Working for the Man

Sometimes, I wish that I could talk more about work openly.

I do a fair amount of what I consider somewhat cool stuff at work — as is evidenced by my somewhat lower work in open source these days. (Since I find my work more interesting, I spend fewer of my off hours invested in ‘more interesting’ projects than I used to.) Of course, in reality, I expect that most people would still find what I do completely boring, but to me, it’s exciting.

In the past, when I worked for MetaCarta, there were only 20-30 people who would be in a position to be upset by what I would talk about — if I wanted to chat in public about something, I could usually chat with everyone who might care about it in an afternoon, and get a go/no-go from them.

But now, I work for a much larger company, and speaking out of turn could have much larger consequences. (Not the least is the fact that the company is publicly traded — so anything I say has the potential to actually shift a public stock price.) The group that I work in is significantly larger than MetaCarta’s core of engineers, and the number of levels between me and the top is comparatively larger.

So now, when I’m working on things that I consider cool, or want to share — I typically have to just keep my mouth shut.

Recently, one of my coworkers was trying to encourage someone from our team to present at the Berlin Buzzwords conference — talking about how good it would be to present some of what we do at the conference to get feedback from others working on the same problem. I couldn’t help but think, at the time: What exactly do you think that we could share at this conference?

Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I feel a bit stymied by this regularly — even inside the organization, sharing data we’ve gathered becomes a political, rather than a technical, decision. Oversharing without consideration for how other teams will see the data is something that can have significant negative impacts on our interactions with other teams, because it’s very easy to step on toes.

I realize that this is all part of working in a large organization. Overall, there are a lot of positive benefits — in fact, much of the reason that I have more data that I’d like to share now is because we have a larger set of resources than we had available at MetaCarta, where many of the projects I worked on were just me hacking along on them alone. It doesn’t make it less frustrating, but it does swing both ways.

But sometimes I still just wish I could blab about what hack I spent my weekend on. Or open source another small project. And it’s a shame that I can’t.

3 Responses to “Working for the Man”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    So what is the value of $EMPLOYER nowadays? Surely that’s not a secret.

  2. Yves Moisan Says:

    To me, it’s a shame that guys like you need to have spare time to work on “the commons”. You should be paid to work on FOSS if you wished to do so.

    My 2 cents.

  3. crschmidt Says:

    Yves: If I wanted to be paid to work on FOSS, I could get a job where I was paid to work on FOSS. It probably wouldn’t pay as much, and it wouldn’t be nearly as fun, and I wouldn’t get to work with the people who I work with now. Overall, the benefits of working on FOSS are much less than the benefits of working on a team that I have been working with for half a decade, building a product that I can quantify the benefit of to a lot more people. (My work at Nokia has probably benefited many more people than even my work on OpenLayers ever will.)