Environment Activist

Environment Activist

Joey Shipley

November 16, 2012

You just found your dream home: it’s vastly spacious, a gym-sized pool with twin jacuzzis, a massive home-theater and game room, along with riverside boat access. Did I mention the house is listed 30% under market value?

There’s just one catch: the run down power plant on the other side of the river is spawning three-eyed zombie fish!

Just as bad environments are toxic to our dream homes, bad work environments can be just as toxic to people. These poisons affect productivity and creativity, and build complacency. Bad work environments act much in the same way as zombie fish do, they eat up good people.

Imagine how you would feel after spending a year in a poor environment. Now imagine being there after five or even ten years? We find that 71% of us are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” from their work. And alarmingly, 84% of workers want to leave their job. If so many people dislike their environment and want to move on, why don’t they?

We Want Something Better

“Our environment, the world in which we live and work, is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations.”
— Earl Nightingale

We aspire to excel. A large part of our self-worth is guided by our accomplishments. So why then do most people stay with employers that they are dissatisfied with? It turns out that many have become comfortable with their unhappiness, even in bad work conditions. In these environments we become mechanical or mindless in our tasks. Without real thought we go through the motions and seek repetition over creativity. We isolate ourselves from our workmates, take our breaks away alone, show up late, leave early.

An effective way to find success is to improve our sense of value and worth, to have meaningful inclusion with others. One sure way to do this is to actively help others. Helping others in turn affects our happiness and that of those around us. So ask yourself, where are you in your organization, what can you do for those around you?

Can you run a camp for high schoolers during summer time? Can you host afterwork meetups for others in your industry to help facilitate sharing of industry knowledges? Can you turn those little helper classes you created to make your life easier into an open source project for the organization? You and your organization gain a recognition and positive reputation through sharing with the community.

Bring purpose and meaning back into your work; inject it into your environment. You’ll fight complacency while building self-worth. You’ll have passion toward your work, while improving your work environment and your life.

We Want To Grow

“Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you”
— W. Clement Stone

We want to grow as human beings, both personally and professionally. We want to see our knowledge and talents evolve. We want to look back at our growth and feel pride in our accomplishments. The work environment in which we perform on a day to day basis can hinder our individual and professional growth just as much as it can help it.

It’s not uncommon for us to forget that software is created by people and not the machines we work from. As such, many of us find ourselves accepting restrictions to the creative aspects of software development. We allow programming to be turned into a mindless, mechanical process. We lose the chance to really push ourselves, to experiment, to learn and ultimately to grow.

Many companies understand the importance of their workplace environment and building learning and innovative cultures. You can start by asking your company to build an open environment that supports continuous and collaborative learning. The gains and benefits of lowering the barrier to directly working with those around you pay tenfold. Imagine how much more valuable everyone is when it becomes collective expertise instead of individual experts.

What else can you do? Knock down those cubicles. Literally open up your office space. There are many studies out there about how your office environment shapes your interactions during the day. They agree that open environment improves collaboration and creativity: two important aspects of software development.

Pair programming provides us a wealth of benefits. It’s a hard step for many organizations to take, so start with whatever you can get. Working with others takes people from being passively engaged to actively engaged, while improving learning retention and interpersonal relationships among colleagues.

Take on an apprentice and find a mentor. How much growth would we experience if we shared our knowledge with those around us, letting them challenge our understanding and building on them with the thoughts of others? When we participate in mentoring and partake in apprenticeships we build strong bonds with our colleagues, promote healthy knowledge exchanges, and build legacies.

Bring growth and collaboration back into your work, pull it into your environment. You’ll battle the mindless and the mundane. You’ll find pride in what you do again.

And We Want To Enjoy It

“When someone does a small task beautifully, their whole environment is affected by it.”
— Jerry Seinfeld

Let’s go out on a limb here and say something bold: we want to enjoy our lives, both at home and at work. You don’t want to have to drag yourself out of bed, drown yourself in coffee and run the hot water out just to get to work. No one wants to dread Monday mornings on Friday evenings.

In addition to lack of interest, dissatisfaction, complacency, mindlessness, and the mundane,; more issues that contribute to poor work environments are stress and boredom. What you may not realize is the magnitude of these problems and how stress and boredom directly affect your happiness at work.

How can you cure boredom and stress at work? You can start by surrounding yourself with the same things you enjoy outside of work. We all have music, get everyone to bring in theirs and spread it around. Break out the board games, drop your dusty 8-bit video games off in the break room. Companies, drop the business attire policies for casual clothing. Some of the greatest companies of our time, Google, Twitter, Skype, Microsoft, and many more, have taken the cue and built some truly amazing places to work.

Bring the rest and relaxation to your work, infuse it into your environment. You’ll combat the stress and boredom. You’ll be happy at work again.

Contingency Plan

“You can Change Your Organization or Change Your Organization.”
— Martin Fowler

More often than not organizations accept the complacency, the mechanical mindlessness and the mundane. They ignore the stress and the boredom. It is your imperative to take charge of change, to seek to improve your environment for not only yourself but those you share it with.

Through the process of improving your environment you will find the limits in which your organization will support you. At some point you may be faced with an organization that doesn’t fit your goals. When this happens it is time for you to make the hardest change: leaving your organization and finding a new home away from home.

To look at software developers and their environments differently; check out these books:

Software Craftsmanship: The New Imperative
By Pete McBreen

Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change
By Kent Beck