Wed 4 Jan 2012
Software development is a very peculiar industry. If work is not fun for those doing it the products will be mediocre at best and so will be the company – it can make money but it will never be a great company attracting talented people.
This is so because software development is not really engineering – it only looks like it because it is so technical. If done right it is in fact a fusion of art and technology – very much like a craft only requiring mental, not manual abilities. If people are not emotionally attached to their craft (like those who code&test solely for the money) they will not care if they produce a mess of spaghetti code rather than an elegant solution, they will not care what the user experience will be and they will not really care what happens with the product after they no longer work there. The only way to make them care is to make sure work is fun for them and they see a reason for the product’s existence other than the revenues it will bring.
Of course, this rule is more universal – happy people work better in general. For example Southwest Airlines’ happy flight crews deliver a better passenger experience, happier dialysis providers at DaVita provide better treatment etc. However, in software development the difference has a more profound effect – an unhappy flight crew will get you from A to B as effectively, keeping development teams unhappy will in the long run ruin the products/systems they create if not the whole company. This is so, because the less fun their work is the more technical debt there is (of all kinds: bugs, low code readability, C&P programming, suboptimal ad-hock solutions limiting scalability etc.) – and technical debt is as lethal for a business as any other unpaid accumulating debt.
Why it is so? I could bring up some theories, but I think it is less important than realising it and taking notice. Big players do. Take Google for example. They go to great lengths to make the experience of working there as fun as possible. The most visible aspect of this is their offices (each is different, BTW) but it goes way deeper – the way they treat their people, the way they allow them to access all of their code for example, all of that shows that people running this company have a profound understanding of what makes development teams tick. And they are not alone in this, almost every leading business now goes to great lengths to ensure the work itself and environment make the experience as enjoyable as possible for the employees.
Just to be sure – “fun” means a lot more here than just a nice working environment, cool perks and good atmosphere. It also means a shared sense of purpose in what you are doing as a company and as a team. And it also means dedication to technical excellence – a policy of zero tolerance for makeshift solutions and lack of craftsmanship. This mixture means people working in such a company can be rightly proud of what they do, proud of where they work and want to continue investing their time&energy there.
The notion of seeing the workplace as fun is sometimes dismissed as childish. It is so because there are many jobs that simply can’t be made to be fun (think of garbage collectors, people working in slaughterhouses or on assembly lines – by now mostly Chinese – assembling over and over again same parts) and historically practically all work was “serious” – not fun at all. Luckily for us that idea is slowly eroding as people search for self-fulfilment. Spending at least 8 hours a day on a job you hate is definitely not self-fulfilment.
Globalization and shortage of talent, especially in software development and other high tech sectors, make it very easy to run away from jobs where the “fun” part is gone (or wasn’t there ever).
Therefore one of the key duties of executives in an IT company is to make sure people working there have fun at work. And that means not that they can play computer (or traditional) games in a special room or have fancy office furniture – this means ensuring they are having fun doing the actual work as I’ve already explained above. I’m joking sometimes that there are companies that badly need a CFO – Chief Fun Officer – to shake the boat and bring some fun back. But seriously I don’t think one such guy can make a difference – I think that rather this attitude must be at the very core of company’s culture.
How this looks at your current place? Is working there fun? If not – take my advice: don’t waste your life, move on.