Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Enjoying your work

Should software developers enjoy their work?  Or is there something wrong with looking forward to getting in to the office in the morning?

I have always liked science and math.  Becoming a software developer was kind of an accidental offshoot of those interests.  But it can be quite interesting.  I always thought that it should be possible to get interesting work.

But should we expect this?  In "Peopleware" DeMarco and Lister have a section titled "It's Supposed to be Fun to Work Here" where they note that "Somewhere deep in our ancestral memory is buried the notion that work is supposed to be onerous...".  This attitude is the sort of thing that the Puritans get blamed for.

I have worked in a variety of environments.  In some I really did look forward to getting to the office.  In others I would look at the building as I walked in and dread the thought of another day there.

I am one who believes that there is no good reason that work has to be drudergy.  When I am looking for a job I not only ask about the salary, but try to find indications that it would be a good place to work.  I found out about Fog Creek and JOS while doing web surfing for that kind of work environment.  I know people who can tell you how many years, months, weeks and days they have until retirement.  I really don't want to end up like that.

The reason I bring this up, however, is that in reading several recent threads I have noticed some severe hostility to the idea of enjoyable work.  Posters making any statement that they consider enjoyment of the work important have been flamed and told that they are only there to do what the employer tells them, or that they are being ego centric prima-donnas and other such labels.

Is the most effective work environment the least enjoyable for the employees?  My experience would indicate the opposite.  While the correlation isn't 100%, the projects that I enjoyed working on got done on time and worked well.  The ones that were drudgery took twice their original schedule time and worked, but only minimally.

Is enjoyment of your work important to you?  Do you do anything about it?

Thursday, June 5, 2003

Enjoying work is important, but often not important enough to make me look elsewhere if the pay is good.

I've learned that the industry is less important to whether or not your work is enjoyable than whether or not you're fully engaged - challenged, etc.
Thursday, June 5, 2003

I *would* consider a drop in salary for a nice place to work. Of course, the world is full of greys and I couldn't exactly quantify "nice place" or an appropriate drop in salary.

But, if I don't like where I work, I will not stay indefinitely just because the pay is good. I can find somewhere else the pay is good too, and maybe the work there is more interesting. Just to be clear, I'm talking about situations where after 2 years nothing seems to be changing and you continue to dread the morning death march to the office. You have to stick things out to see where they're really headed.

My philosophy is similar to that of a customer. If you buy a product and it's crap you tend not to buy from the same company any more. It's the customer's way of ramming the point home: declining sales make the point.

Same with a job; if you stay there just for the money, that there's nothing to encourage change. Turnover, eventually, will make the point. And if it doesn't, well... I don't want to be there when the place bombs or feel like I'm making a "contribution" to such a work environment.

Joel Goodwin
Friday, June 6, 2003

Well, all I'd say is that, if you do actively enjoy your work and look forward to going in every morning, you're a really lucky person. We would all love to be in this position!

OTOH, I think we all have to be prepared for situations where our work isn't a festival of fun, and realize that if we are in a situation where we're performing not-so-fun tasks in exchange for money, it's not the end of the world. Not every necessary task CAN be enjoyable, and from time to time one really does have to face up to a certain amount of drudgery.

But if you're in a situation where the thought of going to work fills you with abject horror and dread, of course something is wrong. I know all too well what it's like to be trapped in a terrible job with no options, and I was - for years, not months. I know what it feels like to cry at the thought of going to THAT PLACE yet again, but having to because the tiny paycheck might just pay the interest on my debts if I'm very, very lucky.

Which is why, conversely, I don't mind doing jobs that don't send me  I'm prepared to do jobs that don't send me into transports of ecstasy, as long as they pay the bills and aren't actively horrible. YMMV.

Fernanda Stickpot
Friday, June 6, 2003

I feel that each person has his or her own factors, which act as motivating factors for them in doing their work.

Say for example person A might be more interested in having a *Good* pay package than think about what kind of work he/she is doing. That may be sufficient enough for these people to do any kind of work with great degree of motivation. In another case, say person B might be more inclined towards good technical work/design work/managerial work etc. and the pay package doesn't matter to that extent. So the motivating factors for person A and B are different and are very specific to them individually.

So when we talk about "Enjoying your work", it boils down to having a set of *factors* ready with you, which act as motivating factors for yourself and then try to evaluate your current work in accordance with those factors.

I personally have them ranked as below (in order of importance):

1. Kind of work done/available
-  This relates to having good quality technical work on latest technologies. If you don't like what you do then there is no point doing it, coz you'll end up doing the stuff half heartedly and without any motivation.
2. Growth
-  *Structured* growth in doing such kind of work. Where will this kind of work take you say in another 6 months, 1 year, 5 years ? Will you *grow* in 'knowledge', 'Skills', 'Responsibility', 'Position' etc ?
3. Brand Name
-  Will the company you work for act as a *Brand Name* for you when negotiating a new employment option ? Does you saying that 'I work for company XYZ' bring in instant recognition for you in the society ?
4. Pay package
-  What is that you get as compensation for the work you do ? Is it that you feel *over paid* or *under paid* for the work you do ?

Well these are my personal factors for taking up a job with any employer. So although I may not be able to get the *best deal* all the time, I try to evaluate any job with these factors and try to come up with a conclusion depending upon the above factors. (might as well apply these once in a while to your current job too!)

Although these factors may differ from person to person, I feel that each one should have such factors listed for themselves, coz otherwise its as good or bad as doing things without any *focus*.

Shailesh N
Friday, June 6, 2003

That's like asking whether Life should be enjoyable. Naturally, each of us tries to make our lives as enjoyable as possible -- that is, to make things the way we happen to like them to be. This includes a job that fits, more or less, with your personality.
How much power you have over your life depends partly on your social position -- poor people usually have to do whatever they can to survive, while the more educated have more of a choice.
Another factor is the person's desire to be happy. If you decide to be happy, in any job, then you are very likely to enjoy the job and make the best of it.
If, on the other hand, you are a perfectionist who can't be happy unless everything is the way you imagine it ought to be, then you will never be happy.

Should employers care about whether their employees enjoy their work? Of course they can't make them want to be happy. But I think unhappy workers must be very very bad for a company.

The Real PC
Friday, June 6, 2003

"Posters making any statement that they consider enjoyment of the work important have been flamed and told that they are only there to do what the employer tells them"

My theory:

1.  Programmers like to think of themselves as self reliant.
1a.  Even though they are vikings on the internet and maybe in their mind, in real life they are meek.
2.  They rarely band together.
3.  They get regular bitch slappings by their employer.
4.  They feel guilt & shame about letting that happen to them.
5.  They try to pump themselves up by putting the smack down on a random stranger on the internet.

Friday, June 6, 2003

Life is too short to be pissed off every day.

A few years ago I was in a job where I was very unhappy. The work was OK, the environment was no longer a good fit for me. But, we were a start up and as one of the founding employees I got a ridiculous amount of stock purchase options. Aha, I said, I can tolerate this for 5 years and sell out and become financially indepdent! Then I can quit this job and pursue a fun, fulfilling job!

You know what happened. The company folded, and the stock options became worthless. Yes, I was still paid a salary during this time, so it wasn't all that bad. But the fact is: I tolerated constant headaches, stress, and insomnia for over a year. Stressed my marriage, too, since I was pissed off all the time.

Not worth it to me. I need a place to work where I am happy and feel like I'm doing something worthwhile.

Lauren B.
Friday, June 6, 2003

Of course I'm not implying ALL programmers are that way.  I didn't mean to paint with such a broad brush.

I'm on my third job now and starting to get angry, just like at the last 2 jobs.  I wonder if I just haven't found the right place, or if I just have trouble not being in total control...

Friday, June 6, 2003

I think this is a triple state Boolean.

a) You like your job

b) You don't mind it that much

c) You dislike it

If you dislike your job you should be actively looking for a way out, and be prepared to take a hefty pay cut even if it hurts.

If you don't mind it that much you should not expect to find A. And be cautious about changing job because there are very few jobs people like most of the time.

As for taking a salary there seems to be a figure of 20% here. It will normally take a 20% salary raise to get somebody to move their job, unless they are going from a job they don't mind to one they like, in which case they will do it for free. If they are in a job they really hate they will move and take a 20% salary cut, although in many cases they just blow up and walk out anyway.

Stephen Jones
Friday, June 6, 2003

It is good to hear some some favorable comments here, but I do wonder just how much effort most people make to find a good work environment.  I always thought that I should try to find such a place, but until I had some experience with different employers and assignments, I didn't have a good idea what the possibilities were.

One of my employers stood out from all the others as a good place to work, even though a few of the assignments were unpleasant most were good and made up for the others.  I stayed there over 15 years.  Unfortunately for the employees the founders decided that is was time to cash out when someone with venture capital came along and wanted to buy the company.  A few people made a lot of money on the deal, but it destroyed the culture of the company.

During the dot-com boom when everyone was hiring furiously, I would read company's career web pages and note that many of them try to attract people by offering frills but little of substance.  It wasn't too difficult to find an employer that offerred a subsidized cafeteria with a gourmet chef or something equally useless.  I wanted to hear that they provided quiet workspaces, or had training opportunities and they should let us know that they had low turnover because it was the kind of place people stayed.  Not much of that to be found.

But sellers try to offer what the customer wants.  The discouraging factor in this is that if the employer said little to indicate they were concerned with the work environment, then few job seekers were paying much attention.

Maybe this is my ulterior motive here.  To get people to think about quality of work environment issues when job hunting.  Let prospective employers know what you want.  Maybe not right now, but something to think about when the economy picks up again.  If ever.

Friday, June 6, 2003

It *is* possible to look forward to work every morning.  Lots of people do it.

Though note that, sometimes, one has to undergo radical changes to find that environment.  About two years ago, I was a programmer, until I worked at a startup where 50-60 hour weeks were common, and my interest in programming waned.  So, I shifted to doing documentation, and now I'm a documentation manager at another company.  Five years ago, I never would have consciously chosen to go after documentation, but the environment and my interests changed.

Now, I'm looking to get started with animation (as in cartoons).  That requires a much more radical change, but I think I'd enjoy it more than this job.

The real question is, if you don't like your job, what are you doing about it?

Brent P. Newhall
Friday, June 6, 2003

Being the business/economic/trader sort now adays, I can assure you this is really all quite simple. As such, I will now proceed to explain it using Very Large Words and Phrases like "The Principle of Non-Univerisfiable Value" over approximately 400 pages, and will make liberal use of footnotes to keep you busy for the rest of your natural life.

...nah, just kidding. But it is really quite simple, once you've got an intuitive grasp of the fundamentals.

Condensed version:

Individuals, at a given point of time, are different (both as-in who they are, and as in the situations they are in and their relationships to other people); to the extent that people are different from one another, they value things differently. Thus one person can think of no better way to spend an evening than sitting out in a field and staring at the stars, while another hacks away at their keyboard at home, while yet another is out somewhere having some fabulously innappropriate and scandalous sex.

As people value things differently, and some things that are valued can be traded away - whether those things be goods (like pumpkins, USB ports, and vibrators), or services (like growing vegetables, the production of electronic components, or "things which are legal in the USA only if you do not trade them Explicitly for money"). Example:

Let us say that you - or anyone else - likes tomatoes more than lettuce, whereas I like lettuce more than tomatoes. Let us then say that you have lettuce, while I have tomatoes. As such we may both derive "utility" - a catch all term for "what you get by obtaining what you want", whether it be shits'n'giggles or enlightenment - by simply _trading_, by exchanging goods and/or services between us. You take what you may or may not like - lettuce - and give it away in exchange for something you at least prefer - tomatoes - and I am doing likewise.

This is all possible because we value things differently. If everyone was the same, if everyone valued everything the same way, trade would simply be impossible, as no mutually beneficial arrangement could ever be made.

Now this sort of thing is no different in the modern world; in fact it is made ever so more important as people can be so very different (when there is only one thing to eat, for instance, all starving people are effectively the same, assuming they are equallly starved), and there are ever so many things to trade and to trade for. Including - and bringing us finally to the point at hand - time, money, effort, and pleasure (amongst other things - but we will consider only these).

"Work" is simply one form of trade. You as an individual take something you have, such as your time, and trade it for something you consider more desirable, such as money. However, the value of money is determined almost entirely by the value of what it can be traded for (money is almost always a purely intermediary good - it is not an end in itself, but a way of attaining some more desirable end, such as the consumption of some purchasable good or service). Now if Person A happens to  highly value goods and services which are very expensive (like Ferraris and high-price call girls), and Person B happens to similarly highly value goods and services which are not very expensive (such as books and interpretive dancing), then it logically follows that Person A will value _money_ more highly than Person B.

Following from all this, we can already see two divergent behaviors and desires of people: there are people who will tend to seek to work more hours for more money, and there are people who will tend to prefer to forgo such wage generation in favor of spending their time some other way.

Once you add in the additional factors of things like pleasure and effort, you can quickly see how people will simply care about very different things. Some people will prefer to make $100,000 a year and work a 40 hour work week at a job they do not particularly enjoy, whereas other people may much prefer to make $30,000 a year and work 3 hours each day at a job they are generally indifferent about or do not enjoy, whereas yet another person simply has no desire to make any money at all and would just rather spend their time doing other things and volunteering.

This, of course, must always be considered relative to alternatives. Thus some will think taking a $20,000 a year pay cut to do something they love to do is totally worth it - meaning their value of money relative to "job satisfaction"/pleasure is low - while another person might be willing to damn near break their back for that $5,000 a year bonus. And then there are just some people who seem not to mind nearly breaking their backs.

As to those who have a problem with the idea of enjoying work...well, they are a wonderful sort, being most perfectly inclinded to being total and utter slave drones mindlessly going about whatever tasks they are given without any apparent regard for themselves. Indeed, slave masters of all sorts love them...but I cannot think of why one would actually endevour to BE one.

Friday, June 6, 2003

Reginald Braithwaite-Lee
Friday, June 6, 2003

mackinac, I've noticed that trend on JOS too. I think what's happened is this:

JOS originally was composed predominantly of software developers interested in the sociology of their work. Howeve this become diluted by a broader mix of generic users of FogCreek products, including non-developers who lack the understanding of developer issues or developer sympathies.

As regards your main point, I certainly think developers should do work they enjoy. I know I do.

You also mention in passing another useful point - that developers should all be more assertive in arranging productive work places. I think that is certainly true. Unlike others, I don't believe the current economic climate is a reason to baulk at this.

Monday, June 9, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home