Friday, 23 July 2010

In which work ethics are considered

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had two very clear indicators—to myself—of just how much I’m enjoying my current job. I say that because there’s a subtle, but important, difference between saying “I love my job because I love doing x” and observing your own behaviours and thought patterns, and noticing that the way that you do your job, and approach your job, demonstrates how much you enjoy it.

The first way is something I realised about two weeks ago, when I met with the general manager (my boss’s boss, and an all-around good guy) for a quick catch-up chat. I’ve been working at this job for eleven weeks, and it feels like I’ve been there a lot longer, and more importantly, the environment, and the nature of the work is just naturally enjoyable, and it’s something I’m keenly interested in, so I like going to work on general principle. But when I was talking to him, it dawned on me that I like my work so much that, for the first time in years (at least two, if not four) have I been able to get so wrapped up in my work that I lose track of the time. Almost every other job I’ve had, with possibly one exception, since I moved to Toronto, I’ve tended to kind of check out around 4:30 or 4:45; I’d start trying to find something to do that would be productive work, but wouldn’t take too long to do, because I wanted to get out the door. Where I am now, as often as not, it’ll be almost 5:30 when I look at the clock and realise that I should probably go home.

The second, even clearer indication came this past Friday. I’ve been working on coming up with a way to better integrate two of the projects I’ve been working on, and particularly a way to do it across a subdomain divide (the products need to communicate on both the server and client sides; I managed to hack it on the pure client side by spawning some IFrames, but getting a particular server-side action in Project A to trigger an action in Project B has been a little less clear-cut. So, I decided that a simple XML interface into Project B was needed, with a wrapper for Project A (and Project C, which another developer is working on was necessary). So, I spent Thursday and Friday afternoons working on this API.

Two very cool things came from this.

  1. Apart from a few minor syntax errors (missing a parenthesis, putting a colon where a semicolon should’ve been, &c.), the stripped down API worked perfectly right off the bat. A few hundred lines of code, and it Just Worked. I haven’t been that successful in a while.
  2. I ran the first test at about 4:40. I had other things that needed to be done that evening which necessitated my leaving as close to 5:00 as possible, but I had a thought I haven’t had in a long time: I wish I didn’t have to leave right away. I wanted to take my work home with me.

This hasn’t happened in ages, and I didn’t realise how much I missed that feeling until this past Friday. I’ve been telling people how much I like my job based on its perks: catered lunches on Fridays, stocked kitchen, and an amazing sense of community with my co-workers. But being able to say, “there are days that I don’t want to stop working”… that might be the surest sign that you’ve got a great job.

It’s kind of funny, because I normally try to fight against that really, typically Protestant work ethic of, when you boil it down, “living to work”. I can leave my work at the office; most days, it’s a case of losing track of the time because I’m so wrapped up in what I’m doing, so when I realise what time it is, I clean up what I was doing, get it to a state where I can leave, and I go home. And I think that’s what this is an extension of—I got so wrapped up in what I was doing that, had I not had other things to do, I almost certainly would have stuck around, ignoring the clock.

I think that might be the difference. Most days, I don’t care what time it is; it’s irrelevant to me how many hours I spend at the office, as long as I get done what I want to get done. When I compare that against the Toronto workaholics who not only work to live, but take it as a point of some perverse kind of pride that they work sixty- or eighty-hour weeks, I can see much better what the difference is. I’m doing what I love, and I take pride in the result of my work, whereas some people take pride in the amount of work that they do.

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