We’re the greatest!

So, I’m using some holiday to catch up on my RSS feeds…

Programmers are unlike many types of workers in that the best ones actually prefer to work hard. This doesn’t seem to be the case in most types of work. When I worked in fast food, we didn’t prefer the busy times. And when I used to mow lawns, I definitely didn’t prefer it when the grass was long after a week of rain.

Programmers, though, like it better when they write more code. Or more precisely, when they release more code. Programmers like to make a difference. Good ones, anyway.

– Paul Graham, The Other Half of “Artists Ship”

I’ve heard exactly this type of sentiment many times but I’ve never really been able to buy in.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s 100% correct that the best programmers prefer to have an incredible product.  And since I don’t feel like presenting some corny argument about “working hard” vs. “working smart”, I’ll concede that the best programmers feel that if they’re not working hard… they’re not making the product as “incredible” as it could possibly be – so yeah, they prefer that too.

What I don’t agree with is this belief that programming is the place where (unlike any other profession) you’ll find that “preferring hard work” coincides with being “the best”.

When I worked in fast food, we didn’t prefer the busy times.

Coincidentally, Paul Graham is not running a successful fast food empire.  Why?  When presented with one of the “hard problems” in the fast food industry – How do you increase quality of service and customer throughput while maintaining the sanity of minimum wage workers during the time of day when the most people are looking to hand out their money?… he didn’t like it.

No shame in it. Instead, he looked for another industry.  A place where he could spend all night (long after his 8 hr day was long done) thinking about some problem he left unfinished – and come away happier for it.

If you won’t mow the lawn unless it’s 70F and sunny, your landscaping career will not end at the top.


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