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Blogging and IRC at work – star employee or slacker? May 3, 2006

Posted by Matsu in Information Technology, Management, Technology.

Reading about Josh Bancroft's situation at Intel where he is getting negative feedback for posting blog entries and podcasting made me think about my own situation. I manage an I.T. department that is full of digital natives. As such, some of them have one foot in the real world (in their cubicle) and the other foot in the virtual world – most often reading and engaged in conversations in several IRC channels.

According to Josh Bancroft's post, Intel does not see value in having technology employees blogging or podcasting. They even seem to frown on wiki's and technology conferences. Now, I find that hard to believe. Or, more specifically, I find it hard to believe that a technology company like Intel does not have a better understanding of how technology professionals function and how they gain so much through blogging, podcasting, and attending conferences where they might interact with all of the people they have been chatting with through IRC. But, many of the higher level managers at Intel are most likely older and as such do not appreciate the ways in which young technologist live and work. I find that a real possibility.

What might the equivalent activity be twenty or thirty years ago when the members of the top management were just regular employees at Intel or similar companies? Well, they would be hanging out at the water cooler and chewing the fat with their co-workers. They might chat things up with people from other divisions in the company and unofficially discuss product ideas or talk about a problem they were having that they couldn’t seem to solve by themselves. And, they would walk away from those water-cooler conversations with tips on which movie to avoid in the theaters and fresh ideas or potential solutions to those engineering problems they wrestled with all morning. On the way back to their cubicle (or office in those days) they might stop by the corporate cafeteria and post a message on the bulletin board. (Okay, that's a weak equivalent to blogging, but what else is there?)

Of course, my example is biased, and it shows. There is value in having people interact throughout the day, whether it's over the water cooler or over the Internet. I'm sure that managers back in the 60's and 70's worried that their employees were talking on the phone too much. Today, managers may wonder if their employees are chatting too much online (whether it's AIM or IRC it's all 'just chatting' to many digital immigrant managers).

I suppose there is a potential downside to the digital natives’ work style of interacting throughout the day with people all over the world via IRC. Some businesses, like Intel, would want to control what was said about the work that was taking place. They would not want to give any clues to the world (especially their competitors) about what they were developing or spending their R & D time and money on. But, for many of the rest of us that are not working in that environment, that argument really doesn't make any sense.

Before I end this post, I must satisfy the curiosity of one or two of my readers who also work in my department. How do I feel when I walk by your cubicle and you are busy typing a response to something said in IRC? What do I think about blog posts that have a time stamp that indicates you posted it during work hours? I am fine with it. I do not see it as a problem, provided work continues to get done. In the end, it's work product and output that matters.

Interacting with people online has two benefits, as I see it. First, there is increased job satisfaction as you enjoy being at work and talking about what you know or what you need to know, which most often is about technology. Obviously, just like personal phone calls (which are permitted) I expect there to be some personal chatting via IRC along with professional interaction.

The second benefit, as I see it, is an opportunity to share your knowledge with other I.T. professionals. That helps everyone. In a sense, it's a 'pay it forward' mentality. If you can help others then maybe you can in turn get help when you need it. If everyone were to be that helpful outside of IRC and open source projects then this world would be a little nicer.

Now, get back to work! You've wasted enough time reading this blog!



1. Pedro Pinheiro - May 3, 2006

Great post! There’s also another factor – we are much more productive today. The work interaction workflow is much less formal, and much faster. Quick, terse e-mails, IMs, or SMSs instead of long formal letters, faxes, or telexes. Instantly retrievable information. Editable documents. While most people are still discussing the “paperless office”, in comparison with 20 years ago, 90% of what we did on paper is now done on computers. We might just print the final output or anything that needs a physical existence for legal reasons.

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