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The "Flow"

I've been a big fan of Joel's writings for a long time. And up till now I would say that I agreed with everything he wrote. But that changed with my new job.

I work for a very small development shop. Basically, it's three developers and a secretary all sharing the same room. One of the developers is me, and the other is the boss. He divides his time between coding, sales and tech support. (So it can get loud.)

In my previous employment at a far bigger company, I would come in everyday to work and the first thing I'd do is check my personal e-mail, CNN.com, Slashdot, and a few other sites. I'd make a cup of coffee to wake-up, and about 30 mintues later start working. Sometimes, it would take an hour or even two to get going.

Here at my new place my screen can be seen by all. And I work in the same room (not cubicle area, but *room*) as my boss.  Oh, and our room has no windows.

Joel says, "When I had a summer internship at Microsoft, a fellow intern told me he was actually only going into work from 12 to 5 every day. Five hours, minus lunch, and his team loved him because he still managed to get a lot more done than average. I've found the same thing to be true."
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000339.html

I literally come into work at 9, sit down, turn on my computer, and work. No coffee. I take a break for lunch, return to my workstation, and continue on till 5. It is my experience that if you're the new guy and your boss is 5 feet away from you all the time, and everyone can see what's on your computer monitor, you will get A LOT done. You will NOT goof off. And you'll produce a great deal; way more than at my previous job. Mind over matter, eh? :)

Do I think this is a great work environment? No. I'm just making an observation and would like to know what you think.

XL
Monday, April 12, 2004

""" would like to know what you think """

I've been in a similar situation. I worked like hell for about 2 years then crashed hard.


Monday, April 12, 2004

If you don't like the work environment, may I ask why you accepted your job? Was this not the setting when you accepted it?

You have two choices:

1) Stay there and hope that the company grows fast so that you can move to a bigger place with individual rooms per person.

2) Leave this job and find another one where you can lead your nonproductive part of your work cycle.

But then again, you probably know all this, don't you?  I wonder what it is you are hoping to get out of this thread. Would you care to share?

grunt
Monday, April 12, 2004

Nothing like constant pressure eh.
Until a month later (maybe a bit longer) when you crack and want your relaxing workstyle back.

Go read Peopleware.

sedwo
Monday, April 12, 2004

In Asia it's not uncommon to see what you just talked about. All cubicles are designed to lessen the sound of the person sitting 7 feet to the right and left of you by 1%. Everyone in front of you or behind you can see you (and frankly the guys besides you have a pretty good view too). You didn't even need a boss to spy on you, your coworkers will watch you just fine to make sure work more, not less, than they do. Does this mean this is the best way to do business? Is this the best way to churn out creativity and smart solutions in the most productive way. Not necessarily.

Li-fan Chen
Monday, April 12, 2004

If you're a programmer, and you're tapping on the keyboard from 9 to 5, you are not doing a very good job. Design requires thought and rework.

30 hours thinking and experimenting plus 10 hours writing the design down ( coding) can yield far superior results to 200 hours straight pounding at the keyboard.

Hey
Monday, April 12, 2004

I've never worked in as bad a situation as you mentioned, but I've worked at a startup, an ad agency, a cubicle farm, and in an office at another almost startup. I have to say I was more productive in the office. Of course I have a strong work ethic and I was THE manager/developer so if I did not work things did not get done. But I really was able to focus better on the job. At the ad agency people would walk by all the time, it was one of those "open" concepts. I've been in the cubicle farm (a very open one btw) and it is simply not as good.  People can drop in on you at any moment and see what you are doing but I don't work under the idea that I must be writing code all the time.  I guess I get enough done. I dont't see why you would evaluate someone typing on a keyboard as progress.  I often just sit there and think. Progress should be judged against a standard other than apparent activity.

Full Name
Monday, April 12, 2004

I did it for 1 year lat the last job and 6 months at the current one.

It doesn't last forever.

Sassy
Monday, April 12, 2004

"You have two choices:

1) Stay there and hope that the company grows fast so that you can move to a bigger place with individual rooms per person.

2) Leave this job and find another one where you can lead your nonproductive part of your work cycle."

3) Turn your desk around.

Seriously - just tell your boss
"Yeah, I'm sorry - I gave it a try, but I just cannot sit with my back to an open room. That's what working for the CI.. uh... I just don't like it"

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

This is what a new startup is like. The boss is the owner (I'm assuming) and has probably committed his entire life savings plus mortgaged a large part of his future in an attempt to make his dream come true.

It's his dream, not yours, and yet he'll expect you to be as dedicated to it and committ with the same intensity as he is because he is 100% focussed on getting his business plan off the ground and he can't afford a slacker. If you expect to be just a coding drone you took the wrong job.

Evaluate whether you think there is a significant chance of success and whether you will be adequately rewarded as the company grows. It could mean untold riches several years down stream or it could be a total bust. That's up to you to figure out (but the odds are pretty thin).

old_timer
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Actually, it's not too bad. The other guys are cool. We're all married and have children. And yes, the others have brought their young children to the room. They like to watch TV and pull on the ethernet cords.

Yeah, it's a startup. But whatever happens here I will never forget this place. :)

XL
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

A fishbowl environment like that I think is good if you're just writing mindless get and set code all day, because it keeps you going and you can go home every night with a sense of accomplishment. But when you need to think, whether algorithms or architecture, you don't want to feel compelled to "look busy", as others have pointed out.

When you go look at CNN or play a round of solitaire, really you're often taking a mental break and letting your thoughts sink in. It's part of the process.

(Not to excess, of course...)

Lou
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

XL - a whole lotta really big companies started that way. If you're having fun and the finances can stand it, I say stick with it. Just don't drive your whole life into the ground over it (which can happen if you're not paying attention)

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

You people are wack. Reading CNN and playing solitaire are not going to help you solve your design problems at work.
Reading xml.com, joelonsoftware, boxesandarrows, etc might.

It's pretty easy to tell if someone is working or not. If they're sitting there thinking and writing down notes or sketches they're working. If they're reading craigslist they're not. Especially on a small team, it will be blatently obvious if you're just sitting "pretending to think" instead of actually working through design problems.

I think the OP is right on. Peopleware and the like ignores the fact that people are mostly lazy, and will slack on Tuesday even if they have a project due Friday. Open workspaces solve this problem (of course, there's still no good reason to have marketing in the same room as coders: that's cruel and unussual punishment ;->).

mystified
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Web surfing is abstractly intellectually engaging, much more than television. This is obvious of course.

People who are working on design problems 'in the background' are NOT doing abstract, intellectually enganging tasks. They are doing things like:

- playing ping pong
- playing the piano
- playing golf
- taking a shower or long bath
- floating in the pool
- lifting weights
- running

Workers can surf during their lunch hour. I understand completely that the best work is done by spending time both coding and downtime solving problems and thinking. But posting on the internet, following flamewars and doing on line shopping are absolutely not conducive to the design process.

Asking for technical assistence in specific technical boards, preferable email ones, is a way of getting work done as well, but it does not involve reading every thread, commenting on outsourcing politics, etc.

The behavior you wish to engage in is not conducive to work, you are only fooling yourself with this. Slashdot? No way. I would recommend you switch to a corporate environment doing something like net administration or whatever where you can safely hang out in some back office and surf as much as you want. Sorry, but a start up is not the right place for you if you resent your boss for not allowing you privacy to read slashdot for several hours each morning.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

> just sitting "pretending to think"

My problem when I "pretend to think" is I start snoring.

old_timer
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

XL:

How are you replying to our comments then?  Is JoS an acceptable to your management?

Billy Boy
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Anyone who thinks that a human being can work 8 hours without taking some sort of break is nuts.

As long as the job geets done, don't worry about it.

Sassy
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I've gotten most of my inspiration on difficult problems either when driving or exercising (running or rowing). Quasi-intellectual activities (like this, or watching TV) never really seem to help.

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Billy Boy: I don't websurf at work, except when I need something through Google. I figure with only 5 people in the company it's very easy to check on what people are viewing on the Net.

XL
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

XL,  I just reread your OP and I don't understand how you disagree with Joel.  You say you are productive in your new crowded noisy office space, but don't say much about what you are doing nor what kind of space you worked in before.

I pretty much agree with Joel that private offices provide the optimum work environment for software development.  But it is only one factor.  If a company that was having troubles decided it would improve things by moving its developers in to private offices, it would probably be disappointed.  It works the other way around.  A company that has good management and treats its employees well is more likely to have quality work space.

It sounds like you like the people you are working with and maybe the project itself, at least more than at your old job.  I can't quite figure out what kind of development you are doing where you can work productively continuously for 8 hours.  Maybe the boss is good at giving out straight forward coding tasks.

mackinac
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I worked in a small accounting firm once. The boss, myself and another bookkeeper shared a single office, it was dark and cramped, but they paid me extremely well. I always found myself playing solitaire on the computer (no internet connection), or creating mathematical models in excel (hadn't met vba at that stage). I was just so bored with what I was doing, I would close it down if the boss come walking by.

I am thankful in my current job that I have an open office. ie 15 people can see what I am up to at any given time, and I can't see them behind me. It keeps me working.

Philo said that he had a good work ethic. I admire that. I wish I could sit and just work. But I can't at work, and I can't at home. I want a break every 10 minutes, and I practically beg for distractions.

I need a good amount of pressure and a good deadline and an intray stacked to the top...this is when I am most efficient.

Am I that unusual?

Aussie Chick
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I'm exactly like you Aussie Chick. There's been a few times in my career when I could get in a zone and just work nonstop but that hasn't happened in a while. Those ADD ads seem to speak to me, but I think they probably just word those to get the most people.

  
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I have read, and own a copy of Peopleware. And my previous employment adhered to some of the stuff from the book, including having my own office with a window to the outside and a door that closes. My manager was also the type to shield me from the corporate nonsense and trusted me to get my work done on my own.

Does this mean that I think we should all be working in windowless offices with our bosses? No. All I wanted to say in my original post is that given the right state-of-mind we can accomplish anything. I work in an environment now opposite to what I once had and I am even more productive, at least until I burn out :) 

XL
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

XL, what is the name of your previous employer?  People post to the JoS forum all the time looking for employers that are at least somewhat Peopleware compliant.  The list is short, consisting of Microsoft and FC.  SAS is another possibility although I don't recall anyone who actually worked there posting here.  It would be nice to have another one to consider adding to the list.

mackinac
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

>>>  including having my own office with a window to the outside and a door that closes.<<<

Was it quiet?  I worked for a few months at a customer site where they had some cubicles, some shared and some private offices.  There were a few unassigned private offices and a couple of times I tried using one them when I needed to concentrate on a task for a few hours.  The HVAC was so noisy it was like sharing the office with a tornado.  I ended up just staying in my shared office space.  It had its own noise problems, but not as bad as the private office spaces.

mackinac
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

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