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Fun is a Serious Business in the Workplace: Holly Cummins

Updated on September 6, 2023
4 min read

Holly Cummins explored the significance of fun in the world of software development, backed by real-world examples and insights from programming legends

In the world of software development, where coding and problem-solving are critical, the idea of fun might seem out of place. However, a deeper examination reveals that fun is not just enjoyable but a key ingredient in fostering creativity, innovation, and job satisfaction among software developers. During YOW! London, Holly Cummins explored the significance of fun in the world of software development, backed by real-world examples and insights from programming legends.

What the duck! 


The quest to discover the world's funniest joke led researchers down some unexpected paths. One intriguing finding suggests that the presence of ducks can actually make anything increasingly humorous. Yes, you read that right and no, it’s not a typo – ducks make jokes funnier! But why are we even discussing ducks in the context of humor?

The connection between ducks and humor may seem random, but it's rooted in the fascinating world of psychology and comedy. It's not that ducks themselves are inherently funny, but their waddling gait has a way of adding that extra layer of absurdity to jokes.

Now, you might be wondering why Holly was discussing ducks and their impact on humor. Well, it's not about having formal credentials in duck-related comedy. However, you don't necessarily need duck-specific qualifications to contribute to the conversation about fun and humor in the workplace.

The ability to infuse humor into the workplace can lead to increased morale, creativity, and overall job satisfaction.

Fun and Software Development


Software development is often viewed as a serious endeavor. However, as Fred Brooks, the author of "The Mythical Man-Month," pointed out, "Programming then is fun because it gratifies creative longings built deep within us and delights sensibilities we have in common with all men." This perspective highlights the intrinsic joy that developers find in creating solutions, learning new languages, and solving complex puzzles.

Developers dive into new programming languages, frameworks, or libraries with a sense of adventure. As Alan Perlis, a pioneer in computer science, said, "A year spent in artificial intelligence is enough to make one believe in God." The curiosity to explore the uncharted territories of AI and other fields drives innovation.

Software development is a continuous series of puzzles to solve. Every bug to squash, every optimization challenge, and every algorithm to refine is an opportunity for developers to engage in their favorite pastime—solving puzzles. Jessica Kerr, a well-known developer, emphasizes this by stating, "Solving problems in code is one of the best feelings."

The joy of writing clean, efficient code cannot be overstated. Developers experience a deep sense of satisfaction when they write elegant, functional code that serves its purpose.

The Impact of Fun on Software Development

When developers are engaged in enjoyable tasks, they are more likely to think outside the box, experiment with new approaches, and come up with innovative solutions. Fun encourages continuous learning. In the dynamic world of software development, staying curious and open to new experiences is essential. 

Contrary to the perception that fun detracts from productivity, it can actually enhance it. When developers enjoy their work, they are more motivated, focused, and efficient. Kent Beck, the creator of Extreme Programming, aptly puts it, "I'm not a great programmer; I'm just a good programmer with great habits."

Gamifying Software Development


Gamification is a powerful strategy for injecting fun into software development. By introducing game-like elements, developers can be motivated to work more efficiently and enthusiastically. Here are a few examples:

Code Reviews: Transform code reviews into a friendly competition where developers earn points or badges for finding and fixing issues. This not only makes the process more enjoyable but also improves code quality.

Small, manageable Stories: Break down complex tasks into smaller, manageable stories or tasks. This gamified approach makes progress visible and encourages developers to complete stories and celebrate their achievements.

Test-Driven Development (TDD): TDD is essentially gamified testing. Developers start with failing tests (red), make them pass (green), and refactor the code (clean and efficient). The satisfaction of seeing the tests turn green is akin to winning a game.

Open Source Contributions: Open source projects offer a playground for developers to collaborate, learn, and have fun. Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, captures this spirit: "Software is like sex; it's better when it's free. I'm doing a (free) operating system, just a hobby, won't be big and professional like GNU." For instance, GitHub's "Contributions" graph is a visual gamification of open source contributions. Developers aim to maintain a green grid, turning it into a game of continuous contributions.

With great ‘fun’, comes great responsibility


It’s not always all fun and games. Holly cautioned the audience that while gamification and fun offers exciting possibilities for enhancing software development, it's crucial to be aware of its potential downsides. Burnout, superficial engagement, exclusivity, and a shift away from intrinsic motivation are among the challenges developers may encounter in a highly gamified environment.

To strike the right balance, developers and organizations should approach ‘fun’ with caution and mindfulness. Emphasizing learning, skill development, and collaboration over mere competition can help mitigate the cons while reaping the benefits of gamification in software development. Ultimately, it's about creating a supportive and balanced environment where both technical excellence and well-being thrive.

Fun is only fun when it’s inclusive 


Incorporating fun into software development is not about having a good time at the cost of other people at work; it's about unleashing creativity, fostering innovation, and achieving better results. The wisdom of programming legends, such as Fred Brooks, Alan Perlis, and Linus Torvalds, underscores the idea that programming is not just a job; it's a passion. By embracing fun, fostering a culture of curiosity, and gamifying certain aspects of software development, teams can create an environment where developers thrive, excel, and continue to push the boundaries of what's possible in the digital world.