TITLE: Two Sides of My Job AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: September 28, 2009 8:32 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Today brought high contrast to my daily duties. I spent my morning preparing a talk on computer science, careers, and job prospects for an audience of high school counselors from around the state. Then I gave the talk and lunched with them. Both prep and presentation were a lot of fun! I get to take some element of computer science and use it as a way to communicate how much fun CS and why these counselors should encourage their students to consider CS as a major. Many of the adults in my audience were likely prepared for the worst, to be bored by a hard topic they don't understand. Seeing the looks in their eyes when they saw how an image could be disassembled and reassembled to hide information -- I hope the look in my eyes reflected it. Early afternoon found me working on next semester's schedule of courses and responding to requests for consultations on curricular changes being made by another department. The former is in most ways paperwork, seemingly for paperwork's sake. The latter requires delicate language and, all too frequently, politics. Every minute seems a grind. This is an experience of getting caught up in stupid details, administration style. I ended the day by visiting with a local company about a software project that one of our senior project courses might work on. I learned a little about pumps and viscosity and flow, and we discussed the challenges they face in deploying an application that meets all their needs. Working on real problems with real clients is still one of the great things about building software. Being head of our department has brought me more opportunities like the ones that bookended my day, but it has also thrust me into far too many battles with paperwork and academic process and politics like the ones that filled the in-between time. After four-plus years, I have not come to enjoy that part of the job, even when I appreciate the value it can bring to our department and university when I do it well. I know it's a problem when I have to struggle to maintain my focus on the task at hand just to make progress. Such tasks offer nothing like the flow that comes from preparing and giving a talk, writing code, or working on a hard problem. A few months ago I read about a tool called Freedom, which "frees you from the distractions of the internet, allowing you time to code, write, or create." (It does this by disabling one's otherwise functional networking for up to eight hours.") I don't use Freedom or any tool like it, but there are moments when I fear I might need one to keep doing my work. Funny, but none of those moments involve preparing and giving a talk, writing code, or working on a hard problem. Tim Bray said it well:
If you need extra mental discipline or tool support to get the focus you need to do what you have to do, there's nothing wrong with that, I suppose. But if none of your work is pulling you into The Zone, quite possibly you have a job problem not an Internet problem.
Fortunately, some of my work pulls me into The Zone. Days like today remind me how much different it feels. When I am mired in a some tarpit outside of the zone, it's most definitely not an Internet problem. -----