Sunday, October 07, 2007

Q: How long is forever?

A: 10 Years

I was having a discussion with a colleague the other day about team maturity. His take was that the team of which we are both members is young, that we have been working together only for about ten months.

I was surprised. To me a young team is one that has been together about month. So I asked my teammate about his work history. Turns out that of his last two jobs, he was employed for ten years at the former and six years at the latter.

Holy moly!!!

In my forty plus years in the work force I had never met a person that had worked anywhere for ten years. I realized that I had stumbled upon a perspective on commercial life that was completely unlike my own.

So, I tuned in to listen closely. There was serious learning to be had.

One thing that I learned was that because my colleague’s perception of time is different, his expectation of team integration is different. It’s sort of like understanding time in terms of a fruit fly and a dog. A fruit fly is born, lives and dies in a span of 4 weeks. A dog lives for about twelve years. If you’re a fruit fly and you're not married with kids by Week 2, you can almost guarantee that you’ll be foraging around garbage heaps old and alone. On the other hand a dog doesn’t even start dating until Year 2.

It’s all about perception.

So I realized that what I thought to be running late in terms of team formation, my colleague had accepted as right on schedule. Whereas my thinking is that a team needs to go through the stages of Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing in about 30 days, for my colleague a year is a very acceptable time span.

In a way I was envious. Part of me longs for the notion of doing interesting work in a place for ten years. Jeepers, why settle for 10 years? Why not 30 years?

I wonder what it would be like to say, “Oh yeah, I worked with Bill for 30 years. I remember when his kids were born. I remember the day he came in with pictures of his first grandkid. I remember what it was like when his mother died. We all went to the wake. It was a tough time. He was really hard to get along with after the funeral. It took him a long time to talk about it.”

The way I see it is that at one time work wasn't something that we did to make money to pay down the credit card balance, just like shopping wasn't something that we prefer to do online in order to avoid the human contact of a sales person. Work was something that we did to feed the kids, pay tuition and take our place in the world.

Oh yeah, it’s true that 5% of the population still owned 50% of the places where we went to work and most of the work was monotonous, if not dangerous . But, so what? We had each other.

It seems as if we’re free agents completely focused on the short term, never knowing what team we’ll be playing for next year. Why get close to someone? We’re all just passing through.

It takes time to have a common experience upon which to have a history. And, a culture without a history is no culture at all.

Sadly, given the velocity of life today, it seems as if the experience of longevity in the workplace has gone the way of the rotary phone. We don’t seem to have to the time to dial the numbers.

And some of us will miss it.


Blogger -tom! said...

My first programming gig lasted seven years. Since then, I had one 18-month stint, a one-year run, and now I'm just over a year again. I really liked being part of a stable team for that long; I think that to do interesting products one has to be with a team for an interesting length of time. At the same time, it's sad how little continuity is in these modern jobs. Our parents (or more likely, our fathers) worked at the same job for their entire careers. With those life commitments they got pensions and otherwise didn't have to worry too much about the future. Today we're interchangeable cogs in the machine and need to figure out how to provide for ourselves when we come to the point in our lives where we don't want to work seventy-hour weeks...

7:56 PM  
Blogger bm3719 said...

Hi, Bob Reselman. I read your entire blog from start to finish over the last couple days after finding it while searching for MS interview stories and thought you might appreciate some feedback.

Before I say anything (hopefully) constructively critical about your blog, let me just say it's been mostly a pretty good read. That is, it kept me interested most of the time, even though nothing significant actually happened. I wish more people's blogs would at least attempt to be marginally introspective.

That being said, wow, where do I even begin? First off, "the guy who wrote Coding Slave"? I seriously cringed every time you wrote that. I mean, maybe you should just order yourself a trophy or something. I won't go into the quality of the book much, since some of your editorials sum up how I felt about it quite well, but even if it was the masterpiece you seem to think it is, maybe you should leave the ego-stoking to your fanbase? Next, regarding your MS interview (my favorite entry), I have a feeling you would have justified your employment there had you been actually given an offer. Sour grapes, perhaps? It's hard to judge your technical competence as a reader, since you don't actually post anything seriously technical, but even gurus know that you should brush up on the domain of the job you're applying for prior to interviewing. Another thing is the overwhelming preachiness of about 1/2 of the posts. Maybe just this comes off the wrong way and you don't realize it (which would be a different character flaw), but holy crap, why don't you tell everyone what they should do with their lives some more? The biggest snore are the political rantings. Not only are they total (opposition) party line, and there's nothing particularly wrong with having these opinions, but it's just the same crap you can find anywhere online. Why not add something new to the discussion? Content, please? Lastly, and related to the previous item, you have a serious entitlement issue going on (probably a result of your Democratic political leanings, or vice versa). This might also be partly responsible for your depression and (one can only speculate) work and previous marriage problems.

Anyway, you seemed sensitive about critical responses to your amateur authoring, so hopefully this wasn't too harsh! These are just the opinions of a random reader, after all.

2:25 PM  

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