There is something scary about being an introvert. We often think of basement dwelling creatures of the dark surrounded by cans of empty energy drinks. The soft glow of the multiple screens cuts through the darkness of the introvert’s cave, casting a sheet of light over their fragile pale skin.
It gets even worse when people see the words introvert and developer in a sentence together. They ignore everything else and instantly jump to the conclusion that you’re perpetuating a bad stereotype — that you’re driving potential would be developers away with such a horrible association.
But nothing is ever that binary — especially when it comes to the personality known as the successful developer.
Personality types are different from personality traits
A lot of people tend to mix the idea of personality types and personality traits together. A personality type is a classification. A personality trait is a description. According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, there are 16 distinct personality types that fall under four different categories.
The idea of introversion and extroversion is regarded as a psychological construct that characterizes a preference for a certain state of mind where they best thrive. Being extraverted means that they thrive best when there are action and movement. They become depleted when there is inaction.
Introvert dominant people thrive in spaces where they can reflect, act and then reflect again. They need the mental space in order to pause and re-energize themselves.
The 16 personality types range in intensity when it comes to introversion and extraversion. Myers-Briggs’ personality types are not determined by a clear cut preference of these two things alone. Rather, it is determined by a psychological matrix that puts a range of factors — extraversion, introversion, sensing, intuition, thinking, feeling, judging and perception — into a box. Any one of these are capable of being a successful developer — but some will probably find it easier than others.
Introvert — definition clarification
No one ever talks about the ambivert — the person who sits in the middle of the traditional, black and white definitions of introvert and extrovert personalities as popularized by the Internet.
Nor do they look at the actual meaning ‘introvert’ — which is often misrepresented as being anti-social (which is another completely different thing). The word ‘introvert’ itself is often misused, causing a widespread misrepresentation of a certain personality trait that is required by programmers and developers in order to complete their work.
Being able to introvert oneself is not a bad thing. Being able to remain in that introverted state — also known as ‘the zone’ — is a skill that can be learned but not taught.
Introversion and introspect is a personal achievement — sort of like figuring out how to meditate without falling asleep or getting bored.
What does it take to be a successful developer?
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
The word introvert is often used as a personality type to describe the cave dwelling, anti-social and socially awkward creature that exists in a very small percentage of people.
It’s a bad stereotype and the black and whitening of psychology. Nothing is ever that simple but that is just how our minds work. It’s easier to think in binary than debate in shades of the rainbow.
But that doesn’t really answer the original question I posed: Do you need to be an introvert to become a successful developer?
The answer is no — but you do need to develop the skill of introvesion if it’s not already there. The ability to introvert into oneself is very different from being an introvert.
Developers come in a range of moods, shapes, background, sizes and all the combinations of psychological, physiological, gender, culture and everything and anything you can think of. A successful developer is not defined and limited by just one word — or misrepresentation and perception of one word.
This ability to introvert into oneself often manifests in the ability to sit at a computer for a long extended time — and for the right reasons.
Scrolling through Facebook and playing Fortnite for hours doesn’t count. That’s a different kind of sitting in front of the computer.
I’m talking about the searching, questioning and getting their kicks from playing code architects on their chosen editor. Successful developers and programmers are able to make it past hurdles and walls because they demand answers and solutions in code form to the problems they’re tasked with solving. They are curious, experimental, flexible and adaptive — and most of the time, they do this whilst sitting in front of a computer or laptop.
Successful developers and programmers are driven by the love solving things using the tools they have — or seek to acquire better tools through hardware, software and philosophical understanding of paradigms and patterns. They are the people that climb, smash or drill holes in their brick walls.
These things have nothing to do with the supposed stereotype of being an introvert or the lack of work/life/social balance at all.