The serenity prayer and being a senior developer

The serenity prayer, for those who don’t know it is:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

I think this is an important concept that distinguishes good senior developers from junior developers (or data scientists, or crime analysts, the title doesn’t really matter).

Many very green junior developers tend to err on the ‘I cannot change anything’ side. Or put another way, they are told ‘we are going to do XYZ’, and instead of saying ‘we don’t need to do Y, we can just do XZ’ they just go with the flow and do what others tell them to do. For a more concrete example, close to every project at my workplace that uses Hadoop, it is probably unnecessary. So often groups come in and say ‘we need to go from DatabaseX -> Hadoop -> Machine Learning Model -> DatabaseY’. So people go on this path, even though you could just chunk up the data into more memory safe ways and cut out Hadoop entirely.

Another common data science one I come across is ‘the business wants a ranking of priority claims that places them into bins of 1/2/3’. Instead of making a proper utility derived decision rule, the data scientist gives the business what they ask for, using ad-hoc and clearly suboptimal rules to make the bins. It is similar to the XY problem, juniors just need to recognize they have agency to go back to the business partners and say ‘we should actually do it like this instead’.

For a crime analysis example, when I worked at Troy PD and implemented these weekly metrics, the Chief at the time asked me to remove the error bars on the weekly forecasts. I simply explained to him that I used those to tell if a recent uptick was anomalous (if inside the bars it is what we would expect), and he said OK I understand now why you do that. I do things on occasion because a higher up asks that I don’t prefer, but you should push back in data science roles to nudge people to the right metrics (who often do not have as much expertise as you). It takes courage as the prayer goes.

I use the condition good senior developer earlier in the post, as I know senior people who fall into the trap of just going with the flow too much as well. But another typology for seniors is the ‘accept the things I cannot change’. I have come across this less often, but there are a few people who are very zealous about different tools/methods – kubernetes, everything needs to be CICD, agile – even when they are not possible to coerce to the particular situation. Many of these methods could be fine if they could be applied easily to the project at hand, but if it takes 2 years to develop your kubernetes or CICD pipeline, whereas I can log into a virtual machine, do a one time set up and be done in a much shorter period of time, you should probably rethink your approach.

Often the developers don’t realize it will take 2 years (or there are fundamental problems with the approach that makes it not feasible). That is why good seniors have the wisdom to know the difference between things they can change and things they cannot.

I am going to be annoying and plug my consulting firm, CRIME De-Coder LLC for a bit here on the blog. So please check my work and get in touch if you or your agency/business have any needs for statistical analysis, process automation, program analysis, predictive analytics, etc.