Wednesday, July 10, 2013

It Can Still Be Awesome...

Let's talk about flying.

Airplanes are incredibly cool machines. Heavier-than-air, faster than cars, all thrust and lift and control and high tech. Most have massive jet engines on the wings and/or tail. They are hotrods THAT FLY.

It's cooler than that if you let yourself think about it. You're 35,000 feet in the air, moving at 500 miles per hour, looking at the tops of the clouds. THE TOPS OF THE CLOUDS!

When I was a kid, we liked to park near an airport and watch the planes take off and land. Yeah, we didn't have video games or cable back then. It was cool, and the closer you could get to the end of the airstrip, the better. At night, you could watch the lights zooming over your head and feel the thunder. It really is amazing.

So let's talk about airports.

The old grass strip airports used to be places of wonder and amazement, and plane fans would spend spare time showing up and looking around and maybe having a cup of joe with the operators or pilots. There were aviation fans and airplane geeks.

Modern airports are loaded with bars, restaurants, stores, video presentations, and often include history or art museum exhibits. Objectively, these should be considered great attractions.You would think that airports would be great places to hang out. People go there to fly! It should feel a lot like the opportunity to ride a great roller coaster or attend a concert.

As Loius C.K. says, "Everything is awesome, and nobody is happy."

Sadly, airports are islands of stress and frustration. People stand in line and follow lots of rules while voices yell at them over overly-loud intercoms (I've measured over 90 dB). Recordings constantly remind us that the people around us are probably thieves and terrorists and that the police are waiting to take our luggage away from us.

There's too many of us. We're packed too tightly on the plane. We have too little room for our stuff, our knees, or our elbows when we try to eat a micro-meal (provided our flight still includes a micro-meal). We pay fines for luggage and premium prices for coffee. Our waiting area is cramped and poorly ventilated. Our seats are crowded, and we don't have electricity where we need it. This makes our fellow passengers extra-grumpy.

Let's talk about software.

This should be the coolest thing in the world. We take ideas, and turn them into algorithms, and turn that into working code that actually does stuff. Nobody could do this sixty years ago.  Software is pure brainstuff. We turn ideas into reality. We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

By all rights, this job should be full of wonder, joy, simplicity, and clarity. We should come in excited and leave exhausted and happy. We are doing something amazing. Girls and boys should be dreaming about someday doing this job.

But let's talk about software dystopia.

Corporate cube farms are full of people. Their space is too small and lit by low-bandwidth florescent lighting. Most of them don't have (aren't allowed to have) windows. Some aren't allowed plants, or pictures of family members.

They feel they are being pressured to do more than they know how to do, in impossibly tight schedules.  They are pressured to not spend time learning and growing as professionals or individuals. They're told to do as they're told. They're starved of information they need to make good decisions, and they are criticized or even penalized for making bad ones.

Sure this is serious work, but by serious we mean "important and consequential" not "somber." We don't have to be unhappy to do important things. At some point, it should feel awesome.

Official communication is muddy and obscured by political phrasing and they don't have clarity. They are matrix-managed and constantly interrupted. They don't have the simplicity of a single voice to listen to, and the voices they hear are contradictory and unclear.

Inside of all this dystopia a simple, clear, joyful system is straining to get out.

How did we get here?

How do we get back?