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Are There Any Fun Tech Jobs Left? 584

er0ck asks: "My first job out of college was working for an Internet Startup. They gave me some books and told me to learn Perl. Our office was a refurbished factory, with lots of light and open space. Best of all, we could bring our nerf toys in to work (and use them!). Four months later, the company went under. Several dot bomb jobs later, I work for my state government. Is anyone still having fun at their tech job?" I think that with the economic downturn, more companies are concentrating on survival more than being "fun". Are there any "fun" tech jobs left, or have they all suffered from the Economic Darwinism of the early 21st century?

"[Government work is] steady work, but boring at times. (I don't think they'd approve of the Nerf guns). Without the pressure of staying in business, projects sometimes stagnate, leaving us with little to do. During these slow times, I help behind the scenes at; It's a fun site, and they are switching to Perl for their admin backend. It keeps my skills sharp, and wards off the boredom.

My questions to the Slashdot community are:

  1. Can you have a fun tech job, without the worry of being suddenly unemployed?
  2. If you are you forced (as I am) to get your fun on the side what are some good projects to get involved in?
  3. What do you to unwind and have a bit of 'fun' in the workplace?"
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Are There Any Fun Tech Jobs Left?

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  • Right... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SilentChris ( 452960 ) on Saturday September 22, 2001 @12:35PM (#2334336) Homepage
    "Best of all, we could bring our nerf toys in to work (and use them!). Four months later, the company went under."

    Gee, imagine that.

    • Re:Right... (Score:3, Funny)

      by FFFish ( 7567 )
      Even better, they apparently hired him to write Perl scripts, when he didn't know Perl at all.

      Whatta stellar business plan!

      Me, I'm gonna hire rubbies outta the back alleys, and go for an IPO. I figure they'll work for aftershave, so I won't even have to give away stock options!
      • Re:Right... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dlaur ( 135032 ) on Saturday September 22, 2001 @01:26PM (#2334607)
        Okay, maybe this is off-topic... you decide:

        The really sad part is that people think that you can write software after you "learn" a language. Some college grads come out of school having "learned" a few languages, but unless they were involved in a large scale university project, they haven't learned how to really write software since each of the programs they coded usually didn't grow beyond what could be completed in a semester or two. (Forgive me for generalizing, but this has been my experience with new-hires.)

        Additionally, lots of managers where I work think that they can go buy someone some "Java training" or "PL/SQL training" or "Solaris admin training" or whatever and suddenly they will have transformed a junior support person into a senior developer, DBA or sys admin.

        This is analagous to sending someone to school to learn the French language assuming that they will return with the skills required to write a novel in French. I only speak one language (English, obviously) and I am nowhere close to having developed my skills with the language to the point where I could write a novel.

        I don't care what language I work in as much as I care about the archiecture of the system, the process used to design/code/test, how much peer review and interaction is involved, what scheduling methods are used, whether or not I can live with the mandated coding standard (I have curly brace issues...), whether there are enough iterations in the schedule, how much time is dedicated to refactoring, whether the scope is well defined, etc, etc, etc...

        • It's not off topic at all. I wholeheartedly agree with you. As a recent college grad with no job, I have a bit of anxiety about being hired in a serious job position simply because I don't have a lot of confidence in my skills to write serious programs - even though I was a skilled coder in college. I really feel as if I could use some help in getting to the point where I can contribute to major software projects.

          Unfortunately, the industry and the academic world is relatively unconcerned with providing fresh people with the skills to take their knowledge beyond the point of "I know SQL and Java." In my experience, no one even wants interns anymore for that kind of stuff, as tech companies in my area are hemmoraging badly and I need to support myself with an income rather than do serious work for a company for free. (I'm a strange case, because I'm jaded with the industry and I'm not sure I love it; however, I haven't heard a lot of good luck stories from my peers, either)
        • by Tim Macinta ( 1052 ) <> on Saturday September 22, 2001 @03:35PM (#2335067) Homepage
          The really sad part is that people think that you can write software after you "learn" a language.

          On the flip side of the coin are the people who think that you are unqualified for a particular project because you haven't learned a particular language or flavor-of-the-day API. As you did an excellent job of pointing out, software engineering skills are by far the most important factor that determine the quality of a developer's work and these skills are largely language and API independent. This (among other reasons) is why MIT teaches (or used to teach anyway) their computer science courses with obscure languages like CLU and SCHEME - because it is the engineering principals that matter and not the language.

          So to the original poster who chided the company for hiring somebody who didn't know Perl to write Perl, that may have actually been a very good decision if the guy had substantial software engineering skills. It takes a few days to pick up a new programming language, but years to develop good software engineering skills.

        • but unless they were involved in a large scale university project

          Even then, I don't think it's applicable to the real world. Unless you've dealt with 10 year old source code, where everyone who originally designed it has left, and where there is a requirement to add new features which were never originally considered and which require really horrible hacks.

          It takes experience to understand how to design programs & systems so that they will last for the long term, and no-one I've ever seen has it coming out of school.

    • Re:Right... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by haizi_23 ( 32026 )
      I worked for an I-builder (building corporate websites as consultants) company for a year and a half. The thing that really signalled the end for me was when they brought in a few marketing execs and decided that as part of our voracious hiring strategy, the most important thing to advertise to potential job applicants was "company culture". This meant bragging about how we all got weekly massages, and company sponsored happy-hours, and free beer at the end of the day on Fridays, etc.

      In other words, they started placing a lot of emphasis on totally superficial crap. The real way to attract good people, and therefore to stay in business, is to promise them (and deliver)interesting projects that are well-managed.

      In my mind a "fun" job is one that has you doing interesting technical projects, and Nerf toys has nothing to do with it. Of course, a good work environment with a lot of personal freedom is essential too, but I think if you find good projects with good people involved, a fun work environment is likely to follow naturally. Unless of course you're working for the govt., or a govt contractor.

      • Yeah, you're right...they should have instead advertised how crappy the company atmosphere is, how unresponsive management is to employee needs, and a lack of any kind of workplace satisfaction beyond that of making money for other people.
  • by SiMac ( 409541 )
    Glad I'm not old enough to have a job.
  • Best of all, we could bring our nerf toys in to work (and use them!). Four months later, the company went under.

    Ever hear of "cause and effect?"
  • by BillyGoatThree ( 324006 ) on Saturday September 22, 2001 @12:40PM (#2334363)
    Playing with nerf guns in a converted factory is fun...but is it a job?

    My job is as a programmer/admin. I enjoy it and the company receives good value. Pre-1995 this would have been defined as heaven. To you dot-bomb losers it is apparently hell.
  • I'm doing okay, but my girlfriend's having nothing but trouble.

    She's a fresh-out-of-school programmer, and she's been looking for C/C++/Java work here in Chicago. Three months of firing off resumes in every direction, and she hasn't gotten so much as a single interview.

    It seems like nobody is hiring programmers fresh out of school - or not in Chicago, at least!

    What's the experience been like for others who have just graduated? Is this something of a fluke, or something more to do with her gender than her experience? (I don't know if I want to believe that in this day and age...) Or does the surplus of available tech workers from the dot-com fallout mean trouble for entry-level programmers?

    • And I didnt even have the benefit of a college education. I eventually got into an interview with a government contractor, and got my foot in the door. The trick to doing that was having the right magic button words on the resume.

      You may find that nobody hires "C++ developer"'s but they do hire "MFC" developers or "CGI" programmers or some such specialty. Having the magic acronym on that resume can get you into an interview.

      Once you can get an interview, you can sell yourself. You *have* to seem enthusiastic and optimistic. Ive also found that swagger helps. You should be self confident to just shy of arrogant. And never bullshit- speak your mind.

      After that, well you've overcome the old "22" barrier and now find that there are more jobs than ever. (Especially if you can get the job done)

      And as for the corny nerf-toy stuff, that was always just superficial.

    • People with experience aren't finding it any better. Too much experience and you're too expensive. But mostly the problem is projects shelved or canceled, usually due to lack of funding because upper level management of 20 companies competing for one market each figured they could get between 25% to 40% of that market in a couple years. Yeah right! My next business model is selling MBA degrees on a roll about 4.5 inches wide.

    • ...just take a look at Oh, were you asking about paying jobs? Sorry...
  • by GoofyBoy ( 44399 ) on Saturday September 22, 2001 @12:44PM (#2334392) Journal

    "Are there any more Fun jobs?!??!!"

    Yes, there are. For years people have been loving their jobs because they enjoy what they are paid for. Not for playing around in a sandbox like you are in Grade 1.

    And its not only tech people who enjoy their job. Its doctors (excitement/feel like they are helping people), ministers/counsolers (spiritual fullfillment) and even fishermen (enjoy the surroundings/hard-work enjoyment).

    I think this guy needs an attiude change/reality-check.
  • I'd have to say that I have a pretty fun job. I'm the network administrator at a small but growing publishing company in Akron, OH. Fortunately when I graduated 2 years ago, I didn't succumb to the temptations of a .com. My company isn't quite as relaxed about things as a .com was, but we have gym facilities, a lake with tables and umbrellas, a softball team, our fair share of little toys in our cubes, lots of company outings that are actually fun, flextime, etc.. I mean, a job isn't supposed to be fun 24-7. There's stress and some not-so-fun things, but for the most part I really enjoy my job.
  • Being a student at this point, I don't have any absolute need for income. I work with my own company out of my friend's basement. We manage enough income to pay for the power bills. Our current goal is to learn as much as possible about both computers and electronics as well as business that we can have a workable product out the door by the time we finish college. The best part is that by the time we actually expect income off of this we will have made many connections inside the business world and gained enough experience that we will have a better chance of success. Hopefull y the economy will be a bit better in 4 years when we get out of school.
  • I ended up working at a bank. Yeah, you'd think it'd be the ultimate suitplace, and I'm not even really sure why I went in for the interview, other than the qualifications were exactly me.

    It was one of those fun group interviews, and it started sounding like a fun place to work, but the clincher was when it came time for the other managers to ask me their questions, and the programming manager's question was "Rubber bands: office supply, or weapon?"

    I got the job when my answer was "Office supply. I have *Nerf*."

    The rest of the bank viewed the MIS department with tolerant amusement, but they weren't quite as stuffy as you'd expect either. (Each department had goofy "Camp" signs. Computer Operations was Camp Kickalottapeopleoff or some such, Foreclosures was Camp Usendadamoneyukeepadahouse, things like that.) They're still in business, though I quit to become a SAHM, after corrupting all their RPG programmers by teaching them Perl.

    My husband, on t'other hand, works for A Really Big Airplane Manufacturer Who's Laying A Lot Of People Off Next Year, and it's definitely big-company mentality, even in the various IT departments. You can still be a nonconformist, though; I just bought him some Frigits, which he's using on the metal cube-dividing cabinets, and he came home and reported that he's now "famous."
  • Our office was a refurbished factory, with lots of light

    Nope, I just don't get it. Lots of light and a technical job are two terms that just don't mix. Lots of light means reflections on your screen, which leads to increased headaches. Any real techie lives in a darkened room/area. I'm having a constant running battle with others in our office to have the lights kept off at my end of the room.

    • Do what I did at a previous job - take out the lights from their sockets in your part of the office. Others get their lights, you get your darkness, and all is right with the world. I had to argue a bit with the maintenance people who kept replacing the bulbs, until I left a note there saying NOT to replace it. Then much eye relief ensued.
    • It's not as contradictory as you think. I too used to code in a converted industrial space, with pleasant beams of sunlight entering through a skylight. Through clever placement, my monitor was not subject to glare. It was a very enjoyable and productive environment.

      Now I'm in a "standard office environment" - flourescent lights, tubes, and glare. The lights overpour what sunlight makes its way to my cube, defeating my body's natural sense of the day's progression. The glare gives me headaches.

      I think the best working environment has natural light and natural shadow. And some truly dark caves for those who need them.
  • Ever consider... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pongo000 ( 97357 ) on Saturday September 22, 2001 @12:52PM (#2334451)
    ...teaching others what you know about IT? I teach at several local community colleges, after five years of consulting work and finally being laid off at my last job. The pay is decent ($35-$40 per classroom hour), I can set my own schedule, and I can teach pretty much what I want the way I want. It gives me a great excuse to play on lots of *nix machines, write programs, and learn from my students as well.

    Instead of lining the pockets of greedy company owners/CEOs, I work for a non-profit organization which is there to support you, rather than hinder your progress. Layoffs? College enrollments are on the rise due to the massive numbers of IT layoffs! Have you ever heard of a college instructor getting laid off? It simply doesn't happen, because of the inverse relationship between IT employment levels and the need for college-level IT instruction.

    Plus, I find teaching to be immensely satisfying, both on a personal and spiritual level. What more noble endeavor is there than to help others? I can safely say that I've never felt "personally satisfied" at any consultant gig I've done.

    If you're happy following all the other unemployed IT sharks that are being chummed by headhunters with no jobs to offer and companies intent on building their resume files for when the "turnaround" comes, more power to you. If you're looking for something that's not only fun, but honorable, check out your local colleges.

  • by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Saturday September 22, 2001 @12:56PM (#2334469)

    I'd just like to point out two oft-overlooked facts here.

    1. If your idea of a "fun tech job" involves spending a week learning HTML, reading the first five chapters of a book on Perl and then calling yourself an expert web developer, you're SOL. With the worsening world economy, employers will be laying people off or slowing down recruitment. Consequently, you're going to need to know your stuff if you want to get a decent job. This is fine for the people who do, and always have, bother to learn their subject and keep their skills up to date. It's tough luck for those who've only been in the market for a year or two, who started right in the middle of the never-going-to-make-it boom, and who have gotten used to being hired even though they have no great skills to write home about.
    2. On the other hand, as companies need to employ fewer but better quality staff to keep going in an adverse climate, they will need to offer genuinely good deals in order to attract those staff. Average IT workers want the average rate; good workers want several times that, and a few nice perks, among them an enjoyable job. Conversely, good companies that treat their staff well do tend to get well-motivated and loyal staff in return. The productivity of those staff is much higher, and the reason that such good companies tend to do well relative to others, even in an adverse business climate. It's a shame so few management groups recognise this clear and well-proven fact about working conditions and act accordingly.
  • by Laxitive ( 10360 ) on Saturday September 22, 2001 @01:00PM (#2334494) Journal
    I have a bit to comment on this. I've heard way too many people equate jobs where you get to do whatever you want, with jobs that are fun. Job enjoyability very little to do with a lot of the things tech guys harp about.

    For me anyway, an funfactor of a job has very little to do with foosbal tables, or nerf guns, or anything like that. A job is enjoyable if I get to do work that's enjoyable. For the past few months, I've been working at an embedded tech company that's somewhat prosperous.

    At the beginning of the term, the boss just came over, dropped a couple specification manuals on us (me, co-worker), and told us to implement it. That was cool. No micro-management - we went to him when we had questions or doubts. For starting from scratch, and not knowing the hardware or the codebase, we got a decent amount of work accomplished.

    The answer to your question is YES. There are really nice, enjoyable jobs out there. Find a company that's doing interesting work - no, not the next e-business we're going to revolutionize the world with our web-frontend loss-leader 'solution' funded on venture capital and no chance of profit.

    It's about the work man. I became a programmer because I love programming, because solving hard problems using logic (I love math too ;)) makes me feel good.

    So what sets you off? compilers? virtual machines? optimization? datbase? graphics? ai? infrastructure? app-coding? embedded systems? low-level?

    There's tons of companies out there doing interesing stuff, that need good people to work on interesting problems. So find one and get in.

    If you're not into your work, no amount of nerf playing will take away the fact that you don't enjoy your work - it just means you'll get less done, and be dead weight for your company and get fired, or not be fired (which indicates bad management and that the company is headed nowhere fast).
    • Well put!

      I test software and write test automation. While this may not sound like fun for most people, it gives me a rush when I find an exceptionally obscure bug or the bug that crashes the entire system. I get to give the programmers a hard time, program a bit myself, suggest new features or corrections to the design, and best of all I have the satisfaction of making the product much better for the customer.

      I have a nerf gun in my office, but I have only used it once in the last year and I like my job so much that I occasionally work 14 hour days just because it is so much fun!

      You make your own fun - find a job doing what you enjoy and have an aptitude for.

      The greatest tragedy of the dot-com boom/bust is that many people went into computers because they saw money. Do something because you like it, not because it pays a lot.
    • I agree 1000%

      I'm a systems administrator for an engineering company that designs and builds tooling for automotive and aerospace. Not a terribly exciting industry in my mind, but the work is enjoyable.

      They're always giving me new, challenging assignments, including some coding and other systems projects we're working on. IT is important in this industry, where computers and math are heavily involved in the design (particularly with 3D modeling and imaging) and construction (such as running NC milling machines).

      I get a lot of enjoyment from my work. And it's a company with a viable business model that isn't going the way of the dot-bombs... as long as there is a need for automated manufacturing processes, there will always be a need for tooling.

    • The small companies doing the interesting stuff don't advertise job openings on the big job boards (mostly, there are occaisional exceptions). Basically the job finding (and from the point of view of employer, the people finding) process is what is flawed. The big job boards are 95% jobs that are handled by recruiters, who spend about 1/4 of the space promoting how great their job placement company is. Most of those jobs are stuff big corporate jobs for small peons, and lately at pay levels unrelated to the skills and experience people really bring to the job (because they decide in advance what the pay is, and try to find someone that will take it ... which works in this market right now).

      I'd like to see a job board set up that's restricted to just really cool jobs. It would have fewer recruiters because they have few cool jobs, but it shouldn't restrict them. And it would be important for the search on it to be smart. On the major boards, if I search on a keyword like "unix" it matches up ever jobs for Windows NT programmers that say "some exposure to unix would be helpful", but that's not what I put the search term in to find. And there needs to be as much focus on what kind of job is involved (the role, what the work is) as the skills. Just because I listed skills in programming a few languages doesn't mean I actually want a job doing programming all day long (hey, many admins can code, too, but maybe they don't want to do it all day long).

      Such a job board MUST be free for not only job seekers, but also employers. Companies are faced with many boards to post on, and when there are costs involved (usually a few hundred dollars), they simply cannot post on them all (and many small companies can't even post on any). Revenue to support it should come from impression advertising and highlighting extras (for those companies that do want to pay something to make their posting stand out).

  • You wouldn't think that there are any positions like this left.

    I'm a webmaster/artist for a medium-sized company in Texas that handles financial data. My duties range from in-company photographer to web design to server administration. I don't make *quite* as much as the developers we employ, but I do make quite a bit more than 'industry standard'. Also, I get to delve into all aspects of my job, unlike the developers who are stuck coding Java 40 hours a week. I've become siginificantly more experienced at photography, and I've increased my art skills. I was strictly an Apache admin before I started, but now, because this is a '31 Flavors' shop, I know as much about IIS as I do about Apache. (And yes, I keep the MS servers patched against things like Code Red and Nimda.)

    If you can find a position like this, I highly recommend it.
  • Working in tech should be fun without screwing around. I work as a *NIX admin because I love working with Solaris and Linux. I like hacking at shell scripts, trying to make windows work with Samba, and finding clever ways to lock my servers down.

    If you don't consider the work itself to be fun, you really need to find another line of work.

    That said, I just found a job with a small government contractor. We get free food and drinks, shoot huge rubber bands at each other, chill on the patio, etc.. So yes, those jobs still exist.
  • by Skyshadow ( 508 ) on Saturday September 22, 2001 @01:07PM (#2334522) Homepage
    My office at my latest job was never a lot of fun, but when I started we had a ping-pong table.

    It was actually really nice -- two or three times a day you could play a quick game or two, each time taking maybe five minutes. It was a great way to get away from your desk and get the blood pumping a little bit (nothing like some activity to get the brain working again).

    Then our managers decided that we shouldn't play during the work day anymore. It was like night and day for me -- I couldn't get past the after-lunch sleepy feeling on most days, I didn't want to stay at work late anymore. Ironically, the amount of time I spent at my desk actually producing dropped dramatically.

    It was just ping-pong, but I think it marked kind of a turning point in terms of morale at work. I know I wasn't the only one who felt that way.

    A lot of the reactions I've been reading are reacting to the excesses of the dot-coms, like that "Generation Now" commercial where nobody in the office is actually working. That's fair, but it's important to remember that there's a lot of room between that extreme and a boring, soulless workplace.

    • I believe it's federal law that every employee is supposed to get 15 minutes off for every four hours (not counting lunch). Of course, hardly anyone really does this, and no employer I've ever known of has made this public to their employees. It's as though not working is stealing time from your employer, and you are supposed to feel guilty about it. Which, if you spend your entire day messing around, it may very well be. But it's a shame people (and employers) don't expect that a certain amount of break is your right (by law), and simply should be considered standard working practices (law or no law), not just "fun".

      Usually you only get those breaks if you smoke. It's a good reason to take up smoking -- take a break, reduce stress, no one is forcing you to inhale after all, might be good for you. A ping pong table is much better, though.

      • Its true that big business doesn't schedule "break times". But how much time do you spend at the water cooler or the coffe pot chatting? Or walking around talking to people about this and that? Or reading non-work-related web pages?

        From my experiences in the workplace, that is easily more than 30 mins/day. Big business just letsd you decide when to take a break.
        • I find there's something qualitatively different between time spent not doing work and a real break. Most particularly -- on a break you have no obligation to be doing something, you aren't skipping out on work or being lazy. Of course, most employers don't have a problem with socializing and aren't critical of it (at least in reason). But I still find that a real break feels very different.
          • I think that is just a matter of perception. If you are not in the break mindset when you are not doing work, then of course it won't feel like a break.

            However, if you are taking a seat at the table in the coffee room, having a brief chat with a coworker about a movie you saw (for example), I think that is just as much a break as having a smoke outside for a few minutes. The difference is in perception.

            Similarly, if you browse /. for a few minutes in between squashing a few bugs, you're doing something you enjoy. That's just as much a break as any other activity.

            Taking breaks is necessary in order to be productive. Having a positive perception of them is also important, IMO.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Saturday September 22, 2001 @01:08PM (#2334525)
    Well no, not really. It is increadably rewarding for those that are good at it though, and they wouldn't do anything else.

    They work their tight little asses off though.

    This is going to sound trite, especially considering all the other posts saying essentially the same thing, BUT. . .

    You are basically still a child. You have now had your first *jobs,* but have yet to have any actually experience of working.

    Give up the idea of "fun" at work. Find a job where you enjoy doing the WORK and bust your ass at it, eight hour a day. Then go HOME to play, with your paycheck.

    How about starting your own company? Work 16 hour days, seven days a week, only to have nothing because your employees take it all while bitching about you. I used to tell people, " I don't work for myself. I work for my lawyer, insurance company, phone company, landlord, power company, etc. They don't let me keep anything for myself."

    You'll probably go under just like everyone else, but just might have the time of your life anyway. Funny how "fun" works sometimes.

    By the way, if you manage that you're doing better than the 99.9% of the population who end up performing work functions because they like to eat better than the alternative. You just might have to grow up and get used to that idea.

    • by Skyshadow ( 508 ) on Saturday September 22, 2001 @01:27PM (#2334614) Homepage
      You're off base in pretty much everything you said.

      First, have you ever *watched* football? Do me a favor -- watch the Monday Night game this week and look at Brett Favre's face when he's playing and then tell me he's not enjoying himself. Sure, these guys get paid a lot, but the best players you see are in the zone. That's where you want your people, too.

      The idea that you should "give up the idea of having fun at work" sounds like the refrain of a manager bent on shooting themselves in the foot. Say it with me: Happy people are productive people. Happy people are people not blowing out the door at 5 (like your post implies you do). Happy people are more original and have better ideas and generally do their jobs better.

      Remember: fun doesn't have to mean doing no work. Fun can mean taking your people to Dave & Busters once a quarter if you make a tough quota. Fun can mean buying lunch for everybody and having a bonding session. These things don't create huge disruptions or take a lot of time but create a much better working environment.

      Beyond that, remember that the really legendary workplaces -- places like EA way back in the day -- weren't sweat shops. They were places where people didn't have any huge need to go home, where they felt inspired, etc.

      • " the Monday Night game this week and look at Brett Favre's face when he's playing and then tell me he's not enjoying himself."

        Sure, while he's playing, he's having fun. But "playing football on national TV" isn't the entire job description of an NFL quarterback. There's practices all week, training, weightlifting, etc. etc. I bet if you went to a Thursday practice you wouldn't see that "I love this" look you're referring to.
      • I don't know where people get this attitude that 60- to 80-hour weeks are necessary on a regular basis to get the job done in IT.

        I can see where, if something breaks rather heinously and you're dealing with production system downtime, you would feel the need to stay late and get the job done. I've done it many times myself. And maybe it is while you're young and single, things like having a life outside of work don't matter so much.... I know I had a blast as a road warrior when I wore a younger man's clothes... but there comes a point in your life, if you bother to have one, where you need to slow down, get off the road, and devote some quality time outside of work. You need to start working smarter, not harder. Set your customer's expectations, secretly plan to exceed them, and make your business not on getting it out the door first, but on having a reputation for things that work right the first time. Grow organically. And stop pushing yourselves to the breaking point... because at some point you'll forget where that point is... and find yourself taking your vacation within reach of a nurse call button.

        The insanity we call running a business these days has got to stop. The stock market and the VC's these days expect more and more out of less and less, and it's all a huge bet... not on whether your company can make a decent product, but on whether it can totally dominate the entire market... and if you can't do that, you lose. What is so bloody wrong with taking your time and making a quality product that people are willing to wait for? The world is filled these days with "extreme" this and "ultra" that and the idea that if you're not pushing body, mind, and soul to 115% of their ability, you're a loser and deserve to be tossed aside as a know-nothing.

        Actually, there is one thing that is "extreme" that appears to be working. Extreme programming. [] For those who haven't read the link already, you work in pairs, one drives, one catches mistakes; stay in close contact with your customer; design using the KISS principle; keep your internal meetings to a minimum, and those short and informal; release daily; test constantly; if you don't know how to test it, don't write it; write only what you need, when you absolutely need it; and (with few exceptions) when 40 hours a week are up, GO HOME! This prevents programmer burnout, and enables you to write lots of good code fast. I know someone who is doing this now; I envy her greatly. She loves her job, because the method enables them to kick ass without wearing themselves out. I don't know whether they have nerf guns or ping-pong or video games or not... but I imagine they don't need them.

        When you design quality and sanity into the process, you don't need this balls-to-the-wall mentality that seems to pervade the halls of high-tech these days. You can have a life. What's so wrong with having a life? I thought computers were supposed to make life easier, not harder.

        If you're not having fun,
        you're doing it wrong. -- me

      • Happy people are productive people.

        Actually, that's not true at all [].
  • Fun jobs??? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Crixus ( 97721 ) on Saturday September 22, 2001 @01:08PM (#2334532)
    I think a better question is, are there ANY fun jobs left at all?

    For the most part, all employers... corporations in particular, have declared war on their labor.

    I'd list the reasons but the apologists would just deny them. :-)


  • I spent some time in industry, but for me nothing beats acadamia. No, you won't be a millionare but it is way more fun. With the IT glut there has been a shortage of hackers staying at universities. Almost every department is in bad need of someone to code for them. And not just database front ends, fun stuff.

    Financial agents for the Economics department. Star models for the Physics department. Biologists have so much data on their hands right now you could data mine untill the cows come home. Chemists are figuring out computer models are much easier to work with for many problems. No matter what kind of hacks you like to do a university would be more than willing to pay you for it. And the best part is you can get your masters/PhD degree in Uber Geek studies on the side.
  • I'm working at a company that's still growing.

    It's great. I love my job. I also managed to get in right before the floor went out from under everybody.

    My company is still fun. We had a doughnut-eating competition to raise money for the WTC bombing. Pranks are still played.

    The problem is, there's a dotcom backlash. The real reason why dotcoms failed is because they weren't making any money. But people see the fancy chairs, the quirky offices, the couches, etc. as a symptom of the problem that there was. So the remaining tech companies are trying to show that they aren't like that.

    I have to dress professionally to work, which means that the FCUK t-shirt, the OpenBSD t-shirt, the tie-dye t-shirt, and so on all have to stay home. Everybody wanted those funky mesh chairs, but we got Leap chairs instead. We have nice offices, not warehouse/factory space. Each office ends up with one hard leather couch set, not a fluffy funky couch set.

    I guess the main thing is that the fun is between you and your cow-orkers, not a corporate mandate.
    • My company is still fun. We had a doughnut-eating competition to raise money for the WTC bombing. Pranks are still played.

      I'll read that as "We had a doughnut-eating competition to raise money for the WTC bombing relief errorts. Pranks are still played."

      Either that, or the Feds has one hell of a new lead. ;^>

      (OT: True story. Back in my freshmen year of college, there was a special course on preventing date rape. The headline in the school paper: "Date Rape Program a Success". Choose your words carefully friend...)

    • My group at work (at a Fortune-500 firm) recently 'inheirited' a set of those funky mesh chairs (Aeron), and I have to admit, they are nice, durable, comfortable chairs. Perhaps not worth $600+, but still very nice.

      You're right in that the fancy chairs, quirky offices, and freebies were simply symptoms of the disease that killed dotcoms, but America is all about treating the symptoms.

      But there's no way I am giving up my funky mesh chair.

  • I hate "fun" work environments, because they're usually not very fun and are focused on pretty lame people pursuing lame activities.

    Nerf toys, "group happy hour", "group lunches", yuck. I have plenty of friends that match my interests and values outside of work. The LAST thing I want at work is having to try to fit in with the "fun group". Sounds like high school to me.

    I get my "fun" at work by being challenged by the work, not enthralled with the people.

    That being said, I have had fun with the people I worked with at every job, but it happened in an organic way, not because work was a "fun place".

  • I work in IBM's Linux Technology Center. I get paid to work on the Linux kernel. Our mission is simply: "make Linux better."
    I spent the first few weeks just familiarizing myself with the kernel's internals. Now, I spend my time communicating with maintainers and producing patches to fix SMP locking issues.
    I'm 22 and just out of college, so these dream jobs are waiting somewhere for some of you.

  • I work part-time on campus for slightly more than minimum wage with the people who make sure the dorms are up and running. I'm around to make sure their network and computers are up and running and everything gets along. I didn't have to implement anything, I just maintain. It's simple, the people are nice, and I pretty much make my own hours.

  • We've a pretty strict set of rules in the office in that you can't be distractive to your coworkers who could have pressing deadlines on their schedule. Hence, nerf guns, video games etc. are not received very well at the workplace. Having said that the stuff I do on the daily basis is pretty exciting. I write code to evaluate performance of top tier enterprise products such as BEA's WebLogic and IBM's WebSphere. It's fascinating to see all the different strengths and weaknesses in products from various vendors. I also have a cluster of Sun boxes to play with for pure research purposes so I've enough toys to last for quite some time. Essentially my job is to take our app and evaluate where we might want to take it in the light of new developments in the enterprise world. For example, at present I'm trying to find out whether EJB2.0 with CMP2.0 will suffice for our persistence needs. With EJB1.1 we only used Bean managed persistence but EJB2.0 looks much more promising in that department.

    So yeah, there cool jobs out there but they are usually higer up in the ladder.

  • "... or have they all suffered from the Economic Darwinism of the early 21st century?"

    It wasn't "Economic Darwinism" that killed the dot-coms. It was utter foolishness.

    Violence is not Religion. Religion is not violence: What Should be the Response to Violence? []
  • There's quite a lot of jobs that are fun that don't need to have toys and foosball tables prominently displayed to achieve official FUN status. I used to work for someone who thought that way, and would get boxes of cheap toys and bottles of bubble soap (might as well just pour that straight into the keyboards), and it wasn't fun, it was a gimmick to distract people from her shit management skills and the fact that she ran the department ragged and understaffed for stupid political reasons. It's easier to buy your employees a happy meal than actually create a decent work environment for a hard-working staff.

    Now I work for a "straight" company (or three, if you count how many times it'd been bought out). CEO's a jerk, there's plenty of horrid little petty policies bouncing around other departments, but I'm having fun because I'm doing the work i want, have the opportunity to work on interesting projects, and work with a kickass team of ass-kickers and has a boss who knows how to play politics effectively to get us what we need. Decent management and decent coworkers make for a considerably more fun job than just having toys littered about.

  • There are lots of fun tech jobs out there. I have one, at least most days. However, only last week I was talking to my dad about troubleshooting hardware, and we got off on a tangent. It seems that in his department at the University, the electronics shop guys have been feeling the changing times. Ten (20, 30, 40) years ago they were given hand-made, one-off controller cards to design, prototype, and build for all sorts of bizarre instruments. Then of course, they had to repair them when they broke, as well as maintaining the instruments themselves.

    Now they're a crack team of highly experienced, low-level electronics guys who are reduced to swapping power supplies in PCs, and _maybe_ replacing filter capacitors in them. They're all looking forward to retirement because the fun has gone out of their jobs. About the only place advanced electronics will get you an interesting job now is in chip design.

    The point? Fun moves around. (Note here that I'm talking about the fun that's inherent in the work itself) In 20 years, my SA job may be utterly dull, and reduced to clicking buttons. My hard-fought skills will be almost useless, except perhaps in OS/device development environments. That's the sad way it often goes.
  • Real Geeks have Koosh guns. ;)
  • Can you have a fun tech job, without the worry of being suddenly unemployed?
    More importantly - can you have a job without the worry of being suddenly unemployed? The answer, as over 80,000 airline industry workers found out recently, is no. What do you do then? Work where you can and when you can and develop a life OUTSIDE work where you can have fun. Minimize work hours and increase fun hours as possible. Why is it that people now want to have FUN at WORK!??! Work hard. (go home). Play hard.
    If you are you forced (as I am) to get your fun on the side what are some good projects to get involved in?
    Change your thinking from being work-centered to being life-centered. Have a job in order to make a living. Then have a life in order to live it! Stop thinking of yourself worth as measured by your job. Breathe fresh air, see a movie, walk in the park, raise a family, pursue spiritual reality, drive off-road monster trucks, basketweave, invent things in your garage, clean your room, learn to paint, fight paintball wars...

    I'm speaking to myself. For the past few years I have given up all but the most important aspects of my life (my wife and two kids) in order to devote more time to work. For the next two weeks I'm in lock-down to finish a project.

    What do you to unwind and have a bit of 'fun' in the workplace?"
    Leave on time. Spend time doing something else with people you love.
    • The above is an important lesson. Work is work. Life is fun.

      My job isen't very exciting. I don't get very many obvious perks (I even have to pay for parking!). I have work to "core hours" (9 to 3) not "flex time." T-shirts and jeans aren't acceptable attire. I don't sit in a space age super cubicle with 24" monitors. Judgeing from the job offers I was sent (out of the blue) I could be making a lot more elsewhere. However, there is interesting work to do, the pay is a little above average, the work is steady and stable. Most importantly I rarely work more then my 40 hours a week. (Not that I am adverse to putting in more hours when needed.)

      The other 128 hours are mine. I have put over 10000 km (6200 mi) on my motorcycle this summer. I have been down most of the backroads within 2 hours ride. I have visited forgotten lakes, and explored old twisty roads. I have read several good books. I've been hiking and kayaking. I have even sat in my backyard with the BBQ and a beer. It has been a lot of fun.

      My friend's motorcylce sits in his driveway. I almost went to work with him. He is well paid. His work environment is really relaxed. He gets little "fun" perks. He also works atleast 40 hrs a week. It is expected of him. Now that the bubble has burst it is worst. He is often in atleast for a little bit on the weekends. He works for a large company that will survive. He will still have a job there in a years time. But to insure that he does he has to work like crazy. He has to show that he is "commited to the company" during this "economic slowdown." (I get to read some of the foolish internal troop rallying memos sent out by the big bosses.) Not only does he have to work long hours, but he has to show he is a team player and participate in sports and other events. Although there isen't as much emphasis on those activities these days.

      He may not think much of my work. His company may very well be "architechs of the future." But I like my weekends.

  • Working at a job that is interesting is FUN! But if you aren't making a marketable product, that job will soon disappear. That was the main reason most of the dotcoms went under. They weren't making anything that people would buy. Who buys a web page?

    There are fun jobs out there. But before you take one, make sure that it has a positive revenue stream. Stock prices are meaningless, so go for the wage and benefits. And get the experience, which is the most important. When you're fifty in the tech field, the only advantage you will have is experience.

    p.s. It sounds like you're still young, so let me clue you in on an important universal law of reality: nothing is perfect. You can find a good job, but that job will have crap mixed in with the ice cream. My current job is interesting, challenging, and productive, but it comes with a lot of crap known as PHBs, lawyers and long distance micro-management.
  • They gave me some books and told me to learn Perl. Our office was a refurbished factory, with lots of light and open space. Best of all, we could bring our nerf toys in to work (and use them!).

    Of course, we have fun doing technical things, not learning Perl or playing with Nerf toys.

    have they all suffered from the Economic Darwinism of the early 21st century?

    Suffered? I think it's good that dot-coms with almost no technology and almost no business plan have disappeared. Real technology often takes many years to develop; how are sound technology companies supposed to compete for funding with fast talking CEOs for startups?

  • It amazes me what people in the new economy have come to expect from their jobs. Some perks are a benefit to the company and the employee and that's great. Happy employees are more productive, but that's a business descision. A lot of new economy employees got spoiled by lots of perks and high salaries, and in the end, the new economy business couldn't afford to stay in business.

    It is good to have a job you enjoy. That means you enjoy doing the work that the employer is paying you to do. It is good when you have bright and interesting coworkers to work with and learn from. You're lucky if that happens.

    Enjoy your job, but remember it is a business. The company is paying you to do work that they sell to pay your salary and make a profit. They are not paying for you to play. If you're not working a full day; you're not doing your job. It isn't your employers job to entertain you.

    Also keep in mind that there are many many people who aren't as fortunate as those of us in the technology industry. They go to their job for 8 hours and do work they don't like, because they have to make a living.

    Enjoy what you do. If you want to have fun, have a life outside of work.
    • I work in the new media dept. of a daily newspaper. My job still has its fun moments and perks. Typically, once a month or so, my boss joins me and another coworker at our adopted bar, "the new media lounge," to throw darts and share a pitcher. That's cool for two aspects. One, we can release stress outside the office w/ the boss buying. Two, it shows the boss has an interest in us as people, not merely as peons.

      Quite often, I find the best work environment isn't always fun and games. It's the one that leaves you alone to focus on a large project and draw on the resources you need to make things happen. To a fair degree (but by no means universally) the managers know that frequent distractions keep me from getting my current work done and that ultimately delays the work *they* are asking me to do.

      Ultimately, I find a great deal of satisfaction in my job, not because it's "fun". Quite often it isn't. But, at the end of the day, the work has kept me challenged, the boss wants me to be challenged and keep bringing new ideas to the table. The other benefit I've made for myself is not living and dying by my work. I give it due care and consideration. It is important. But it's not all I do and I won't spend more than 45 hours a week in the office unless there is a damn good reason for me to do so.

      I also make a habit of not living for work out of the office. If something important happens that needs my attention, I can be contacted, but I don't go out of my way to seek contact after hours and over the weekend with work. By and large, unless I see it by 4 p.m. Friday, I'm not going to deal with it until 9 or 10 a.m. Monday.

      I find all of the above are critical for contining to enjoy my work. I get close to burnout only infrequently. I tend to stay optimistic about longterm prospects. Being given an effective work environment, the flexibility to come early, leave early (or vice-versa) and not be tied down to a leash is far more powerful than being given PlayStations or having scooter races through the halls.

  • ...even though we don't do the nerf thing much any more.

    I work for MontaVista as a Geek Of All Trades (yup, the documentation for the last product I worked on lists that as my title) and love it. Nowhere else have I had as much flexability to see a problem that needs to be addressed or something that could be automated or a new feature that would be helpful to the customer and go out, design it and write it. There are lots of one-man projects up for the taking, I'm allowed to use whatever scripting language I want except where it matters (kernel code, customer requirements, teammates who need to maintain it, whatever), and yes, we have some fun (a company band, free sodas, and pretty damn clued management).

    Even better, I have the most brilliant coworkers I've ever worked with. Anywhere. Ever. Talking with these folks is enlightening, and there's always new stuff to learn. I've gone from porting and packaging to kernel debugging and writing internal testing software. If I get bored of one job, as soon as I finish the project I'm on I can always get assigned to something else.

    We don't spend unnecessary money on toys (no company-issued PDAs, except of course for those working on a PDA-related project) but nonetheless, working there kicks ass.

    Plus they let me telecommute while I'm attending school. WooHOO!

    Thus, let me assure you -- Nerf guns aren't necessary to having a cool job. I'd take the brilliant coworkers, clued management, interesting projects and job flexability that MontaVista offers me any day.
  • Whilst demand exceeded supply for programmers things were pretty cushy for those with tech skills. Those that took the risk and participated in the revolution reaped the rewards. Those who stayed in 'safe' jobs they hated busting their butt in 9-5 for little reward looked on in jealousy. At the company I worked for we had nerf wars, played footie in the office, had a company Nintendo/Playstation room, free beer and pizza from Fri 4pm onwards, bar tabs at the best bars in the city... and you know what? The work was challenging and fun. And we got responsibility we wouldn't have got working as a 'cog' in a large corporation. Personally I had an amazing time and still got to write some kick-ass content management systems. Then work slowed down so I moved to an established media company where they promised me more interesting work. But the office was still relaxed and we had fun. I now run my own company which is far tougher but the only way to make significant money. Should I have to go back to working for someone else then being good at my job I won't have any problems finding employment... despite having had all the 'superficial perks' and being 'bought off by the management'. And you can't take those days away from me :-P

    To sum up, don't live in the past: just look back in wonder at the amazing time you had, it'll be something to tell your kids as they struggle to find work in a world recession. It'll never be as good again until the economy is.

  • Here's a recipe for a job lifestyle that doesn't suck. Comments are welcome to improve and sharpen this idea..

    1.) Live a simpler life; do with less. There's no happiness in posessions. You don't need to buy a shiny new house in the suburbs--find a nice plot of land in a more rural area and build your own small, efficient, eco-engineered dwelling. You don't need a brand new car. You don't need to buy every latest piece of super-fast hardware the day it comes out. You don't need to buy goofy little geek trinket items from online vendors. You don't need Cable TV or satellite. You don't need to order out--learn to cook instead.. You don't need a huge stash of caffeinated beverages--water is much more healthful. You don't need to go to Starbucks, Panera, or other trendy shop every other day. You don't need to buy your clothes at fancy shopping malls. I could go on and on but you get the picture.

    2.) Now that you don't need $60k/year to support your lifestyle, do whatever the heck you please. You can easily make enough to support yourself by doing contract work, consulting, etc. and have plenty left over to put into savings. You don't have to figure out the latest and greatest radically new business idea to be self-employed. Go with something that works and have 6 months of living expenses in a seperate bank account in case of rough times. Focus on zero-debt. Get rid of any car loans or mortgages ASAP. (you didn't waste that much on a house/car did you?)

    3.) Now, all of a sudden, you also have lots of free time because you're not stuck in a 9-5. What better way to use that time than to contribute to lots of Open Source projects. Work with the idea that better OSS will expand your opportunities in a consulting job.

    4.) Save Save Save. Make $20k/year your goal. Invest it wisely. Retire early. Kick back and relax. Enjoy the easy life without being filthy rich.
    5.) On the other hand, working for a big established company is a way to build up enough money to launch yourself into the position I've described, especially if you're just getting out of school and need to pay off your loans.
    • If you want to simplify things, I strongly suggest this book [].

      It's basically an outline of different strategies to cut down on unnecessary expenses, and still live life to the fullest.

      Some of the strategies given might seem a little extreme (at least, if you don't compare them to this guy []), but most of the suggestions are simple, make life more enjoyable, and the savings add up.
  • I am a college student. One of my jobs outside of my classes is some undergraduate ecology research. Fun stuff. Basically, I write code to analyze various ecological datasets. Interesting stuff. While I don't shoot nerf arrows at the scientists who work around me, I get to go camping occasionally as a part of my job, in addition to doing something that fascinates me. For me, this is a lot cooler than being just another capitalist whore with a bonus of nerf weapons... But that's just me.
  • I work for a startup which is now a bit less than 2 years old. We have about 70 people. I am the CTO which for me is my dream job - it involves a wonderful variety of things from the deeply technical to the purely business oriented. The best days are when I cover the full spectrum of the role; dealing with vendors, whiteboarding with senior engineers, some people stuff, and a bit of pre-sales chalk talk.

    Building a startup company from scratch is a tremedous personal growth experience, and I've gotten a lot out of it. It's extremely hard work, but extremely rewarding too.

    In contrast to the dot-coms, we have been very conservative with spending our modest venture capital investment, and have concentrated on steady success - we have put out three software releases, we have successful paying customers to whom we deliver real value, and a 99.93% (and growing) uptime.

    It's the company culture which is most important to me - we value people most highly. We have an open information culture (and after all, everyone is a shareholder). Mutual respect, integrity and a work hard play hard attitude are all important to us. We have a highly capable technical team, and many of them could easily find a higher paying job with a larger company even in this market; the reason they are with us is because they believe in what they do, and they enjopy the contribution they can make and impact they can have at a small company.

    A lot of people posting in this forum will spout a lot of wibble about how everything should be run by techies and how marketing and sales people aren't as important, yada yada. Get this - a company needs to be strong in all areas to be successful, and the folks who produce the glossy collateral slicks are just as important as the Java coders. We succeed because we are one team.

    We also have the usual little things that help alleviate stress: the junk food stocked kitchen; ping-pong, pool and foosball tables. When people are as driven as our team are, they need to unwind too.

    We're not hiring techies right now, we're in a phase of focusing on growing revenue, but there are still good startup opportunities out there, and I'd advise anyone to give it a try. Even if the company isn't successful, you'll learn a lot and have a good time doing so.

    Having gone myself from a 50,000 person company to a 1,000 person to 2 person startup (myself and our other founder) I can say it's truly unique and worthwhile career move.
  • The ohert 1% is don't work for process bound systems liek millitarycontarcting or our governemnt :)

    I work at Sun. I love wokring at Sun. Right now I'm choosing between enxt assignments and any one of them looks fun, though theyta re very different.

    Having fun at work isn't about Nerf guns and free Jolt, its about loving what it is you do.
  • Fun tech jobs?! No, the only tech Jobs that I know, Steve, isn't that fun of a guy. He rules his company with an iron-fist, and I would NOT want to be on his bad side. (groan)
  • One thing about Microsoft that you have to understand is that each dept. can be like working at a different company. This being said, multiple dev's that I've talked to have nerf football indoors, sometimes nerf wars, and many times supersoaker fights in the summer. I know someone else who is a Sysadmin for MSN, and although he says the working conditions aren't as good as other departments there, he says that network games (read:CS!) are acceptable to the management.

    Personally, when I am grinding over some piece of code, I NEED to have a ping-pong or CS break every once in a while. I think it improves my productivity, and my moral. I figure that as a developer I'm responsible enough to get the job done, and since I spend most of my life at work, I should be allowed to have a life at work.
  • Indeed they do still exist. Consider my place of employment, where I have worked now for just over three years. At this outfit every employee has his or her own private window office with walls to the ceilings and no cubes. Employees are treated to significant free food and drink and one probably could live for a while just migrating around the buildings snarfing up the freebie lunches and dinners for those who work hard. We play with nerf guns, water guns, yo yos, and even have little nerf turf wars going on between groups. There is a foosball table on floor #1, a pool table on floor #3, and a ping pong table in the next building. Elsewhere you can find free arcade games. And it is not uncommon to see long haired geeks clad in t-shirts and hawaiian straw hats walking barefoot through the halls. In addition, this place where I work provides me with extreme technical challenges and difficult problems that require me to grow. We work on projects that affect thousands, tens or thousands, or even millions of people depending upon our area of focus. Because of this we have issues related to security, deployment, and scale that dwarf those faced by most tech workers. In my position I have had to go from zero to expert not only in areas such as security, XML, and networking, but also in the area of managing conflict and engaging others to work towards goals. Finally this business provides its employees with astonishing resources and is unlikely to vanish for quite some time. In case you haven't glanced at my email by now, this business is Microsoft. :-)
  • Not to pick on the questioner (too much ;-), but if you want to play with Nerf toys at work, see if Nerf has any openings. Me, I'd head for LEGO if I wanted to work in the toy industry.

    -Paul Komarek
  • Every day is pretty fun for me - and most of my colleagues. We don't have nerf guns or toys, just an enthusiastic team, a good social life and enough intelligence to make any challenging task fun.
    Enjoy becoming good at your job - enjoy being good at your job - andjoy getting better at your job>

    Don't get too sucked into all work and no play - get your balance right. Remember the most important thing is your family, work is a way to support them so just find one which challenges you enough but isn't crappy and make it all fun.

    I don't sound like I'm on Prozac do I?

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"