Muli Ben-Yehuda's journal

January 3, 2004

thoughts following lunch with the team at work

Filed under: Uncategorized — Muli Ben-Yehuda @ 6:27 PM

Last week, the team at work went out to celebrate our first successful delivery. We had a good lunch at El-Gaucho, a South American restaurant, courtesy of IBM, and good times were had by all.

However, I couldn’t help noticing that we didn’t once discuss “geeky subjects”. Computers, computer science, hacking, free software, commercial software, math, physics, programming or any other subject of their ilk that usually comes up when I talk with friends. Instead, we talked about people’s children, and where we grew up, and what we did before coming to work for IBM, and far away places we’ve been to, and the quality of the food, and various other subjects you might expect a group of co-workers to discuss, but would never hint that they were working for IBM research.

I have a hard time articulating exactly why this bothers me. I think it boils down to the fact that it makes it impossible for me to ignore the major difference between me and my co-workers, and thus makes me feel an outsider: I consider programming something I love, and a job second. I don’t think I can say this about any of my current team-mates (but would love to be proven wrong!). It’s not my “vocation”, I can’t even say it’s a hobby. It’s just what I do.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work closely together with people who feel the same way as I do. I hope to be in that position again soon.

Addendum: when I told ladypine about lunch and my observation mentioned above, she told me to stop being so one-dimensional, and that people usually try to avoid talking about work during lunch. She’s right, but this is precisely where she’s wrong, too – it’s not work to me. It’s what I do. What I am?


  1. This was an interesting post. It’s obviously great if your vocation is congruent with your fundamental character, but that doesn’t mean one doesn’t have other interests, right?

    Comment by avphibes — January 3, 2004 @ 9:25 AM | Reply

    • coma for a week
      Oh, I have other interests, have no doubt. All of them take a second place to this fundamental one, though. Does that make me one-dimenional, or just mostly one-dimensional? 🙂

      Comment by mulix — January 3, 2004 @ 10:45 AM | Reply

      • Neither.
        I believe it makes you happy.
        That puts you one-up over most of the human race. In particular, over people who consider focusing effort on a single issue to be somehow “wrong”.

        Comment by shunra — January 3, 2004 @ 11:13 AM

      • Re: Neither.
        your kind words cheer me up on this gloomy morning. Thank you!

        Comment by mulix — January 3, 2004 @ 11:34 PM

  2. Could it be that it is not just what you do, but what you LOVE doing?
    For many, many people, a job is what they have to do. For some fortunate few of us, we do what we love and people even pay us for it.
    It’s no reflection on either kind, being that way. People are just – different, I guess. I happen to think that doing what you love is a far more comfortable arrangement, but, hey, I’ve been like that forever. People with the other arrangement sometimes love their jobs, but sometimes not… …they think that they have more variety. YMMV.

    Comment by shunra — January 3, 2004 @ 9:28 AM | Reply

    • coma for a week
      > Could it be that it is not just what you do, but what you LOVE doing?
      Yes, of course. If that wasn’t clear in what I wrote, I guess I should put serious work into expressing myself better in writing.
      I define myself by what I do. I try very hard not to do things I don’t love doing. Therefore, if I spend a large chunk of my day doing it, by definition I love doing it.

      Comment by mulix — January 3, 2004 @ 10:44 AM | Reply

      • Re: coma for a week
        Linguistic note. “What I do” denotes inability to do otherwise, entrenched habit. “What I love to do” denotes joyous choice. That’s why I added the ‘love to’…
        Not everyone defines themselves by what they do, btw. Some (most?) people actually go through life doing what they have to, not what they want.
        I repeat, you’re one of the lucky ones.

        Comment by shunra — January 3, 2004 @ 11:15 AM

  3. Hear, hear, brother!
    I hate to have the “can’t talk about technical matters” rule. It *somewhat* makes sense if there are enough people present who would feel left out, but otherwise it should be fine. I enjoy talking about technical matters, and I refuse to feel shameful about it. Yes, it’s fine to have other interests, but it’s also fine to be obsessed 🙂

    Comment by moshez — January 3, 2004 @ 9:56 AM | Reply

    • coma for a week
      Thank you, moshez. I knew you’d understand.

      Comment by mulix — January 3, 2004 @ 10:39 AM | Reply

  4. I never said that!
    What I said was that if you only talk to co-workers about work related topics, you do not get to know the people you work with. Lunches are the time when you can get to know more about them than just how good they are at what they do. You can see other sides they have.
    I never said you were one dimensional!
    Pff. I go out to a one day trip, and you make such a mess of what I said!

    Comment by ladypine — January 3, 2004 @ 12:37 PM | Reply

    • Re: I never said that!
      Oh honey, take it easy 🙂
      I have no objections to seeing the other sides of people I work with. I object to them not appearing to have the one side I consider most important, the hacker side. Clearer now?

      Comment by mulix — January 3, 2004 @ 11:38 PM | Reply

  5. Like you I do have a basic love for my subject. It’s actually this that led me, in part, to quit programming for a living to go back to doing a PhD, ultimately with a view to lecturing again. However, whilst I originally started out only really able to have conversations about technical things without feeling shy and inadequate, i have gradually moved away from that, to the extent that most of my current friends (including my partner) aren’t actually computer science types or mathmos at all.
    Nevertheless, a good geeking-out session every so often is definitely good for the soul! 🙂

    Comment by compilerbitch — January 3, 2004 @ 1:43 PM | Reply

    • Right, and if you can’t geek out with your cow-orkers, who can you geek with? What are you working on for your Ph.D?

      Comment by mulix — January 3, 2004 @ 11:59 PM | Reply

      • Quite so!
        PhD-wise, I’m currently working on a lot of theoretical stuff underlying correctness proofs of asynchronous digital circuits. I’m looking at a hierarchy of extended logics that have extra values that can capture real-time behaviour as well as steady state truth functions. The main body of the work is still in progress so isn’t yet published, but one spinoff paper that looks at the use of multivalue logics in building simulators that can detect possible glitches when timing is uncertain has been completed. As it happens, I’m presenting it tomorrow at the UK Asynchronous Forum workshop here in Cambridge, UK. If you’re interested, the paper is here.

        Comment by compilerbitch — January 4, 2004 @ 7:47 AM

      • coma for a week
        That sounds fairly interesting, although quite removed from my usual fields of endeavour. I’ll take a look at the paper tomorrow. Good luck on your presentation!

        Comment by mulix — January 4, 2004 @ 2:53 PM

    • I am, however, lacking in some knowledge to start a good non-geek conversation. That is why I try to read the online newspaper as frequently as possible… But yes, a good geeking-out session is ALWAYS the best 🙂

      Comment by ideawerkz — January 4, 2004 @ 1:52 AM | Reply

      • I have a tendency to waffle endlessly about basically avything that drifts into my head. Since only some of those things are usually technical, I don’t generally have too much trouble talking to non-compscis.
        What’s the difference between an introvert compsci and an extrovert compsci?
        An extrovert compsci stares at other people’s shoes at parties.

        Comment by compilerbitch — January 4, 2004 @ 7:42 AM

  6. So, what is your dream job?
    I mean, does working 2.5 days on whatever Open Source project you choose (getting paid to work 2.5 days on Open Source, of course you can work more if you want…) and 2.5 days on boring client’s problems (some interesting, some less so) in the company of competent hackers sound good?

    Comment by Anonymous — January 5, 2004 @ 9:30 AM | Reply

    • Re: So, what is your dream job?
      sounds very good, although not that different from what I do now 🙂
      I have a couple of very interesting projects lined up for next year. I should know by the end of January what I’m giong to be working on, and we can talk then, if you want, Mr. Anonymous 🙂

      Comment by mulix — January 6, 2004 @ 6:07 AM | Reply

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