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


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In my experience, someone who needs to work their staff 70 hours a week is a bad manager.

Probably never heard of contingency, planning, resourcing, staff turnover, empathy or respect.



-- John Smith, November 7, 2000

I am glad to see the issue of overwork being brought out. While I agree that having a good work environment that caters to programmers is good for everyone, the motive to use programmers as a means to extract extra profits is dubious. As I mentioned before, a salary means you are paid for 2000 hours a year more or less, not 4000 hours. Independent contractors know this and bill for every hour, but salaried employees who put in 70 hour weeks to build a commercial website are just fooling themselves. I worked in the aerospace industry on critical projects during the Cold War in 70s and 80s and we rarely put in more than 50 hours/week except in emergencies and that was a lot more worthwhile than a Sales Intranet site. Philip said that the goal is to produce more Richard Stallman's etc which is admirable. I have noticed that most of these huge contributers to CS had day jobs which did not demand more than 40 hours so that they could spend their spare time working on concepts and software (mostly at universities where they also had free access to computing resources). Like many engineers I probably spend 70 hours a week at least on my profession and have invested in significant computer systems, however only 40-50 hours are directly related to my job. The other hours are spend playing, exploring, reading, coding etc as I see fit. This is where I learn new things and explore new ideas that I can put to use in the future. As an example of the foolishness of working long hours without compensation, friends of mine worked at a dot.com which seemed very solid and repeatedly put in long weeks and weekends etc to meet arbitrary deadlines and were encouraged much as Philip suggested. The investors then decided to change direction and most of the staff were laid off without warning. The management of course managed to retain their jobs and snag huge bonuses

-- James Ross, November 7, 2000
Web site development doesn't require quality because it produces disposable software. Web applications written today will be trashed next year. This article is consistent with achieving rapid deployment of temporary (i.e. no need to worry about maintenance) software.

I have never met a software wizard ('productive programmer' in the article's terms) who could produce quality, long lasting software. Thats why it doesn't matter that the web world is dominated by productive programmers. Not for now, anyway.

The best software I have encountered has been produced by dedicated people who go home at 5:30 and start work the next day revitalised.

I have worked in Cambridge MA alongside ex MIT 80 hour weekers and I have worked in Europe alongside 40 hour weekers. The productivity was about the same.

I would like to hear from organisations that develop software products with a lifespan of more than two years. Is the programmer the important element? I think not. They are just the factory floor workers adding in their valuable piece. The team makes a quality product. Designers design, analysts analyse, managers manage and sales and marketing people make it successful.

-- Neil Burnett, November 7, 2000


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