This idea and sentiment was made famous by Eric Raymond in his book, The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary. For greater context, here’s what Raymond had to say that crested in this sub-culturally-famous (yet accessible) idea:
Human beings generally take pleasure in a task when it falls in a sort of optimal-challenge zone; not so easy as to be boring, not too hard to achieve.
A happy programmer is one who is neither underutilized nor weighted down with ill-formulated goals and stressful process friction. Enjoyment predicts efficiency.
The gist is simple to grasp and the principle can be applied liberally in almost any other field of work and study: The more you enjoy your work the more efficient and productive you become. There is a continuous growing aggregate of value that is created when this is true and the opposite is equally true (and unfortunate): When we severely dislike our work a natural outcause is wasted time, resources, energy, and a definite lack of enthusiasm.
Naturally, it is this type of environment where the greatest amount of learning can be realized. Our staff and instructor’s job, among many things, is to create an ecosystem that surfaces this “optimal-challenge zone” – projects, work, and learning challenges that are not easy enough so as to become boring but also not impossible to achieve (which would unduly discourage the new software student).
But the goal is much, much greater as we are charged with instilling within our students a fundamental belief that these types of “optimal-challenge” environments do, in fact, exist in the professional working world. That there are environments and organizations that will challenge them with worthwhile problems that engage the senses and pushes them to find creative solutions. In this way they will not sell themselves short and work for companies that may hinder (sometimes unintentionally) their continued growth.
This is the type of advice that I give our students who getting near the end of their 12-week intensive coding program: Say “Yes” to an organization that has a problem worthy to be solved and where healthy, growth-minded staff enjoy immensely their work. This is what “healthy” culture looks like and where work is done efficiency and with little waste.
Is this the type of work that you do? Or are you starving for an environment that you could classify as “optimally-challenged”? Are you creating value or just consuming it? Are you working in an industry that consistently rewards those that enjoy hard work based on an ethic of continuous improvement?
I think software developers have some of the greatest potential to realize and experience such an ideal. The challenges are endless and more technology-savvy organizations are wising up to the fact that creating healthy organizational culture is one of their strongest value propositions when it comes to recruiting talented engineers to join their team (we’ve created an org like this – you should join us!).
A great question to ask, especially when interviewing, might be something like this:
Does your company create efficiency through the enjoyment of work?
Now that would be a fascinating (and challenging) dialogue to have with any hiring manager or recruiter!
[Thanks to Brit for the inspiration for this post!]