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How Applied Psychology can help Software Engineers

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On the 1st November software engineer and author John R. Fox has published his book “Digital Work in an Analog World”. According to its subtitle “Improving Software Engineering by Applied Psychology”, the book does not consider software engineering in practice - the term “Analog” refers to all non-technical aspects of software engineering. Rather, it is focusing on the psychological aspects relevant and practices relevant for engineers.

In real software engineering projects, many challenges are related to soft factors. For example, how can software architects convince their management to spend more time for regular refactoring activities or architecture reviews for a project? In order to motivate others, software engineers require soft skills often more than they need in-depth technical knowledge. These capabilities are commonly underestimated and not offered in schools or universities.

This is exactly the gap the new book tries to fill. It does not target one specific group of stakeholders, but

Project Managers, Developers, DBAs, Business Analysts, QA Specialists, and other management people that participate in software development in one form or another.

In the beginning the author provides the underlying concepts of applied psychology.  He introduces various personalities in software engineering and maps the general concepts to the context of software engineering. Furthermore, he presents the major issues of software engineering such as software estimation, planning problems, or unrealistic expectations.

The book covers several psychological factors that appear within a development organization. In detail,

  • Rewards, Goals, and Inhibitors
  • Stress
  • Cognitive Malware
  • Influence, Persuasion, & Social Pressure
  • Analog Intelligence
  • Problem Solving, Decisions & Creativity.

In addition, Mr. Fox illustrates people aspects such as Leadership, Culture & Gender, Teams, and Talent Pools.

The author considers psychological concepts as a big lever in the software engineering industry. However, he does not claim it is a silver bullet:

Applying psychological concepts and principles to the software process might be another way to help our industry move the needle, ever so slightly perhaps, in the right direction. While I do believe that a better understanding of psychology can help us, I’m not suggesting that this is a silver bullet either. In fact, believing in Silver Bullets has been a considerable part of the problem

The book provides a lot of insights into psychology and their impact in software development projects without trying to cover all aspects of social skills.

For all interested readers: the book with 313 pages is available at the website for US-$ 19.99. According to the publication company versions for Kindle and Nook are also available.

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