Becoming an Extroverted Introvert


Developers have a nasty reputation of being basement-dwelling paste-eating social recluses. Our industry has taken a turn in recent years that encourages us to get away from teh codez and interact with other developers and business users, but many developers are still very introverted. I realized in the past week how introverted I actually am, and how much conflict it causes me in my career.

Here's a list of introvert symptoms that I have:

  • I prefer conversation over IM so I can properly process the message and my response. I've accidentally made too many commitments that I couldn't keep (estimates, workload, etc.) by getting caught off-guard face-to-face.
  • In social settings I am social but I prefer to observe the conversation instead of leading it.
  • I get distracted easily when there's too much stimulation in my work environment.
  • I need down time to recharge my battery and renew my enthusiasm.
  • I have a constantly running inner monologue.

One thing that has become apparent to me is that because introverts prefer to remove themselves from the limelight, they aren't recognized, celebrated, and rewarded as much as extroverts. General human nature craves recognition, so we're in a tough spot. I've been trying recently to find ways to become more of a conversationalist and a driving presence on teams instead of a passive observer. Here's a few ways I have tried doing this:

Find Comfortable Places to Be On the Stage

I did several user group presentations around eastern Iowa this summer and spoke at Iowa Code Camp a few weeks ago. I found this comfortable because I was in a "controlled" environment (techies, people like me) and I was presenting on a topic that I was very familiar with. I was able to focus on my presentation and delivery, and I learned a lot in the process.

We have a yearly BarCampCV event in Cedar Falls and I always try to do an impromptu presentation. This is a good venue for that because the sessions are only a half hour long and pretty laid back. If you can get through your introduction and opening, you're halfway done.

Take Advantage of Flexible Work Schedule

I decided to work from home regularly to limit my distractions. I'm more comfortable sitting in my dark basement working (didn't I just make fun of this?) than in a wide open office with lots of distractions. I'm also able to break up my day into a few 2-3 hour work sprints to keep energized. I'm a lot more productive after 8 PM than I am mid-day and I want to take advantage of that.

Be a Better Listener

When in the middle of a technical conversation, I get excited and regularly finish sentences for other people. That must be incredibly annoying and is something I need to work on. We should all strive to become better listeners, to treat all conversations as important, to try to determine unspoken messages and needs, and to better read and interpret body language.

Go Outside Your Usual Circle

When working on side projects I have a regular group that are generally involved. I wanted to get outside my comfort zone, so I inserted myself into a website redesign for Iowa Code Camp in an attempt to work with people that I haven't worked with before. I'm excited to see what makes them tick and to learn new lessons from them.

Go Outside Your Usual Self Improvement Methods

There's several services I use such as Stack Overflow, Pluralsight, and technical podcasts to try to keep up to date. I recent added a few audio books such as How to Win Friends & Influence People and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I've already picked up several tips from How to Win Friends that is bringing noticeable change in how I interact. That's a win!

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