Lessons learned in 30 years of programming
I finished with the stories on the most negative people in my thirty years of programming.
Greg the secretive:
Jon the incompetent:
Gary the not invented here:
Roger the refactorer:
I'm sorry if I slighted any of the other people who have made my life interesting. Guys like Alan the burned out, Mike the architecture astronaut, and Carl the asperger's. Of course there has been a collection of others. Guys that are slackers. Guys who talk loudly on speaker phone with the door open. Guys who are so pussy whipped that they have to talk to their wife once an hour.
Another challenging group includes those who are getting a divorce or should be. I feel deeply for those poor wretches. I just can't take the strain of working with them day after day.
You all are probably thinking that I'm a terribly negative guy after these stories. Well, the odd balls are more fun to talk about. But the fact is, with a few small exceptions, I've worked with wonderful people. A couple of the guys were of the type that would make you ask, "How the heck did they know how to do THAT?" Kevin, John, and Jerel (God rest his soul). Those guys were a thrill to work with. Some have said that I'm like that--that they can't see how I do it. But I know just how hard I've struggled with so many concepts. Some guys have more common sense than I can imagine. Reed is on top of that list.
Now on to a brief summary of some tenants that I've learned and live by.
1. It pays to share everything you know. I want to work on new things. I want to learn. If you are secretive, you are pigeon holed. Plus you will have fewer friends and the boss will try to find a way to get rid of you. If you know your stuff and work hard you will have no employment issues. You can get a new job in any economy.
2. Give people credit, even if they don't deserve it. They will become more loyal than you can imagine. If you have confidence in yourself, it doesn't matter who gets accolades for your work and your team's work.
3. Don't play any blame games. It doesn't matter who put the bug in. Again, your co-workers will be more loyal to you if you soft-pedal problems they introduce. I often apologize for bugs found, and gently argue with people that it was indeed my fault, when we both know it wasn't.
4. When the code is good enough, stop working on it. There are so many things more deserving of your attention.
5. Work hard. Don't screw around on the company's time. The hours will go by so much faster and be so much more fun.
6. Lighten up. It isn't life or death.
7. Take time for yourself and your family. Don't take home a laptop. Don't get on to the work network from home.
8. Keep studying. It is fun to keep your skills sharp.
9. Keep regular hours. People don't need to be able to set their watches by you, but should be able to predict accurately when you will arrive and when you will leave. you will be much happier if you do this.
10. Don't fool with fools who'll turn away. Keep all good company.
June 26th, 2009 10:12pm
June 26th, 2009 10:20pm
That's excellent advice.
"Another challenging group includes those who are getting a divorce or should be. I feel deeply for those poor wretches. I just can't take the strain of working with them day after day. "
I couldn't agree more. Divorcees and people with sick parents or sick kids.
>> "sick parents or sick kids"
Unfortunately that group includes 100% of us eventually. My father passed away last December, and I doubt my mother will make it through the year. I just lost my mother in law two weeks ago.
But I don't think I've let it affect my work much, and I certainly don't talk about it to anyone at work.
June 26th, 2009 10:27pm
fantastic posts, I am really enjoy reading them.
"Work hard. Don't screw around on the company's time. The hours will go by so much faster and be so much more fun. "
I love that, so true and yet so hard to do.
June 26th, 2009 10:50pm
heh, i am totally a fan boy of fan boy.
good stuff, you've been around much longer than i and have some good, informative, and thought provoking stories to tell.
i hope you make your millions and can get the fuck out of dodge. (but not before me :)
June 26th, 2009 11:14pm
I'll never be a millionaire. My father owned his own business, an automotive service station. I grew up there, working after school starting with first grade. I saw what it takes to own your own business, and I'm not interested.
I enjoy working for others, having regular hours, weekends off, paid vacation, benefits, 401K, etc. I'm very happy with what I have. It is a total change from how I grew up. A fun Fan boy quote, "I remember our family vacation. It was really fun!" That's right, one. We had one vacation to Disneyland when I was out of sixth grade. With my kids, we've been to Disney World twice, Mexico, Bahamas, ..., and the annual vacation to Lake Powell.
Thanks for the nice comments.
June 26th, 2009 11:24pm
Fan boy, thanks for the added contextual detail. It really explains a lot. You and I are almost exactly the same age, if you count the end of college as the start of your career.
I have the opposite early and mid life viewpoint from yours. I grew up in a factory-worker middle class GM household that valued conservative suckling of the corporate teat. Due to several sequential missteps and outright early career failures (fuckups, really) on my part, I dropped from the "honor student" track to the "commodity grunt" track early in my career and I have been running in place ever since. And for over a decade I have lived in an area so bad for jobs that programmers here consider Craigslist actually worth looking at for new positions. So I am as interested in being in business as you are in being distanced from it - there are no good jobs locally.
It's just funny how different our circumstances can be even though nominally we're in the same industry and work on the same stuff.
Your stories corroborate something I long suspected. The personalities in the programming industry have become progressively blander and trending toward a more normal mean.
There just aren't that many weirdos, colorful rebels, troublemakers, and creative misfits around any more in programming. Today you hardly have to do ANYTHING in terms of creative energy compared to 20 years ago except wire stuff together, but there is a hair trigger intolerance for personal differences today on the job that I never saw in the 80s.
That's another reason I like working for myself - the W2 culture today is toxic and feminized with cattiness and backstabbing. You can't be yourself OTJ.
June 27th, 2009 12:03am
I knew kids who's fathers had businesses. They took lots of vacations and their fathers could ALWAYS attend events. When young my father worked for a large Fortune 500 and was a slave to the machine. Luckily his last 15 years of employment were with the US government which made him much more happy.
So my experience has been running your own show has a huge up side. If that doesn't workout then it is probably best to go to work for the federal government and have time for your family and fun stuff. Lord knows 99.9999% of the time working for someone else sucks.
That's just my $0.02. Your mileage may vary.
June 27th, 2009 12:22am
BB, once again I am blown away by your writing. There is enough there to write a book or two on.
>>"The personalities in the programming industry have become progressively blander and trending toward a more normal mean".
This is so true. I've always taken some pride in being a little bit of an oddball myself. I walk around the office barefoot. I've strived to be a bit of a non-conformist. I've been a contrarian just to get people to think a little. Lately I feel weird if I leave my cubicle without my shoes on.
>> "There just aren't that many weirdos, colorful rebels, troublemakers, and creative misfits around any more in programming."
The real strange guys aren't being hired. I'm not sure this is all bad, however.
>> "Today you hardly have to do ANYTHING in terms of creative energy compared to 20 years ago except wire stuff together, ..."
I've got to quote my mother on this one. "The good old days are gone. The farther the better!"
>> "but there is a hair trigger intolerance for personal differences today on the job that I never saw in the 80s."
That one I've got to think about. I think you are very right. I'm wondering about the pluses and minuses. Should we have to put up with disruptive people? No. Are we missing out on some fun, and missing out on some interesting creativity? Sure. What is more important? Can we have all the pluses without the minuses? Who would you hire, Mr. Oddball or Mr. Tie Guy? There is one guy that my company hired about 9 months ago (3 months before me) who is definitely a throwback to the maverick 80's. My boss hates him, and lets it show. I think he is wonderful to have around because he makes me think hard.
>> "W2 culture..."
I'm not familiar with that term. More fun research to do!
If I couldn't find a job I probably would start my own business. But I think I could have fun as a Walmart greeter.
June 27th, 2009 12:44am
Interesting note. A second ago I googled "W2 Culture" with the quotes. The third thing on the list is this thread!
Google is watching us all!
June 27th, 2009 12:49am
Duh. That was stupid of me. "W2 culture" of course is referring to "W2 forms" used in USA for income tax declarations. You are obviously talking about the typical business world.
I guess I've been lucky. I haven't worked in an environment with much of the toxic catty backstabbing that you obviously have, but I've seen some in other companies. I think eastern US has more of that than the west. In 1987 I spent 6 months in Hartford Connecticut working with Pratt and Whitney. I saw plenty of backstabbing there. Worst 6 months of my life.
June 27th, 2009 12:56am
Fanboy - truly, back at cha. You've posted very memorable stuff that rings true.
About the workplace culture stuff - what I've described above is the net result of three forces at work.
1) PC culture in society in general, along with a tightened noose of workplace standards. IE, flirting OTJ used to be a fun and inconsequential workplace activity, and common sense limits prevailed; and today it will get you fired and possibly sued.
2) The "scientification" of HR and the desire to stringently classify and herd all employees. You have to personally hit a bunch of sweet spots, simultaneously.
3) Fascist leanings in management culture - management today is VERY concerned with how you THINK and your personal opinions - it did not used to be a big deal.
Most of the creativity exerted in SW development in the 1970s-early 90s was McGyveresque. Management wanted X, nothing existed, so nothing to do but invent stuff. I think that level of challenge excited and attracted freaky and creative people.
There is much more extraordinary stuff going on today, but the wonder of *achievement* is almost completely gone. Nothing today is as "big" a deal as the chickenshit machinations we went through the 80s (say) to get around issues like addressable memory boundaries.
With almost unlimited memory (practically speaking) and modern lanaguages, you don't have to break much of a sweat to implement very sophisticated things today. Today it's boring, mundane plumbing.
I think of IT today compared to the 80s as being like how modern work culture today is compared to the stuff in the movie "Anchorman". I think the differences in style and attitude are just that distinct.
We didn't know much back then, and we did a lot with very little. And our "retro" selves from the 80s would come off today as barely literate in the ways of "real" IT and completely unemployable.
June 27th, 2009 1:10am
nice, couldn't sum it up better after sitting on my ass staring at the monitor for 25y
June 27th, 2009 1:17am
Much appreciated postings, Fan Boy.
BTW it's tenets, not tenants :-)
It bothers me that I do not know where my fater and mother live (they are divorced). I know that both must be in bad health by now.
The only family member that I ever knew enough to like was my grandmother from fathers' side, and a nephew. The nephew drowned himself, and my father never bothered to tell me my grandma was ill and died shortly after. I was not invited to her funeral because he "thought you didn't care" - even though I had visited her half a year before on my own account.
June 27th, 2009 5:11am
Well done, Fanboy.
It's threads like this that keep me hanging around this place.
June 27th, 2009 7:57am
I'm sorry you missed out on so much of your family, Dr. H. And thanks for the "tenets" correction. (I knew that, but typo'ed it).
While I complain that My family had the one vacation and I worked from first grade on, there were many benefits. I spent more time with my father than anyone I know. My mother would always bring dinner to the shop, so after a fashion we ate dinner as a family (minus my sisters). It was a family dinner with customers standing around watching us eat.
On the other hand, I spent 14 years traveling for business as my kids were growing up. I wish I had those years to re-do a better way.
June 27th, 2009 9:38am
Interesting about the cutthroat backstabbing.
I have not seen much of that. I learned to recognize it in my early career in software sales. Since I got to visit so many developer and IT shops, I talked to so many technical people for 6 years--I guess I got to learn the various cultures well enough to have some kind of radar.
Knock on wood: I've managed to avoid extreme work environments.
They wouldn't have me, anyway. I'm just not the kind of person you hire at a large corporation. If I can't see the person who decides my daily life, I'm not going to work there.
"Soon I grew and happy, too, my very good friends and me."
I can deal with my colleagues; upper mgmt is the scourage. Between benign neglect and ignorant interferance, I find it intolerable.
June 27th, 2009 2:13pm
>> If I can't see the person who decides my daily life, I'm not going to work there. <<
You wouldn't work out at my current office, then. My manager is in St. Louis, my other team members are in Texas and Minnesota. I've only met my manager once. Never met the others in person.
Luckily they do have internal IM and we can do screen-shares, plus the nature of the work lets us work pretty independently.
June 27th, 2009 8:22pm