Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Secret of Professional Happiness

I was talking to Prakash Swaminathan the other day and he said something that I thought encapsulated the essence of having a great professional life.

(a) Work with people you admire, (b) on interesting projects and (c) work from home as much as possible.

I could imagine dropping (c) if the other two criteria were met (though it does make a lot of sense in today's networked world) but whenever I've compromised on (a) or (b) life has sucked, without exception.

So children,learn from your elders. Always work with great people on great projects and avoid the corporate politics bullshit and you'll be happy professionally.

Of course this assumes you are skilled enough (or are willing to work to get there) that awesome people want you on awesome projects but that is a different post altogether.


Kerry Buckley said...

I definitely disagree with (c).

Apart from the well-documented benefits of co-location, if you're working with people you like and admire, why wouldn't you want to work with them in person?

A day in the office is more than just work -- it's also conversation, table football, meeting for lunch etc.

Maybe I'd feel differently if I lived further than a 20 minute bike ride from work.

Ravi said...

I could turn it around "if you're working with people you like and admire, why *would* you want to work with them only face to face?

I guess it depends on how you define "work with". I don't *mind* working at an office, but if you *have* to go to the office to get any work done (or you *have* to be in a specific location - California or Bangalore or wherever), then that's different.

It also helps that I am doing the kind of work where a closed office door and deep thinking would helps a lot (vs pair programming ons some enterprise project, say). People online are just a chat window or tweet away, or a phone call away.

Prakash works from home for a company with people in California, Paris, Dubai, Moscow etc, which is where he was coming from, and having worked both ways, I suspect the "work from home" bit is under estimated or considered "impossible" just because most people are not used to working that way.

As Open Source demonstrates, a lot of software can and is written by distributed teams. I suspect more work will get done that way in the future.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe I'd feel differently if I lived further than a 20 minute bike ride from work."

If the set of people you admire and the set of interesting projects you are interested in happen to be a 30 minutes bike ride from you, then sure, it makes sense to bike to work.

But generally people you admire are all over the world. As are projects. What now?

This is not to deride the importance of "clusters" like Silicon Valley (and if you live there, that is great) but if you want to work with awesome people and they are distributed, then some kind of remote working is the only option.

Interestingly enough, (and somewhat tangentially), before the 20th century, a lot of research in Mathematics and Physics were done by people who lived far apart and and wrote letters (which would take weeks or months to be delivered) to each other.

Joe Williams

dybydx said...

If one were blessed to be in the company of interesting and knowledgeable people; got a chance to do interesting work; and also got paid for all this, what is not to like? In reality, life rarely works this way. The moment one is being compensated for work, he/she loses sovereignty over his/her work. If one gets paid to work and "deliver" something of value, then it isn't a case of someone "struggling" for art. However, I do not mean to suggest that one has to burn their productive years in dead-end jobs. All I am trying to say is that the very act of accepting "pay" for work is "binding" and that is how the world works. Even people at Google who tend to portray a carefree image of hipster programmers swishing by on their cool folding scooters aren't immune to this reality.

It is a lot better to accept that work can suck and channel the enthusiasm and energy into ones own projects or in collaboration with like minded folks. The sooner we accept this, the lesser work is going to suck. Hugh MacLeod has an interesting theory known as "sex and cash." He says that having interesting people to work with and doing interesting work is pleasurable like sex. One doesn't get to experience it all the time. Sometimes, work sucks but you do it for the "cash" because you got to eat. He sums it all nicely, "Don't quit your day job."