Amazing Abilities

Ned writes about my amazing abilities. One ability actually: leaving work early.

It may not seem like an amazing ability, you probably know some people who do this all the time and it's extremely annoying. But when used correctly, it's really is an ability.

I acquired this ability at Iris. I noticed that when I felt like working, I was crazy productive. Crazy, insane, can't-stop-thinking-about-it, the-code-flows-like-the-Ganges productive.

But then there were times I couldn't make myself think about the code, when looking at screen full of code was as fulfilling as looking at tax forms (yeah, I just did my taxes). My boss at Iris, Wai Ki Yip, understood. When I said I'd be leaving early, he wouldn't flinch. If I wanted to take a whole day off, just because, it was never a problem. Never even an annoyed sigh. But when I did work, holy fuck I was productive.

At another job I wasn't quite so lucky. My manager understood, and so did the VP of engineering. But the rest of management didn't. They were so very concerned with appearances; it's not enough to be productive, you have to look productive. And looking productive meant being at work and sitting at your computer. Once our CEO became very angry because there was a board meeting at the office (i.e. the bankers who own us came to visit), and when it let out around 5:30 or so, most of the engineering staff was gone. Shortly after we were berated in a staff meeting and "core hours" were instituted. It was also let known that the energy the CEO expected of us was missing and he wasn't happy. The message was clear: The beatings would continue until morale improved.

Marketing seemed to be driving a great deal of our direction and dates and presenting external appearances that were very carefully managed, much to the detriment of the team and product. It was as important to look like we were highly productive building the product as it was to be actually productive. But chaining engineers to their desk when they need a break, when they need to get away from a computer and actually be a human being for a little while, is extremely counter productive. Everyone who's studied engineer productivity and work practices knows this. Everyone.

And yet the twits in management still think it's their job to kick our asses and make us work long hours to meet our aggressive deadlines. After all, we're coders, and what do coders do when they sit at a computer? They code. And when they aren't sitting at the computer, they aren't coding. If you want crazy productivity from engineering, make sure they are sitting in front of the computer crazy amounts of time. It's just that simple!

I feel bad for companies that are trying to do a "big push" right now. It's springtime, the sun is warm, flowers are blooming, the air smells sweet, birds are singing, and you are chaining yourself to your desk during it all. Chances are your ability to focus and your productivity will drop dramatically. And you might feel guilty about it, and dutifully try harder and harder to get less and less work done. And once the magic of spring has passed, you'll still feel worn down, unable to concentrate, and most likely, feeling really guilty about it.

I just recently had my own little spring break (spring came early in Charlotte this year). I spent the better part of month not coding. And not even trying to code. Well, occasionally I tried to sit down and actually write something, but the stuff I'm working on right now is very tricky and requires that I'm able to concentrate deeply. And it just wasn't happening, so I took some time off.

But I didn't panic, and it was easy because I had just been through an incredibly productive period. I did get stressed out a little by it (I'll probably never be completely relaxed about it), but I've been doing this long enough now to know that I go through phases and its counter productive to ignore them. Sometimes I'm hyper focused on code, sometimes I'm not. When I'm not, I try to enjoy the things that actually do interest me and exhaust those interests. So during this period I focused on:
-Cooking
-Exercise
-Sex
-Reading
-Writing
-Outdoors
-Sex
-Video Games
-Sex

And code didn't get written during that period. Nothing really productive happened. I didn't despair, but I also wasn't exactly happy about it. I love writing code and I love that I love writing code. I love that I can really blow people away with my talents. I don't want to lose that. Ever. Besides the pure joy I get from my work, it also make me feel special, to feel like I have clear purpose and place in this world. I want to see how good I can be, how far I can take it. But it's a little disturbing to know I'm not really in control of my talents, not I like want to be.

Really though, it's a mistake to say "nothing productive happened" during my break. Something did happen. I fed my will, I fed my desire. And from an external perspective, it wasn't amazing, beautiful or unique. It was quite pedestrian and non-remarkable. It was just as simple as being human.

Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind.
Withering my intuition leaving opportunities behind.
Feed my will to feel this moment urging me to cross the line.
Reaching out to embrace the random.
Reaching out to embrace whatever may come.

I embrace my desire to
I embrace my desire to
feel the rhythm,
to feel connected enough to step aside and weep like a widow
to feel inspired to fathom the power,
to witness the beauty,
to bathe in the fountain,
to swing on the spiral
to swing on the spiral
to swing on the spiral of our divinity and still be a human.

These are song lyrics from one of my favorite artist/philosophers. I'll leave it to the reader to figure out the source.

Note: I edited out some details above to protect the guilty. Sorry.

Posted April 17, 2006 12:01 PM