Job satisfaction and open source

Job satisfaction and open source

Summary: having colleagues or management mistreat, misrepresent, or simply misunderstand an elegant and powerful idea is tremendously demotivating.

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TOPICS: Hardware
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Do you know what makes an engineer happiest? An efficient, elegant, solution to an engineering problem. And the most elegant solutions of all, of course, are the ones that reduce complexity while solving multiple problems at once.

This seems to be a basic human thing: watch babies for a while and you'll notice that they smile when solving what must be, for them, very difficult problems - like how to roll over or get mommy's attention.

On the hardware side of computing the biggest technical challenges facing current designers come down to balancing processing power against input power and heat generation. Thus both of the solutions we're now seeing enter the market, Sun's CMT/SPARC and IBM's cell, represent attempts to address these issues in more or less elegant ways.

Both solutions ultimately rely on a simple proposition: to reduce input power while maintaining processing power, "just" reduce the total distance you need to push data internally. Thus IBM's cell hardware combines a grid on a chip, reducing the distance between machines in a traditional grid to the distances between components in a microprocessor -i.e. from feet to nanometers, with a control protocol intended, like Sun's similar openGRID framework, to reduce internal data transfers.

Engineering solutions, however, are not business solutions. - thus an engineer can produce something amazing, only to have business management either refuse to bring it to market because they think it doesn't meet a customer need or, worse, demand that it be tied to some fundamentally inimicable product line. This is part of what happened, for example, to DEC's Alpha CPU in the nineties or, more recently, with BMW's use of embedded NT in otherwise more or less serious high end cars.

That same kind of thing happens, although on a smaller scale, every day in every major organization: a great idea, something that filled its originator with the joy of discovery, gets misunderstood, rejected, mangled, or otherwise mishandled or misapplied by others in the organization.

For most engineers and software people it's the ideas and solutions that count, not the public accolades that come with acceptance - but, for almost everybody, having colleagues or management mistreat, misrepresent, or simply misunderstand an elegant and powerful idea is tremendously demotivating.

So how can IT managers reward good ideas while avoiding the demotivating consequences that come from an organisational structure in which the swine get to pick the pearls?

The right answer is to change the swine: for every new idea, choose or create an audience likely to appreciate it.

In a very few cases that means radically changing the business. That's what Sun is doing, for example, as they line up the entire company behind the CMT/SPARC idea -educating the marketplace to understand how power and heat drive an engineering solution that's elegant and efficient.

In most cases, however, cool isn't enough and major business change isn't a real possibility - so how do you get past the reality that good technical ideas, however exciting, don't wag large scale business, academic, or government organizations? Easy, sidestep the whole demotivation thing by helping your people take good ideas they can actually make work, but which aren't seen as of direct competitive value to your organization, into the open source world.

The open source world is huge and diverse. If the ideas you push out are any good, there will be an interested and appreciative audience.

The costs are small, and there are business benefits - for example, ideas exposed to others often come back in genuinely useful form. Most importantly, however, making open source contribution a regular part of your way of doing business will motivate people to come to work every morning, to do your recruitment for you, and eventually to become increasingly responsive to the business and user issues driving your own decision making.

Topic: Hardware

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18 comments
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  • Almost there

    After years of "fighting the system", I am giving it one last chance. If I can't convince the manager to adopt my proposal - I will be taking it to Open Source. It's interesting to me that neither a management-droid nor Murph himself sees the potential of my ideas. Murph seems stuck in the centralized computing model popularized by the mainframe. Just swap out the terminals for SunRays and swap out the mainframe for a T-2000. And don't forget the attached disks!

    I however, live in a decade beyond Murph - the *true* client/server model where distributed computing is king. Everything is mirrored, cached, and load-balanced between many machines (heck, even PCs). Sun was the originator of this world - and Murph seems to ignore it.

    Of course, being a decade ahead of Murph means that I'm a decade behind the world. My "advanced" ideas were formulated 10 years ago and have been "cooked" for about 5 years now.

    But maybe that's the lesson to be learned - it takes years for good ideas to come to fruition. Some great whiz-bang idea out today will not be adopted for many years - no matter WHAT the sales droids are saying.
    Roger Ramjet
    • It seems to me...

      that you didn't convince your manager at all... :')

      Even though you thought you did, which was the biggest mistake that you've made.

      I warned you and you didn't listen. So shut up (That is: don't give up responding to Murphy's blog, you're still appreciated) and move to open source... ;-)Hopefully you'll have more succes over there, in 5 years.
      Arnout Groen
      • By the end of this year

        I will know whether I will retire on the job (you know, come to work, keep your head down and never speak up - until you retire), or help Company 'F' become a world leader in IT. Care to wager on which one will happen?
        Roger Ramjet
        • Enjoy your retirement(nt)

          .
          ShadeTree
        • Well..

          1. Good luck.
          2. Maybe Murphy has some practical advice, about how to run your own company.

          He may be "old" and 10 years behind his educational schedule (which I wrote to him a couple of weaks ago), but he still has a wealth of experience in the field.
          Arnout Groen
        • When Company F goes all-Microsoft....

          ... someone is going to have to take charge of resolving the problems, and it sounds like you will have the time. Also, your manager and others will remember that you're interested in managing change.

          More seriously, the first problem to meet is persuading people something is broken.
          In general, the possibility of useful IT innovation has been discounted for some time, and IT costs are often considered "acceptable" when they've continued for years.

          The seco9nd problem is to persuade people that you're the person to fix what's broken. That means you have gravitas and are considered reliable.
          Three preconditions for qualification are: usually talking about topics other than IT, particularly on social occasions with management, never bad-mouthing Microsoft or other large proprietary companies, and never advocating open source unsupported by recognizeable pseudo-open source companies.

          If you've followed the rules you'll have a chance.
          Anton Philidor
          • Already 95% M$

            Of course 5% of 200,000 is 10000 (non-M$). That's about 8000 UNIX workstations, 1900 UNIX/Linux servers and 100 Mainframes.

            Most of the "real" work is done on non-M$. CAD/CAM/CAE is the realm of *NIX and so are large databases and Java (Websphere). There are some SQL-server stuff, but the stated direction is to NOT do .NET (smart move!?).

            You are right about the 2 problems. #1 is bigger than #2 - how to convince someone that something is broken? In a small company, it would be obvious where all the money is leaking. In a large corporation, where the IT budget is one giant blob - it is not obvious where the bleeding is.
            Roger Ramjet
          • Soap bubbles

            [i]You are right about the 2 problems. #1 is bigger than #2 - how to convince someone that something is broken? In a small company, it would be obvious where all the money is leaking. In a large corporation, where the IT budget is one giant blob - it is not obvious where the bleeding is.[/i]

            That's one of the red flags in any cost center: getting enough granularity on the costs that you can identify potential improvements.

            For instance, ${EMPLOYER-1} had no way to document employee downtime resulting from IT infrastructure failures. For an engineering shop, this means that a good engineer with a 50% downtime fileserver looked like a lousy engineer -- but she had no way of accounting for the productivity loss, so instead:
            1) She got dinged for slipped schedules, and
            2) IT had no incentive to improve reliability.

            The first rule is, "You get what you measure." If you want to improve Company F's IT systems, you first have to measure them with enough precision that it's possible to assign costs to the nonoptimal parts.

            Guess what? You can tell a lot by the response you get to proposals to institute metrics. Lots of back pressure means that any change proposals would be doomed anyway because [i]the things that really count to the management aren't ones you'd be measuring[/i] -- like personal comfort zone, ego-boo, etc.
            Yagotta B. Kidding
          • The Metrics System

            The pendulum can swing too far to the right and you can start measuring EVERYTHING. Demands for reports and numbers can sap morale and money from an institution. You get what you measure, so BE SMART ABOUT IT - should be the saying.

            Every cost-center proposal I've ever seen has internal groups passing "funny money" between budgets in an attempt to gain insights. This has been tried before - GM did this - it attached bean counters to every aspect of life in the company. This led to a huge bureaucracy and long product projects. GM made so-so vehicles and the world passed it by - but they knew where every cent went!
            Roger Ramjet
    • You're illustrating my argument

      What I'm suggesting to IT management is that the way to keep smart people happy is to open source those of their ideas the company can't use. This creates positive opportunities while avoiding the downer effects of having management piss all over your ideas because they don't see an instant application to their priorities.

      As for that decade thing.. you should investigate plan 9- everything you like about Unix, plus a completely distributed focus. Early 80s, of course... but only just before dce/athena and the rest of them.

      And, by the way, Solaris is going the same way -giving us on a souped up traditional Unix what PL9 offered then.
      murph_z
      • Open Source outlet

        My idea was to have an internal OS Community - where things like tools and scripts and small programs could be developed by teams. You would get "credit" in your personnel review for your contributions - leading to larger merit raises? I called it "SourceFORD" . . .
        Roger Ramjet
  • You call this Job satisfaction?

    What happened to the technical discussions at the coffee table/near the coffee machine?

    Discussing the possible options with a couple of colleagues, meanwhile pissing of the market manager.
    Arnout Groen
  • Other then your love of all things Unix and ...

    ... not Intel this article amounts to nothing more then sanctimonious B.S..
    ShadeTree
  • Letting ideas loose...

    ... is one way to change careers, or at least interest and attention away from on-the-job.

    But why should an idea let loose be any more compelling to companies whose staff did not develop them?

    In addition to all the problems with acceptance that you name, there's the additional difficulty that the idea has not been tailored by someone familiar with a specific business.

    The only way that could happen would be if management were intrigued and assigned people for work on feasibility and readying the idea for adoption.

    And if companies found the ideas that interesting, then the employer of the person originating the idea is likely to be the most interested.

    So your idea seems a bit self-contradictory.
    Anton Philidor
    • Yes, that's a problem

      and its one reason most open source products originate in academia - but it's not a necessary consequence of the way things work, merely an unhappy artifact of short sighted bosses.
      murph_z
      • And short-sighted bosses...

        ... created the problem you were attempting to solve by setting the idea loose. They're versatile enough to negate your solution as well.


        The bosses might be from another section of the company or might be trying to take anything technology-related out of their job titles or might spend most of their time showing attention to existing business processes.

        At a higher level than budgets or strategic planning, they may be trying to justify themselves to upper management.

        Some of the reluctance to notice new IT ideas may come from the feeling that the ideas are too much about... IT.
        Anton Philidor
  • Uh, I would call this R&D

    The idea of letting researchers and developers create something elegant for the sheer joy of it, without regard to immediate commercial value, sounds like R&D in its purest form. From what I've heard, companies are not great at doing this, because there's pressure to generate new revenue with new products. So the tendency is to try to steer R&D towards that, which tends to corrupt it and make it less effective. From what I understand, the best R&D scenarios allow for serendipity. Let R&D workers push the frontiers to try and solve new problems from a scientific perspective, and maybe one out of a thousand will find its way into a product 5 years from then, and generate hundreds of millions, or billions of dollars for the funding company. It's risky, but it can create huge dividends. What happens to the other 999 solutions that don't make it to a product? Patent them and collect royalties from third party licensors.
    Mark Miller
  • what do you do for open source other than make blabbering statemetns

    "The costs are small, and there are business benefits - for example, ideas exposed to others often come back in genuinely useful form. Most importantly, however, making open source contribution a regular part of your way of doing business will motivate people to come to work every morning, to do your recruitment for you, and eventually to become increasingly responsive to the business and user issues driving your own decision making. "

    YEAH RIGHT,


    LOOKING FORWARD TO THE DAY SUN MICROSYSTEMS GOES BANKRUPT (cant wait )


    "making open source contribution a regular part of your way of doing business will motivate people to come to work every morning"

    THIS HAS GOT TO BE A JOKE.
    Paul, why dont you do your consulting for free.
    code_Warrior