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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Interactive Development

I just completed my first contract with 900Lbs. of Creative. Overall, working there was amazing. The commute to the Bishop Arts District in southwest Dallas was difficult, to say the least. Some days were good, with an optimal 40 minute commute, but most days were about an hour, and at worst being almost two hours. Generally, though, once I was there, I had my own computer and station, skylights, a window, and I would work in Unity on various projects. If I needed to rest, I rested. If I needed to get up and walk around, no one asked questions or was incredulous. There was fresh, cool water and a microwave downstairs, and a fridge and utensils upstairs. Two bathrooms meant the twelve or so of us never really had to wait (or at least, I didn't). Lunch was built into my hours - it was assumed that I would take as short a break as possible to eat, and then get right back to work. No clocking in or out; just a simple excel document. The atmosphere was informal, to put it lightly. That meant, however, that if I had something to say, I was expected to be brutally blunt with it. There were positive and negative aspects about their form of communication, but I preferred it over previous workplaces because I felt like I had a voice, even if the decisions weren't mine to make.

Small things like those add up to make the difference between a stuffy, sterile workplace, and a productive, energetic team. I would be happy to work there again.

Now to step back and view the big picture...

You want to get away with paying people pennies on the dollar for their jobs? Expect people to work freely, including, but not limited to, what I've just described. Just like everything else, you get what you pay for. If you pay people less than what they're worth, and pick away at their freedoms, expect high turnover and low productivity. Also, expect an awful client/customer experience. Nothing is worse for a bottom-line than adopting policies that create hostile or repressive work environments.

I've watched my whole life as managers and directors exploit an expanded labor pool (and even take measures to ensure that it keeps expanding), only to compensate stockholders. No reasonable person should actually believe that constant growth is sustainable. There are so many reasons for that, but the overarching idea is that Earth is a zero-sum environment. We are all limited to a specific, finite amount of fresh water, arable land, clean air, and various natural resources. We consume at a maximum rate, while our environment replenishes within a predictable, but limited range. If we consume more than what nature can offer or replenish, our ways of life crumble.

The counter-argument that the quantity of all of these resources are so massive that we will not run out in the foreseeable future is naive and selfish. We shouldn't exploit our resources. We should utilize and sustain them as best we can. Recycling, and the efforts to make packaging biodegradable or recyclable, is what will carry our society into the future safely, and without compromising our environment. Clean energy and fresh water are important, but I feel that the massive amount of unmanageable garbage is a slightly more pressing issue currently. (Ever see Wall-E?) Managing waste is a readily solvable problem, and one that could put a bunch more people to work.

What does any of this have to do with being an interactive developer? Everything. As we move forward as a society, as automation and software removes the need for human labor, we will see a shift from blue-collar physical jobs to white-collar office jobs. Creative jobs, and more bluntly, jobs that don't have a high profitability, will keep our society running smoothly. As more and more people hold creative jobs, and even more technical jobs (like programming), the pay for those people will predictably decrease. That shouldn't happen unless there is also a safety net in the form of either a universal basic income, a huge earned income tax credit, or some similarly stabilizing program. If my wage stagnates, simply because I don't have a STEM degree, and despite the fact that I could, theoretically, complete a master's degree in computer science (if it didn't come at an exorbitant price), I will simply be one of thousands of moderately to highly educated citizens who cannot contribute to our nation's sustainable future.

If I am a case study for the future of our educated middle class, then at every interval I will put forth this kind of informative argument. The large majority of people I know are struggling to find the same balance I am.