A constant topic of conversation in the technology world is work ethic. This appears to me to be divided into two camps: People who advocate having family and/or a life outside of work, and those who think that success is built on those that sacrificing silly notions like “free time” for the glitz and glamor of the startup lifestyle and the long hours that come along with it.
I find myself living far outside of both camps. I came up in open source communities and before that, before I was even old enough to drive, in hacker communities. For me, my life has always been lived in a community, not in a company. This is the life I chose, spending all of my time doing what I love to do with my friends. 30 years ago the only people that spent their whole life doing what they enjoyed instead of what they had to do were artists.
It would not be unusual for an artist to spend all of their time creating art, looking at art, or spending time with other artists. It wouldn’t be unusual if your girlfriend/boyfriend or wife/husband or your kids were friends with other artists and their children. It wouldn’t be unusual to have very little of your time spent with non-artists, that most of your conversations would be about art or inspiration and that even relaxing trips and vacations were spent with other artists and contained at least a little art in them.
That’s what my life is like. Most of my friends are programmers. We see each other socially, we see each other professionally, and we rarely consider time spent together to be strictly about either. No matter what company I’ve worked at most of my time was spent with people who were not at that company. I’m not a guy who drinks the Kool-Aid, I’m the guy who has a few beers with coworkers then moves on to the meetup where all the other people are. I tend to keep in touch with former coworkers who are still involved in the communities I’m involved with outside of work and rarely keep up with ones that aren’t.
My side of my wedding was mostly programmers and their significant others. This is anecdotal, but people who spend more time in a community than attached to their office, people who are usually considered to be at the high end of our profession, tend to be in relationships and get married more often than your standard startup programmer. Many of the wives and girlfriends of my friends have also become friends with my wife Anna, and I mean real actual friends who spend time together without me and my programmer friends. I would inject a bunch of boyfriend/husband stuff in here too but it would be a lie, Anna and I are friends with some female programmers but I can’t think of any cases where a boyfriend/husband is in the picture who we spend time with.
I enjoy living like this. I can travel to most countries and spend time with people that I know and like. There isn’t a trip I could ever go on that wouldn’t include something programming or open source related and if I hated what I did that would be a problem, but I love it.
I would never advocate that anyone dedicate their entire life, all the hours of every day, or even most hours, to a company. If you own your company you might feel a little different, but for most people that work for someone else you should pretend your company is Oracle, because it might be some day and you won’t have any input in that decision. Would you dedicate your life to Oracle? Would you sacrifice personal relationships for Oracle? I didn’t think so.
Living your life for a company is different than living your life for the work. If you care about the work, if you love the work, if you “give a shit,” you’re part of the community more than a company. Again, owning the company can be different, but too often I see that slide into being about yourself and not the work or the community. People tend to have less qualms about promoting their company (that they own) than they would about promoting themselves which we tend to view as distasteful.
It’s not about you, it’s about the work. We love the work and we find it comforting to spend time with people who share in that passion. We love building things, and enabling others to build things, and sharing things. It’s a great way to live and I invite others to try it if they aren’t already.