I'm starting my Labor Day weekend a little early, since I have been felled by some sort of illness, caught from Petunia. I'm feeling a bit bad about having sent her to day care on Monday, given how I felt yesterday (which I think is roughly the same point in the course of the illness). However, I had to go to work yesterday- it was a big all-company meeting, and I had to present my work- so I guess it all evens out.
I feel better today, but not great, so I decided to take the day off to try to rest and recuperate. Clearly it is working, since I am now sitting up and typing on my computer, instead of lying on the sofa feeling sorry for myself.
Anyway, this week, in honor of Labor Day, I have a bunch of links about work:
First up, I found myself again agreeing with David Frum, in his article about how silly it is that we make partisan politics about President's vacations. I always thought that President Bush was setting a good example by actually taking vacations, and I think the same thing about President Obama. I know that a vacation sends me back to work rejuvenated and ready to tackle the big problems... here's hoping it does the same for Presidents.
Second, the Wall Street Journal reports on a small study that shows that web-surfing breaks boost worker productivity. I don't necessarily think the task used in the study (highlighting the letter e) is very representative of most people's work, but my own qualitative observation is that a brief blog-reading break between big tasks is very helpful for clearing my mind and letting me move on with more energy. So I guess I agree with the conclusion even if I have some quibbles with the methodology.
Next, I came across this Fast Company article about how to keep employees motivated via The Milliner's twitter feed. It rings very true to me- money certainly matters, but once I'm getting paid "enough", what keeps me motivated on my job is the feeling that I'm learning and that the work I'm doing is useful.
Finally, I have two apparently contradictory articles. In the first, Steve Denning explains why Amazon can't make its Kindles in the US- and why that matters. His basic argument is that as manufacturing moves overseas, so does a lot of the valuable engineering knowledge, and that eventually the company/industry that did the outsourcing will suffer. He argues that this is a failure in management, putting short term profits ahead of long term strategy. It is an interesting (but long) series of articles. I don't really know what I think. I have watched the outsourcing craze crest and then recede in IT- there is still a lot of software development that is outsourced, but people have realized that (1) it is not always cheaper and (2) it is a lot harder to manage. I am now watching outsourcing grow in drug discovery- a lot of chemical synthesis, for instance, is outsourced to China. I am sure that this craze will crest and recede, too, but, as with the IT outsourcing craze, it creates a lot of upheaval in people's lives and leaves a lot of bitter people behind. And from where I sit, I do think that a lot of companies have started focusing a little too much on short term profits- this could well be what drove the merger-mania that has been so detrimental to the pharmaceutical companies, for instance.
But speaking of software, Steve Denning's article referenced a more upbeat opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Marc Andreessen (one of the creators of the early web browser, Mosaic, and now a serial entrepreneur) about how software is taking over the world. Or maybe it is only upbeat if you know how to code and/or manage software projects? Regardless, it is an interesting piece.
I don't know whether or not software is taking over the world, but I do know that it is surprisingly hard to hire good software developers right now. I know of at least four open positions. A couple require specialized domain knowledge, but a couple are pure coding positions. All have had applicants, but none that were much good (i.e., they couldn't pass the code test). That has surprised me in this economy- I would have thought there would be more good developers out there on the market. But Andreessen notes the same thing:
"...every company I work with is absolutely starved for talent. Qualified software engineers, managers, marketers and salespeople in Silicon Valley can rack up dozens of high-paying, high-upside job offers any time they want, while national unemployment and underemployment is sky high."
So maybe I should plan on teaching my kids how to code?