Thursday, September 08, 2005

Don't sweat the petty things, and don't pet the sweaty things

What if you held a "who gives a shit?" party, and nobody came? Can you force someone to care about what they're doing? What if you've got a team that is more interested in punching the clock than participating?

Lately it's been like working in a morgue around here. Nobody seems happy. Nobody's talking. We used to have fun. Every Friday afternoon we'd play music. Out loud. Mostly bad disco - K.C. and the Sunshine Band especially. Every time we had a release day we'd play the album Classic Queen. The songs on that album just seemed perfect for a software release:
A Kind Of Magic
Under Pressure
Hammer To Fall
Stone Cold Crazy
I'm Going Slightly Mad
I Want It All
The Miracle
These Are The Days Of Our Lives
Keep Yourself Alive
Who Wants To Live Forever
The Show Must Go On
You could hear the pace of the typing picking up when the fast tunes came on.

We named all our releases. Stupid names, really, and they don't make any sense to anyone who wasn't there, but if you were there, man they are something to laugh about now. Like the time I sent the boss to a tradeshow with the wrong version of the software. Or the time Morgan rear-ended a girl (on the highway). Too funny, but if you weren't there, you're wondering what the hell I'm talking about now.

The point is, we had a ball. We used to stay at work in the evenings. We'd eat here, or go home for dinner and then come back. Sometimes we stayed all night, for an important release. We even had people who weren't developers staying to keep the developers laughing all night long (thanks Matt). And we did all this because we wanted to, not because we had to.

We had a reputation for being the first ones in and the last ones out, for just making things work. I can remember sitting in the basement of the library at UCSF, editing a JPEG that we needed to import into [another vendor]'s system. Everyone else had gone to their hotel, or to eat, or drink. Three of us were hacking a JPEG into a modality simulator, and running a scenario through [a different vendor]'s RIS. We didn't need to be there doing that, but we wanted to. It all worked the next day, and I don't think anybody knew why. But we did, and we felt great about it.

What changed to make us go from a disco to a morgue? I think it started when the triangle flipped. It's something like jumping the shark. We used to say that the people we're responsible to can be drawn in a triangle. At the top is the patient, then the caregiver, then the people paying the caregiver, then our company, then the shareholders. That was in the Before Time. Now, the triangle has flipped upside down. I think we don't care anymore because nobody cares about us. Who's going to stay here all night, to get the satisfaction of being laid off in a numbers game next month, when the sales targets aren't met?

How do we make things better? I don't think you can force someone to give a shit. But remember that silence is not apathy, and it's not non-participation. Let's say we want to pick a team colour. Someone suggests green. Then someone asks, "what shade of green?" You know what? I don't care. Pick any colour you like. Just don't mistake indifference for apathy.

SuperMegaCorp says they like us, and that they're listening to us. Why, just now they're talking about upgrading to a newer version of Lotus Notes, and dusting the place more often, and adjusting the temperature. If we can just get those done, we'll all be happy worker bees. Never mind the petty things like vision and leadership and sound software development practices.


  1. Anonymous12:45 am

    what does this mean? sexual?