Regulations say that you can only have one floor mat.

I overheard that comment at a grocery store recently. It seems that a young man working as a cashier requested extra floor mats. You know, the spongy kind that are supposed to make it easier to stand for long periods of time. Well, the manager came over to investigate and asked why extra mats were needed. The cashier said his feet were hurting and hoped the extra padding would make it easier. The manager then said okay but made it clear that this could not go on all the time. He said that regulations state that a single floor mat is allowed.

Alright, my first thought was how glad I was to have escaped a life where I had to stand up all day and hope some manager would give me some small sign that the store cares about the employees. I mean, really, how much do these mats cost? And did the store save some money by getting the thinnest they could get away with? I don’t know. But as I left, I looked back at the cashier standing on three mats and they didn’t look very thick to me.

I’ve been programming for 25 years and have worked in many different companies, big and small, high tech and not so, here in the US and in Singapore. And I’ve worked in companies where I wasn’t a software engineer. I’ve been an equipment technician, a sales person in retail, a warehouse worker, and even a dishwasher. I’ve tossed pizzas, made sandwiches, and run my own companies. I’ve had to wear uniforms and punch time clocks and for other companies, I’ve arrived for work wearing whatever I felt like and whenever I wanted.

With all this experience, I have to say that in general, you get more flexibility to work when and how you want as your skills increase and your work becomes more valuable.

I have a lot more to say about this topic in the podcast. Make sure to listen and subscribe in iTunes to automatically get future episodes. You can also read the full transcript of the episode below.

Transcript

I overheard that comment at a grocery store recently. It seems that a young man working as a cashier requested extra floor mats. You know, the spongy kind that are supposed to make it easier to stand for long periods of time. Well, the manager came over to investigate and asked why extra mats were needed. The cashier said his feet were hurting and hoped the extra padding would make it easier. The manager then said okay but made it clear that this could not go on all the time. He said that regulations state that a single floor mat is allowed.

Alright, my first thought was how glad I was to have escaped a life where I had to stand up all day and hope some manager would give me some small sign that the store cares about the employees. I mean, really, how much do these mats cost? And did the store save some money by getting the thinnest they could get away with? I don’t know. But as I left, I looked back at the cashier standing on three mats and they didn’t look very thick to me.
I knew then that I had to discuss this in the podcast.

I’ve been programming for 25 years and have worked in many different companies, big and small, high tech and not so, here in the US and in Singapore. And I’ve worked in companies where I wasn’t a software engineer. I’ve been an equipment technician, a sales person in retail, a warehouse worker, and even a dishwasher. I’ve tossed pizzas, made sandwiches, and run my own companies. I’ve had to wear uniforms and punch time clocks and for other companies, I’ve arrived for work wearing whatever I felt like and whenever I wanted.

With all this experience, I have to say that in general, you get more flexibility to work when and how you want as your skills increase and your work becomes more valuable. This doesn’t mean that a company will always provide the absolute best. But you have some amount of freedom to make things better yourself. Want a big bouncy ball to sit on instead of the padded chair provided? Go ahead. I remember once I brought in a reclining chair to my office. My back was hurting and the chair gave me some amount of relief. I would recline back, stretch out, and work with my laptop actually on my lap. I definitely didn’t have to put up with any manager telling me that regulations state that only approved company chairs could be used.

There has to be some negatives to this though, right? Sure. And I’ll talk about the other side right after this message from our sponsor.

Not all companies will be like I described earlier, good or bad. I’m sure there are many grocery stores that treat their employees with more empathy than the regulation quoting manager just like there are technology companies that give software engineers less freedom.

I’ve worked for these stricter companies too. I remember once working for a company where I had to keep a spare necktie in my desk in case I forgot mine. We weren’t allowed to write code without a necktie. And there were special chairs reserved for employees with armrests while the consultants were given older chairs without armrests. I would not have been allowed to bring in my recliner at this company.

I have to wonder though how much of this is just due to management style and the culture inspired by the founders. There will be good managers and bad managers everywhere and it doesn’t matter what line of work.

Even so, I think that your best chance of getting a company and a manager that treats you with respect will be found in high tech. This could be software or not. Most large companies have engineering departments or research groups which tend to promote more freedom.

You’ll find when working as a software engineer that there’s usually no time clock, nobody watching with a disapproving stare if somebody arrives to work later than normal. No uniform. No arguing over who will be allowed to take time off. No manager insisting to see a doctor’s certificate when somebody gets sick. You see, being a software developer is, well, good.

A lot of the flexibility and freedom I describe comes down to results. What do I mean by that?

When you work as you’re told, doing things by regulations, there’s less thinking involved. You just have to follow procedures. And work gets done.

But when you work more with your mind, there’s less of a path to follow. You’re creating your own way to get things done. The work still needs to get done but the difference is that now it’s more up to you, how to get the work done.

And because you’re more in control, expectations are also higher. You have nobody to blame but yourself if you don’t deliver results.

It’s possible to go to work everyday working in manufacturing where you just go with the flow. You do the same thing over and over. And when something unexpected happens, there’s a procedure to follow to make sure that somebody else will figure out how to handle it. You have less responsibility. It can be stressful because the way up is usually through time spent on the job. Seniority is very important.

On the other hand, working as an engineer or a technician is less about following established paths and more about figuring things out for yourself. This can also be stressful because the answer is not always available. You have to try different approaches and drive yourself to find the answers.

As a software engineer, you have a lot of responsibility. The company relies on your judgement and attention to detail.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are lots of professions where people have just as much if not more responsibility. Doctors, nurses, police officers, fire fighters, the military, school teachers, etc. I could keep on going.

For just about any type of profession, the more responsibility you have, you’ll usually find more flexibility and freedom too. The more the job relies on your judgement, the fewer rules and regulations there will be. I’m talking about the artificial rules and regulations here. The kind that bad managers tend to quote. I’m not talking about official rules and regulations such as federal and state laws. These types of rules and regulations along with your own morals and personal rules tend to become more important as your judgement becomes the deciding factor. That’s just part of the extra responsibility that goes along with the extra flexibility and freedom you get in other areas.

Feedback

What's on your mind?
On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to refer us to friends?