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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Valuing time, and teamwork

I have a guilty conscience about my self-perceived deficiencies when it comes to teamwork. I'm just not one of those people that sits at her desk until 10pm every night, or even most nights. I don't like eating dinner at work at all, in fact, and I'm not much for socializing at lunch either. It's not that I don't like my colleagues, or don't want to work hard. But I prefer a more focused day with a break for a meditative workout at lunch, I like to see my boyfriend for dinner at night, and while occasional (or even frequent) after work drinks are fun I enjoy having a social life that does not mostly revolve around work.

Perhaps as homage to my guilty conscience, or perhaps as testament to my impatience with wasted time, I put a lot of energy into doing things right the first time, and setting up systems that make it easier for everyone else to do things right the first time as well. Nothing is more awful to me than spending my time cleaning up foreseeable messes, so instead I've learned to set up automated builds, write and maintain extensive test suites, and monitor them like a hawk to ensure that they stay stable and informative.

What I have come to realize over the years is that when you view time spent as a proxy for dedication, you lose opportunities for productivity gains. We often forget that "laziness" is one of the trio of strength/vices that makes a great programmer:
The quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful, and document what you wrote so you don't have to answer so many questions about it. Hence, the first great virtue of a programmer. Also hence, this book. See also impatience and hubris. (p.609)[Larry Wall]
It's seductively easy to fall into the trap of equating hours spent on work with value produced, but it's as silly as using lines of code as a measure of productivity. Valuing time, your own time, your colleagues time, does not make you less valuable, or less of a team player. If anything, I think many technology teams need more people that know when to take a step back and put things in place so that they can go home at a reasonable hour and live a life outside of work. Which would you rather do, spend 8 hours writing productive code, or spend 6 hours writing productive code and 4 hours fixing bugs that you could've caught with better tests, an automated build, or performance monitoring?

I know what my answer is.


  1. Until the last sentence, I thought my philosophy had re├źntered your good graces. Oh well, back to my nap.

  2. The second half of that last sentence is kinda non sequitur that I bet could make it's own blog post.

    I'm not sure if there's a moral here of, "spend more time writing tools" or "no premature optimization" or something else.

  3. Zach, your philosophy is always in my good graces. 8 hours of writing productive code may have been an overstatement (truth be told it is always more like maybe 4 hours of productive coding with another 4 of sitting in meetings...)


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