the secrets to obtaining a happy programmer

The ideal working environment for a programmer is an topic which has received considerable attention. What we (programmers) normally idolise after are, amongst other things, (multiple) large monitors, Herman Miller Aeron chairs, private offices, break-out rooms, and, of course, the best tools for the job. Joel Spolsky, the Godfather of programmer satisfaction, went even further and gave us the Joel Test for assessing a prospective employer. However, are the above all that it takes for programming nirvana? Probably not.

First up, I would love to experience an environment where each and every one of the things mentioned above was in place. However, in my career so far, I have yet to work in an environment where these things have been par for the course, and maybe I would be content with such a work environment. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t though. Not because these things aren’t good but there is a vital ingredient that can make these things irrelevant.

So what is this ingredient? Well it’s FUN, or lack of it. Yes a fun workplace! I’m sure there will be those out there that think work isn’t supposed to be fun, well ask yourself why. Fun doesn’t necessarily mean that no work gets done – the contrary in fact. It’s a place where like minds can sit and create and innovate about things they find interesting. Now here is our first problem.

Essentially fun is the environment combined with the people. However, all too often we find ourselves in an environment where the people are not like minded. What surprises me most is that in an office full of software developers only a handful (or less) may be genuinely interested in software development. I’m not sure if I have just worked in the wrong places – however friends have confirmed a similar problem. It’s not simply that you couldn’t sit and talk to certain individuals about software development, it’s that you pretty much had difficulty talking about anything. It was often like talking to a baked potato.

For me this not just a job, software is one of my top three interests (along with music and cycling, for those who are nosey 😉 ). Wouldn’t it be nice if an employer could respect this – I’m not saying they all don’t, but most don’t, it makes it easy to see why Google attach such an importance to their culture.

All this is not to say that I think we should all be the same, it may be the case that you have to turn good people away because they simply don’t fit your culture. I think the culture is that important. This has been shown in the past by the likes of Richard Branson whose music empire started by providing an environment (in essence a community) where both the employee and consumer found it fun to gather in his record shops. Certain universities have also found this valuable over the years.

So essential we can have all the goodies we like, but unless we are working with people that are Smart and Gets Thing Done (or preferably Done and Gets Things Smart), and fit our culture, then maybe we are never going to reach our programming nirvana.