Software engineers from different cultures write the same code, often in exactly the same way, because code requires it, or nothing works. But, as soon as you make two software engineers try to collaborate on the same code base, or have one contribute code to the other for review, then the cultural differences can be very significant in determining the productivity of the team. To collaborate on the same code base you have to communicate about how you intend to do that, about what’s happening while you’re coding, what happened after, and what you should do next.
English is a very subtle and complex language. You might think your English competency is sufficient because everybody you’ve been speaking English with in, say, Estonia, speaks English like an Estonian. And while you might be able to order a beer and a burger at a Mountain View restaurant successfully, that is much easier and more straightforward than interacting as one developer in a team of five in a Mountain View startup.
And cultural differences determine not just what we say, but how we say it, how frequently, for how long, at what times of day, about how subtly or how directly we criticise or praise the work of others or the shared project assigned to us.
They may determine whether we’re more likely to blame ourselves, our team mates or our superiors when something goes wrong. They may also determine whether we’re likely to hide bad news and try to fix a problem before it comes to anybody else’s attention, or whether we think it’s appropriate to tell everyone when we see someone else hiding bad news.
It may even determine whether we take a siesta in the afternoon!
Marketing communication is all about cultural differences. Over the years, as an Australian who works a lot with Americans, I’ve observed that while most Americans have a great fondness for Australian cultural differences, most don’t actually want to adopt them.
I can change my word processor’s dictionary from Australian English to US English so that “specialise” becomes “specialize” and I can write about the July 4th weekend as if I’m there flipping burgers and sipping a Sierra Nevada, but there are still subtle cultural queues that betray my copywriting and art direction as being non-American, and if not as Australian, than being “from one of the Commonwealth nations” — most commonly NZ or the UK.