Every Geek Needs a Pet (Project)

Geeks always want to play with new toys. Fair enough, this is what makes ’em tick. But is the day job the right place for such playtime ? Bad idea, I think, for employer and employee: it changes the focus from the goal to be achieved to the path how to get there. Personal interest starts to interferes with objective decisions, deliverables may be ‘fancy’, but not meet customer expectations. And it can backfire for Geek as well: if playtime doesn’t happen, then frustration will follow.

Sooo – why not play at home !? Create your own perfect world where you can do everything the way you want – with the toys you choose, no time pressure, no distraction.

This may sound rough, especially coming from a software developer himself. But between me and you, let’s be honest for a moment, Geek:

You wouldn’t hire an electrician just because he’s using the latest & greatest tools and certainly wouldn’t pay him to read the manual on the job. You expect him to choose the tool that fits the task best, to know how to use it – and certainly not to play around instead of installing what you are paying for.

For some reason, this expectation hasn’t really made it into IT. Technology choices are very often driven by personal interest, delivery cost include a significant amount of ‘learning on the job’, engineering focus moves from the goal to the path.

Sure, work has to be satisfying and one way Geek achieves this is by trying to get as much playtime with new toys as possible. If he’s a lucky Geek, this aligns with his task, he can play all day, spend paid overtime self-educating and adding skills to his CV. He spends much time at work, manager is happy.

But there’s a few traps (and this is what made me write this blog):

  1. If the technology is given – and a boring one, then Geek will soon get very frustrated. The core of what makes him tick is entirely absent. Geek will become demotivated, frustrated and cynical.
  2. If Geek actually gets to choose his toy technology but then looses interest, he will want to walk off or change again half way through the task. Manager will say no, Geek gets back to point 1.
  3. If Geek enjoys shiny toy excessively, he will become inefficient due to sleep deprivation and lack of focus on what needs to be achieved. The deliverable will be very neat – but not what Mr. Customer asked for. Manager will make sure this doesn’t happen again, Geek is back to point 1 again.

To secure Happy Geek Time, I strongly suggest to start a little pet project at home – if you haven’t already. There’s plenty of freedom, no hassles, total power and limitless opportunity for perfection. Choose to build something that will give you a great sense of achievement once it’s in the box – preferably something that will be used by others and make them happy. Open source collaboration, little tools for your friends and family, prototypes or small freelance jobs to earn extra pocket money…anything beyond the ‘Hello World’ throw away code will do the job.

The payout is massive: your Geekdom will be satisfied enough to survive dreadful days of boring coding on the job. You will acquire new skills and feel the rewards of achievement – even if it’s something small. You will also learn about work discipline, task & time management, development & release processes, pragmatism and maybe even commercial aspects of software development. Sounds scary ? Wait – maybe one day you will even understand what’s driving your boss’ decisions !

Good coding, let me know how you go…

Every Geek Needs a Pet (Project)

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