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


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It's amazing so many people criticizing the 70 or 80 work week.

You will probably work for 10 or 20 hrs doing something that is very very boring to you, as a programmer it might be : debugging a script you didn't write, sitting at a weekly meeting , answering email , or anything else you may find annoying .

And the way I see it , the other +50 +80 hrs has to be spent doing something that REALLY REALLY appeals to YOU , if it doesn't, the 70-80 hour work weeks will seem like a living hell.

In company or corporation terms, it doesn't matter how good the culture or spiel is, it may offer you whatever benefits,money,work environment,growth, or even the CHAIRS THEY USE ! in the end if your in it for the: I am working at X company and WE are developing blah,blah,stock options...

Notice the WE, I think there is a special distinction in the WE..... The extremly common BANDWAGON TEAM WORK environment: WE are working in a gizillion dollar project, WE are developing a HOT new java API.

The difference is that the company really doesn't gives a rat's a** in the end, they want you to get the work done!. If YOU REALLY dont like it, you will not only stick out the typical 10-20 hrs doing the annoying work,your whole 70-80 hours will be the same, your 30 minutes of glory will be when you brag to non-coworkers the HOT new API or stock-option's.

The people who are working the 70-80 hr weeks probably do believe in their job, the "team work (smart people attract smart people)" and "work environment (beach houses, ski houses ) " are all major benefits. But in the end , they must posses a "self-interest" in what they are doing. When the dust settles and you see the 90 grueling hours, wise-a** managers, no 5 week vacations , where will you be left ?. I wonder how much time the REAL employees spend at the ski-houses, beach-houses or whatever fun place. I wouldn't doubt if these things had a sign saying: "FOR EXCLUSIVE USE OF POTENTIAL HIRES"

My brief experience.

I read this spiel , excellent, "Home Study Program" , $10,000 signing bonus!! thats for me I said.
My friends: your crazy!, 2 months working for free ! . my naivite on the $10,000 bonus blinded me at the moment, but I knew it would be worth it.... so 2 months passed, and I turned in the problem sets:

Answer : We have a hold on hiring at the moment, please check back in October.
My sub-conscious: I knew it , my friends where right !!.
But wait, its a great system. My self-interest or possibly "naivite" pushed me to do more, lets learn Oracle from the ground up lets go for Oracle Certification, lets do something radical (may be even stupid) with AOLServer an AOLServer Driver with JDBC , for sure the Arsdigita guys will like this, BUT lets keep a backup project just in case , you never know!.

Sure enough this October came, with all the hard work I thought I was a shoo-in:
Answer : mmmmmmmmhhhhhhhhh,we are looking for project managers and QA engineers at this moment.

Great, just great, 6 months down the pipe, right ? WRONG!

From the beginning I (sort of!) acknowledged that if it didn't turn out , what I was learning would pay off.

Am I mad because Arsdigita gave me the cold shoulder ?

I am greatful with Arsdigita for offering such a system for FREE, for the cold-shoulder ? , its what I could have expected from any company be it Sun,Sapient or whatever other company out there.....
Remember that a companies work is to TAP (exploit!) its workforce knowledge,they know some guy is possibly worth $150,000 a year , and another $250,000 a year, they MANAGE THE PROGRAMMERS so they will be worth $600,000.

They reap the benfits two ways : From the $600,000, they pay the employees a little less than their worth say $80,000 (vs. the $150,000 ) and $120,000 (vs. the $250,000), and MANAGE the chemistry (a.k.a. "added value"), total net gain for the company: $230,000 (yes, the $200,000 not accounted for goes to the MANAGER and $100,000 for your Insurance,Skihouses,and pinball machines).

Is there a problem ? Absolutly not, as a matter of fact its perfect , everyone is happy !.

Just as a final remark, when you do your job try to focus "inwards" on your SKILLS. Uncertainty is the only certainty ! , and your skills are probably the only CONSTANT you have.

As someone mentioned in a previous post, "independant consultants know what they are worth, they charge by the hour"....but until the time comes when everyone of us knows "what they are worth", companies will still be TAPPING (exploiting!) away and MANAGING PROGRAMMERS.

-- Daniel Rubio, November 18, 2000


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