more effective means to meet folks needs re: product quality than the default strategy most use today (i.e. testing)”. “How about we talk about those various circumstances, and means?” In this way, #No… hashtags are a metaphor for “would you be willing to think again, and maybe join the search for more effective means, and the contexts in which they might bring benefits?”


Would you be willing to join me in embracing the #No… hashtag modality, and take each occurrence as an opportunity for a productive and relationship-building mutual exploration of a topic?

– Bob

Further Reading

The Germ Theory of Management ~ Myron Tribus

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions ~ Thomas S. Kuhn



Photo of a man revealing a superman logo on his chest under his shirt

Most of us have experienced, or at least heard of, occasions where a potential new hire has been rejected by the hiring company because someone thought the candidate was “overqualified”.

I can understand some hirers fearing candidates that appear to be smarter than they are. There’s that old saw about “‘A’-grade players hire other ‘A’ players, ‘B’s hire ‘C’s – people who don’t threaten them”.

And I can understand the fear that a highly-qualified candidate might find themselves in a job which fails to stretch them, and thus the possibility that they might not stick around in that job for long. Which would entail going through the whole hiring process again in just a few weeks or months.

Note: I say I can understand these fears, not that I regard them as having any merit.

But actually, these two issues are much more often about capability than qualifications (the latter being a poor indication of capability in any case). I suspect people use the term “over-qualified” rather than “over-capable” to cover up their fears – in the hope of making them undiscussable.


So, to speak plainly, some folks are fearful about hiring people who appear more capable than themselves, and some folks fear that highly-capable candidates might not tolerate a situation where their capabilities are being under-used.

To my mind these are two separate issues.

The first – fear of hiring capable people – speaks to the attitudes which might prevail in particular hirers.

I’m more interested in this post to look at the second issue – the fear that highly-capable candidates might leave out of boredom or lack of challenge.

The Path of Decline

Basically, what this says is that in the hiring organisation, good (capable) people will not have the opportunity to do good work. Which speaks to the system (the way the work works) in that organisation. It means that people already within the organisation realise (implicitly or explicitly) that the way the work works is borked. But rather than fix it, hirers choose to hire second- or third-rate candidates. It means that hirers accept that the organisation is going to be stuffed with less-capable people. It means that the organisation – probably unwittingly – has accepted a path of decline (a.k.a. left-drift).

How does your organisation deal with the over-capable candidates? And how often have you been declined, after interview, as over-capable?

– Bob

Further Reading

Discussing the Undiscussable ~ Willam R. Noonan
Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: Chasing After the ‘Purple Squirrel’ ~ Knowledge@Wharton (Book review, interview)

Developer Chops

I don’t get to do much development these days, what with all the study I’m putting into Organisational Psychotherapy and Rightshifting, keeping up meaningful connections and helping folks out where I can via e.g. Twitter, and now looking for a paying gig, or even a job.

And it’s hard to convince myself that I should consider development work, when I feel there are other areas where I can add a lot more value.

But I do keep my hand in, especially with Python, Javascript (mainly server side) and e.g. CouchDB, just for my own amusement, and to keep abreast of some of the current trends.

Aside: I was quite busy with the building of a prototype for Newsmice + Dyphoon, earlier in the year.

All that notwithstanding, I have in the past often had to consider folks for developer positions, and would have benefited in that task from some kind of Developer Competency Matrix – as a starting point for some conversations about development topics. CVs just don’t work well in that regard. (Another reason for my NoCV campaign).

So both as an example and as a starting point for conversations, I’ve just added a page to this blog with my own Developer Competency Matrix – something that’s been lying around on my hard drive for a couple of years now.

I wonder how other folks present their development skills and experience? And how, when you’re hiring developers, you like to start a conversation about the art?

– Bob

A Foolish Consistency

Many will be familiar with the epithet:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Fewer will know that it comes from Emerson’s essay, “Self-Reliance“, first published in 1841. Or that the text continues:

“…adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”.

In the essay, Emerson is advocating the advantages of thinking for oneself, rather than meekly accepting the ideas of others.

Many other notable figures have railed against the foolishness of consistency. In such august company, i think we can pass on further such railings.

I’d like instead to raise and rail against a related foolishness:

“A foolish craving for certainty is the hobgoblin of the fearful, who when obtaining become the tearful.”

By which I mean those who rush to secure certainty in their world, should they achieve their wish, often end up lamenting the outcome.

“Be careful what you wish for” is another apt proverb that comes to mind.

Recent (neuro) scientific research has illuminated the human brain’s innate hunger for certainty:

“A sense of uncertainty about the future generates a strong threat or ‘alert’ response in your limbic system. Your brain detects something is wrong, and your ability to focus on other issues diminishes. Your brain doesn’t like uncertainty – it’s like a type of pain, something to be avoided. Certainty on the other hand feels rewarding, and we tend to steer toward it, even when it might be better for us to remain uncertain.”

So, just as Emerson noted our “foolish” hunger for consistency, neuroscience notes our “foolish” hunger for certainty.

A Topical Example

We might be forgiven for being surprised that a “progressive software startup” which, presumably, understand the perils of trying to tie down every little detail of requirements before embarking on the development of a product, should fail to grasp the perils of attempting to tie down every little detail of a job specification before embarking on recruiting for that position.

It’s like, the more important the position, the more certainty the hirers seek to assuage their hungry brains’ demand for certainty. Blind to the perilous implications.

Just as with Big Analysis Up Front for software development, BAUF for recruiting can lead to some unfortunate consequences:

  • Exclusion of the best candidates
  • Delays in finding even fairly-suitable candidates
  • Assumption that the eventual new hire is actually fit for the job
  • inclination to pigeon-hole the new hire, thereby demotivating him or her over time.
  • A job (position, role) not well-suited to the actual – as opposed to imagined – needs of the hiring organisation
  • De-emphasis on adaptability and flexibility as desirable new hire characteristics
  • Increased likelihood of hiring a narrow specialist (speciation, decrease in memetic diversity)
  • Unreasonable (stress-inducing) expectations of the new hire (cf Deming’s 95/5)
  • Lost opportunities for building mutual trust
  • Demotivation of the recruiters

Just as the world of software development has adapted to the brain’s cravings by e.g. adopting and evolving agile development principles, a more effective approach to recruitment might be to adapt, again. I’m thinking simple story cards, as placeholders for dialogue; I’m thinking making things visible; I’m thinking a focus on value; I’m thinking tests. Sounds familiar?

I’ve written on a similar theme previously, with the post Make Bad Hires!

This post has been brought to you by Lemons, and the wish to make lemonade.

– Bob

Further Reading

A Hunger for Certainty ~ Dr. David Rock
Thinking, Fast and Slow ~ Daniel Kahneman

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