I Am a Programmer


They were like spectators. You had a feeling they had just wandered in there themselves and somebody had handed them a wrench. There was no identification with the job. No saying, “I am a mechanic.” At 5 P.M. or whenever their eight hours were in, you knew they would cut it off and not have another thought about their work. They were already already trying not to have any thoughts about their work on the job.


We had a manager’s meeting today on the subject of employee recognition. The text we were given to read in preparation for the meeting was indistinguishable from a handbook on training your new puppy:

Behavior which is reinforced is usually repeated. . . . You risk extinguishing the positive behavior by not recognizing it. . . . Provide compliments in a timely fashion, as soon as possible after the event occurs.

That seems demeaning to me and it trivializes the work. I like to be recognized as a person who does good work but I also want to be recognized as someone who cares about his work. I know better than anyone when my work is good and when it isn’t. I’m not looking for pats on the head.

I said in the meeting that I’d rather try to motivate people by giving them the opportunity to do great work, to have some choices about what that work is, and to become the person they’ve always wanted to be.

I pointed out that we’re giving up our youth, our family — everything we hold dear — to come in to work every day, and if the work isn’t worth doing well for its own sake, then it’s a pretty poor exchange.

“We come to work to make money,” Manager A said, as though explaining something very obvious.

“We should sell off our lives one day at a time to the highest bidder?” I asked. “That seems like a good idea to you?”

“Do you really believe the things that come out of your mouth?” Manager B asked.

Manager C stated that in “the real world,” 99 percent of the people he knows are working their jobs for the money and, financial considerations aside, would rather be doing something else with their lives.

The highest-paying job I ever had — before or since — I quit after eight months. I didn’t have another job to go to; I just hated going in there in the morning and I couldn’t wait to go home in the afternoon. I never got a chance to do anything I enjoyed or anything I was good at.

I’m not doing this stuff to get rich. I am a programmer.

Thus spoke The Programmer.

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