Thursday, December 04, 2008

Those who can't, tweet

As a senior engineer, I feel like part of my job is to stay in touch and to be in touch. I also like to write. So I write this blog, and I also spend about twenty minutes a day reading blogs and twitter posts. And as I scan through the posts, some people are so prolific (particularly on Twitter) that I wonder how they can get anything really productive done. Nicholas Carra wrote an article in the Atlantic an interrupt-driven culture is preventing us from having truly deep and constructive creative processes, and the tweet-heads spend the next two weeks ruminating on this.

Fade to the present. A few days ago I sat down with one of our best and brightest engineers on the NetBeans team to get his help with something. This guy is famous for his ability to pump out good, cool, useful code. He is an invaluable member of the team.

After our technical discussion, we were chatting about this and that, and he mentioned he was having problem with our mail server which appears to be caused by the fact that he has over 20,000 unread messages in his Inbox.

I just stared at him. He said "I know I should be reading all these, but every time I read something, it's something else I have to do, and it stops me from getting my work done."

I said, so how do I reach you? He said IM, and gave me his IM account. But he said most of the time he marks himself as away because otherwise his mother will want to chat.

He also said he has a private email account for personal conversations, but he generally doesn't read those either.

Then he said, I guess if you really need to reach me you can call me. I said "but last time I called your extension, your voice mail said that the best way to reach you is by email!" He laughed and said that actually he hasn't listened to his Sun voice mail in about six years.

And I realized, this is someone who is so passionate about his work that he will accept no distractions. He is on a mission, and he gets stuff done. It may be highly frustrating to try and talk to him, but you can't deny his real value to Sun.

So, thus, my new motto: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, tweet." Now, back to work, and maybe I'll get back to you.


Dave Johnson said...

Twitter is one form of "life streaming" like blogging, social-bookmarking, Flickring or committing source code. Your bright engineer friend is tweeting but just in a different form. His tweets are found in the cvs/svn/git comments on each source code commit. His friends see his tweets, they find out what he's up to and sometimes they tweet back.

Unknown said...

Hi, Dave. I see your point, it's a fun way of looking at it. But I don't think it fits.

A tweeter is talking with the express purpose of communicating with and connecting with others. Similar for blogging, social-bookmarking or talking away at a cocktail party.

The difference with committing code is that the conversation is a side-effect, not the focus.

I think there can a lot of value in lifestreaming, if you have thoughts that others value, and which can make a difference for them. A good idea can be just as important, if not more so, than building something.

But if a streamer's primary motivation is to get recognition and be noticed (and I can definitely be guilty of this), then I don't think that's as valuable as just shutting up and building something. Actions speak louder than words. It's something I personally need to remind myself of on a regular basis.

Now back to work! :)

Anonymous said...

If I hadn't gotten so many good links to valuable information from twitter I might be inclined to agree.

Not to mentio n twitter has helped develop some relationships with people I used to rarely talk to.

It's not for everyone but it is useful.

Anonymous said...

Of course, you could just say that this guy is ignorant.

Unknown said...

I see all the tweeters are providing comments :)

My coworker is definitely not ignorant, and he does spend time communicating, it's part of his job and he's very good at it. But it's always about what he's doing - how to do this or that in NetBeans or in Java, here's a new feature I just delivered, etc. But he's not constantly online communicating and tweeting and responding, he doesn't have time for it.

We can argue this point into the ground. I mostly wanted to observe that sometimes one can get lost in the talking and forget to just get things done. It's like the old argument that someone who is just an architect but doesn't code is pretty much dead weight in an organization - not fully true, but there's more than a grain of truth to it.

CrunchyJew said...

Its been my experience that those who are most up on technology via reading blogs, twitter, etc and those that communicate freely via email (inbox zero), phone (voicemail zero), wiki, and IM are the most productive, helpful, and team oriented players.

While its nice to think that we can go off in a corner and crank out code thats not the world we live in anymore. More and more our skills some in our ability to communicate, interact, and collaborate.