Articles tagged with "motivation"

October 2013

30 June 2013 marked the conclusion of a successful co-operation between myself and an important client. My involvement in the project had lasted almost 6 years and I felt it was time to move on. Having handed over my responsibilities, I'm enjoying a three-month hiatus and plan to start another engagement in October.

What's on offer

As it says in the sidebar, I'm mostly a Java guy with 15 years of experience. The details are in my CV (doc or odt) but I don't think a CV can convey what really matters.

I believe I have good analytical and problem-solving skills. I appreciate the complexities of requirement gathering and the value of customer feedback. I always consider the usability impacts of my design decisions. I understand that IT is not a cure-all and that true solutions to many problems are actually non-technical.

I'm keenly aware of the social nature and the inherent uncertainties of software development. I crave good craftsmanship and wish there were more of it in our industry. I recognize the importance of great tools and take time to learn them properly. I'm always willing to reconsider my opinions but I'm also capable of defending them - always in a friendly and civil manner.

What I'm looking for

I hope to join a team of developers who care about the quality of their output. I like a developer culture with emphasis on knowledge sharing, learning and improvement. That implies open and constructive communication. Agile practices are a plus as long as they're implemented consequently.

I'd love to work on stuff that matters. I'm especially interested in renewable energy, smart grid and energy efficiency, but also medical software, education or any other world-changing area I haven't thought of. Having said that, any software is worth working on as long as it improves the lives of its users or their customers.

I'm largely geographically constrained to Europe (ideally somewhere around Vienna) but a really great offer might tempt me overseas. I'm keen to try teleworking - huge open-source projects come from dispersed teams so it's got to be feasible. Hybrid models are also an option (3 weeks at home, 1 week on-site etc.).

If you're interested

Do write me a quick note - coding 'at' journey 'dot' sk.

Reputation as a measure of success

I prefer definitions of success that don't involve exclusivity. The problem with exclusivity is that it doesn't scale. When success is defined as being "the best in the world", for example, the number of successful people is limited by the number of categories in which one can be "the best in the world". Many companies thus present themselves as "the global leader" in whatever absurd bombastic-sounding niche they dream up for themselves. In addition, exclusivity is ethically questionable - in the words of Scatman John, "how can someone win when winning means that someone loses?".

I believe everyone deserves the confidence and satisfaction that comes with success. Definitions that don't require excluding anyone are preferable from this point of view. For a business, "being profitable" may be one such definition of success. "Growing consistently" may be another one, although growth does become exclusive once a market matures.

The other extreme - feel-good notions of "success" that don't require any effort - is even more problematic. Slight positive bias in one's self image is said to help achieve goals but the goals have to be there in the first place. (Interesting aside: does presence of goals indicate absence of success? Is success a state or a process? Why do we want to succeed, anyway?)

I became aware of these issues quite early in my youth and decided my definition of career success would be "achieving respect in a community of competent professionals". This was before the Internet. I can now say I've been achieving this success through most of my career if the "community" is defined as one's workplace and its circle of competent professionals.

That's no longer enough. For years, I have been standing on the sidelines of the great community that is the Internet. I would love to achieve a measure of respect there but it's quite scary. As the Red Woman says, the Net is vast and full of strangers, many of them jerks or worse. Even the sub-Internet of "competent software development professionals" is vast and full of strangers, many of them jerks or worse.

This brings up an awkward fact: when a community becomes large enough, respect of peers becomes exclusive. Respecting someone requires being aware of their existence, achievements and other attributes. Awareness is a limited resource. In my team at work there are so few of us we can comfortably judge each other's competence and award respect to everyone who deserves it. On the internet, however, I compete for the respect of my peers just as they compete for mine.

What to do about this? It's obvious that my youthful definition of success was flawed as it didn't correspond to my own ethics. I need to formulate another definition fully immune from exclusion. Perhaps something like "creating works of high quality useful to customers and delightful to users", as mundane as that sounds. (Of course, the previous definition did mention "works of high quality" between the lines: it spoke of "competent professionals" rather than "gullible fools".)

Having said that, my craving for "respect" doesn't feel like a symptom of vanity. I'd say it reflects a pretty basic human need for acceptance within the group I identify with. When such acceptance is a scarcity I can either give up on being accepted, pursue the acceptance to the exclusion of others or choose a different, smaller community to participate in. I don't feel like giving up but both of the other options involve, well, talking to strangers. Oh my...

The psychology of casual street cleaning

Summary Picking up other people's trash is an empowering gesture that turns you from a whiner into a fixer.

I've developed a peculiar habit. Sometimes when I'm approaching our apartment block I scan the ground for small pieces of trash. If I spot one not too far from my trajectory I pick it up and put it where it belongs - in a nearby dumpster. This behavior is much less common than you might think. It's also surprisingly rewarding.

Street litter has always been a common problem here in Bratislava and it used to upset me. That's the prevailing attitude in this city. People don't like dirty streets and will tell you so when asked. Few, however, do anything about it. There are several psychological barriers:

  • It is widely acknowledged that someone else should do the cleaning. Some - one might call them "conservatives" - would tell you it's up to those who did the littering. Others - "socialists" perhaps - would maintain it's the city administration's responsibility. Both notions are rather naive. The underlying attitude is that it's simply not fair that we, upstanding citizens who never litter the streets, should clean up after those who do.
  • When most people think of street cleaning they imagine removing all the litter from a substantial area. That's obviously a lot of work which needs many people if it's to be finished reasonably soon. Coordination is required and before you know it there's a project to manage.
  • Another mental block stems from the sheer futility of the effort. When a street does get cleaned up by municipal workers or by "spring cleaning" volunteers it doesn't take long for new litter to bloom. And it doesn't take a lot of litter to make a street look messy.
  • There is the simple unpleasantness of trash itself. Picking up someone else's cigarette butt and carrying it to a trash can means overcoming a hint of revulsion. It's ironic: the very feeling that motivates street cleaning also makes it difficult.

Coping with these inhibitions is all about awareness. Street litter presents no immediate threat nor opportunity so it's blocked out by the subconscious most of the time, along with many other details of the urban exterior. The blocking takes work, however. Garbage is visually loud - it mostly consists of discarded packaging designed to stand out on store shelves. Navigating dirty streets thus incurs a subliminal mental cost we're mostly unaware of. Once we recognize the full magnitude of the cost we become more willing to deal with the problem.

Another thing to realize is that removing even a single piece of trash reduces the mental cost in a tangible way. The street may be quite as dirty as before but the piece we picked up must have caught our attention which means it was somehow "more important" than the rest of the environment, amplifying the cost reduction. The immediacy of the reduction gives it even more impact (the reptilian brain is a sucker for immediate rewards).

From a more long-term perspective, the effort to remove one piece of trash is a one-time investment which pays off every time we visit the affected place. This is a delayed reward further compromised by new garbage appearing all the time, so it's not very significant. What's more important is that if we experience the immediate reward often enough a habit starts to form, lowering the mental cost of the act itself and making the reward even more attractive. A virtuous cycle forms.

All of this speculation may sound rather abstract but the psychological benefit I've experienced is real and substantial. When I notice a piece of litter these days it doesn't bother me anymore. I either pick it up and dispose of it properly or concede to myself that it's too far off my path. There's a sober honesty and clarity about it which does feel liberating. At the same time, I get regular experiences of doing noticeable good with modest effort.

In conclusion, I can recommend casual street cleaning as a worthwhile activity (given proper sanitary precautions, of course). Next time you find yourself angry at the unknown hooligans, why not try undoing their carelessness? You will help yourself more than anyone else.

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