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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Programming is different

In my work, I alternate between periods where I am very involved in the coding of our programming projects, and periods where I am taken up with managing projects, consulting with our users, or talking to prospective clients. Each time I become immersed in the coding for a few weeks, I rediscover that programming is different than most other forms of work. A number of writers have commented on how programmers are different from other professionals - take a look at Bryan Dollery's Understanding the Psychology of Programming, for example. But I suspect it is the work, not the people, that creates the stylistic difference.

A case in point. Dollery says:
...programmers usually do have a longer attention span and a greater ability to concentrate than the majority of the population...
But I think its possible that the programming itself compels this form of attention. Programming has an addictive quality about it. For example, when I'm responding to an RFP, I'm very ammenable to breaking for lunch when my co-workers seem to be doing the same. But when I'm programming, I just wave them them on... seems I'd much rather figure out why the Next button isn't "greying out" on the last record anymore. And even when I am not at the keyboard, I find that it's very difficult to get my mind off the issues pending in the programming project.

It's not just that I'm willing to devote very long and intense periods to the programming - Once I am truly involved in the code I find it next to impossible to break my thought away from it. So during such periods I'll find I am thinking about my code in the middle of a dinner table discussion about an issue I'm normally quite passionate about.

In addition to the attention/concentration issue, other writers have commented that techies are motivated by different factors than other staff members, and have a tendency not to care about the overriding organizational motivation for the work they are asked to do. Watching my personality realign itself when I drift in and out of intensive technical work has helped me grasp the problems some managers have in leading the IT effforts. If you find yourself supervising techies at your organization and are not sure what makes us tick, you might pick up a copy of Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead the People Who Deliver Technology by Paul Glen, David H. Maister and Warren G. Bennis. Perhaps overstating the case just a little, these guys say that
Simply having geeks is not enough. They must be effectively integrated into the organization and focused on appropriate tasks... the future of your organization depends upon your ability to lead geeks effectively.

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