TITLE: "July 27 at 2:00 PM" AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: July 27, 2006 1:31 PM DESC: ----- BODY: That was my standard answer to a particular family of questions for many years. The prototypical question in this family was, "Do you think you'll ever want to be a department head?" And I always said, "July 27 at 2:00 PM". If you are a faculty member or even a graduate student, you probably know just what I meant. Summer is a great time to be a faculty member. We get to read, write code, play with new ideas -- all without having to worry about preparing for and meeting classes, attending department meetings, or otherwise doing much with the day-to-day business of the university. Even better, we can read, write, and play most anywhere we want, most anytime we want. We can become absorbed in a program and work all day, and never have to worry about a meeting or a class interrupting the flow. We can work from home or from the road, but we don't have to work at our offices unless we want to. No one expects us to be there much. Department heads, though, are administrators. The daily business of the university goes on, and the heads have to keep tabs on it. There are salary letters to be written, budgets to be closed, memos to write for the dean and provost, and inquiries to be answered. The university pays their salary during the summer, and the university expects a return on its investment. So, there we are, 2:00 PM on a beautiful Thursday, July 27th. As a faculty member, I could be almost anywhere, doing almost anything, learning something new. As a department head, I would be in the office, dressed well enough to meet the public if necessary, "working". "July 27 at 2:00 PM" meant "I don't think so, and here's why...". The great irony is that I am now finishing up my first year as department head now, and it is nearly 2:00 PM on Thursday, July 27. It's overcast outside, not sunny, and frightfully muggy. Where am I? In my home study. What am I doing? Reading from the stack of papers that has built up over the last few months, and writing a quick entry for this blog. Not much different than any other summer in the past 15 years. However, I stand by metaphorical answer. All other things being equal, summer life as a faculty member is freer and open to more possibilities than summer life as a department head. It requires some adjustment. My reading today has been from an old-fashioned pile of stuff, the papers and journal articles that I run into during busy days and set aside for later. I don't know about you, but my eyes are always bigger than my stomach when it comes to the list of things I want to read. So I print them out and wait for a free moment. Eventually the pile of papers exceeds any realistic amount of time I have to read and the amount of space I have to store them. Today, I made a few free moments to do triage, tossing papers that I know I'll never get to and, every so often, stopping to read something that sounds good right now. A very few papers earn a spot in the new, streamlined pile of stuff, in an almost certainly fantastic hope that some day I'll get to them. Here are two passages I read today that made the effort worthwhile. First, a quote from Uncle Bob Martin, from a 2004 message to the extreme programming mailing list, in the thread "Designing before doing":
>  "But how can you do anything without designing it first?!" ... You can't. You always have to design something before you build it. The question is: "How much do I have to design before I build?" The answer is: "Just enough so that what I build gives me better insight into the design of the next step." Seen this way, the act of building is *part* of the act of design, and the original question inverts itself: "How can you design something without verifying your design decisions by implementing them?"
Well said. Thank you, Uncle Bob. Finally, a bit of humor from Eric Raymond's classic FAQ, How to Become a Hacker:
I'm having problems with my Windows software. Will you help me?
Yes. Go to a DOS prompt and type "format c:". Any problems you are experiencing will cease within a few minutes.
Enjoy your July 27! -----