Your Emotional API: How Being A Better Human Makes You A Better Developer

Short Form
Scheduled: Thursday, June 22, 2017 from 1:30 – 2:15pm


Feelings are messy and uncomfortable, so why can't you just ignore them? Because research shows that emotional regulation skills have a significant impact on your job performance. In this talk you’ll learn how emotions are affecting your work by modeling them as an API and looking at their code.


Imagine that your brain is wired to an API, and that one of the endpoints triggers you to be absolutely furious when it’s called. Also, it’s a public endpoint, so you have no control over which people and situations can call it. Every time that endpoint is hit, you have a choice about whether get angry, but it’s hard to exercise that choice without developing your emotional skills.

This is the metaphor that I use to describe how feelings work. I go over both new and old research which describes how improperly handling your emotions can have significant impacts on the very abstract thinking skills we rely on as developers.

I break down a number of techniques that you can use develop emotional fluency, and I illustrate a number of those techniques by describing my own emotional challenges as if they were written in code. Then I describe how I used those skills to “refactor” that code.

In addition to improving your reasoning, memory and self-control, you gain empathy and the ability to help others with their emotions. You become a better team member, a better boss. You get better at being human.


teamwork, career, communication

Speaking experience

I've given this talk at Boston.rb (1/17) and at Abstractions (8/2016). Slides are here:

I've also given a ‘Lightning’ version of talk at RailsConf (5/2016), video here:


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    I’m John Sawers, the co-founder and CTO of Data Simply and I’ve been programming professionally for two decades. In recent years I have also been supervising emotional release workshops called “Purpose, Passion, Peace”, based on the work of Alfred Adler. These workshops were designed to create a safe space for people to finally face feelings they’ve been avoiding for most of their lives.