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Managing Software Engineers, by Philip Greenspun (philg@mit.edu)


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I think a lot of the people opining and singing threnody about the victims of the long and difficult work week are ignoring several of Phil's points, specifically: As a full-time developer in a company that has made half-hearted attempts at these things I can tell you that working 60-65 hours a week comes naturally. I enjoy my work, I'm challenged by those I work with (indirectly), and I can see a direct result between my achievments and the success of my company.
The point here is that Phil is not advocating the sweat shop (quite the opposite - see the Japanese code factory reference); he is advocating a work environment not unlike those that existed two centuries ago. Then you played, loved, learned, and taught in the same place where you made your living.
I will go a step further than Phil and prognosticate that the most productive companies of the future will be entire communities (real not virtual). Of course I'm not the first to think this, but the point is worth recognizing.
As an aside, why is it that we don't recognize that sports superstars put in tons of hours every week to reach their success? If we treated our best programmers like superstars, maybe they would start acting like them.

-- Christopher Atkins, November 6, 2000
It seems to me what Phil is presenting is merely a recipe for economic exploitation rather than management of people. In this world there is no true acceptable bargain other than one that leaves both parties winners. What Phil is presenting is a model that maximizes his gain at the cost of all quality of life for the people he is managing. That model cannot be sustainable. Companies that rely on this sort of management must and will eventually collapse in competition with organizations that treat their employees like people rather than units of productive capacity.



-- eric larson, November 6, 2000

The concerns people express about long hours are quite valid, but I do not believe they are necessarily at odds with the intent of the article. The '70-hour week' is quoted in a fairly simple example, I doubt that is really meant to be an indication of the real hours worked at aD. The example was meant to illustrate the effect of management overhead (Brooks' Mythical Man Month.)

Furthermore, there is much to be said for working intensely on a project so long as there is a commensurate 'downtime' (one of the reasons I quite enjoy project work).

Finally, there is a huge distinction to be made between the sickening sense of obligation to stick around at work as disaster looms and management guilt trips you and hanging around work because you are excited and feel like you are doing something useful and productive. If I get rewarded for the work I do and I like doing it I can make sensible decisions about going out with my friends or working. That is way different to unrewarded looming deadlines.

-- Jeremy Nelson, November 6, 2000


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