Posts Tagged ‘geek life’
I hate being interrupted by phone calls, and I’m annoyed by people who expect quick replies on instant messaging or SMS. Harald Welte expresses it so much more succinctly than I ever could:
It is simply impossible to get any productive work done if there are synchronous interruptions. If I’m doing any even remotely complex task such as analyzing code, designing electronics or whatever else, then the interruption of the flow of thoughts, and the context switch to whatever the phone call might be about is costing me an insurmountable amount of my productive efficiency. I doubt that I am the only one having that feeling / experience.
So why on earth does everybody think they are entitled to interrupt my work at any given point in time they desire? Why do they think whatever issue they have rectifies an immediate interruption in what I am doing? To me, an unscheduled phone call almost always feels like an insult. It is a severe intrusion into my work-flow, and has a very high cost to me in terms of loss of productivity.
This fall marks my three year anniversary as a (ahem) full-time productive member of society. I’ve worked from home for the last three years, with three different managers. There are some useful life lessons I’ve learned during that time, in general and about myself in particular:
It took the full first year and a major blow to my self-esteem for me to figure this first one out. I fucking hate, hate, hate micromanagement. I’m a pretty independent person, and this kind of submission – for lack of a better word – just isn’t for me. Micromanagement makes me feel pressured, and makes me feel guilty when I am not accountable for what I am doing every single minute of the work day. It depresses and utterly annoys me. It doesn’t work, either. I was the most productive – and my job was most satisfying – when I given a rough idea of our long-term goals, a carte blanche on how to spend my time (with occasional feedback, of course) and a role in the discussion about our agenda. A manager should be there to make sure I can do my job and represent their team to the rest of the company, not expect me to be at their every beck and call.
I do needs me some me time, but I’m not as solitary as I always thought I was. If I continue working remotely, it will either have to be as a nomad or with at least one or two days a week in an office with other human beings, even if that means having to put on a shirt in the morning.
If I don’t enjoy my job, that will kill my motivation and productivity. I have to care about what I’m creating, and understand why it is useful.
When I was unhappy in my first position and struggling to stay motivated, I pretty much accepted that as a given, since I did not know any better. It was a relief to discover that wasn’t necessary. Never again.
I’m easily bored. Really easily. Give me some hard problems, please.
Work isn’t everything. I’m sure I’m hardly the first person to experience this in their first job, but I’m really good at totally immersing myself in something and just forgetting about the rest of the world and its annoying distractions (social life, dating, hobbies). Another teleworker warned me before I started working from home that boundaries are important. It took me almost three years (stubborn? me? what?), but I have found out the hard way that he was right.
I was really pleased when I got the offer for my current job offer three years ago, but in hindsight I was also meek and somewhat naive. There are plenty of interesting job openings out there, and ample opportunity to be hired.
Excellent interview with Eben Moglen about the problems of centralization on the internet – probably the best explanation I’ve seen – and various other topics, including WikiLeaks and copyright reform.
Michael, we don’t have a lot of time on this earth! We weren’t meant to spend it this way. Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about about mission statements.
– Peter Gibbons in Office Space
Don’t worry, dear reader. I haven’t been inspired by a crappy action movie (and I’m referring to Superman 4 here, not Office Space) to pull some sort of stunt on my employer.
I also don’t actually have a cubicle. My boss is still singular (if only).
But my work is starting to feel like an actual stereotypical cubicle job. It has all become boring routine. I’d rather work on something ambitious that reaches for the sky and tries to change the world, not boring middle-ware. If I was okay with working on something mediocre and non-challenging, I would settle for a stable 9-to-5 job at a local insurance company, where I have coworkers I can actually touch and hang around the water cooler with.
There it is. Time to call it quits. For more than half a dozen years we did everything we could to make our product a success, to get it some momentum. I sunk tens of thousands of hours into it, and my coworkers did the same.
It was slowly becoming obvious what was happening, demise is a gradual process. It has been frustrating to see one of the competing products thrive and eventually overshadow ours (and others). For a while, we had the hope that we would catch up, that something would turn the tide, but it’s as if the moon can no longer be bothered.
It’s not like we haven’t accomplish anything. We have thousands of happy users, and most of them will probably stay around for awhile yet. But the adoption hasn’t been what we were hoping for. I’m sad about it, and obviously disappointed. But it’s not the end of the world.
We experimented. Sometimes with success, sometimes not. We made mistakes. Some mattered, others did not. I learned heaps. We had a lot of fun. It was a true privilege to work with some amazing people. And hey, at least we tried.
It sounds dramatical, but it’s the end of an era. Time to relax, find new adventures and see if it is possible to make a dent elsewhere.
The technology world is a weird place. Popular technology in a particular (large enough) market can come and go at an amazing pace. What was new, exciting and a possible contender for world domination half a decade ago can look ill-designed, irrelevant and legacy by now. Most things will simmer for a while after they’ve had their peak, but they won’t pick up many new adopters. Software releases go stale almost as quickly as yesterday’s lunch.
Creating a successful product is about so much more than having well-designed technology. Even the free software world is not a meritocracy, though it’s probably closer than the proprietary software world. Perception matters. Timing matters.
I started out in the technology world thinking that I could make the most impact by just writing a lot of great code. Now, having seen the evolution of various free software projects over the last 15 years it all seems very temporary. Like a time lapse, I have seen code being written and then gradually replaced until there is nothing left of the original, effectively replaced by something else entirely. And there is so much more that matters than just the code.
It’s not like we’re only making the same mistakes all over again and again. The world’s overall knowledge is moving ahead bit by bit. Each piece of software is just a another progression, another dent. But it seems now there are so much more ways to be a part of that process than just writing perfect code.
Today I feel a slightly more like a scientist and slightly less like an engineer than I did yesterday.
Hopefully this is the last year we’ll hear that nonsense about the Mayan calendar. Not that it matters, I’m sure there are plenty of other apocalypses coming our way.
In good tradition I spent this New Year’s Eve at the the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin with some friends. Nothing like good company and a geek recharge. Unlike the last couple of years, I took it easy on the alcohol (or perhaps it was the mild weather?) and seem to have missed out on the conference flu this year. It is kind of nice to not spend the first few days of the new year in bed.
The concept of good intentions for the new year is fundamentally flawed – and I hate it. But I have some good intentions for 2012 anyway. Read all day seems like a pretty good idea. I don’t even manage to finish a single book per month these days (down from a couple per week 5 years ago), so I’m going to try to carry a book with me when I can and see if I can use some spare time for reading. Oh, and perhaps finally getting that amateur radio license.