Friday, August 08, 2008

Effort vs. Results

I remember having a conversation with my father when I was a kid about his company's employees. I was shocked to discover they were being paid by the hour. I remember following up with a question along the lines of "Wouldn't that encourage them to take lots of time to do their work?" He assured me that, although it was a possibility, it didn't happen very often. (and presumably he explained that people who did that could lose their job, so it was to their long-term advantage to not slack off)

Fast forward a few years later, when I'm in high-school and a student asks the teacher - after she explained a homework assignment - if any marks would be given for effort. I couldn't help but laugh out loud, thinking he was pulling the teacher's leg. He didn't join me in laughing or smiling (and probably shot me a dirty look). Uh oh. He was serious!?!?

Maybe I found that proposition silly because I figured there was no way for it to be reliably measured: it would have to be self-reported. How hard would it be to say "I spent 100 hours on this" when handing it in? And if I had completed the assignment in 10 hours and produced equivalent results to his, would that mean he would get more marks than I got because he spent more time?? Worse yet, even if it wasn't self-reported, how would it be measured??? And what about the difference between "brain time" and "body time"?

Nowadays, I understand why people are [usually] compensated by how much their skills are in demand and that it is possible to be 10 times better than someone else at what you do. Maybe I also did as a kid? That might explain my reaction in both instances. Could it also explain my drive for correctness? My passion for getting things done and done right?? Now here's a doozy for you: would this knowledge at a younger age have helped other students??? Or maybe I'm just being arrogant and that I should just shut up for being the nerd that didn't have any trouble with his assignments????


P.S.: Please go easy on me as I have been working on this blog post since November and it's only now that I have been able to finish it.


Anonymous said...

similar models can be applied to how we evaluate art... we give different weights depending on where the particular piece of art slots within this (first-pass, oversimplified) matrix:

| aD+iD | aD+iE |
| aE+iD | aE+iE |

aD = appears difficult to produce
aE = appears easy to produce
iD = is difficult to produce
iE = is easy to produce

people in the [aE+iE] camp get no respect, but at least there's no pretense, so it doesn't hurt as much as the judgement leveraged against the [aE+iD] people.

Olivier Dagenais said...

Yikes! I hadn't even considered art, although your comment remind me of Joel Spolsky's article on Elegance, which describes the [aE+iD] category bang-on.

So, yeah, if style points are awarded, then subjective measurements are in effect and effort (or lack thereof) is evaluated and rewarded in some fashion. I'd like to think, however, that writing software is not a game of style, but of correctness, and objective measurements are used where possible.

Then again, so many people refer to the field as "art": The Art of Unix Programming, The Art of Computer Programming, Is Programming an Art?, etc.