Yet another thought provoking entry from Paul Graham, an often controversial but nonetheless enlightening author of great software topics. A few of my favorite quotes from “What Business Can Learn From Open Source“:
The problem with the facetime model is not just that it’s demoralizing, but that the people pretending to work interrupt the ones actually working. I’m convinced the facetime model is the main reason large organizations have so many meetings. Per capita, large organizations accomplish very little. And yet all those people have to be on site at least eight hours a day. When so much time goes in one end and so little achievement comes out the other, something has to give. And meetings are the main mechanism for taking up the slack.
Meetings are like an opiate with a network effect. So is email, on a smaller scale. And in addition to the direct cost in time, there’s the cost in fragmentation– breaking people’s day up into bits too small to be useful.
The other problem with pretend work is that it often looks better than real work. When I’m writing or hacking I spend as much time just thinking as I do actually typing. Half the time I’m sitting drinking a cup of tea, or walking around the neighborhood. This is a critical phase– this is where ideas come from– and yet I’d feel guilty doing this in most offices, with everyone else looking busy.
The fragmentation bit is a great way to describe even a day with just two meetings, especially when you relate it to the last excerpt above.
I think by default the way that programmers work is sort of hard to understand, especially when they seem to be day dreaming or sitting around without typing. I’ve been moved around a couple of times in the past few months because of growth, and in the last spot I was in, someone was complaining about myself and other co-workers work habits. I assume is because we don’t always “look busy” or they happened to walk by a few times while we were catching-up on tech news, jotting down a quick blog entry, etc. I should note that I do usually post at home, and I do actually reference my blog quite a bit at work for both my own and other co-workers benefit.
Along with that, I know I’m certainly socially retarded at times when I get-up to walk around for a minute and have something on my mind, if not easily startled. It’s not intentional, it’s just that the last thing on my mind when I’m thinking through a complex problem is to reply to a query about what the weather is like or how my weekend was; I’m usually aloof thinking about said problem and am fairly unaware of my surroundings. I’m sure it makes me frequently look like a jackass, but not much I can do about that.
Okay… back on topic. Check out the article, it’s good stuff.