Sabotaging productivity

This week, .NET Rocks had a great interview with Jeff Atwood. Jeff is a really insightful guy and listening to him was as much fun as reading his blog. In fact, this interview inspired me to start listening to other episodes of .NET Rocks. Well, that and the fact that Carl Franklin co-hosts Hanselminutes, which I also enjoy.

One the topics the interview touch on was Jeff's Programmer's Bill of Rights. It enumerates six things a programmer should expect if he is to be productive.

I found this both depressing and comforting. It's depressing because, as Jeff pointed out in the interview, these things are neither unreasonable nor hard to fix. You can basically just throw money at them without putting in any real effort. These conditions should not be widespread enough that anyone needed to bring them up.

pipecat.jpgAs for comfort...well, it's just nice to know you're not alone. I'm currently one of those poor schleps Jeff talked about who's still working on a single 17" CRT monitor, a three year old PC, and sitting in a cubicle right next to one of the network printers. I'm not even within sight of a window and my cube is literally just barely big enough to fit my desk. I write my code in SharpDevelop because my boss won't spring for a visual studio upgrade. Two years ago it was, "Well, we'll wait for the 2005 version to come out instead of buying 2003." This year it was, "We'll wait for the 2007 version to come out instead of buying 2007." And last but not least, despite the fact that we write mostly reporting-heavy information systems, I use the version of Crystal Reports that came bundled with VS.NET because, as crappy as it is, it's the best thing available to me.

I have to agree with Jeff, Richard, and Carl. The message you get from a setup like this is clear: you are not important. We don't value you as a person, we don't value your work, and we're certainly not going to waste money on making your life easier. The net effect is that morale, especially among the more clueful people in my office, is in the gutter. There's misery galore and productivity is next to nothing. But fortunately we work for the government, so nobody notices. And no, that was not a joke.

Sometimes it seems like our environment is tailored specifically to sabotage productivity. It's kind of like the keyboard they put on the laptops that the police use.Keyboard of actual laptop used in police cars I'm the happless IT guy who has to do configuration and maintenance on these laptops, and I can tell you that the only explanation for those keyboards is that I did something really, really terrible in a past life. They're ruggedized keyboards made of semi-hard plastic. The problem is that they're so rugged that it's completely impossible to type on them. You have to use the two-finger method because the keys are too hard to press with your little fingers. Trying to type with any speed at all is completely futile. And yet the cops are somehow expected to type up tickets and accident reports on these things. It's a wonder they even give out tickets anymore. Actually, maybe that was the idea....

I suppose this is what I get for taking an IT job when I really wanted to be in software development. In retrospect, maybe I should have stayed a full-time student that extra semester or two, finished my damned thesis and looked for a job with a real software company. But I thought I needed some experience and this was the best offer I got, so I took it. Unfortunately, I was too inexperienced to know that crappy experience isn't necessarily better than no experience.

Though on the up side, when I took this job is when I moved in with my (now) wife. It also provided the money that paid for that engagement ring. So in some ways this was the right decision. It's just the professional advancement wasn't one of them.

Now I just need to finish my damned Master's thesis and get the hell out of here.

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