In which it is asked,
is a good work ethic,
a poor one to have?
What is Work?
The true nature of work is perhaps at the core of the discussion. Is a person working while they are commuting to work, getting dressed for a meeting, reclining in first class on a Trans-Atlantic Flight? Or perhaps, closer to home, is a writer working when they are out taking a walk, thinking of the next plot? Or a programmer (I fancy myself a programmer, as well, so writer/programmer, idiot/savant, whatever, call it what you will, but), is a programmer working while they are lazing on the couch, playing ping pong, or drinking a cool refreshing beer (hot cocoa in my case) in the break area? If so, then there are those of us who are die-hard workaholics; and if not, then perhaps we are as lazy as others claim we be.
Return of the 20 Hour Work Week
I hear stories of folks in the programming (and other) worlds clocking in upwards of sixty, seventy, and even eighty hours a week. My brain would melt. I mean, I like working. In any given week, I perhaps (maybe, I don't keep track) devote:
- 5-20 hours to programming (hands on keys)
- 5-20 hours to programming (reading and research)
- 10-20 hours studying economics (reading)
- 5-20 hours writing (stuff like this, so judge how you like)
- 5-10 hours domestic chores (doing the dishes, etc.)
- 5+ hours relationship management
- As I type another sits across from me, who has the right (if, sometimes, grudgingly given) to interrupt me at any time, thus I can work in a high stress environment where interruptions are a constant
- 5+ hours general improvement (Jack of All Trades Studies)
- 10+ hours physical fitness
So, that's like something between 55 & 100 hours of work each and every week. And if you'd be so kind as to give me a job (pay me to do this), I would be ever so grateful, as this is what I do for free, of my own accord, because that's the good life to me.
But also (if you'll be so kind as to notice) no one thing in there takes up more than twenty hours. I burn out easily (maybe too easily). I haven't touched serious code in a week now. That is to say, I have a major project that I call MutaGenetic FootballTM, but rather than move forward on that, I've decided (perhaps in a default, backwards, in a this is all that I could get motivated to do sort of way) to concentrate on writing up a few Lightning Talks (i.e. short tutorials), which may or may not have furthered the craft (of programming) further and faster than sinking more time into that MutaGenetic FootballTM thing, but it's also (what I feel) to be the exact opposite behaviour of what any potential future employer might desire, so I'm sort of, um, self-critical about my motivations and actions.
Anyhow, the point is, I swirl about.
And writing code for 80 hours at a go, week after week, seems to be so mind numbingly, brain drainingly, stultifyingly dull, that I wonder what folks really mean when they claim to be working these horrendously long hours. Or, are they counting weird stuff that I never would?
I want a job, ideally coding, something like 5-20 hours a week, ideally.
As to that other stuff (research, reading, whatever, going to meetings, getting ready for meetings), I don't really call it work.
But make no mistake, it's all a requirement of work, of getting the job done.
The Brain Drain
I suppose, when I hear someone talking about working 60-100 hour work weeks in the programming world, I imagine someone who lives and breathes code (homogeneous code of the same base), who's bodily functions are serviced (eating, sleeping, and seriously, at those hours, why even have an apartment, just roll out the sleeping bag and sleep on the floor, because taking care of the body, the vessel) is all done in a support function sort of way: Code to Live, Live to Code.
Total Immersion Productivity
And this has it's appeal. I mean, I can see it. I like the idea of being at liberty to ignore the person sitting across from me for long periods of time so that I can concentrate on going down the rabbit hole ever further. That's a popular image in the coding world: Going Down the Rabbit Hole. The pursuit of knowledge is endless and it can be fun to swim amongst ever newer and ever rarefied ideas. This is, after all, both what draws me to programming and why I've decided to focus secondarily on economics. It's a great joy to understand the language, to be able to follow along in the discussion of complex ideas.
But here's the thing. Do those ideas exist in a vacuum?
No Man is an Island
And this rolls us (or at least, me) to talking about a more generalized knowledge base. I love the specific, the rarefied, the intellectual purity of a raw idea. But ideas in isolation are a dime a dozen. The only ones that matter (to anyone else, to the population at large, the outside world) are those ideas that are integrated with reality (the rest of the ideas that make up the modern world view, the current paradigm, the working ideological ecosystem).
An Idea in Isolation is Otherwise Known as Insanity
And at eighty, ninety, or (gads) even a hundred hours a week on any one thing (and yes, I've done this a great deal in my writing, completely falling into novels from dusk till dawn for months on end, so I know some of what I talk) one loses sight of the rest. It can be soul draining, empty. In the vernacular of the day, it is not sustainable.
Or maybe it is.
Just not for me.
Heck, for all I know, my 5-20 hours a week is worth someone else's 40-60, if for no other reason than in walking away from code, putting it to rest (for days, weeks, and with my upcoming vacation, second one this year, for even months on end) a certain sort of clarity is achieved, as to what has been accomplished and what yet needs doing.
And I have no doubt someone else would have been done with a project like my MutaGenetics FootballTM a long-long long-long-long time ago. From a product cycle, code maintenance, core of the craft perspective, is this a good thing?
In some ways, sure. It would have shipped long ago.
More importantly, I think this rant (I hope this rant) provides greater clarity as to the type of 'gig' that I am looking for. I like the idea of nurturing a code base. Not fast-feeding it with nitrogen heavy fertilizers (whatever an open ended metaphor like that might actually mean) or using some hasty crop-chop library additions (call it spaghetti code, just clip it and ship it), but taking the time to getting it right, keeping it straight, and watching it (the code, the magic, the project, the potential of the problem set, thus meaning the solution set and the cash market potential) grow organically, how code (or any real labour of love) needs to grow, for it's own sake, to solve the problem it was meant to solve (even if that problem is only a momentary diversion from the ever present Existential Dilemma: i.e. boredom).
MutaGenetic FootballTM, yeah, sure, it has an ostensible purpose (a football play-book generator and evaluator), but beyond that, one of it's reasons de existence has always been for it to be a learning process, a tool, something to play with and grow along side, lead where it takes me, that sort of thing. And perhaps, just perhaps, the best thing I can do for it right now is nothing.
I've got books like that, halfway written, in need of that final polish.
Yeah, maybe some day I'll get back to them: maybe someday when getting back to them and adding that extra layer would be a meaningful endeavour.
In the meantime, I think it's time to cook breakfast. And as I do, ponder the best way to utilize the day, to make manifest in reality those dreams I desire the most.
Vegetable Egg Roll,
Deep Fried Poi,
The Breakfast of Champions
or at least,
of those not working
that terribly hard
at any one thing,
except for perhaps
the good kine.
© copyright 2015 Brett Paufler