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There are several saliloquies in the 21st century unfinished novel "The Pale King" by David Foster Wallace that do the accounting profession and its requisite temperament plenty of Justice. E.g., from a character working for the IRS:

“I learned that the world of men as it exists today is a bureaucracy. This is an obvious truth, of course, though it is also one the ignorance of which causes great suffering.

“But moreover, I discovered, in the only way that a man ever really learns anything important, the real skill that is required to succeed in a bureaucracy. I mean really succeed: do good, make a difference, serve. I discovered the key. This key is not efficiency, or probity, or insight, or wisdom. It is not political cunning, interpersonal skills, raw IQ, loyalty, vision, or any of the qualities that the bureaucratic world calls virtues, and tests for. The key is a certain capacity that underlies all these qualities, rather the way that an ability to breathe and pump blood underlies all thought and action.

“The underlying bureaucratic key is the ability to deal with boredom. To function effectively in an environment that precludes everything vital and human. To breathe, so to speak, without air.

“The key is the ability, whether innate or conditioned, to find the other side of the rote, the picayune, the meaningless, the repetitive, the pointlessly complex. To be, in a word, unborable.

“It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.”

The line on immunity to boredom resonates with me. However I think boredom is a very healthy motivator.

There's a balance to strike. You want to be able to be bored (when I worked at a government elections office for 8 months). But you also want to have the drive to not be bored anymore (when I automated away my job and got in a lot of trouble).

Boredom I think is a prerequisite for successful automation. If you're not bored doing a thing, it is likely still too complicated, too poorly-understood, or too fun to automate.

Something changed when information technology became ubiquitous. In the world of the aforementioned DFW, successful automation requires a lot more than just getting bored enough to build something, it required more bureaucracy. More bored humans doing boring things.

Computers truly are magic.

And yet I still think that computer programming, and solving computer problems, requires a high tolerance for boring drudgery...

Imagine teaching coding skills to an impatient friend. “Okay, today we’re going to learn about Node package management and resolving merge conflicts!”

I've done it, the only thing that really works is giving them an big, stupid goal like making a video game or a crypto-currency or whatever and letting them fail over and over again. Once you see them getting a little frustrated give them a little direction but otherwise leave them alone.

Software companies simply use tooling chains instead of written bureaucracy. Sometimes it takes more time to manage the tooling than it does to solve the code problem. Good tooling is simple and gets out of the way of the real task, solving the damn problem.

That reminds me of blancing the power curve in a game. Players want to feel like they're getting more powerful, which essentially translates to making the game easier. But too easy and it's not fun anymore, it becomes boring. Even though the player has gotten everything they thought they wanted.

Bart: I thought you wanted a challenge?

Lisa: a challenge I could do!

I always tell people I am a good software engineer because I get bored, am "fundamentally lazy" and don't like to do things twice. Sounds to me like others have discovered this same key to their effectiveness.

This is the wrong venue for this opinion, but software engineering is the embodiment of boredom. We are glorified filing clerks, we spend all our time convincing computers to accept messy inputs from ourselves or other process.

Even when we "solve hard problems", they mostly come down to convincing a computer to process some mundane data faster.

At the end of the day, we spend all day in front of a monitor talking to the most pedantic bureaucracy ever made, one with no human leeway unless explicitly specified.

But we have so many tricks to convince ourselves we're not bored or boring! We "automate", "solve hard problems", and "optimize".

"The underlying bureaucratic key is the ability to deal with boredom."

Absolutely beautiful. It so wonderfully captures the essence of modern day work life so well.

This is also pertinent to much of corporate america as well. Corporate office jobs are prone to magic of ennui and boredom.

I've often wondered how people dealt with office work or jobs before the internet? Did they play solitaire and minesweeper all day?

This is fascinating. Not only does it seem like a very apt take, it also tracks some of the personality-related research:


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