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The Pleasures and Sorrows of Summer June 28, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types, career, change, employment, survival, the economy.
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One of the best books I have ever read, fiction or non-fiction, is Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work writes Steve_Denning author of award-winning books The Secret Language of Leadership and The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling

Summer’s officially here – with recession in full swing – and so this would seem like the unlikeliest of times to be considering the subject of work. But work is the subject of this post – for I’m about to embark on a one month long voluntary furlough to help the firm make payroll for the remaining architects back in the office. I face the coming month with a mixture of curiosity, ennui and oddly, relief. Relief because up until now I have miraculously managed to be employed or self-employed continuously for 25 consecutive years and I am looking forward to doing many things with this newfound time: writing my book, biking with the kids, training in new technology, and perhaps as great as any of these, doing some much needed mid-career exploration of the very notion of work. And despite the furlough probably some work as well.

Do you live to work or work to live?

With so many out of work right now it would seem like a luxury to spend valuable sun-soaked hours pondering the meaning of work: what it means to individuals and society, who ultimately benefits from it and what it takes for it to be considered meaningful. It’s not as though work is an option – for most, it’s a necessity, and for others, a necessary evil. Few have the metaphysical disposition to question “to work or not to work?” That is certainly not the question, for work we must.

Who better to guide us on this exploration than Alain de Botton, author of The_Architecture_of_Happiness and this summer’s runaway nonfiction bestseller, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, an examination  of 10 professions and industries in 10 chapters covering the one thing most of us devote the greater part of our lives to. Specifically, de Botton writes cleverly and entertainingly about the

  • specialization of labor,
  • production of superfluous goods,
  • our removal from the sources of what we consume,
  • detachment of meaning from work, and
  • elusiveness of self-fulfillment.

What work?

As reviewers, commenters and de Botton himself points out – most of us entered our chosen field by way of decisions made when we were unthinking students looking for something to earn us spending or rent money without really giving it much thought. Our careers chose us by paying well or being conveniently located to our homes, we didn’t choose our careers. This lull in summer affords us the opportunity to consider – or reconsider – this choice. To take ownership of it. To make it our choice – rather than one that happened to us, as though from some source outside ourselves.


We all know what we do for a living. But what exactly is it? Work is the thing, says de_Botton, alongside love and perhaps children, from which we derive our identities. All societies have had work at their center, but modern Western culture, he says, is the first to assume that a “meaningful existence must invariably pass through the gate of remunerative employment.” In a time when we’re all just trying to make our mortgage payments – let alone enjoy some of the fringe benefits of summer in the city – is it too much of a burden put upon ourselves to ask of work to be anything more than a means to a paycheck?

As one commenter put it, “There is a nobility in simply arriving home at the end of a day having secured the resources sufficient to meet one’s needs.” And so again we ask: is this enough?


Along the way de Botton tries to answer some of the most urgent questions we ask about work:

  • Why do we do it?
  • What makes it pleasurable?
  • What is its meaning? And
  • Why do we daily exhaust not only ourselves but also the planet?

To look at work and life through a wider lens

Summer ought to be about pleasure pure and simple – not sorrow. A season not meant to be fraught with the burden of finding employment, meaningful or otherwise. This delightful book, dressed for summer release in sand colored sleeve, is a light read in a heavy book, as much photo essay as word painting, and the perfect accompaniment to your own explorations into the travails and pleasures of work.

Author Steve_Denning recommends Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Penguin, 2009) strongly: “provided you understand his mindset and appreciate finely crafted prose, you will find this one of the funniest and wisest books you will ever read,” Denning concludes in his own review of this worthwhile and enjoyable book.


Read or Perish: A Summer Top 10 List June 11, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in integrative thinking, management, software architects.
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I recently discovered a new section of the bookstore and my life has been all the more enriched for it. For all the time I’ve spent amongst the shelves I somehow overlooked a veritable treasure trove of bounded and unbounded delights. Today I am going to share this life-changing discovery with you.

Computer books are to bookstores as milk is to grocers: you have to walk past everything else in the store to get there. Past fiction, history, gardening and cooking – you’ll inevitably find them in the farthest reaches of the store, the most distant point from the store entrance.

I’ve visited the section before – to brush up on Excel, to learn some software tips and tricks. On this one occasion there was something else that had drawn me to the computer technology book section. A book I had been looking for – on project management – suddenly appeared on a shelf near the geographic center of the long expanse of computer books: Making Things Happen by Scott Berkun. Not just any book on managing people, one’s self, clients, time, work processes, schedules and budgets – written by the Microsoft alumnus and program manager of Internet Explorer – this book has gone on to be my all-time favorite book on the subject. I’ve returned to this shelf in computer sections of new and used bookstores on several occasions in the months since and have been rewarded every time by fabulous titles with evocative cover art. None of these are dry technology doorstoppers – but instead they’re each in their own right works of art and pleasures to behold. They’re each entertaining, deep and rewarding reads. They’ll teach you something you didn’t know – not about software or programming – but about the work you love, the work you’re passionate about, the work you do day in day out. You’ll come away from these books richer, larger, more expansive – and more interesting. For each serves as a metaphor applicable to what you’re already doing and the time invested will be rewarded a hundredfold.

Many of these books are published by Tim O’Reilly (his Twitter tweets are some of the best, most informative, authoritative and most followed http://twitter.com/timoreilly). Although his more familiar and most popular books, updated hourly, can be found here, some of his lesser known titles have made my Top 10 including 97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know; and the urgent and important Devices of the Soul. The “beautiful” series cannot be missed, with such tantalizing titles as Beautiful Security, Beautiful Code, and Beautiful Architecture: Leading Thinkers Reveal the Hidden Beauty in Software Design by Diomidis Spinellis and Georgios Gousios. The all-time favorite among pleasure-seeking adventuresome readers, The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, comes as close to seductive non-fiction as any book you might come across at the beach. If there is a more enjoyable summer read than Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (Second Edition) I have not found it.  In addition to the previously mentioned Making Things Happen, Scott Berkun has written a wonderful book on the creative mind, the myths of innovation. Microsoft Press’s near-perfect Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction tops-off the list.

Lastly, I would be remiss in not mentioning the self-explanatory and hilarious underground cult classic The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity. No beach bag should be without it.


Summer Top 10 Lists


Making Things Happen

The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

the myths of innovation

Beautiful Code

Devices of the Soul

97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know

Subject To Change : Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World: Adaptive Path on Design

Code Complete



At-Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz  

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Then We Came to the End: A Novel by Joshua Ferris

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz  

*You thought you were going to make it through summer without reading any fiction? Guess again!

The Receptionist’s Candy Bowl as Economic Indicator June 7, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect, career, change, employment, survival, the economy.
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It’s official. You no longer recognize your life.

Things you’ve seen over the past few months you can’t quite place. Often, you don’t have a name for them. And if it weren’t for your spouse, no one would believe that they’re happening to you.

It’s as though you’re living in some kind of simulacrum of someone else’s existence, only for about half the salary. Without matching funds. And the candy bowl is empty.

Your company mobile phones are long gone. You can no longer print in color. Just the sound of the office printer – inexplicably stocked only with resume paper – raises eyebrows.

The company printer is no longer for printing. It is for emailing. You use it to email things to yourself. Otherwise your mail box would be empty. This is now what you do for a living.

Working part time, if they want you to work a full week (and legally they can’t ask you to do that) they assign you to kitchen clean-up duty at 4:30PM on Fridays, a day you haven’t worked in 6 months. Not cleaning the kitchen at 4:30PM on Fridays is grounds for dismissal, so you show up for work on Friday at 4:30PM, clean the kitchen and leave fifteen minutes later.

You’ve cracked the code. This is the new win-win. And the kitchen is clean come Monday morning.

Renting available cubicle real-estate, your former clients now sit amongst you. They use the company bathroom, not the bathroom for company.

Going after work you normally don’t go after, you inevitably run into the same firms, going after work they normally don’t go after. Those that normally went after this work aren’t anywhere to be found.

The receptionist’s candy bowl as economic indicator. Completely empty in March, the bowl is now filled each morning with candy leftover from Halloween. Even so, it empties before noon.

You wonder if eating stale candy means things are improving.

In order to network effectively, you attend afterhours events featuring presentations on quarter sawn lumber, rooftop mounted wind-turbines, and the future of the city. All in the same day.

You no longer know who you are. You find yourself frequently referencing your business card to remind yourself who you are.

You need to order more business cards, but are afraid to ask.

Meanwhile, you find yourself considering whether quarter sawn wind-turbines might save our cities?

Attending webinars in conference rooms. Muted. Phoning-in to RFP Q&As. Disembodied voices.

Owners, recognizing the feeding frenzy, suddenly put out their projects in hopes of attracting the lowest bidder.

Can you be furloughed from a furlough? During your furlough, you’re needed at the office. Then, inexplicably, the client stops calling. You no longer know where you should be.

You find yourself offering weird services for which you know you are not qualified. Building commissioning in foreign countries. 3D laser scanning of entire cities. Quarter-sawing lumber.

People you haven’t spoken to in 20 years suddenly “friend” you online. Eleven seconds later they request an introduction. Wham Bam, Recommend Me Man.

Former colleagues, unemployed, quizzically seem better off than you. You run into one at the gym. They look at you like recession, what recession?

You know you should have taken their job offer.

Former donors to social service organizations are now recipients of their services.

You consider temporarily living away from your spouse, children and dog. You wonder how the dog will handle it.

Not knowing what to do with the accumulated pile of once vital information on living in Dubai.

Former classmates – now semi-famous politicians, actors and actresses – find you on social networking sites. Just at the one time in the past 20 years when you have nothing to brag about, you’re needy, and for all your former success the best you can offer when they suggest meeting for drinks is going Dutch.

You feel like you’re 16 again on Facebook because you are 16 again.

You’re making what you made in 1989 but the world, uncooperatively, costs 2009.

New technologies keep popping up, you wonder – with every passing day hovering ever closer to retirement – whether you’ll need to learn them. Or can take a pass. You wait and see.

The irony that you need to belong to organizations and attend networking events in order to find the kind of job where you make the kind of money to pay for these organizations and networking events.

No longer contributing to your 401K while watching the market climb. Afraid that contributing will trigger something that causes the market to stop climbing.

When your business cards finally run out, is that your last day?

You remind yourself that a watched receptionist’s candy bowl never fills.