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

Subject: RE: Soul of a New Machine was: RE: Like long hours?
From: "Greg Thompson" <gthompson -at- movaris -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 8 Aug 2002 16:30:39 -0700

The working world sucks. I want a way to write and create outside of the
context of this madness. Suggestions include:
1. Lowering my cost of living. My wife works as an assitant property
manager and if she gets a full time position, we get a free place to
stay. I will rent my place out and let someone else pay my mortgage
while I save the money.
2. Save money to build an "FU" fund. (FU as in f**** y***). Use this
fund to walk away whenever you are working for a complete idiot who has
no sense of humanity.

-----Original Message-----
From: bounce-techwr-l-102428 -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
[mailto:bounce-techwr-l-102428 -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com] On Behalf Of Emily
Sent: Thursday, August 08, 2002 1:09 PM
Subject: Soul of a New Machine was: RE: Like long hours?

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.

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

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.


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

>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
>fair bit of competition among the groups, engineers and technicians
>side by side. It was like a mission or a crusade... a lot of fun, if
>self-driven like that. Lots of adrenaline pumping. Tons of pride. Lots
>both hugely egotistical and hugely selfless behavior.A real sense of
>"cowboys," and a lot of cameraderie. Not to mention a lot of
>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
>Was it exploitation? Maybe, but it was generally with consenting
>It fell apart later. Burnout rates were high. But don't discount the
>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
>interesting to happen, and it didn't. But then, I do have a rather
>view it.

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