How mindfulness and inclusivity help software sustainability
Posted by j.laird
on 2 March 2022 - 10:00am
By Anita Banerji, SSI Research Associate in impact and equity, diversity and inclusivity.
Why do you need to be mindful to write sustainable software? Why do you need an inclusive environment to be able to write sustainable software? Is it possible that sustainable software approaches could support mindfulness and inclusivity?
These didn’t come to my mind as questions but as intuitive truths and it is now interesting to explore them and see if I can explain why they ring true for me – as a woman and a person of colour who has worked in scientific research and as a software engineer. I’ve been meditating for around 15 years in a Buddhist context and am an accredited mindfulness teacher. So how can we apply mindfulness to software?
Firstly, I have learnt that mindfulness isn’t about being calm in all circumstances, or happy more than normal, or remembering where you put down your phone. Mindfulness is bringing an embodied, wise, kind awareness to whatever is in your world. If you are feeling pre-occupied and you can’t figure out why, acknowledging that is mindfulness. If you are feeling grounded and strong, then mindfulness is feeling how the texture of that shifts and changes.
That’s why mindfulness is important for writing software – you become aware when you are hammering out code because you’re angry with the world and you are not going to let the computer win, and you are aware when you are working steadily to ensure that you have unit tests that give you good enough code coverage. And just being aware is enough, you’ll then do what is appropriate when the time arises and, as best you can, put judgements aside.
This level of wise awareness also helps inclusivity – you notice when there are barriers that make it difficult to speak up and when you are freer to be yourself, you notice your instinctive judgements of other people, and you are more open to seeing other possibilities.
Inclusivity is important for the quality of the teams’ work. If I can’t bring myself fully enough into the room, I don’t speak up. I remember a meeting with a commercial company about re-writing some research code – I could clearly see a good solution, but I didn’t share my ideas because I didn’t believe I could see a possibility that the others in the room - all white men - couldn’t. I lost out on following my idea and so did the research group, not explicitly because of the behaviour of my colleagues, but because of the expectations set by society.
The route back from sustainable software practices to mindfulness and inclusivity seems less easy to articulate. Sustainable software practices are about taking a longer view, being transparent, building community, making a positive contribution. Bringing these values to our everyday work helps us to be more mindful as they create positive mind-states that support us to be aware. It follows the Buddhist path of ethical actions supporting meditation. It means that mindfulness is not boxed off into 2 x 15-minute meditation slots a day at best, but becomes a practice that we take into our everyday lives and activities.
The influence of sustainable software practices on inclusivity can be seen in the full acknowledgement of all contributors to a project and provides clear evidence that allow us all to stand up and say ‘I did that, this is my expertise, I’m here to partner with you as an equal and my voice matters because this project will benefit if I’m fully part of this team’. Rather than inclusivity at work being an irritating diversion from working towards our research aims, sustainable software practices can support inclusivity to be a key part of us reaching our shared goals.