That elusive work life balance

I was going to post about all the wonderful people in development in that Suffolk company, but I felt the need to side-track for a moment. Why is it when talking about work-life balance it’s all about picking your children up from school, taking them to dentist’s appointments or watching the little dears at the school play. There’s never trying to get yourself into balance after being told “I wish you’d fuck off and die” by your teenager before they storm off for school and you have to go to work. Everyone else’s children are  amenable little things, who might possibly be ill and need a lovely caring parent to hold their head while they voimited into a bucket, or need to be ferried between their violin lesson, their karate and their advanced programming course.

I look round at the developers and I wonder what will happen to them. Most of them, (four out of six, if you include Gavin), are single. Whether this is because they are painfully shy or whether it is because they have not yet found a woman who is deeply interested in Star Wars X-wings modelled in lego, I have not, as yet, been able to find out. Of course, that might be a hunt for another man who is deeply interested in Star Wars lego. I wouldn’t like to make assumptions about any of these people’s sexuality. For all I know they are secret furries.

OK. Here are the developers. In order of developoriness. Most extreme is Jiri. He is from the Czech Republic. He likes wearing black. There is a rumour that he is from Transylvania and cannot go outside in daylight, but apart from that he has nothing in common with film vampires. To start with, he has bad hair. He loves algorithms. And Diet Coke. He sits as far away form the other developers as he can. This is possibly to justify the way he shouts very loudly when he wants to encourage people into sharing his point of view on such matters as the level of code indentation.

 It’s at this point that I feel that I should point out that the developers haven’t all been men. There have been women. They just leave. Generally after about a year. They come in bouncy and bushy-tailed and confident, and you  can see the sparkle go out of their eyes and the gloss leave their hair. When it returns you know they’ve had a successful interview, and they will soon be moving on.

Then there is Nick. Nick has a beard. It’s not a very successful beard in the world of beards. He’s not going to manage Father Christmas or even Charles 1st. But it is definitely a beard. Nick probably has a point of view on many things, but it is very hard to extract it from him. He has been working for the company almost since start-up, and has found his niche. Extracting him would probably be like extracting an unwilling kitten from a wellington boot; it can be done, but at severe cost to all concerned

The first one in the non-single stakes is Jack. He is still quite young. He roller-blades. And has bouts of enthusiasm for all sorts of things, ranging from software to apple pie recipes. He’s not really a very good coder, but he has a girl friend. And he’s a Christian. I still haven’t worked out what sort, but there is no doubt that he is a firm believer and goes to church.

Jack has the good fortune to sit next to Mr Grumpy. Mr Grumpy is divorced. He has worked as a contracter and resented paying a large section of his pay as alimony, so he has moved into the world of paid employment on the grounds that his ex-wife has no rights whatsoever to his pension contributions and his private health insurance. Mr. Grumpy knows that whatever innovations have been suggested have been tried in one of the other myriad companies that he’s worked in and they didn’t work there. He does at least have a scathing sense of humour and a willingness to do what he has been asked to do (on the principle that it won’t work anyway so he might as well waste his time with that as anything else).

Then there is the lead developer, Ian. Ian is married. And has children. And is calm and competent and willing to try and make things work. Ian is probably the wheels on which this company runs (and I am sure that his children will never swear at him before he leaves for work).

And finally, of course, there is Gavin, he of the fast cars (he has just bought an Aston Martin), high dividends and absolute knowledge that he is the cleverest man in the building. He has a weakness for designer shirts that look like Mao jackets. Because Gavin owns half the company, Gavin’s opinion carries quite a lot of weight. And did I mention that he is the cleverest man in the building? Jiri might fight him for that position, but Jiri is handicapped by not owning half the company.

These are the people whom I must persuade to redesign their interfaces so that they can do simple things easily, instead of complicated things ingeniously.

So this is November

I’ve just been to the IEHF careers fair. It wasn’t exciting. To be frank, it was extremely unexciting. The high point was a discussion of the ergonomics of samurai armour. Who knew that the shoulder flaps were to confuse the eye?

I came back from it in the rain, determined to record something about life in a company that isn’t really interested in a better user experience. Or rather, is only interested in a better user experience for the director.

I expect there are a lot of companies out there like that, so we’ll invent the company. Let’s say it’s a small company in, oh, pick a random place in the country that I know very little about – let’s call it Suffolk. We’ll assume it’s a software company, because I know quite a lot of software companies. Let’s pretend that they make something which is used occasionally by a lot of people who aren’t really interested in it. I know, it can be some small business accounting package, which is marketed to doctors’ surgeries and the like and is specially geared to people working all sorts of weird hours.

The company was set up by two guys. (No question, they’re guys.) They’ve known each other since school. One is glamorous and good-looking and all that sort of stuff, but is really rather interested in money and success. Let’s call him David (any resemblance to anybody currently in power is totally coincidental). He feels pretty confident about his software ideas because his mate, Gavin, is a really, really techy person.He’s not a total geek, he skis and likes fast cars, but there’s no doubt that he loves coding and he loves cool stuff and he is very, very bright.

And it’s been a success. David is good at selling ideas and knows about the issues around small practices and large patient numbers and how you manage all the shifts and payroll and stuff like that. And Gavin is a whizz at software. Their company has expanded and they’ve now got sales people and a human resources person and about six developers. And they’ve rolled out more products and they are happy happy people.

But, their client base has changed. They’re no longer dealing with people who are spending a lot of their time in setting up systems and running systems. They’re dealing with people who want to run a payroll program once a week or a report once a year amid a ton of other things that they need to do.

And they want their program to be whizzier and faster and cooler and better. BUT even though their program is amazing and you can set it up to do everything you want to for ever and ever in the most complicated ways possible so that their clients can personalise it down to the last acorn, they’re losing market share.

So they sort of realise that they need to make it easier to use. And that is where I got involved.