Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Why I'd rather be an optimist

[This was originally posted at http://timstall.dotnetdevelopersjournal.com/why_id_rather_be_an_optimist.htm]

Some programmers take pride in calling themselves either an optimist or a pessimist. Both have their positive and negative stereotypes: The out-of-touch bubbly optimist vs. the encouraging can-do optimist; the always grumpy pessimist vs. the face-the-facts pessimist.

Part of it is that most producers tend to be optimists, as it takes a can-do attitude to carry out the positive act of creating. Most critics/complainers tend to be pessimists, negatively and constantly pointing to the shortcomings. However, these are not equal positions. The producer can produce without the critic, but that the critic needs someone else to produce something so that they have something to criticize. In other words, the producer (usually the optimist) does not need the critic (usually the pessimist), but the critic needs the producer. It's like riding a sled down the hill vs. pulling it back up - they're not equal tasks; one is much easier. Likewise, a room full of complainers will never actually build something. While constructive feedback is great, a purely negative feedback loop isn't constructive. It also will get on other coworker's nerves.

Some pessimists think they're providing a great service by always pointing out the flaws, lest the optimists lose touch with reality. However, "reality" doesn't need any help in reminding developers about the facts of life. It's got the compiler, project plan, and end-users to do that.

Ideally, as with everything else in life, there would be a good balance. But, everything considered, if I had to choose one I'd rather be an optimist. It's been said that "The pessimists may be right, but the optimists have more fun along the way."


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