A couple of conversations recently have caused me to reflect on how my normal, everyday life as a creator of software looks rather odd to people outside of the profession.

Conversation with my 7 year old after the usual attempts at getting him to actually talk about what he did at school that day, and his claims that he doesn’t remember:
me: I remember everything I did today and could tell you all about it. But I’m probably more interested in your day at school than you would be in my day at work.
him: I already know what you do at work
me: really? what do I do at work?
him: you just type on your computer all day long

Conversation with a good friend of mine (profession: folk singer)
him: did you invent anything today, Sarah?
me: Not today.
Some days I can claim to have invented stuff. In a conversation last week, I related that we finsihed up two different versions of our software on the same day.
him: I’m always interested in what exactly it is you do since it is so mysterious to me. What did you do today?
me: There are people who work with me, whose job it is to find everything that is wrong with what we make. Then they make a long list of problems. Today I went through that list and figured out when things needed to get done and assigned them to different people.

It’s my birthday today, so I suppose it is natural to reflect on what the heck I’m doing with my life.

As I get ready to leave for the office, I choose not to think of my work as incomprehensible to my friends and family. Today, I choose to think of what I do as mysterious.

2 thoughts on “how it looks from the outside

  1. I don’t know about you, but I personally find cars and electrical appliances mysterious and intimidating. I have great respect for people who are able to delve into the depths of electrical wiring or car engines, figure out what is wrong and repair it, using tools, experience and a variety of other skills.

    I always felt bad that I didn’t know how to do those things, until not that long ago I had an epiphany – I work in just as mysterious and intimidating a medium, from their point of view. And I get paid a hell of a lot more to do it!

    I mean, I bet you can properly analyze a computer problem over the phone. I bet you can hear a description of a problem in the software, and correctly guess where the problem can probably be found 80%+ of the time.

    If you’ve done any hardware swapping, you probably feel comfortable installing drives, perhaps even diagnosing bad power supplies, or swapping out motherboards.

    And, of course, you almost certainly know how to write programs that do interesting things, which is similar to building your own vehicle from scratch.

    All of those things are intimidating and scary to most people.

    Happy Birthday!

  2. From Raju, February 17, 2006 (somehow this comment was misplaced before this)

    Interesting thoughts about your life and work. I always have the problem to explain to emy parents what it means to develop software. Even my brother and my sister don’t really understand what I’m doing.

    But there’s one thing which came to my mind reading your blog: You said that “There are people who work with me, whose job it is to find everything that is wrong with what we make.”

    We went to Hungary a while ago where I met an impressive business consultant. That guy has a lot of management experience. I asked him where he learned how to manage people. He told me that all I have to know about management could be found in a small book called “The one minute manager”. I read that book and was fascinated.

    According to that book a good manager should try to catch his co-workers doing something right and tell them about that. Of course he should be watching for the problems, too. But only focussing on things going wrong is not very positive. If you raise children you try to teach them doing the right things by telling them when they did something in a good way. But somehow we treat adults completely different from that. I liked that idea a lot. So I would like to some praising at this point:

    Well, I’ve been watching Laszlo Systems and the work you are doing for 1 1/2 years now and think it’s really impressive. Maybe it’s good to know that you don’t only invent something every other day but by doing your work create a worldwide community of people fascinated by your work.

    In 2005 I learned so many new things about life and the internet by starting the OpenLaszlo community in Berlin/Germany. I met Oliver Steele in Berlin, talked to David Temkin on the phone, learned all about Marc Canter and his ideas and got so many good ideas from the whole team at Laszlo Systems. My business partner and I plan on attending the Web 2.0 conference in 2006 in SF. I found Beate Fritsch through the internet, exchanged some emails with her (I was suprised that there are some Germany employees working for Laszlo Systems). And it’s always fun to visit your blog ;-)

    So even if you don’t see it everday your work influences the life, ideas and businesses of many people in this world in a very positive way.

    Good Luck for the year ahead, for you and your family!

What do you think?