Monday, September 19, 2011

"Whats wrong with this sentence" or my rant on novelty in my work...

I found a sentence in a blog post that bugs me. The post is interesting and on another topic, its just this one sentence that irritated something that has been cooking for a while... (Just to be clear, this post has nothing to do with the other post and does not comment upon the other posts, content, author, style etc.  It's just been triggered by a juxtaposition of words that happened to occur in the other post.  Ok, the sentence follows...

"We're also not looking to add to our team, and if we decided we did want to grow I expect we wouldn't have any trouble finding someone who was looking for a well-paying job in manhattan using very cool technology. "( From "Life after Pair Programming" by Jay Fields)

Why does this sentence bug me?

1. A programming job is about location, pay and tools/technology?

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.  I've seen this sentiment in a number of places... but at its heart it points out the rotten issues at the heart of so many IT (other) jobs.  No passion.  How can you work on a job that you are not interested in the content first and foremost?  Or at least willing to talk about it first and foremost?  While its nice to have location, pay and technology... these are side benefits. (true they may tip the balance and rightly should... ) but not really mentioning the topic, subject or content of the task seems to be suggesting that its really not much of a highlight.

2.  Perhaps this sentence illustrates whats wrong with my job?
Is the content in my job really that .... note worthy? Is this, like everything else, fundamentally about me? (Probably...)  Am I just unhappy, grumpy, pissed off, tired, sick and seeing the meaningless repetition in my work?  Hell yes...

Does this mean that I have mastered everything in my world? Mostly.  I think the kind of surprises that show up in your work are very illustrative about your level of mastery. 

How novel are the problems you encounter? I have constructed a scale... from not novel to really truly novel. The scale is based on three dimensions.  (Experience with solving, Tools to solve, Domain Knowledge about)

The Experience dimension

This moves from ... "Its all new" to "I remember solving this yesterday".  Essentially, its about how much your memory is involved in the solution.

The Tools dimension

This dimension moves from .... "No currently known process to solve this" to "I have a debugged script that will do this with a single button click".  A simple metric in IT land would be the number of mouse clicks/keystrokes required to affect a solve.

The Domain Knowledge dimension

This dimension moves from .... "I  have only the general working vocabulary to start to talk about/search for this topic" to "I can describe it using 3 or less key words and get a solve in the top couple of pages on " .  Once you can explain something, deeply, succinctly and thoroughly to someone else (or to a search engine)... you own it. It's no longer novel or hard.

So how does all this come together?

Well you build a table in excel, record a set of problems that arrive in a give time frame and score those suckers on the three dimensions above.  Use a 5 or 7 point likert scale for fun and see how novel your job really is.  You can repeat this sampling strategy at various intervals and test hypothesis such as

H0: My job is getting more novel.
H1: Nope.. I'm getting more experienced.

(You should see the experience scores going up while the others stay constant)

H0: Coffee is making me stupid.
H1: Nope.  I was this stupid all along.

(You should see all measures stay constant. Combine with varying (and recording) your coffee intake over time.)

Many other fun experiments can be done using this scale....

But really, whats my take away from this all.... mainly that I'm feeling sick (true) and miserable and probably should not design experiments to evaluate anything in this condition..... shutting up now.

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