Sunday, 30 November 2008

small children and working hours

Michelle the manager has two small children. She regularly puts in a 45 hour week. Alan the project manager also has two small children. He officially works 80%. The first architect, Steve, has one small child. He officially works 90%. The second architect, Flo, has two small children. She officially works 100%. Also on the project team are a number of developers, testers and other experts.

The project isn't doing so well, and when there are about 6 weeks left until the delivery deadline, Alan the project manager starts coming in on Fridays - the day he usually spends at home with his children. Luckily his wife's mother lives just round the corner, and since she is retired there is no problem with childcare.

A short time later, he starts to make impassioned speeches to the project team about how important it is to make the deadline, and presents a strong case that overtime is needed. He asks everyone has to email him with their availability over the coming two weekends.

Michelle already works weekends semi-regularly. Her husband is in a business that is suffering from the recession, so he is only working 75% anyway, so there is no problem with childcare. She is available.

Steve is hardworking and ambitious, and his wife is happy to spend more time looking after their child. Steve is available.

One of the developers, Paul, has one small child, but his wife's mother is also keen to help, so childcare is not a problem. He is available.

None of the other developers have children. No problem with their availability then.

The thing is, Flo does have a problem. She has no extended family within reach who could be called in at such short notice. Her husband is already at home on paternity leave 100% and is finding it tough. He doesn't want to take up the slack, and she doesn't want to spend any less time with her children than she does already. After some thought, Flo tells Alan she is not available.

So what happens? Everyone works extra, except Flo. Alan is frustrated because he feels he can't give her any important tasks to work on, because he knows she won't stay late to finish them. Then Flo requests to work 80% in the new year, so she can spend more time with her children. (By Swedish law, all parents with young children who have a full time job have the right to reduce their hours.) Alan is not pleased, and talks to his boss about the situation. The project must go out on time, and he feels Flo's behaviour is endangering this. The upshot is that Flo is told her contract will not be renewed.

The official reason given is that "working 80% is not compatible with the rate of productivity we require of an architect at this workplace". The secondary reason given is the unwillingness to work overtime. As a contractor and not an employee, Flo has no recourse, the law doesn't apply, and she is left searching for a new contract to work on.

It turns out that even in enlightened, feminist Sweden (1), even when the boss in question himself has small children and normally works 80%, even when the other architect in the team officially work less than 100%, it is still the case that a mother working the hours specified in her contract, is not able to keep her position.

If this is what it is like in Sweden, God help working women in the rest of the world.

(1) Just as an example how the feminist culture affects the political agenda: The main opposition party, (who polls indicate will win power at the next election), wants to quota parental leave so that each parent will be forced to take half of time available. This must be the only nation in the world that expects fathers to stay home from work for 8 months with each of their children.


If you were looking to employ someone, what would you say to a candidate like this:

  • highly intelligent, excellent qualifications for the job, 10 years relevant experience, hardworking, ambitious.

Sounds good, doesn't it? What if she then added:
  • has 2 children, will not work overtime, (although still hardworking during normal working hours)
Perhaps not quite as interesting?

Then if she went on to ask to work 80%?

So the reality is, how many employers turn to the next CV at this point?

Anyway it looks like I am going to be finding out. My experience as a contractor so far is not encouraging.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

agile toolkit podcast

My weekend jog through the park was particularly interesting this week. Not just because of the light sprinkling of snow, bright sun and freezing temperatures. I had to watch my footing every time I heard myself interrupt Geoff or forget someone's name. Yes, I was on my own. And no, nothing wrong with my head. (nothing serious, anyway). I was listening to the latest agile toolkit podcast where Bob Payne interviews Geoff and me.

In a previous post I was rather critical of Bob's interviewing technique, and perhaps this is justified. He is a really genuinely friendly guy though, who is warm and enthusiastic towards people and that does make up for a lot. In the interview he did make some random joke about Thoughtworks that I still don't get, but on the whole I think we got on ok.

In the first part of the interview we talk alot about how TextTest grew up in an environment of long running batch processes, and a bit about the crew planning system that Geoff wrote it to deal with. I hope listeners don't decide this is boring and switch of at this point, because it does do more than just that. I talk a bit about what we did with TextTest on 'Programming with the stars' and then we discussed what else it is good for (legacy code, and even greenfield TDD development).

I did try to think through beforehand all the things I was going to say, but intevitably I left out a couple of important points. Neither of us mentioned that TextTest is written in python but can test any language (so long as it can produce plain text log output). I didn't make it clear that I don't work for Jeppesen, rather my new employer IBS JavaSolutions kindly paid my conference ticket. I said that 'I' got the highest marks in the stars competition instead of 'we' (forgive me Michael and Geoff! We did it together, I know)

Overall I think the podcast is worth listening to though. I hope it will encourage some people to try out texttest, and write automated tests for some code that they thought was untestable.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Intimidating situations

This week I was finally invited to the architect forum meeting. Ten more or less geeky men, and me. It's funny, I don't usually think about the gender imbalance in the software industry much. On this occasion though, I felt distinctly uncomfortable. They all seemed to know each other, and mostly ignored me. They had an annoying habit of spattering their conversation with unidentified acronyms. I left feeling somewhat disheartened.

Later that evening I talked to my husband about the experience, as I often do. Seeing as we both work in the same industry, he generally has helpful comments. This was no exception, even though Geoff is currently at home with the children, enjoying his parental leave. "I understand just how you feel. Today I went to the baby rhythm and song group. Ten women with babies, and me, also with baby. They all seemed to know each other, and mostly ignored me. They tended to talk about breastfeeding and shopping."

So it could be worse, I suppose.