So over the last few weeks, I have been re-watching one of my favorite television shows of all time, The Wire. If you haven't seen it, you should probably rectify that oversight. That being what it is, I'm currently making my way through Season 3 and I had a revelation of sorts: I might be a McNulty.
Yeah okay, so for those of you not familiar with the show, you have no idea what that means. To put it somewhat briefly, Jimmy McNulty is a police detective on the show, who is basically all about the case. He wants to see justice done, no matter what the cost. He is all about "the work". Needless to say that his narrow minded quest tends to alienate virtually everybody he works with... on a long enough timeline anyway.
McNulty reaches his full form in Season 3 in which he pretty much pulls out every stop he can in an attempt to keep his unit assigned to the case he knows actually matters. Despite the repeated insistence of his boss and his coworkers, he stays the course. Was he right? Maybe. That's not particularly relevant here. He exists as a foil to an entrenched system of policing that is more concerned with PR and statistics than making an actual difference in the city of Baltimore. He stands in stark contrast to a bureaucracy that no longer remains true to its mission because the entities they are accountable to are no longer willing and / or capable of holding them accountable.
It's a pretty depressing show overall, but hey it's a pretty depressing world, so what can you do? The theme of it really resonates with me this time around because this is basically where I am at in terms of my career. While I'm not full on McNulty, I am definitely on, what I am calling, the McNulty Spectrum. I'm not a compulsive substance abuser (alcohol in his case) but that's mostly because I don't have as severe of a codependency on my career as he has.
But I do have one. My work matters to me. The relevancy of my output very much matters to me. If I have a week where I don't feel like I was particularly productive, in a keeping the chaos at bay and reclaiming territory for sanity sort of way, my general demeanor tends to reflect that. This is both a blessing and a curse. While it provides me with a constant source of inspiration to remain productive, it also puts me very much at odds with the people I work with.
To be clear, this doesn't happen everywhere. At my current job it is definitely happening. The fact I'm willing to write about it in a public blog post without even caring that they might read it, should tell you everything you need to know. My current employer and I have radically different ways of measuring productivity and impact and short of a miraculous shift in perspective on either my side or theirs, this schism will only grow wider over time.
Have I been a McNulty in this situation? Yes, I have. My McNulty-like actions aren't planned like his are. For me they are primarily the result of the fact that my direct manager seemingly doesn't care to hear my feedback (not sure if that is specific to me or if it's an everybody thing), but his boss does. This has created a very odd situation in which I have a bi-weekly one-on-one with my bosses boss and have never had a one-on-one with my actual boss. Sometimes I voice concerns in our daily morning meeting, but those meetings exist primarily for us to receive our marching orders for the day, not to discuss actual problems. Which is weird, but I digress.
In any event sometimes my frustration with some thing or another comes out during these one-on-one meetings and sometimes my bosses boss attempts to do something to relieve that stress. It's not planned, but more of a sign that sometimes I just can't keep my big mouth shut when something is really grinding my gears. I won't get into any specifics here and now, but I'm sure that I will elaborate on this in some other blog post down the road.
Needless to say, this situation has basically made me into a McNulty of sorts. This isn't an entirely bad thing. Like McNulty, I love the fucking work. It is basically my life. I have been coding since I was six years old and I will never stop coding. I will probably eventually stop doing it for a living, but coding something useful brings me a type of joy that I have been unable to get from anything else in my life. It is hard to describe the feeling of satisfaction that results from creating something, often out thin air, that I know has improved somebody's day to day life.
On the flip side I can see how my coworkers react to this and I can feel their growing level of dissatisfaction and annoyance with the situation, but am seemingly powerless to change it. Sure I could resolve to just shut my mouth and go about checking off the boxes associated with the sometimes pointless but largely short-sighted tasks I have been assigned to complete, but making that sort of change just isn't possible for me. The reason being is that I would rather be unemployed than accept payment in exchange for curtailing what is my very best asset when it comes to this type of work: The sense of professional instinct I have developed over the last two and a half decades of work.
I guess in some alternate universe I could resolve to just give less of a shit. Sadly I think that's the crossroads that my current path will end in. At this point what I need is to curate a situation in which my talent and instinct are harnessed to produce good work. I also need for that work to be part of an initiative which doesn't cause to me to lament the woeful state of my career in blog posts like this one.
I want to care, but I also want the people around me, at least some of them, to also care in a compatible way. Is that really so wrong? Much like Hillary Clinton once had the balls to say in a book, "it takes a village" I guess that is basically what I'm saying here.
Great software requires a great team to create. It can be no other way. Am I destined to be part of that kind of team again? Only time will tell.
I remain hopeful.