It took me way too long to announce the winner for the $100 Book Contest. Sorry about that, folks. I was being distracted by a great vacation. (And just to let you know: I desperately need another vacation in two weeks…)
If your memory is better than mine, you might remember the original question:
What is it that gets you motivated to do your job really well?
I got 32 replies to this question, ranging from short to long, boring to interesting, ordinary to ridiculous. I hand-picked seven jury members from my colleagues, and I asked them which answers they found the most original and inspiring, by ranking them on a scale from 1 to 5.
Well, these are the top three:
3) Karl Katzke (25 points)
- Good: The exclamation, "Oh!" when the light bulb comes on over a user's head as they see how much easier their job could be while demoing some new software.
- Better: Users coming to me with ideas to simplify their area of expertise and distilling them down to perfection at the white board.
- Best: Seeing the most jaded, beaten-up, grumpy gray haired old waiting-for-retirement public servant in the institution I work at break out of the boundaries they'd created for their position and create something new.
2) Sonja (26 points)
- The people around me. First of all my co-workers. As project manager I try my best to make work as easy and as fun as possible for them. The great atmosphere that provides even in busy weeks makes my day.
- Secondly the customer. I try my utmost to deliver on time, and according to expectation. The biggest reward is a compliment from the customer for the great work the entire team has done.
- Thirdly it are my friends and family. Being able to say we did a really cool project, and we really do some extremely cool projects, is a reward in itself as well.
- But for me most importantly is the CEO of the company I work for. Starting at this company as an intern as the fourth employee I got to work closely together with him. He is the shining example I try to live up to. And he inspires me to do my work just that tiny bit better every day. He motivates me by painting a clear vision of what the future should be like. Not forgetting current problems or past issues, but always focused on a clear vision of the future. Helping getting to that vision of a great future is why I go to my work happy every single day.
1) Russell Ball (30 points)
In no particular order…
- Time in the Zone – This is like crack cocaine for me and I don’t get to experience it nearly enough. It is when I am so absorbed in my work that time flies by and I suddenly realize that 4 hours have gone by when it only felt like 10 minutes. It usually occurs when I feel totally engaged in a problem with highly challenging tasks that require skills that I feel very competent in.
- Solving the Mystery – Debugging is one of my favorite activities. When I get a really tricky problem to sink my teeth into, I tend to anthropomorphize it into a living foe and then start taunting and swearing at it under my breath. I’ve even been known to do a little touch down dance after emerging victorious from particularly long debugging session.
- Finding Creative Alternatives – I love being confronted with ‘impossible’ technical or logistical problems because they are almost always surmountable by taking several steps back and brainstorming completely different approaches to the problem. There have been a few times where I’ve felt like a zen master for having side stepped a massively difficult technical problem by simply rearranging the workflow on the screen or by eliminating the need for the feature altogether and satisfying the underlying requirements in other ways instead.
- Eliminating Tediousness – I have no patience for tedious manual processes myself, so I find it very rewarding whenever I have been able to eliminate tedium from other people’s work days through the software I help create.
- Simplifying the Complex – For some reason I find it really satisfying to reduce the number of lines of code in a project by rigorously applying the DRY principle and then making it infinitely more readable through refactoring and using thoughtful naming conventions. I also love reducing the number of clicks that a user is required to make in the user interface.
- Uniting in Purpose – It is way too common in the industry to either work in virtual isolation (even when on a team) or actually work against each other. Nothing kills productivity faster than wasting time playing the blame game or falling into the ‘its not my problem’ trap. There have been a few times (usually spurred by crazy deadlines) when I’ve felt like I bonded with a group because we all truly shared a common goal and we all felt collective ownership of the end product. It’s difficult to reproduce all the ingredients that led to this group dynamic, but I can tell you that it was a true pleasure to experience and very highly motivating.
- Receiving the Occasional Spousal Peace-Making Gift – I’ll throw in at least one superficial motivator to round off the list. Sometimes the spousal unit gets really pissed off when I have to work late or when work commitments override personal commitments. Those are the times when a simple gift certificate from the boss for a fancy dinner and night out on the town really come in handy. It’s flat out bribery, but highly effective. After all, when the wife is happy, then everyone is happy.
Oh…and I also find it very motivating whenever I get a $100 worth of free programming books (hint…hint).
Well Russell, you sly old dog, you get what you wanted! The jury voted that you should earn the $100 worth of software development books. I guess it's too late for me to back out now… So pick your choice of books from the Top 100 Software Engineering Books, Ever and I will have them sent to your address!
And a big thanks from me to all the other participants! I will further analyze your answers will write some more about it another time.