Friday, May 31, 2013

Weekend Reading: Assorted Things about Work Edition

Before I launch into the links, I have to tell you a story.... Tuesday was my birthday. My kids got me a scooter. They both have one, and so does Mr. Snarky. I was excited to get one, too, so that we can go on family scooting outings. But when I set mine up, I discovered that Mr. Snarky and the kids had selected solely on color (blue, which Petunia has declared is my favorite) and missed the bit about it being a child sized scooter. Oops.

Later that night, I tried on the new shirt Mr. Snarky got me. It is a pretty color, the right style, and has the logo of my "usual" local beer (Coronado Brewing Company's Mermaid Red) on it. It said it was my size. But when I tried it on, it was clearly sized for teenagers. Oops again. (And WTF, CBC, making shirts for teenagers?!?!?!) I told Mr. Snarky not to feel too bad, that I would just interpret the gifts as a statement on how youthful I seem.

OK, on to the links, which are an assorted collection of things related to work.

First, Joan Williams had an interesting HBR article about why men work so many hours. She pins it at least in part on a culture that has linked long hours with masculinity and status.

"Workplace norms cement felt truths that link long hours with manliness, moral stature, and elite status. If work-family advocates think they can dislodge these "truths" with documentation of business benefits, they are sorely mistaken."

It is an interesting article, but a bit depressing. I joked on twitter that we should start a "real men are efficient at work" campaign.

That HBR article mentions Results Only Work Environments, or ROWEs. I first heard about these when Hubert Joly, Best Buy's new CEO, decided to scrap his company's ROWE, even though objective measures indicate that it increases work performance. The story first caught my eye because it happened at about the same time as Marissa Mayer decided to eliminate telework at Yahoo, and I was struck by the fact that mainstream media was very, very attentive to Mayer's decision but essentially ignored Joly's decision. But I got interested in the ROWE concept, and I am now reading the book Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It: A Results-Only Guide to Taking Control of Work, Not People, by Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler, who pioneered the approach at Best Buy. I'm only about half way through, so I won't write a full review yet. It is giving me some interesting ideas to try to use at my job, even though my company is not a ROWE.

Moving on... @codinghorror tweeted a link to a really good essay by Alex Payne on startups, written as a letter to a young programmer just starting out.  It really resonated with me, even though I've spent my time in biotech startups not high tech ones. I think anyone considering a move to a startup should read it and think about the work environment they are about to join. As the author notes, not all startups have an "eat you alive" environment- it is worth taking the time to evaluate whether the one you are about to join does.

I found this post by Elaine Wherry about what she learned during a stint in a startup chocolate shop via Boing Boing. If you haven't seen it yet, it is well worth a read. She makes some interesting points about what is easier and harder in a tech startup versus a "physical goods" startup.

Dr. Isis has closed up shop at her blog, but seems to be writing occasionally in the ladybits section on Medium. She has a new post about mentorship that is a thought-provoking read.

And finally, Anandi from House of Peanut sent me this article by C. Z. Nnaemeka on the markets and problems not addressed by the current startup culture. My final opinion on the author's arguments is still forming, but they are certainly very interesting and thought-provoking for anyone who has considered entrepreneurship.

That's all I have. Feel free to suggest more things to read in the comments!


  1. Anonymous7:24 PM

    We have that why men work so much one on our link love for tomorrow too, but I suspect we stole it from your twitter feed!

  2. Alexicographer7:51 AM

    Happy (belated) birthday!

    I know it's a typo, but I like that your title is "Assorted Things abut work." Indeed they do!

  3. Re the men and long work hours -- I maintain that many people who think they are working long hours aren't (see Robinson, et al, on this in June 2011 Monthly Labor Review). But if you can talk about what long hours you're working, that keeps lots of mothers -- and anyone else who cares about their personal lives -- from gunning for your job. Not only do you sound like a hard worker, you've eliminated some of the competition. Double bonus!

    One of the reasons I'm doing the Dandelion project I talked about on my blog -- collecting time logs from women who earn $100k and have kids at home -- is to debunk one of Williams' assumptions. Namely, that working 55 hours a week means you'd never see your children. In a lot of the time logs I've seen over the years, people who are working 50-60 hours a week work out ways (like split shifts) to still do things with their families. And basically no one works north of 60 hours, even if they think they do.

  4. Thanks for the shout out. Glad you liked the article. I'm still thinking about it (which is rare for things I find on FB.)

  5. Re: startups and their work environment. Many of Paul Graham's essays are insightful explanations of what makes a company a startup, how startups fail, how startups succeed, the type of people that found startups, and the forces at work in/on startups. He is a driving/defining force in the software startup world.

    I may be wrong, but to my knowledge he does not conflate startup with good-place-to-work. His earliest explanation (I believe) was that one could work at a "traditional" company for 40 years, or a (successful) startup for many fewer years and make the same money. So I have to wonder, why do people (in general, not specific) think a startup is a good place to work anymore than a non-startup?

    1. I've read some of his articles. My experience in start ups is in biotech, and is a little different from what he describes. I also think that there is a tendency in writing about start ups in general to conflate how they are with how they have to be. A lot of tech start ups are founded by people straight out of school with no management experience. Sometimes they do things in managing the start up not because that is the best way to do it but because they don't have experience to see other ways. I'd love to start a company and show the world that you can make a successful start up without doing some of the employee-destroying things for which start ups are (in)famous!

      But that isn't what you asked. You asked why people think start ups are good places to work. I think it is for the energy and team spirit that you can get in a good start up. Everyone is working for a common goal against steep odds. It can be exhilarating. Also, you can really see the impact of your work.


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