The Maker's Schedule - A Ten Year Retrospective
10 years ago, I was fresh out of college and encountered Paul Graham’s essay about the maker’s schedule, and wrote a response disagreeing with the spirit of the article. While I knew and understood that programmers could be much more productive in one 10 hour chunk than in five 2 hour chunks, I felt like rearranging a business’s operations based on these preferences was going overboard. The typical programmer as described seemed undisciplined, and I wrote that programmers needed to find ways to work around distractions, which are simply a fact of life.
As expected the post got a lot of negative feedback, but it was all very informative. Rather than just telling me to shut up, many people shared their own views and explained where my reasoning might be shortsighted. One person said they would be interested in seeing how I would react to my own post in about 10 years time, so here I am.
I wrote the post as a programmer and took advantage of that position to say some pretty harsh things about programmers in general. I was surprised to see that I wrote the post when I was only a few months out of college, so I definitely had far more ego than I deserved. While I can understand the points I was trying to make, if I were to try the same thing now I would be much more civil about it.
I didn’t disagree with PG’s main point, namely that distractions are always bad for productivity but probably affect programmers more than other professionals. I felt though, that resigning to losing an afternoon because of a one-hour meeting was too defeatist. It is possible to minimize setbacks. There always will be some room for productivity in a short window of time. You won’t be able to develop a large complex function, but there is probably something else you can do instead to spend the time productively.
Ironically, gaining some experience as a manager (or possibly just growing up a little) has made me more sympathetic to the makers’ needs. I used to see a list of demands as a sign of being pampered, but now I can appreciate that every effort to make a workplace better is important.
So today, with 10 years of experience under my belt, I would say that I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Both articles were describing an ideal. The reality is that everybody has to work together, be sympathetic to other people’s needs, and compromise. PG’s essay was much more valuable though because the managers are the ones with power, and the compromise was often lopsided.