Monday, September 20, 2021

Culture and Knowledge Sharing

 When I worked on a Federal project I experience international culture more extensively than ever before.  The two cultures were Indian and Chinese.  The Chinese developer I worked with was annoyed with the Indian tendency to not share knowledge liberally.  At first I didn't grok what he was observing.  But ever since it stuck in my head and I have tried to observe the differences he maintained.

What I think might be going on is that when you work with someone from your own background, your mind can pick up a hundred clues in behavior that tells you the person is worthy of your sharing knowledge, and here I am not talking about data security, which is another issue altogether (although there might be some implications involved).  For instance, whether the other person is capable of understanding at the level of technological discussion at hand.  And this isn't always hierarchical, either, but can be more of a "brand" type of jargon (Microsoft vs. Linux terminology, often deliberately obfuscated for branding reasons of the former, although nowadays maybe best put Amazon vs. Google vs Apple).  Non-programmers maybe aren't as stingy with their words, but us programmers like to economize and not have to talk when we don't need to.

What these leads up to is, yes, there are differences in working across cultural backgrounds.

I worry that when working remotely, the differences can be exacerbated.  If you work physically proximate to someone, you can pick up on non-verbal stuff to equalize the differences in language (maybe not, as body language can differ across cultures).  You'd think Indian programmers all speak English and this would not be a barrier, but I've met many Indian programmers who seem incapable of communicating via written word/emailing.  I don't understand why that should differ from native English speaking programmers, but empirically it has proven so.


At what point are the very tools that are created, which DEFINE the problems at hand, the result of a cultural viewpoint?  Take GitHub.  Or perhaps any security protocol, that divvies out permissions in a predefined grouping? Those predefined groups (see, for instance, the default, built-in groupings for any platform).... are those representative of a culture?  

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