Do you work in Software Engineering, and have you seen messages or sentences like these before?
“Can’t we just set up a redirect to this other domain?”
“Why don’t we just add some caching to speed that page up?”
Me too, and it drives me a little crazy.
Not because anyone is being rude, or because anything they are saying is necessarily wrong. Nobody is being intentionally malice, here. It’s that (in my opinion) the word “just” added as a qualifier to an idea carries with it a whole bunch of implied baggage.
First and foremost, the word “just” implies that an idea is simple. “Oh, we can just do this!”.
If there is one thing I’ve learned with Software Engineering, it’s that Computers are Hard and implementation details matter, especially when it comes to complexity. Very rarely can the complexity of an engineering solution be outlined in a single sentence. There is almost always more to it.
- What dependencies does the script have, and are they trusted and up-to-date?
- Does it work with our other libraris, such as React or Turbolinks?
- Do we need to update our Content Security Policy for this script?
- What sort of performance impact will this have on our page load performance?
- Does the script need to run at any a particular point in the page load process?
- Does the styling of the DOM elements it produces match our brand? Is that important?
- What sort of impact will this have on the accessibility of our website?
- If the business decides to stop using it, who will tell us and how will we know?
Reinforces Imposter Syndrome
Many engineers report having Imposter Syndrome, with some data even suggesting over half of engineers at most major Silicon Valley companies.
Let’s paint the picture of a very common, every-day scenario…
Imagine being an engineer with Imposter Syndrome, and you are working on solving a problem all day. You find yourself stuck on a few tricky details on the solutions you are considering, and so you ask for help from a Senior Engineer on your team. You sit down, start to talk through it, and your coworker says…
“what if you just do this?”
I ask you, reader:
- Would you feel good or happy to hear that?
- If you disagreed, would you voice that disagreement with such a confident and simple answer from a Senior Engineer?
- If you don’t understand, do you ask “what do you mean?”
My guess is probably not. How could you disagree with such a simple answer?! Or not understand it?!
Because of the implications the word “just” comes with, I believe that engineers are less likely to ideate and brainstorm in that environment.
In the face of an idea that says to “just do this”, I believe engineers are less confident in voicing disagreement, and are less likely to ask “what do you mean?” to truly understand the problem and the solution.
A team where engineers aren’t asking for clarification, don’t understand their solutions, and aren’t voicing alternative approaches is not a team that I hope to be on. That team is missing out on so much, including great ideas.
My solution is simple: stop qualifying your statements with the word “just”.
Of course, I’ll acknowledge right away that such as task is not easy. And I continue to use the word by mistake all the time! But I try hard not to, and I believe I am better for it.
When I catch myself typing a sentence that uses the word “just”, I pause and rephrase my sentence to avoid using it. I find that doing so helps for me to:
- get better response and ideation back from others
- clarify my thinking with strong examples and evidence
- orient the discussion towards a more generative mindset
- produce a healthier debate with more learning and sharing from everyone
So please… just stop saying “just”!