Stop Being Comfortable

Until recently, when I moved to Brooklyn, I lived in a small town on the outskirts of the Rust Belt region of the US. Despite having the cognitive bias that all humans have, that makes us think the culture we grow up in is “standard,” I had traveled enough to know something was generally amiss with the attitude of the area. Not necessarily consciously mind you, but I did have that feeling.

After moving to NY however, I've been able to more fully identify what bothered me about the pervasive culture of that area: people were too comfortable. Not materially comfortable, but mentally comfortable.

comfort considered harmful?

Perhaps the anti-quality I'm describing could be better called complacent or ambitionless, but regardless of the technical symantics, I think the word comfortable describes it well. So what is it exactly that I'm describing? The almost subconscious feeling of hopelessness; that there's nothing they can do about noticably subpar conditions. Instead of taking action and working towards making improvements, they decide that either 1) there's nothing they can do about the problem, 2) someone else will fix it for them, 3) the problem will magically fix itself, or 4) they'd rather ignore the problem than go out of their comfort zone to try to fix it.

All of those are fairly major problems, but I'm of course a programmer and not a sociologist, so I only feel qualified to talk about the last one (as it often affects programmers). All too often programmers, including myself, get stuck in a comfort zone. They decide that language X on platform Y is their domain and anything else isn't their problem. They get comfortable with one litle corner of their teams application, decide to become it's "owner," and that they shouldn't stray to other parts of the application.

"Owning" a piece of code isn't the problem, in fact thats generally a very good thing; the problem is the fear it can induce. When you confine yourself to arbitrary bounds for very long, anything on the outside of those bounds suddenly becomes scary. You start becoming afraid to touch anything else. Afraid to write/rewrite something unfamiliar simply because it's outside your comfort zone. Absolutely afraid of traversing the stack. Terrified of breaking stuff.

Confining yourself to working on code/problems/domains that you're comfortable with will overtime cripple you as a programmer. So instead of getting comfortable and settling in, please, find something that looks like black magic and figure out how it works. Find a bug on a different OSI layer. Break stuff! Just whatever you do, don't stay comfortable.