Johan wrote this
@ 2022-03-27

Strong opinions, however they're held

I keep coming across the phrase “strong opinions, weakly held” and I swear to God I’ve never heard a more wishy-washy piece of spineless bullshit in my life.

Excuse me

If you’ve never heard it before: it’s supposed to be the platonic ideal of an opinion in tech. It’s pretty common, sometimes attributed to Jeff Benzos and sometimes just presented as some pseudo-scientific approach to our craft. You’re supposed to form a firm belief in something, but not be too in love with that belief because that invites confirmation bias. And so the idea is that when someone on your team comes around and says “no but wait, what if you frobble the glemps instead of hombling them” you can go “well! that sure changed my strong opinion on glemps” and everyone can pat each other on the back and stride forward happily, creating much shareholder value and giving an eNPS score of at least 8. But there’s a problem with that narrative, and that is the fact that only weak opinions work that way. And “weak opinions, weakly held” is what you’re doing when you’re unfamiliar and inexperienced. Not something you should aspire to, if you ask me.

A strong opinion should be something that’s field-tested and found to hold up under pressure. It should come with a corresponding scar. And that’s never going to be something you hold “loosely” or “weakly”.

I bet you’re fun in roadmap meetings

See, the trick is to not actually have too many strong opinions. You tend to accumulate them as you go through life, and they all depend on where you’ve been and what you’ve done — but you can’t let everything get to you. For example, I’ve been in some really, seriously, dysfunctional scrum teams. It would be easy to form antipathy there, say “scrum sucks infinite ass” and leave the practice for dead. But then I’ve also been in some excellent scrum teams. So a strong opinion I did form while doing my scrum rounds is “it’s much less about what you do, and much more about who’s in the team” which I’m sure will sit badly with people who insist on calling their developers resources but it’s true nevertheless. Some people are just naturally kind, optimistic, and easy to work with, and if you put enough of them in a team they’ll perform well no matter which development philosophy you pick. That’s the strong opinion I’ll stick with, and I’ll just nod and smile if someone says a physical board is superior to a digital one, or that points should be estimated in Fibonacci increments up to 8, or whatever.

I have more strong opinions, of course! Postgres is the best and most excellent database, and there’s no reason to pick anything else unless you’re, like, Google? And 100% test coverage is an idiot metric for numbskull mouthbreathers. I could go on. But the point is that this “weakly held” stuff is nonsense! Over time you’ll develop bedrock beliefs, and they’ll come from experience and passion. Don’t have too many, but the ones you do have shouldn’t be held weakly. Raise them over your head, ready to strike down! Imbue them with your infinite and righteous fire! Let them guide you to your people: they’re out there, and they’re looking for you. Strong opinions. Strongly held.