Soul of a New Machine was: RE: Like long hours?

Subject: Soul of a New Machine was: RE: Like long hours?
From: Emily Berk <emily -at- armadillosoft -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 08 Aug 2002 13:09:07 -0700


I was not at DG at the time, but Soul of a New Machine has been one of my favorite books since -- forever.

I think Tracy Kidder is one of the world's most talented, compelling non-fiction writers, and as technical writers we have much to learn from him. Certainly, he did not work there and no doubt he got some facts wrong. Even I, who strive for perfection in everything I write, occasionally get isolated facts wrong.

Since I did not read Soul of a New Machine as a fact-checker, I interpret Soul of a New Machine in two ways:

1. As a model for how employers can go about exploiting their workers. "Yes, we will allow you to work here, eat pizza here, sleep just a little here. And, in exchange for us allowing you to work 150+ hours a week with us, we are going to make sure you have a lot of fun while you're doing it. But when we're done, we'll cut you lose with no benefits. By then, your mind will be a pile of mush and your family will have forgotten what you look like. But, hey, you're a consenting adult. It's our way or the highway."

2. As a warning to employees about how they can be sucked in to these situations. For years after I read this book, I consented again and again to truly horrendous overtime working hours for years and years and years. And what I found out is that, as in Soul of a New Machine, after a certain amount of over-work, even the nicest, calmest, smartest developers/managers/writers get stupid and mean. But would I be able to turn down one of these abusive situations today? Not on your life.

I just had someone from New England write to me telling me how her husband, a software engineer was just laid off with 1/3 of the developers at his company. They are being told that their situation is unique; that things are better in California. WHERE in California? Where is the reporting in the press on the fact that the entire economy of California is in the toilet and there are NO SIGNS of improvement. NONE.

I find reading Andrew's posts (if they are indeed from Andrew) incredibly condescending and tedious reading.

No one in their right mind can just walk away from their job today. So, today, in this economy, we are ALL "consenting adults", Marguerite. And if we in the US do walk away, our jobs will be taken by people overseas who can afford to do them at literally a tenth of what it costs us to do them.

Please, folks. Go to your local library and check out Soul of a New Machine. If you find it "boring", just read the end where they tell you what became of the participants.

Then, read The Mythical Man-Month. (That one's a lot shorter, but not as compelling.) There ARE consequences to projects as well as to people when over-work is institutionalized. It is short-sighted to institutionalize over-work.

--Emily

On Wed, 7 Aug 2002 13:29:24 -0400, Marguerite Krupp <mkrupp -at- cisco -dot- com> wrote:

>Even though _Soul of a New Machine_ won a Pulitzer, you should take its
>contents with a grain of salt. ... I was there. DG was not unionized.
>
>Hourly people did get paid an overtime premium, and although there was a
>fair bit of competition among the groups, engineers and technicians worked
>side by side. It was like a mission or a crusade... a lot of fun, if you're
>self-driven like that. Lots of adrenaline pumping. Tons of pride. Lots of
>both hugely egotistical and hugely selfless behavior.A real sense of being
>"cowboys," and a lot of cameraderie. Not to mention a lot of frustration,
>frayed tempers, acting out. In other words, typical (!) startup behavior. We
>did what we had to do, in part because nobody told us we couldn't or
>shouldn't.
>
>Was it exploitation? Maybe, but it was generally with consenting adults.
>
>It fell apart later. Burnout rates were high. But don't discount the pride
>factor. It was enormous! We bought into those expectations. And I'm still in
>contact with a fair number of those folks from DG days.
>....
>And, frankly, I found the book boring. I kept waiting for something really
>interesting to happen, and it didn't. But then, I do have a rather jaded
>view it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~ Emily Berk ~
~ On the web at www.armadillosoft.com *** Armadillo Associates, Inc. ~
~ Internet and non-internet application development, project ~
~ management, developer relations and extremely-technical technical ~
~ documentation that developers find useful. ~
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



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