Saturday, January 26, 2013

Do physical "work habits" really matter?

Do “work habits” matter in I,T.?  I was recalling a statement back in the mid 1990s about a young programmer who had been forced to resign for low productivity, “He had very poor work habits.” It could sound Maoist.
In the 80s and 90s, I would keep a lot of printouts around.  Why?  Call it CYA.  I would keep compiles and particularly test results, like file compares (as with File-Aid).   It is true that if you follow move procedures properly (and they’re enforced properly) there’s less of a need for a personal “audit trail”.  But in those days, “things” were not as automated as they are now.
Back in 1987, we kept listings from thirty days of master file and daily billing parallels in a conference room, rather like keeping comfort food under your pillow.  We did have a hot-shot write an ALC program to file compare the “daily billable volume” reports. A young man from Vietnam, he used to carry program specs on sticky pads on his thighs (it was a Texas summer). 
In 1989, working for a health care consulting firm, I kept a huge “library” of test results where I had verified policy model simulation results by hand calculations.  They came in handy in a crisis in January 1989 when a major client questioned our numbers.  I was able to defend my results, and then suddenly someone discovered a listing of a federal government computer program used to produce alternate numbers.  I noticed that one field in one COBOL compute statement was not the same as specified in the Federal Register.  It was similar in spelling, but not the same, and you needed to know something about Medicare provider reimbursements to realize it could be significant.  I made the change, and reproduced the desired results.  I had re-engineered one of the jobs to sort and process sequentially, rather than by direct VSAM reads, so the rerun went quite quickly.  I saved the company.  My work habits, as ungamely and inelegant (I did not have a pretty office for consumers) save me and probably everyone.
Companies have sometimes enforced “clean-desk” po0licies – everything put away at the end of the day, or only one item at a time is out.  That often happens where classified materials are involved.   Or in banks, where offices are visible to the outside street.
Parents teach personal habits, neatness, and doing chores partly because they do make their kids better on the job later.  If you can keep your workspace or home organizaed with little effort,  you don’t lose things and eventually you get your time back.  (Yup, Oprah and Nate Berkus have aired programs on how to keep work and home spaces neat with little effort.) 
There’s another reason parents teach their kids this, though.  So as adults they will be better to live with.  This isn’t just  an “axiom of choice” in finding a spouse.  It also has to do with the possibility you might have to live with other people in hard times.  Or, you might join the military (where keeping things clean is so essential because of lack of space and forced intimacy  -- my generation didn’t have a choice about this), or go into medicine, or into something where physical cleanliness and organization really matter.  Isn’t that what chemistry lab was all about in high school and college? 

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