Saturday, January 31, 2009

Playing Hurt - Can you sprain your corpus callosum?

As s long-time reader of the C2 wiki, I was pleasantly surprised to find another blogger who referenced it in a post about Playing Hurt.  Now, in comparison to, say, pro football players (American football), who play in freezing weather with sprained ankles, cracked ribs, and minor concussions, the "hurt" a programmer experiences is small potatoes.  On the other hand, since what we do is nearly 100% mental
("95% of this game is half mental" -- Yogi Berra), our "hurt" is all mental. 

The leading issues are burnout and overload.  Burnout is the end result of chronic overload, but can also be caused by other things, like continual dismissal of complaints about bad process, lots of time working on projects that go nowhere, lack of recognition, the host of typical workplace issues, and
conflicting priorities (aka matrix management)

Now, there is not anything conclusive that shows that playing hurt in Software Development leads to drastically worse software.  It's fairly clear that your product will be lower than your best, but nothing that shows it will be in the bottom half of your ability.  However, you will find that over time, your lower quality will snowball into larger problems.

Possible solutions are:
  1. discuss better work conditions with your boss - more input into schedules, process improvements, better recognition
  2. find another job - not that it's any better anywhere else, but the change in environment and the learning you have to do will make you feel better.
  3. a side project - pick something you want to fix at your job, and start carving out an hour or two a week to work on it.  Maybe it's test harnesses for your systems, or automating a build, or just learning about another part of the system.  Try to find something fun to do.

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