Niall’s virtual diary archives – Wednesday 15th October 2014

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Wednesday 15th October 2014: 11.35am. Gave up on working yesterday as Clara had kept us up all night Monday night, and I was sufficiently tired yesterday there was no point in trying to work with computer code. It made me think though, if I weren't my own company I'd have been obliged to go to work where my day would have been quite literally a waste of time for everybody, and I would probably have been in a mood and snapped at someone, thus damaging morale and helping to create a negative work atmosphere. Instead, I forewent earning £200 or so in hours not billed and saved everybody time and snapped at nobody except Clara. But then, it occurred to me, aren't I actually losing out financially from Clara's teething, and in conventional employment you get paid no matter what state you turn up for work in?

Basically the employer takes on the cost of your life events like your children teething and in exchange gains the capacity to respond to surprises that you contribute by working far below your ability (usually) and with very little real say in what you do at work and how it is done (though elaborate façades of you having some say are motioned, but let's be clear: if you turn up at work one day and your manager tells you to drop what you're doing and do something else, you have no choice but to do exactly that or likely get dismissed - at least in non-Continental European countries).

In a contractual consulting role on the other hand, the work you do is usually predefined to signing the contract (especially UK IR35 compliant contracting) and as a result you tend to contribute infrastructure and solutions close to the peak of your ability instead of capacity to respond to surprises by working at half or less your potential. You also get enormous control over your work and how it is done which is great for everybody if you are competent and the solution domain is very tightly defined. It of course falls apart rapidly as soon as incompetence creeps in, or the solution domain was actually much more blue sky than originally thought - for the latter it is actually much wiser to dump a fixed R&D investment per annum and work continuously to eliminate roadblocks to breakthroughs, and when they happen they happen.

All this is organisational complexity science of course, so McKelvey, Boisot et al regularly publish papers on how the highly skilled workplace has been evolving into this dichotomy of mostly wasted highly paid capacity contributors versus less wasted and therefore extremely well paid infrastructure and solutions makers - though, to be honest, most working in open source like me take the extremity of remuneration in non-income forms such as time and freedom, it typically comes with the open source culture that you are willing to exchange income for such valuable things as choice in every day of your life. I sadly have neglected my reading of that literature in recent years since a career in Economics or Complexity became unviable. In the end, you can only keep up with a subset of what you're interested in, and right now it is technology which is paying the bills, at least until the tech bubble bursts again.

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