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Daragh Byrne
Daragh Byrne

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Software development and spirituality - what's the connection?

I have a question for you inspired by one of my favorite (non-dev) podcasts, On Being.

It's about spirituality and whether it plays a role in your life as a developer. Here goes:

What is your spiritual or religious background and how has it changed since your childhood? How does it feed into your life as a dev (if at all?).

It's something I've been thinking about a LOT for, well, years. I've written about it before on my blog, but I've been going deeper into the question this year since I started a two year long training in mindfulness and compassion.

I've had to get very familiar with the original Buddhist teachings on meditation.

Now, I don't consider myself religious, yet it's undeniable Buddhism is practiced as a religion in many parts of the world (I tend to have a more philosophical relationship with a secular, Westernized version of it).

I'm grew up in Catholic Ireland, and went through a process of questioning and rejecting that faith during my teenage years. I studied physics at university and make a living trying to get (largely) deterministic machines to do rational things.

I am, more or less, a rationalist with a materialistic bent. I guess there are a fair few people matching that description in this community?

Nevertheless, I find great value in these teachings on mindfulness and meditation that come from Buddhist traditions. They have undoubtedly improved my life, including my career in programming (so much so that I started this blog).

I've been able to practice them without needing to take on any specific rituals or supernatural beliefs (so far!).

But... even though I like the materialist worldview, there's something interesting and perhaps inexplicable about the fact that there is something rather than nothing. That I appear to exist in a really awe-inspiring world, that I can be conscious of that fact and reflect upon it.

That, dare I say it, I exist in some sort of interdependent relationship with the world I'm embedded it - my volition and action and creativity have an affect on it, and it has an affect on my experience in terms of joy and suffering.

That I'm surrounded by similar conscious minds who might also know joy and suffering. That perhaps I can act in ways that might maximise joy and reduce suffering and create value in the world.

That sometimes it feels like there's something ineffable and just plain old mysterious about being alive...

I think this is the essence of my current idea of spirituality - the nature of my relationship with the universe I find myself in and how I can cultivate that relationship.

It shows up for me as a dev by considering writing code as a creative and moral act. Creating code has some kind of impact on the world around me, given that it's used by others and can hence create joy or suffering. It's a moral act because what it is used for matters. I personally wouldn't choose to write code for weapons systems for example.

So how does this show up for you? Are you aligned with one of the worlds historic spiritual traditions? Or a hardline athiest materialist with humanist principles? Or something in between?

I'm dying to know!

If you're interested in checkout out my writings about meditation for programmers, check out the articles on my blog.

Discussion (4)

krhoyt profile image
Kevin Hoyt

I have been in the field of developer relations for over a decade, and I have leaned heavily on my spirituality - faith - as a Christian to build and model teams. After all, few people groups have spread a message as successfully.

When I started this line of work, people in the field were called "evangelists" and that term strikes pretty close to home in the Protestant traditions. An "evangelist" is someone going out to "spread the good news". It is an outward, mostly one-way, activity. Then I began to think deeper about the choice of terms.

Take for example a "pastor" is somebody who tends to the local congregation. This might be akin to a local meetup. So now we have somebody out there spreading the news (conferences), and somebody tending to the local needs/questions (meetups).

Taking this further, not all ministries are evangelistic in nature. Food banks, building schools in less developed nations, etc. These activities are about serving, which I connect with the role of "advocate" used in developer relations today. And indeed, I feel that organizations that neglect the breadth of these roles/titles actually do the field a disservice.

If all we focus on is the serving, then the marketing team (evangelism) is going to feel neglected - or whatever misalignment of balance you want to infer. Too much evangelism, and you become a corporate shill. And so on ... balance is key.

Depending on how deep you want to take it, I have even found the way Jesus teaches and deals with the apostles to be very informative. For example, rather than give a direct answer, Jesus typically presents parables (stories). This allows the learner (hearer?) to make the mental connections themselves. I can give you an algorithm, or I can help you discover the algorithm.

Jesus even spent time meditating before a big "project". Or you can look at code as an act of creation. There are so many wonderful intersections between spirituality and our lives as developers (and of course simply as human beings). I feel it is a bit taboo to speak of in this manner though, so I really appreciate you bringing it up.

codingmindfully profile image
Daragh Byrne Author

Thanks for sharing - wonderful to hear how your faith has let to positive contributions to your working life, that's a fabulous answer. And yes, it can be a taboo subject. But I find more and more developers who have some kind of larger framework, or at least a curiosity. Spirituality is both so personal and so universal. Interesting to hear your take on pastoral care and the sharing of information in Christian terms - absolutely spot on about how effective the sharing of the word has been!

I'd noted the evangelist terminology myself, I found it quite interesting.

There is so much to be found in the wisdom traditions of the world. I'm very curious about the commonalities and the differences, and applying what I discover to my own life and work.

Thanks again for your thoughtful answer.

sn0n profile image
Rob Foraker

Page not found on the meditation link.

codingmindfully profile image
Daragh Byrne Author

Thank you! Fixed it.