Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Working from Home Part 2: Why It’s Great (geeksinboston.com)
19 points by shimon on Feb 4, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 9 comments

Whether or not working from home is good or not really depends on your situation.

I have a 40 minute commute to and from work which I use to read the papers or a book. I have an official 'work-from-home' day (Wednesday) and the option to work from home other days if there's nothing at the office that requires my attention.

However, I usually just go in to the office every Wednesday and only sometimes use the work-from-home-any-day option.

I happen to like the work environment we have. I have a nice clean office space with a big desk, two large monitors, good lighting, a comfortable chair, a kitchen with food and drinks, a rec room with couches and a pool table and whiteboards everywhere.

I am frequently interrupted, but half the time it's by fellow coders working on different problems who want to bounce some ideas off of me. There's an unwritten protocol for programmers interrupting programmers where I work. You walk by and say 'hey'. You get a 'hey' back and if the programmer doesn't turn back to the monitor, they're usually open for interruption. Or they might suck you into whatever problem they're working on.. :)

The other half of the interruptions are from the operations, business, sales and management side. These can be very annoying and consume a lot of time, but I encourage them (up to a point). For one, they provide a good finger on the pulse of the wider company operations. They keep a level of transparency between software development and the other areas of the company. They're also good for social cohesion (a 'we' feeling as opposed to 'us and them').

Interaction just works better face-to-face. The pool table we have, for example, is rarely used for actual games. Usually it's used by two or three people that are discussing something and just making a few shots while doing it. Or just goofing off for a bit.

Of course, I also have to get some code done. I can manage my time and do this, but I also have a lot of freedom in this respect. If you're working with a boss who micro-manages you, eh.. well .. that's a different story. (I suggest getting another job. I've been there and it sucked).

This is so matter-of-fact I consider that the more important question is - why don't managers recognize this and how can we make them recognize it? If I was a steel worker, they'd go insane over a 1% increase in my productivity, but as a developer they chop up my time into tiny little increments, and then wonder why the heck I can't get anything done.

I'm not sure, but probably because productivity of programmers is hard to measure? You, as a programmer, solve different problem each time. Productivity can be defined by

    (* individual-productivity-coefficient
       (/ (* amount-of-the-task difficulty-of-the-task) 
Within these parameters, managers can only see time-to-implement clearly, amount-of-the-task vaguely, individual-productivity-coefficient relatively (to other coworkers), and difficulty-of-the-task hardly. Suppose you spend a week to solve X in busy environment, then spend a day to solve Y when the noisy manager is on vacation and you know X and Y are more or less the same amount and difficulty, so it's 5x boost! But the only clue the manager has is that you finish Y in 1/5 of the time of X, and each counts as single "feature" so the amount of task should be the same, and they conclude that the difficulty of Y is 1/5 of X instead of thinking that your individual productivity coefficient raised 5x.

Sure, it's hard to measure (the root of the problem) - but there's plenty of people out there (Joel Spolsky for starters, Peopleware is another) that suggest some of the things that adversely affect it. Why are those factors so hard to communicate to managers?

The existence of those factors is not hard to communicate. Your manager will probably understand and sympathize, but without a measurable cost or benefit, how is she going to argue for them in a committee with other managers? Sure, we get that your private offices are going to make your team more productive, but is that $100k more productive or $1M more productive? If you can even begin to answer that question without the rest of the crowd falling asleep, you're amazing. There is always pressure to make simple, easily justifiable decisions, rather than nuanced, complex ones; unless you can find simple terms to argue in, you just brought a paintbrush to a gun fight.

To quote my boss (it's almost like a mantra) - "whatever's easier." I'm sort of a student of management (and in academic terms actually more than "sort of") so this stuff fascinates me. It's easy to point to companies that don't do whatever's easier, but actually do whatever's correct (Google would be a good example) but day to day, the message doesn't get executed.

The reason that managers do what they do to developers is because a manager does not have to think. Because of that, he has no understanding of what kind of environment supports or destroys one's ability to think. He sees his job is to make snap decisions based upon no information and, as a consequence, thinks that your job too.

If I reinvented a Patricia tree I would be pretty pleased with myself.

Working from home is tough if you have a 4 year old and a 1 year old that continuously long for attention. I haven't quite figured out how to balance that need with the need for long concentration spans ... so for now (and because my employer expects it on the vast majority of days), it's off to the office for me.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact