Monday, February 22, 2010

Cube Farm

The title of Bill Blunden's book, Cube Farm, piqued my interest because at times I've been one of the many development resources housed in cubes. And although my experiences don't live up to the authors, I was able to commiserate with the narrative.

I enjoyed the book. It was humorous and mirrored some of my experiences. I found quite a bit of food for thought despite the lighthearted approach. In fact, the book can be treated as one giant software development case study.

The back cover sets the stage:
Truth is stranger than fiction, especially when it comes to the workplace. Consider this book a reality check for anyone preparing to enter the work force, and a survival guide for those entangled in their own personal version of Office Space.

The preface lays out the ground rules:
The reality is that competition not only exists between corporations but also inside of them. For all the cloying praise that's heaped on the concept of teamwork in business schools and by motivational speakers, in many cases your coworkers are also your opponents ... People compete for better projects, better resources, promotions, pay raises, and nicer offices.

The chapters introduce the cast of characters:
Long John Silver
Last Mohican
Mad Prophet
Puppet Master
Wax Artist

The physical setting, the cube farm, adds to the theatre:
Rows upon rows of people laboring under the unremitting glow of fluorescent track lighting. If you listen carefully, you could hear the employees groan as the inverted pyramid of management bore down upon them. Being passive and obedient workers, they were milked for all they were worth.

And the authors personal story completes the saga:
....I participated in a smorgasbord of failed projects. The failures were all caused by political, rather than technical problems: in fighting, empire building, backstabbing, nepotism, witch hunts, collusion, sabotage and duplicity, just to name a few. I honest believe that some software companies ... are their own worst enemies.

A grim quote from the book is a coworkers reply to the author's lament about his multiple failed projects:
It's just the nature of the beast. I'll tell you something. I've been in software for over 30 years, and out of those 30 years I've only shipped one product. This is just the way things are.

If nothing else, the book got me to reflect on why this shouldn't be the way things are.

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