Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The culture I prefer

This article named telecommuting culture is an interesting look at how job ads can make it pretty clear about the associated company culture. It pretty much sums up my own experiences of how to tell a company culture that I like from one where I'll just never fit in...

"The world’s a big place. There’s a lot of developers in it. There’s even a few kick ass ones. Most of those don’t live near you ... By being up front about telecommuting not being and option, you’re telling me that company comes first ... Hiring someone good is important, but hiring the best you can afford isn’t."

There's a follow-on post on taking stances that points out how much of a controversy was stirred up by his original, highly opinionated post. He's nicely pointed out that his stance was a strong one - in order to generate discussion, but that he's not unreasonable, basically he just wants people to understand that job-hunting is a two-way street. The following quotes best summarise his (modified) stance.

"Companies that start the conversation with prospective employees by outlining the things they aren’t going to stand for are starting off on the wrong foot..."
"Companies, particularly in the tech space, are asking their potential employees to take a chance on them. Companies are taking a risk too, but when companies expect the employees to be the only ones giving (broadly disregarding monetary compensation from the companies for the moment), they set the wrong tone."

I completely agree with this feeling. Sometimes employers forget that they're not just interviewing you, but that you are also interviewing them - and that this really is a business proposal that has to be fair to both sides. If a company comes across as unwilling to be flexible for any reason, it doesn't bode well for the rest of the employment relationship.

I've too often seen employers that seem to think they own your soul once you sign on the dotted line... that they can make any demand of you and that you'll jump-to. This is the business equivalent of "the customer can have any colour he likes so long as it's black". Which may well work just fine for people that like black... but if you find it overheats in the sun and you need white... you'll find it best to take your business elsewhere. In fact I wrote about the lack of viability of this attitude (at length) in Up or out: the attitude for contractors.

This seems especially to be the case in a down economy as has recently been the case - where I've even seen some employers demand unpaid overtime and drop loud hints about how people should be grateful for having any job at all in this economy.

Apart from being incredibly rude, such employers are short-sighted. Firstly - the economy is going to pick up again... at which point, the indentured slaves are quite capable of picking up sticks and going elsewhere. Secondly - even in the down economy, there were enough jobs (at least in my field) to go and find somewhere that treated their employees like human beings rather than indentured servants.

It pays, in the long run, to be considerate to your staff; to even be flexible, or generous. After all, they're the ones who are literally making your company's money, day-in and day-out.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The two faces of Optimism

I've often been accused of being a pessimist.

I'm actually not. Far from it, I truly am an optimist. The problem seems to be that often people use the word "optimist" to mean something quite different to my (accepted) understanding of the word; and so, not agreeing with their worldview, they label me as a pessimist.

I think the real issue stems from divergent ways of viewing the term.

There are two definitions in common use.

A world of abundance

First is the one that I subscribe to. Optimism, for me, is to see a world of abundance, rather than a sea of troubles.

I believe that there is a solution to every problem (even if the solution is to throw out the old game and find new rules) and that anyone has the ability to get through the problems and find their dreams. Nobody is a lost cause and there is plenty of abundance to go around.

For me, that is optimism.

*You're* not an optimist

The other view I generally see in the pejorative sense. I can best explain by example:

You don't agree that my <* patently-impossible or highly-improbable *> plan will succeed, That's because you're just not an optimist!

I guess I'm just not a yes-man

Let me be clear: It's not "optimism" to be in deep denial about the efficacy of your plan, and I am not a "pessimist" just because I have looked at the numbers and found that they don't add up quite as well as what you hope them to be. I simply don't agree with you.

I am not a pessimist because I believe that *this* solution of yours won't work. I am an optimist because I believe that there *is* a solution, and that we will find it if we keep trying.

Optimism and employee relations

This issue often crops up at its most pathological in employee relations. In my experience, this is because there's a certain breed of manager that simply doesn't want to hear anything negative - even if it's the facts surrounding a potential solution. If solutions to a problem are proposed, then the most optimistic *sounding* solution will often win, regardless of actual likelihood of being the correct fit. Any nay-sayer to the offered solution will simply be dismissed as a curmudgeon, and thereafter will often be viewed as a "troublemaker".

As human folly goes, if the plan then fails, the nay-sayer is hardly likely to receive any recognition for having pointed out the potential... in fact, if the subject is ever brought up again, greater dislike is sure to follow - nobody likes being told "I told you so", especially on the heels of defeat.

More often than not, however, the initial solution will not fail miserably, but will simply provide sub-optimal results. The originator of the idea will be convinced that it was the best that could possibly have been achieved and that you were clearly a pessimist to think that it could fail...

Trust me... there is no point to trying to persuade them that your idea could have been better.

So, what to do?

The only way out of this dilemma is to make sure that instead of simply taking pot-shots at a bad idea, always provide an alternative solution that you can show is more likely to work. In this way you can show that you are optimistic about solving the problem, just not about the particular solution on the table. It's even better if you can reuse aspects of the original solution in your own - to show that the first proposal wasn't all bad, just needs re-alignment... but this isn't always possible.

It's certainly not a guaranteed solution. The first idea may well not be removed from the state of play - and may still be valued seeming more optimistic (ie providing a promise of a better end-solution... even if not more likely to succeed). This is even more likely to happen if the solution has been championed by a manager in an environment where Highest Paid Opinion wins reigns supreme). However, offering a solution will show that you are presenting a positive outlook, and you're less likely to be tarred as strongly with the pessimist/troublemaker brush. You show that at least you are trying to be helpful.

Of course... in some environments it still makes little difference, and even a dissenting opinion will brand you.

In this case, my suggestion is to be an optimist and trust that the world will get along in the end, and that perhaps there might be bigger, better places for you... if you choose to go looking for them. :)



In reaction to them, I'll often tell them that I am a "realist" - which unfortunately makes them just snort and underscore the "pessimist" label in their heads. After all, I've found that a lot of optimists don't know the difference. Of course, mainly I'm just playing with their heads. :)


Sorry, "yes-woman" just sounds stupid, so I won't use it regardless of the truth of my actual sex; And I will bite anybody that suggests that I use "yes-person" :P

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Controversy: too much choice in Ruby

A tongue-in-cheek post called "So you want to be a ruby dev" has sparked a bit of controversy in the community by pointing out the overabundance of options now available to ruby learners. A lot of commentary has happened on the hacker news thread for the article, with the loudest voices complaining that while there is choice - that it isn't mandatory to learn all the options, for example in the same way as examples such as Java.

Opponents point out that the proliferation of options is confusing potential newcomers to the field, who don't rightly know where they should begin. That the community (and therefore the documentation) seems to be fragmenting, where it isn't simply missing, or so old as to be effectively obsolete.

The article sums up the situation by lamenting: "Remember when Ruby and Rails was about getting stuff done?" The implication being that newbies have to spend so much time learning about all the possible solutions... simply to choose which one they should begin to use.

A follow-on article on Ruby Inside continues the discussion, pointing out that the variety of options available to Ruby-users is its strength, rather than being a drawback. It points out that what we are missing is just a few simple "for newcomers" help-pages that clearly show how you can get started with the minimum of fuss.

The post ends by calling for ruby-developers to remember the philosophy of having many ways to do something, but to have an opinion on what the best approach should be. It also strongly calls for more straightforward "Start by doing X, then Y" how-to posts for beginner Ruby users... emulating the rather better documented beginner tutorials on the Ruby on Rails pages.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Link: Mind your ands and ors

I've posted before about the subtle (and insidious) difference between the 'and'/'or' operators and the nearly-but-not-quite-the-same '&&' and '||' operators... but likely lost amongst the rest of the noise in my acts_as-good_style post.

This post: Using “and” and “or” in Ruby does a much better job of explaining when to use each one - and goes further to suggest that you shouldn't simply give up on using 'and'/'or', describing their usage as control-flow operators.

It's a small thing, but every bit helps.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Rails 3.0 is out...

The Rails 3.0 Release Candidate has been out for a few days, and it looks like it has some great goodies in store.

There's a lot to catch up on, but I suggest you start by having a look at these Rails 3 screencasts by Gregg Pollack.

Update: and now Rails 3.0 is done! - no more beta, it's really out there and ready to use. Go have fun!

Monday, 2 August 2010

Life at 34

When I was 5 I liked to do jigsaw puzzles upside down (to make it harder) and blow bubbles off the balcony -- watching them drift over the street. I liked to walk to school by myself (one block) and learn Origami from the lady in the flats behind us.

When I was 7 I wished on every star that I could have a baby sister. When I was 8, I got one.

When I was 10 I liked to explore the backways of Oyster Bay, picking flowers to make perfume (which smelled terrible). I played fantasy make-believe games with my cousins - involving magic and unicorns, where we saved the world.

When I was 12 I got another sister.... I stopped wishing.

When I was 13 I liked to play make-believe with my sisters and all the younger cousins. Gordy and I plotted adventures for us all, in-amongst the bamboo.

When I was 15 I like to climb up on the roof and watch the clouds drift by. I liked to ride my bike home from school and play LARP in the park across the road.

When I was 17 I liked to swim in the backyard pool, drifting underwater with my hair floating loose around me. I liked to frantically scribble down my hurts in my diary and day-dream about the brat-packer boys; making up adventure stories or inserting myself as a character in my favourite movies.

When I was 20 I loved the freedom of being independent, waking up in my own flat to the sound of Cockatoos in the pine-trees. I liked being free to wake up in the afternoon and go for a walk in the twilight, or in the quiet time after the curfew painted the streets with night. I liked staying up all night, having coffee with friends, as television got progressively more idiotic. As the sky began to warm with first light - I went out again. I liked feeling the expectant hush of the cool dawn, then retiring before the hustle woke up.

When I was 22 I loved my writing diary - pouring out my heart or playing with words, crafting new worlds on a page. I liked learning new things -- drifting from subject to subject. I liked psychology, programming and the occult. I loved my cats. I liked it that I got married and was somebody's wife. I liked meditating with my husband -- humming toneful chords without meaning. I liked learning martial arts with him.

When I was 24 I loved my garden. I spent days drifitng through it and tending to the plants. I liked picking silver-beet and herbs and cooking up a meal that I'd taken from seed to table. I liked shopping at Bunnings for fruit trees. I liked spending Saturday nights with the Druids, singing, meditating, drinking mead and telling stories. Then the morning-afters, skinny-dipping in the wading-pool as the sun climbed the sky.

When I was 26 I liked exploring the back-areas of Chatswood in search of great food. I loved hacking together brilliant solutions for colleagues desperately late on their projects. I liked rock-climbing with my work-mates and playing network games in the training room until late at night. I yearned for a man that I couldn't have.

When I was 28 I loved freedom. The freedom to choose my own time, to choose what to learn, to work on my own projects. I liked smiling at my young class-mates who complained about the work - knowing this was easy compared with Real Work. I liked the meditation of archery. I liked spending my time reading while sipping coffee, or eating noodles at the local hole-in-the-wall. I liked long walks in the evening, scoping out my local territory.

When I was 30 I liked building my own small business, knowing I owned it and I could acheive whatever I wanted. I liked learning medieval crafts alongside eager students, and feasting with friends in a medieval campsite. I liked reading books, sipping coffee after a good workout at the gym. I liked watching myself learn how to walk again.

When I was 32 I enjoyed being a senior developer, I enjoyed being at the top of my form as well as earning high pay. I enjoyed choosing my first major investments in shares and buying my first property. I enjoyed planning what to do with my life, and choosing to gather interesting experiences around me - New Zealand, the Northern Territory, Thailand. I enjoyed learning photography, spanish and investing. I watched a *lot* of DVDs.

When I was 34 I loved exploring in a new country. I liked visiting ancient ruins and watching Shakespeare at the Globe. I enjoyed getting better at photography, meeting new people and places. I enjoyed building my own startup with friends. I enjoyed my morning coffee at the local in Windsor, and walking past a castle on my way to work in the morning. I enjoyed pottering around in my allotment late into the long, english summer nights.

This post began as an exercise: "for every five years, write what you enjoyed doing". It helps you find out what you most enjoy - and how your tastes change over time.