Industry of passion?

Now I do realise that I haven’t seen it all nor could I have. I am young and haven’t been in that many companies, yet I’ve kept my eyes peeled and ears tuned. Disclaimer aside (and I think I’ll be writing a couple of these), it feels so insanely rare (for me, and I seriously would like to be corrected here) to bump into a Free Electron or even people with really passionate attitudes towards their work.

I can’t help but feel that the atmosphere of software industry in this country follows the familiar Finnish disposition of protestant self-flagellation. People seem to sink into a comatose-like acceptance of the facts that define what they’ve invested their life into. They work long hours in a grey cubicle, fight over conference room time, eat lunch in a substandard cantina serving food made with no real care, do their work on a corporate standard pc with a gigabyte of memory and a single 17″ display, serve under a team leader promoted to that position because the company ran out of COBOL work and generally spend most of their waking hours in a numbing lack of inspiration. And they’re just fine with that. I hope I’m really missing something here (other than the two companies I know of that really take pride in the community of developers they have).

In a previous job, I remember wondering where the profits I was making ended up. My monthly income for the company was never below 15000€, and more often than not, over 20000€. Yet my salary, benefits and social security expenses were around 4500€, cubicle rent no more than maybe 200€ and the lease of tools (PC and phone basically) maybe 100€. One thing was for sure: not a single euro ever found its way to anything to boost my morale. Sure, the salary wasn’t too shabby, but it wasn’t outstanding to the point that I’d happily take any kind of work and working environment that got thrown at me. The conditions were pretty much like i described in the previous paragraph.

It just so happens that the said team in the said company has now pretty much lost all of its key players and the team leader got transferred to who knows where.

Happiness-driven business

I’m a strong believer of the idea that business that aims to generate happiness, eventually generates profit. As Joel Spolsky will happily testify, and I’d like to think Larry Page would, too: if the best people in the industry want to work for you, they’ll do an amazing job creating an amazing product and customers want amazing products. And in the end, what’s the point of doing, although somewhat profitable, business that ends up generating a house full of uninspired and bored people.

I do realise that Joel’s ideas probably won’t translate straight into the bigger corporate environment, but there are, however, aspects that do. A company employing hundreds, or thousands, of employees probably can never expect to hire just the créme de la créme, but I bet the average Peter Propellerhead does a hell of a lot of a better job if you provide him with a more inspiring working environment.

Some steps to follow in a corporate-environment:

  1. If you really need to shove your employees into a standard Dilbert veal-fattening farm (thanks Joel, I love this expression), at least consult a real interior design architect and ask her to design cubicles that don’t make people want to hang themselves. Make ‘em colorful or translucent or something. Decorate the office with colorful things and plants. Check out Google’s offices.
  2. Ask the employee what kind of tools he’d like to work with. In the previous job I talked about, everyone got a fairly expensive corporate standard IBM laptop with a docking station and a single 17″ screen. I was a fairly statically located developer and didn’t really need a laptop so I would’ve happily traded the laptop and dock in for a desktop pc with an extra gigabyte of memory and a second identical display. In the end, hardware is as cheap as soap these days so don’t skimp on it or your employees will be grumpy over the economical equivalent of nothing.
  3. If your employee isn’t satisfied with the work assigned to her, try to arrange something within the corporation and save someone the trouble of recruiting.

Of course there’s more you can do in terms of the more traditional approaches such as benefits, education and the lot, but the aforementioned points are fairly simple and cheap things that get overlooked all the time.

I’m aching to test my faith in happiness-driven business by launching a startup with these things in mind, but I don’t have the people. I’d need a CEO and a couple of technologically ingenious and passionate developers, and they’d have to share my vision. There was this absolutely brilliant Free Electron at the previous job I’ve been ranting about throughout this post, but since I didn’t work with him that closely, I doubt he’d jump ship. I’m probably also too young to be taken seriously.

I think I’ll save the speculation of personal career moves to another post. I’ll close off with the points of this post.

If you’re an employer: Take care of your developers. Inspire them. Keep them engaged. If you score high in the Joel Test, call me.

If you’re an employee: Do a favour to the whole profession and don’t settle for shit.

P.S. Bear with me, I’ve been off the writing tip for a while so my posts will take an equal while to reach structure.