So I went to the California DMV today

I defy you to get yourself juiced up on motivation. Buy a Toxin Flush from Nekter, put your noise cancelling headphones on, and listen to Tony Robbins or Les Brown or Zig Ziglar at full volume for three hours straight. Now spend 45 minutes in a California Department of Motor Vehicles office near South Central LA where I was today and just try to maintain your Robbins’ attitude. Just try.

You simply cannot do it. I’m not one to set limits, but you cannot maintain a positive attitude in that environment. Full stop. Period.

As you’re already exquisitively aware, the DMV is a beaurocratic machine finely tuned to suck every last bit of essence from your humanity. Sure the workers are pleasant and patient as they can be, but that just makes them more effective at their soul crushing task. You will walk out compliant and defeated.

Before I left for the DMV this morning, interestingly, I was reading a transcript from an internal interview on software engineering effectiveness and happiness. They cited last year’s paper On the Unhappiness of Software Developers.

One possible summary of that paper is that developers are unhappy in their jobs because of other people. They feel burdened by other peoples’ code, processes, meetings, personalities, etc., etc. They feel they lack the persuasive capability to influence other people and be the creative force that crafting code promises.

In my current role, I get to drop in on dozens of engineering and IT environments throughout the year, and I can feel it. It’s palpable almost everywhere.

The DMV is an extreme example, but it’s a useful bedrock baseline. At the DMV, you have zero power to influence anyone or anything. Less than that maybe. The rules are written in stone and interpreted by someone behind the one way mirror in the “Control Room.” Their SEIU employees have forgotten more excuses than you could possibly stammer to produce on the spot, and you are simply required to comply with all these other people’s requirements.

Your team’s culture is an order of magnitude better than the DMV — surely. But how many orders of magnitude? More pointedly, to what extent, as a tech lead, are you leaning toward or away from the a DMV-like environment?

I’m honestly not sure if I made my point very well here (especially since it’s a subtle one), so please hit me up in the comments and we can continue the conversation!

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