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Gerald M. “Jerry” Weinberg, author, teacher, and consultant, passed away August 7, 2018, at the age of 84. The news of his death was announced by Sue Petersen on Facebook, where she mentioned that he had been in poor health, but his death wasn’t expected. Jerry Weinberg was married to Dani Weinberg.
Weinberg started his career at IBM in 1956 as an applied science representative. Later he became the manager of operating systems development for Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program in the USA. In 1975 Jerry and Dani Weinberg started their own consulting company, Weinberg & Weinberg.
In 1974 Jerry and Dani Weinberg designed and conducted the Technical Leadership workshop which later evolved into the Problem Solving Leadership (PSL) workshop that aimed to teach leaders the ability to think and act creatively. Jerry Weinberg worked with many respected consultants and trainers over the years to teach PSL; most recently he collaborated with Esther Derby and Johanna Rothman. With declining health, in 2017 Weinberg and Derby asked Don Gray to step in so PSL could continue.
In the mid-1980’s the Weinbergs began attending family therapist Virginia Satir’s month-long workshops, which Jerry continued to do annually until Satir’s death in 1988. Much of Jerry Weinberg’s subsequent work incorporated Satir’s teachings, in particular the week-long Congruent Leadership Change Shop workshop which the Weinbergs co-designed and facilitated with Jean McClendon for PSL graduates.
In 2000 the first Amplify Your Effectiveness (AYE) conference was held. This conference consisted of experiential workshops focused on developing interpersonal skills, and explicitly and proudly banned Powerpoint slides. The last time the conference was held was in 2012.
By his own count, Weinberg published about 100 books. His best-selling books are The Psychology of Computer Programming, An Introduction to General Systems Thinking, Becoming a Technical Leader, and The Secrets of Consulting. Most books written by Weinberg that are still in print can be found on the Leanpub author page of Gerald M. Weinberg.
The book The Gift of Time, edited by Fiona Charles and published in 2008, is a collection of essays from consultants and managers from diverse fields to celebrate the 75th birthday of Jerry Weinberg. Fiona Charles says:
When I conceived The Gift of Time as a tribute for Jerry’s 75th birthday, I wanted to make a significant and useful contribution to the field where he had given so much. From amongst his friends, I invited published authors whose work encompassed themes and concepts representing the range of Jerry’s work to write an essay on a subject of their choice, with each to include at least an introduction describing how Jerry and his work had influenced the author’s work. Two further contributions were a biographical piece by Robert Glass and a wonderful essay on living and working with Jerry by Dani Weinberg, his life partner.
Jerry’s reaction to the finished book was all that I and the other contributors could wish. He told me that of the many awards in his long career, The Gift of Time was the “award” that meant most to him. What touched him most deeply was how it showed his career as a truly integrated body of thought and practice.
When researching the factors that influence the mood of teams in 2014, InfoQ invited Weinberg to share his thoughts on the influence of individual moods on team working and asked him if it’s ethically right to influence the mood of individuals:
It doesn’t matter whether it’s ethically right because any coach will influence the mood of a team, whether that coach is trying to influence mood or not. On the other hand, any coach’s overt attempts to influence mood tend to have no effect, or even backfire and depress the team. “We don’t need that rah-rah stuff.”.
In 2015 InfoQ interviewed Weinberg on his recent book Agile Impressions and asked him about the highlights and lowlights that the software industry has developed over the years:
- some really great people, like Grace Hopper and Harlan Mills, and hundreds whose names are not so well-known
- the accessibility of inexpensive, easy to use computing power to almost everyone
- the growth of interest in quality, at least by many professionals
- the availability of tools and processes to guide and aid our pursuit of quality
- the misuse of inexpensive computing power to convince people that lower quality software is “just the way computers are”
- the proliferation of hundreds or thousands of programming “languages” that really add nothing worthwhile to our industry
- the faddish pursuit of “magic bullets”
Don Gray, organizational change consultant and business partner of Weinberg, shared with InfoQ what it was like to work with him:
Over the years there were hundreds of little bumps, nudges and corrections. His impact on my career and life are immeasurable. The accumulation of a thousand small interactions. I was lucky to meet him, and fortunate to stay around.
Sue Petersen told InfoQ what made Jerry Weinberg so unique in her experience:
When he was listening to you, he was totally PRESENT. You had his attention, fully engaged and listening and noticing in a way few people are.
I’m not sure if even he ever understood where this talent came from, but he had an absolute genius for noticing “the elephant in the room.” He would ask the one simple question that I’d never considered; he would point out a blind spot in my thinking that changed EVERYTHING.
Jerry never thought that he had THE TRUTH, he never thought that he knew what you should do, or how you should do it. As the student in a Mentor/Mentee relationship, there was an INCREDIBLE freedom in that. I could consider his advice then use it as I wished, I could be ’Me’ without disappointing him.
Danny Faught asked him about this point, during a private email conversation between Faught, Petersen, and Weinberg. This is what he said:
Faught: Jerry, surely you had some sort of feelings about whether someone takes your advice or not?
Weinberg: I keep examining myself, but find nothing strong. Mostly, if they don’t follow, I ask myself why I haven’t done what I set out to do. But in the end, I don’t know what’s right for other people. They have to decide for themselves. As Virginia used to say, taste everything (all advice) but only swallow what tastes right for you.
Generally, the most powerful learning occurs when someone produces a better solution than you had imagined. If your ego cannot deal with “better” or even “different” solutions to problems you pose, you have no business being in a leadership position in software engineering. Or maybe anywhere.