вторник, 30 июля 2013 г.

Regularities


Recently I came across an advice on blogging by John Sonmez – he recommends those willing to maintain a personal blog to post there regularly – best of all, according to a strict schedule. As a mature blogger and, at the same time, an athlete, he definitely knows what he’s talking about. On the other hand, in the last post I mentioned that employment made my life more ‘scheduled’ in a way that seems positive to me. This makes me search for some reason making regularities desired for us and helpful in achieving our goals.

First, it is easy to note that the things we do regularly determine what we are in the eyes of others. For instance, you are considered a software developer if you devote several days a week to software engineering activities. The same way, one is called an alcoholic if and only if they drink a lot of spirits and do that on a daily basis (more or less). However, obviously, John didn’t mean this simple fact – i.e. if you post every day, you are a blogger, period – advising to blog regularly. Similarly, I like the fact that now I work from 11 a.m. till 8 p.m. on average not merely because doing so allows me to deem myself a proper citizen, but because this gives me finer control over my life, and that is what makes following certain patterns in a constant and consistent manner so important.

Actually, regular behavior is what allows for fine control. The nature of this idea can be seen clearly when one views it the way control theorists and machine learners do. For those who build automated systems control is all about minimizing error – the difference between the observed and the desired behavior. What makes the engineering approach so valuable is that it begins with acknowledging the possibility – or, better, inevitability – of errors. The idea to do so is as obvious as different from what people (including me) usually do – when deciding to start something new we tend to believe that we’ll succeed easily and quickly, and the sun will shine. While the latter assumption is certainly true, there is a problem with the former – we do fail.

Let’s follow the engineer’s path: say we prepared ourselves for failing and are ready to go – what does it have to do with regularities? The trick is that to succeed one needs to fail a lot and to do that on a regular basis, thus opening the doors to controlling things. Achieving one’s goals is made possible by the flow of information generated by doing something regularly. Only if you continuously get this information it can help you move closer to your goals. Not only setting up a schedule of blog posts allows one to know instantly when they fail and to react as soon as possible – it permits looking back and understanding the nature of one’s mistakes, making it possible to perform better in future. Furthermore, one shouldn’t forget that we, humans, are in fact sophisticated control systems and behave, to some extent, in the same error-minimizing fashion. When we deviate from a well-established behavior pattern, we tend to return to it unconsciously. That is, we develop habits and this is another reason to evenly divide the way to your targets into carefully defined steps.

Having said this, I can easily explain why getting employed feels so positive to me even if I don’t take into consideration the obvious benefits of a challenging and well-paid job. Surprisingly, the great part is that the job takes a great deal of my time and does that in a regular manner. Combined with the time spent on commuting, having breakfast and lunch, plus some other ‘transactional expenses’, this leaves me with approximately 3 to 4 hours each working day to do some cool and valuable stuff not related to work. Knowing this figure and realizing that it won’t change, I am free from illusions of having a lot of time to tackle everything I want. Even more, whenever (quite often) I fail to spend this free time on something worthy I know precisely how much I lose. With this same principle applying to other resources – say, money – as well, I now have a lot of information to be more manageable.

Keeping all this stuff in my head, I do not search to eliminate any uncertainties and 'free will' completely, since that is both impossible and boring. Still, I believe that in case I want to succeed in something, I should work toward my aims regularly – with close to constant pace and in carefully allocated timeframes. This is almost as important as knowing precisely where I want to arrive.
 

суббота, 13 июля 2013 г.

The Candidate's Wishlist: Wrecked

After defending the diploma in the end of June I have finally got employed this week. I already feel how the job changes my life and get first benefits from it, but what is more interesting right now is the rapid mutation of my views on working as a programmer.
It is easy to track these changes because before engaging into a series of job interviews back in the last month I made up the so-called candidate’s wishlist – a set of about ten points, which I deemed important in the context of choosing a company to work for. What makes me speak of it here is the fact that some of the items are not fulfilled, though this makes me even happier with the new job.
One thing that I desired is a comfortable office. When composing my wishlist I tried to imagine the place where I would like to develop software: it had an A/C, a coffee maker and a teapot as well as other stuff of this kind – we have all of this. The workplaces with decent computers in my ideal office were distributed across several medium-sized rooms hosting three to five people each. That’s precisely where I failed: we have an open-space. I heard a lot of bad words about open-space and feared it a bit, but now I thank God for getting into this one. Although it makes the boundaries of my private zone elusive – almost non-existent – it is at the same time very friendly and welcoming. Being able to constantly see the colleagues around me working, engaging into passionate conversations regarding our progress and simply striding to and fro somehow motivates and, instead of distracting, helps to concentrate on doing my own job. After a couple of days there I truly believe that the way our office is organized plays a major role in making me a part of my new team – that’s something that, surprisingly, I have never heard about open-space.
On the other side, mere floor and walls – or their absence – can’t do much to improve and make easier one’s interaction with colleagues – that’s the people who make the difference. Upon coming to the office last Monday I found about three dozen interesting and kind men and women there, who are indeed willing to help me to get accustomed to the new job and environment. It turned out that not only my teamleader is concerned about my progress, but also other seniors do pay attention to what I do and, even though I am mostly learning new stuff now, they make me feel that I contribute a little to the progress of the whole company.
Beside the requirements to the office and the presence of experienced developers my wishlist included the desired size of the team – I thought that it should lie somewhere between five and eight people. The company failed this expectation as well – I am actually going to become the third guy working on a project and we don’t expect any more newcomers. At the same time, after the week on job I feel I can’t easily draw a line between our team and the others – we depend too strongly on those who do other pieces of work and they do depend on us to some extent. Due to this fact combined with the close to absolute availability of every colleague provided be the open-space I could say that the size of my team is about 30 developers, QAs and support engineers. This leads me to an interesting idea: the tradeoff between a small team and a large one is actually a tradeoff between the availability of many experienced colleagues to learn from and the ability to focus on a particular piece of work – software in my case – and the corresponding features and customers. It seems to me that the configuration with a very small team nested in a larger one and strongly connected with the latter’s other parts provides me both kinds of benefit. I know there are no silver bullets and free lunches and I might face some drawbacks in future, although I believe I am really lucky to have things laid out this way. Moreover, now I am not sure if organizing the development of the system of our kind is actually possible in some other fashion.
 
In addition to wrecking my wishlist this way, the job also affects my life outside the office significantly. I always stated that a full-time position is not only a source of income – it is a way to spend less as well. Now, as my spending halved, I have an actual proof of this hypothesis. Moreover, the positive outcomes of my employment are not limited just to the improved trade balance – I also smoke less and even procrastinate much less. On the other side, being obliged to work every day except weekends I can’t devote as much time to, say, this blog and my pet-projects as I used to. However, the lack of free time makes me manage it carefully to be able to do more. Combined with the fact that the job allows me to do something important for the company and its customers that’s a fair compensation. Finally, the ease with which I wake up these days confirms that I am pretty satisfied with my new employer and the regularities, which employment brought into my life.