programming in the
twenty-first century

It's not about technology for its own sake. It's about being able to implement your ideas.

Three Years in an Alternate Universe

My first post-college programming job was with Ericsson Network Systems in the early 1990s. I had similar offers from three other hard to differentiate telecom companies. The main reason I went with Ericsson was because the word "engineer" was in the title, which I thought sounded impressive. I stayed until I got the three year itch and moved on without looking back, but during those three years I never realized how out of the ordinary that job was.

I was paid overtime. Yes, overtime as a salaried software engineer. There was an unpaid five-hour gap between forty and forty-five hours, but everything after that was paid in full. When I worked 65 hour crunch weeks, I earned 50% more pay.

One in six software engineers were women. Well, okay, on an absolute scale that's not a big number. But in comparison to workplaces I've been in since then, where it's been one in twenty or even a flat-out zero, it's a towering statistic. Note that I'm only including people who designed and wrote code for massively concurrent telephone exchanges as their primary jobs, not non-technical managerial or support roles.

Since then, I know that unpaid crunch time is how things work, and blog complaints about this being free labor are perennial fountains of karma. Likewise, there's much lamenting the abysmally low numbers of women in software development positions. But for three years, when I didn't have enough life experience to know otherwise, I worked in an alternate universe where these problems didn't exist to the degree that I've seen since.

[EDIT: In the original version I overstated the "one in six" point, giving the impression that it was a major achievement. It clearly is not.]

permalink November 24, 2013


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I'm James Hague, a recovering programmer who has been designing video games since the 1980s. Programming Without Being Obsessed With Programming and Organizational Skills Beat Algorithmic Wizardry are good starting points. For the older stuff, try the 2012 Retrospective.

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