This article is somewhat a heartbeat reaction to Zach Holman‘s article entitled “Don’t Give Your Users Shit Work” and would like to take this occasion to share some thoughts on softwares and why I work to make some.
Relationship between time and work
We need to get out of this idea that the act of spending time on a project means that you spent your time wisely. Sometimes you’re just wasting your time.
I think we inherit from Taylorism the idea that the value of the work done by a person is proportional to the time spent on it. It is probably right in a factory, but is severely wrong in most other jobs I can think of.
The worst point is probably the idea that you can quantify the value of the work of someone, but i’ll pass on that.
The bigger point is the idea that there is a relationship between time spent and work done. And this leads to contracts where you’re being asked to do a certain amount of hours. I was doing a PhD and in my contract was written a number of hours to do annually. What for? Am I proportionally productive to the time I spend? What does “being productive” mean in Research? Should I count the time I spend on es-discuss? And my favorite: since research is mostly an intellectual work, how are you going to prove that I actually did this number of hours?
For an internship, I wrote some piece of software that was used to adjust some prices. It lasted 5 months and I’ve been paid 5000€ overall. By now, the software I wrote helped saving probably a million euros. The software is still running, last I heard. With a constant amount of time, I achieved something that keeps creating value, potentially until the end of the business.
Anyway, one stupid consequence of thinking that work done is proportional to time spent is that people justify that they have been working just because they spent time. I wish one day we move away from Taylorism.
Shit work and progress
Shit work could be defined as something annoying to do for a human being. Relevant specialists may disagree, but I would define progress as the fact for humanity to reduce shit work.
Irrigation was not invented for fun, but because it was freaking annoying to bring water manually from the river close by. That was shit work. We rod horses because long-distance walking was shit work. Electricity is widely used to power many engines that do shit work so we don’t have to do it.
The progress is not in “replacing human beings”, but rather to free human beings from annoying work. This way, human beings can do something fulfilling, maybe creative, maybe social.
What attracts me in software?
The only purpose of computers should be to do shit work for us. This is why I like software. It allows to free people from shit work. Software should save me time. It makes me so sad when people tell me that they are losing time because of a computer. Clearly the people who wrote the software got it wrong.
I agree, Zach Holman, good software is software that saves my time. It’s software that do shit work for me.