Sunday, March 26, 2006

Walking on the Wrong Side of the Street

The first time I ever went to Sydney, Australia, I couldn't get in sidewalk sync. It seemed like every time I walked down the sidewalk, I was walking head-long into groups of people. It was almost like I was swimming upstream. Then it dawned on me: these folks are used to driving on the left-hand side of the road, so they tend to walk on the left-hand side of the sidewalk too. Suddenly, it made sense, and my sidewalking skills improved overnight.

The same thing occurred to me this morning while I was walking from my hotel to the offices in ThoughtWorks India, and I noticed that everyone here (also being a former British colony) walks and drives on the left-hand side. Which side you tend towards when walking is one of those intrinsic, automatic things that you don't even realize is part of your cultural literacy until you go somewhere where it's the opposite.

The same kind of automatic response happens when developing software. I span the Java and .NET worlds, and I think it's interesting to see the kinds of cultural ticks that programmers from specific platforms develop. For example, in the Java world, you build frameworks for everything. In the .NET world, you organize things around the limitations of namespaces and solution files in Visual Studio, because it's the only real choice when it comes to IDEs. I have an advantage because I live part time in both worlds, so I try to spot cultural eccentricities whenever I sense myself walking on the wrong side of the street. Some things make sense in both cultures (like unit testing), while others are little more than arbitrary cultural baggage.

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