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Yet Another Blog About Employee Satisfaction

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One of the side effects of being a highly thought-oriented professional (ok, dammit - a geek) is developing a genuine propensity for spotting patterns and trends, and then drawing out weird conclusions from them. It's the sort of connect-the-dots-except-whoops-half-the-dots-are-missing puzzle that programmers face (and, hopefully, overcome) on a daily basis. What gets fun is when that skill begins leaking out into the rest of the world.

For instance, I've been trolling my usual random selection of Reddit, various blogs, and whatnot, just reading up on stuff. I find it tremendously fascinating and stimulating to read other people's accounts of their experiences, particularly in the realm of software creation. (If I had a djinn/bottle thing going on and just one wish, I'd wish for a complete postmortem analysis of every software product ever created - and enough paid vacation time to read it all. A hammock would be good, too. Oh right - one wish.)

The pattern that's emerged lately is in management. There seems to be some kind of periodic cycle that prompts the writing of a lot of blog entries about management - how to manage IT workers, how to make programmers happy, cubicles were invented by Satan, etc. Every few months or so there's a big rash of these things all over the web, and people post a lot of "yeah, I've had that moron for a boss, too" sort of comments. Naturally, since management doesn't read the Joel Reddit or some random guy's blog, they never see all these great gems of wisdom, and thusly our terrible plight goes on unhindered. (Actually, it's just you sorry bastards in that terrible plight - I finally escaped and now work in utter paradise. Hah, hah! Oh, sorry - my gloat-regulator is on the fritz again.)


Normally, I refrain from adding my own palaver to the mix (mostly because I'm not exactly some kind of highly experienced expert or anything) and just nod my head silently and revel in the fact that I don't work for a Fortune 500 dysfunction-factory. However, my pattern-sniffing turned up something interesting, so I'll break tradition and toss my tuppence into the pot.

What I've noticed is that virtually every single "Make Your Employees Happy" article comes about this close to hitting a really important point, but then chickens out and doesn't actually say it. Since I have no problem with offending people and being utterly blunt, I'll say it for everyone else:

The number one way to make IT workers happy is to give them a tire pump for their egos.

A lot of people beat around the bush, and talk in vagaries about "recognition" and "credit" and "acknowledgement." If you're like me, you have not spent tens of thousands of dollars and several years of your life being processed by some school that grants people Monkey Bureaucracy Awards - which means those words are about as meaningful to you as "formally provable regression detection methodology" is to the nice guy that mows your lawn.

So let me cut away the manager-speak for you and say it plain: programmers like to have their egos stroked, pedicured, inflated, caressed, and generally fondled in ways that some activist groups may consider highly inappropriate in the workplace. If you want your programmers to be happy - and, more importantly, to become fiercely loyal to you and your company - then fuel their pride. Feed the ego.


Few people like to admit to this. Actually, I have a confession to make: I used my readership as guinea pigs to prove this hypothesis a couple of posts ago when I talked about the "making of" documentary thing. As I postulated, nobody stepped out and said "yes I'm a megalomaniac too and I think it's cool for people to drool when they hear my name."

But it's true - about every single last one of us - and we all know it. Deep down, as much as our societally-ingrained principles try to conceal it, we all love the feeling of people admiring us and knowing what we've done.


I think programmers are especially affected by this. Most of the programmers I know enjoy programming for the joy and reward of building a system from scratch, of bending a machine to do your will - sort of like DIY car kits for guys who'd rather be covered in Cheetos dust than engine grease. It's a fundamental human urge (particularly a masculine urge) and people really get a kick out of fulfilling it.

Despite what many of us may say publically, just building it isn't quite enough - we want people to know we built it, too. Even better, we want them to use it, and be in awe of it, and prostrate themselves at our feet mumbling things like "I'm not worthy" and "damn that is a sweet game." We want to be recognized, appreciated, and adored. After investing (quite possibly) years of our lives in a project, nothing is quite as validating and enriching as having people gawk over it in sheer joy when it's finally done.


What I say is not really fashionable in Western society, I think. Modesty and quiet self-esteem are prized; getting credit for one's accomplishments is all well and good, but God help your shriveled, blackened soul if you actually want credit, you arrogant sonofabitch. Honestly, that's unfortunate, because it means we're crippling ourselves - especially in the technology world.



So... being in the spirit of management, and that sort of stuff, I'm going to leave you with an "Action Item" that you can toy with. If you're a manager, try enacting this policy with your team and see how it works. If you're a mere grunt, try explaining The Internet to your boss and link him to this post so he can try this policy with you. If you're a braindead vegetable who lives in a jar, just post this to Reddit or something so other people can benefit.

Policy: credit and acknowledge people for their accomplishments and the participation they have in your project. Be sure your praise fits their actual deeds; if you're too over the top, people will be able to tell that you're a fake, and they will hate you for it. On the flip side, if you leave out something important that someone has done, you can actually make them feel worse. To do this right, you have to be deeply familiar with each of your team members and their roles within the project - and if you're not already there, you'll get plenty of benefit by demonstrating that you care enough about your workers to get to that point.


Now, go forth and make your programmers happy. Oh, and give us free donuts and coffee, too.
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Being the only person (at time of writing) to have commented on that entry, let me just say that I didn't realise I was being tested [grin]

Bearing in mind that I have never worked in a development environment, I agree for the most part on what you say about recognition for the project. I would like to be praised for what I do, I even have my own pedestal they can use. However, to be worthy of it is the hard part. Problem is, part of me is pretty sure that I may never reach that, not that I'm not going to try like heck.

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Original post by aidan_walsh
Being the only person (at time of writing) to have commented on that entry

Programmer16 posted 3 hours before you...

I agree on what you say in the article.

Apoch: Have you quit your job or something like that? First a post where you talk about the extra taxes and now this:
Quote:
Actually, it's just you sorry bastards in that terrible plight - I finally escaped and now work in utter paradise.

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Stroking the ego, yes - I can agree with that; but i'm personally VERY careful not to let such things boil over into outright arrogance. Arrogance in general is a characteristic I really dislike, even more so in highly specialised/trained disciplines.

I've bumped into a few arrogant programmers in my time and I very rapidly felt urges to punch them square in the face. You can't negotiate with them because they're always correct and they know more. The only thing you can do is fool them into thinking you accept this and thus offload your work to them (they are, after all, more capable than you).

Okay, maybe that is more descriptive of "Prima Donna"... but still, I'm sure you get the idea [smile]

Anyway, I'd just be happy with the free coffee and donuts (especially the coffee). I had to buy hot water and my own instant coffee when I worked at IBM. Spent somewhere between £100-200 in one year on drinks. Apparently I wasn't allowed a kettle due to health and safety (get this: if management approve you to go on a kettle safety course you are contractually obliged to keep your kettle under lock and key so that other untrained employees cannot use it [rolleyes]).

Jack

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If you had read the Joel reddit more, you would've encountered this article which covers what you have to say in a pseudo-psycho fashion.

And yes, goddammit. I don't want my name in lights, but I wouldn't mind some of that very weird corner-fame that Gary Gygax has to suffer through, or even the kind of smug indie-ness that you or Jay Barnson get.

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Original post by CTar
Quote:
Original post by aidan_walsh
Being the only person (at time of writing) to have commented on that entry

Programmer16 posted 3 hours before you...

I agree on what you say in the article.

Apoch: Have you quit your job or something like that? First a post where you talk about the extra taxes and now this:
Quote:
Actually, it's just you sorry bastards in that terrible plight - I finally escaped and now work in utter paradise.


lol, thats the first thing I thought of, but I think he's referring to the entry that Apoch was talking about.

Edit: This entry

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Heh, I found that HR rant, which actually was one of the first I read - and it was the fact that it came so close without actually saying it that made me start to think about posting this. So there we are.


CTar - I left my day job six months ago to work as a contractor for Egosoft. Since I happen to be on a different continent, I have extremely flexible working conditions. On top of that I have a very good team of almost entirely sane people with a minimum of stupid politics. It's a great combination and a huge step up from where I was working before. As the tax thing shows, it does have its price - but it's worth it for my new mandatory Pantsless Wednesday policy. Wooooo!


Jack - couldn't agree more about arrogance. Nothing is as frustrating as trying to shake down a programmer who is dead set on doing things My Way And No Way Else. That's why it's so important to make sure that credit is given out fairly (which honestly I just can't emphasize enough). Those who really do deserve the credit get the reinforcement, and the prima donnas (who, more often than not, aren't actually getting all that much done) get the spotlight taken away, which can only be good for them [wink]

It's certainly complicated and has to be done carefully, especially to avoid the perception of favoritism or unfairness, which honestly can be just as damaging as genuine preferential treatment. But it's oh-so-very worth the risk.


Hell, I know of one job I might not have left if I got due credit a little more often. All the other nuisances of the workplace (like trying to code in the middle of what amounted to a chaotic call center) would have been a lot more bearable. Oh well - I've found my happy spot [smile]

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