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Tue, 19 Aug 2003

This is an archived blog post. I've switched to using WordPress as my blogging software and have not migrated all my old posts. I believe strongly in not letting an old link die, so this page continues to work. Please do visit mikemason.ca/blog to read newer posts.

Out of our control

I’m off on holiday this week, and was contemplating how best to get to the airport. I have to get from my current client site down to Heathrow, pretty much a trek across a quarter of London. I ended up thinking about it in “ideal minutes” and then adding 20% to cover things going wrong, but the strategy I think is most telling is one of avoiding public transport. I’m going to drive home (rather than maybe getting the train to work that day), get a taxi to Paddington (rather than use the tube) and restrict my use of public transport to the Heathrow Express for the journey out to the airport. Ignoring the question of whether public transport in the UK is any good, I find myself being stressed catching the tube, even if everything’s on time and working happily. I think this is mostly because it’s out of my control. When something going wrong is my fault, I might not be happy about it but it bothers me less.

Developers get stressed out by the same lack of control. We spend most of our time (if we’re lucky) attacking problems in code and generally being clever about fixing problems. When we find problems outside of the code — process, management, politics, the canteen food, the neighbor’s cat — we try to fix them too. Failure to fix non-code problems in the same way we fix code problems makes us unhappy.

I’m working on a large project right now, and at lunch we sometimes chuck around ideas for making various aspects of the project work better, smoother, faster, etc, and are generally frustrated with the fact that a big project just isn’t as fun as a small one. Maybe if we just accepted that this is as good as it gets, that big projects are intrinsically more difficult and less sexy, we could stop trying to fix stuff that’s out of our control and be content with what we have. This caused a few smiles amongst those present that lunchtime, but wouldn’t we be happier if we simply worried less?

Posted 14:50, 19 Aug 2003.  

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