Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The stuff that keeps us going!

Lately, I found myself wondering, what keeps us going?. I mean doing what we do, our work, day after day, month after month, year after year? Personally I can’t explain where do I get the energy for waking up every morning as if it was my first day of work, besides the fact that I love my job and I have always this pressure to do the best I can and to learn more so I can be better.
Normally for software companies here in Silicon Valley, the R&D campus is always open 24 hours, so engineers can work anytime they want. Usually I am in my office before 7:30 AM and when people ask me why I am in so early? I answer “ I want to beat the traffic, you know how the traffic became in the valley”. I don’t know why I feel embarrassed by the question, because for me there is no room for it. I came early because I am so excited to check if the solution I thought about before going to sleep yesterday will work or not. Isn’t that obvious? After spending two or 3 hours working in peace, the phone starts to ring and Outlook mail notification starts bugging me. Ok let’s deal with the bureaucracy.
“Hello, Sam speaking”
“Hey Sam, how are you? This is xxx from prod marketing, we wanted you in this meeting where we’re defining the different segments of users and …..bla bla “
“You know xxx, why don’t you send me the meeting minutes and any questions you may have by mail and I’ll give you my input. I am kinda busy today”

“Hello Sam speaking”
“Hey Sam, this is yyy from Human resources, the meeting started”
“What meeting?”
“Uhh, the meeting for discussing the next employee survey”
“Oh that one, I briefed zzz and he will be sitting for me”
“Yeah, I know but this is very important and we have this external consultant to help us understand our employees…..bla bla…”
“zzz, I have an open communication channel with my team and I did not lose any engineer in the last 24 months!!!”“Oh ok, as you like then”

Of course sometimes, the meetings are important and I have to leave the piece of code I am debugging the same way a lion will leave a deer he was hunting for hours. And generally, people will know better after while to invite me only when it makes sense. For Emails, the technique is a little bit different. Normally, middle managers in US companies thrive for visibility and that’s how they build their careers. It is known in the US that if you don’t make it as a manager before 30, you will never make it far in the hierarchy. That’s why some people focus on their visibility to their bosses and bosses’ boss and that mean a lot of email and meetings and taking credit of any good result their team may achieve. So my technique is to forward as much politic mail as I can to my peers who I know like politics and deal only with the mails that are related to our core work which is getting the product out of the doors in time.

And then I go back to my piece of code I left suspended in the debugger with a large smile like the kid who found his favorite candy.

Then comes lunch time and sometimes I am really embarrassed because, this guy stops by and invite you to lunch to introduce himself and chat and I really don’t want to spend an hour away from my computer, so I try all the tricks girls use to get rid of an insisting admirer without being rude. Then I run to the cafeteria; get my usual turkey sandwich to go and run back to the office.

Why do I do that? I should be stopping writing code myself, nobody in my position even think about doing it. They just enjoy their management position. Why don’t I take a break? In fact, I never tried or even thought about stopping because that’s who I am and that’s what I am good at. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy managing my small teams of young engineers and I take care of them, but I work with them, doing the same things they do and I learn from them as much as they learn from me, but I can’t give it a break.

It is now 6:00PM and that’s the best time for doing some real work, because it is quiet and only R&D engineers are in the building, the brain soldiers, the real deal, the people who make it happen, the magicians, the artists and I like being with them and they like being with this old odd guy who is still jamming his keyboard between java and C++. I say old because in this line of work you are old by 35. I like being around them, we understand each other, we tell the same nerd jokes and we are the only ones who can laugh while reading a buggy line of code but not at the last top 10 of Letterman.

One of my colleagues who is leaving stops by:
-Sam you’re still here, didn’t you come early?
-Oh yeah, I am just waiting for the traffic to clear, you know how the traffic is nowadays in the valley

It is 8:00 PM now and the traffic cleared, so I head back home to spend some time with the kids before they go to sleep. And then finally I can sit with my other half who I never understood what keeps her going either! Because she is the one who has the toughest job of keeping this family going taking care of the zillions things at home, so I can get to play with my toys all day long.

PS: You should be wondering where I got the time to write this. It is easy, it is the 4th of July today (US Independence Day) and we’re having a pool party in the backyard for the kids. After 2 hours of fun, I decided to spend some time coding. After starting up, the computer, I started checking the different blogs I find interesting, while waiting for tools to initialize, and somehow I felt guilty, so I decided to write about it. This helped me and I hope you will ask yourself the same question. What keeps us going?


zizou from Djerba said...

Dear Sam
I won't bother you more than these two lines...
I'm enjoying reading your blog and I'm sure that it will help you to see clearer !
I hope that it will be the 4th of July everyday so you will keep writing and updating this blog ;-)
Good luck !

SNAWSI said...

Hey Sam,

I've just "discovered" your blog and eventhough it only contains 2 post but it's already captivating :-)

I think what keep us going on a certain rythem of life ( whether work or family) is simply LOVE, i.e; the love of it ;-)

However, when we're not satisfied (at work or with some relationship), we should start wondering : "why am I still here? when will I take off to somewhere better ?"

samsoum said...

@zizou, thanks for visiting

@snawsi, you're right, passion is the driver. Thanks