and maintaining them over time. This
can foster a great sense of ownership
and responsibility, which is something
that is recognized and rewarded (in
most situations, anyway) because it
benefits the whole team.
Sometimes, however, ownership
can lead to emotional attachment, and
that can have negative consequences.
The longer you work on one system or application, the deeper the
attachment. For years you have been
investing in it—adding new features,
updating functionality, fixing bugs
and corner cases, polishing, and
refactoring. If the product serves a
need, you likely reap satisfaction for
a job well done (and maybe you even
received some raises or promotions
as a result of your great work). I totally get this—I still have copies of big
projects from 10-plus years ago that
are so out of date they likely would
not compile if I tried.
This can also be true for inexperienced engineers. I remember my very
first job and my first bug.
I spent a few days getting up to
speed, setting up my environment,
and then fixed the bug—submitting
my first check-in to the large project
we were working on. That night, one
of the senior engineers, working late,
had reviewed all the new code that had
been checked in prior to the nightly
build. Apparently my function didn’t
meet his approval, so he erased it and
rewrote it as part of another class. I
still remember the next day I was devastated. It was like he had erased my
whole career with a single submit.
When you have only a small amount
of work, every little thing you do represents a lot of your career, and so it is
easy to be attached.
This doesn’t just happen with code.
It can happen with ideas, proposals,
projects—anything you have invested
significant time, energy, and care in.
It is natural that people become very
attached to things they have invested
in, but unfortunately, that attachment
can often make it difficult to see your
work objectively, as other people do.
WE ALL KNOW it’s good to have a strong sense of
ownership toward your work, but what happens when
you get too attached?
Recently, I encountered this problem while
collaborating with a smart, senior engineer who couldn’t
make logical decisions if it meant deprecating the system
he and his team had worked on for a number of years.
Even though the best thing would have been to help
another team create the replacement system, they did not
want to entertain the idea because it would mean putting
an end to something they had invested so much in.
I recognized this behavior, because this has
happened to me, too. So, I started thinking about why
this happens and what one can do to navigate these
One of the great things about writing software is that
you get to create something. Great engineers typically
are good not only at building things, but also at owning
Article development led by
Know when to let go of emotional
attachment to your work.
BY KATE MATSUDAIRA