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Rewards of Service

by Xiong (Hermit)
on Mar 05, 2012 at 21:59 UTC ( #957978=perlmeditation: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

Let us think about the rewards we gain by our work. We may be entertained by the effort, paid money, given respect and honors by our fellows, and be of service to others. There is perhaps a higher plane of reward given to a few as a result of great achievement; this may embrace any of the lesser rewards but also has a spiritual aspect (for want of a better word). Those fortunate enough to penetrate to universal mysteries need no explanation of this; the rest of us cannot describe it. Self-amusement and money returns are so pedestrian I'll not dwell on them.

We often scorn honors whether we receive them or not; many are empty. I do believe that the highest purpose to which an average person can aspire is to be of service to others: to produce work of utility and interest, to educate, to assist. The time I spend in play and rest I grudge to the need of my creaky brain to lie fallow in a sort of distracted thought in order to produce anything of lasting value. If I knew myself certainly to be incapable of that lasting value, I'd rather invest my time sweeping the sidewalk.

I wish to raise two connected issues of valuation. The first is of the value of one's work; the second is of the value of the respect accorded it. Many will agree with me about the value of serviceable work; but how are we to judge our own stuff? Shall we grind endlessly, sure in our hearts that we do good? I submit that any of us can crank out a great pile of matter that is of little use to anyone else; and be ignorant of that uselessness. We cannot know we have served unless we are so told. The honors we are given for our work comprise an evaluation by which we can tell whether we have served well; and for that reason are valuable in themselves.

Elaborate honors are often empty; a casual "well done" is better than a title or office. It's tempting to cry sour grapes if one is not respected for his work. I hope I shall not be thought guilty of promoting majestic awards, given with much ceremony. My intent is to advance the value and practice of earned respect; and caution against its opposite.

We might do well to value the praise of others; to hope for it; to work for it. In this way our work may be of greater service: We waste less effort on foolishness and on ideas that seem good only to ourselves. We might do well also to reward those, who serve us, with tokens of our respect, be they mere words: We encourage them to do more of the same.

Personally, I have spent a few years now learning Perl and attempting to produce work of value to others. I've been given a numerical rank within PerlMonks, which (not to be rude) appears quite meaningless; XP measures participation, not merit. If I valued empty honors, I could have risen faster merely by voting at random every day. I have also received a few bug reports on RT. I consider these a much more valuable reward as, although each indicates a flaw in my work, it also shows that some person cared enough about the whole to describe that flaw. Absent a stream of purchase orders, the only sure way to know someone is using your free software is when you are told so.

Meanwhile, I've become quite discouraged. Judging by the number and type of comments, my work is of little or no value to anyone. Granted, I have done much less by any standard than others; my time is limited and split among many pursuits. Yet if I examine soberly the feedback I've received, it would appear my Perl time is wasted.

I am not convinced this is so. Perhaps this is only a defect of our culture. We are accustomed to money rewards and, when working for them, we see at once the tangible evaluations of our products. When we buy a shoe, we feel under no obligation to thank the shoemaker; our coin is reward enough. Perhaps we need to think harder about the respect we give to those who serve gratis; and perhaps all of us who do so serve are insufficiently rewarded. I don't speak of "sufficient compensation" but of sufficient feedback to keep us on the right track: this is good, this is not good, this is better, do more of that. If this is lacking, it would explain why so many free software projects appear to be badly conceived and executed; and why so many are abandoned before being refined to a decent level of quality and utility.

On the other hand, I may be quite right; and few speak well of my work because... it just isn't much good. I don't know; and that is the point of this little essay. I inveigh again against empty praise. The respect of one's fellows is an indicator of one's usefulness; it is not to be sought on its own. But pursuing that usefulness blindly is as likely to lead to self-indulgent production as to real value. I will not assume the arrogant position that my work must be good because I know it is so. In Geometry, perhaps — there, I can prove it. In Perl, no.

Many of us are accustomed to being the smartest person in the room; put us all together and we tend to engage in a contest to see who is smarter. This leads to backbiting and nitpicking. Each of us is full of his own stuff and spares scant attention to the good works of others. I do not declare myself innocent of these sins. I call upon myself first to bite my tongue before lunging at a bikeshed argument in lieu of any readier opportunity to prove myself righter than the previous fellow; and to take a moment to tip my hat to those whose labors do, indeed, deserve thanks.

I'm not the guy you kill, I'm the guy you buy. —Michael Clayton

Comment on Rewards of Service
Re: Rewards of Service
by sundialsvc4 (Monsignor) on Mar 06, 2012 at 13:59 UTC

    The Internet is chock-full of gratuitous “rewards,” and let the record show that there are plenty of people out there who do by their responses prove that Pavlov was right.   (And, BTW, I do not mean that as a “sideways slap” at anyone, so if anyone thinks so, get over it.)   I think it best just to ignore such things completely.   Take PerlMonks, for instance.

    PerlMonks is not about “you,” or “me,” or anyone else except:   the bloke who’s stuck and asking a question.   To me, this site exists to answer that question; nothing more, nothing ever.   It’s not about anyone’s personality or tact(lessness), although both of these are inevitable in any human gathering.   It’s not about “promoting Perl” (a good language stands for itself and needs no benefactors). It’s about answering that question.

    If hearing a little bell ring makes you salivate, and if salivating makes you answer a question well or somehow induces you to do that, such that it gets done, then I suppose the little bell served its purpose.   Goody for you and for your little dog.   But my attitude is basically that of Clark Gable in Gone With The Wind.   If somebody simply finds my answers useful from time to time, then that is enough.

      If people don't tell you when your answers are useful, how do you know if they are so?

      I'm not the guy you kill, I'm the guy you buy. —Michael Clayton
Re: Rewards of Service
by Anonymous Monk on Mar 06, 2012 at 18:28 UTC
    Your perl time isn't wasted if you get paid to write perl code, but don't delude yourself, your perl "work", code you submit to cpan is a waste of time. You're not helping anyone with perl, here and on cpan at least. Grab that broom and hit the streets. I find it funny, you mention the work of others you consider "badly conceived and executed", that pretty much sums up your contributions to perl. But who cares? You pay the bills, you take your kids to the ball game once in a blue moon, the rest is gravy. You don't like it, do something that makes you happy. That may be the real reward you crave

      Please be certain I don't intend to argue but I would like to ask for clarification. Do you mean to say that my CPAN uploads are valueless? (I might agree.) Or all?

      I'm not the guy you kill, I'm the guy you buy. —Michael Clayton
        No offense intended, I mean your CPAN uploads, not all CPAN content, thought there's a fair amount of useless crud there. I also don't think you help anyone here, on perlmonks, where people ask for help solving perl problems. But that's just one opinion, and opinions are what I guess you're asking for, other points of view. Of course I'll get down voted in what you've correctly identified as a useless 'reward' and rating system. As you're aware, this holds no water. There is so much more you can do to make the world a better place, and get that warm feeling inside for having done so. Perlmonks isn't the best use of everyone's time.
      Really? The free perl application I used to maintain - and which I still occasionally submit patches for - that is used to help keep the GPS satellites working and on the hospital ship Africa Mercy (plus in a squillion other places) is a waste of time?
        No. I didn't say that, and I was specifically talking to Xiong, not you.
Re: Rewards of Service
by Arunbear (Parson) on Mar 06, 2012 at 23:22 UTC
    Doesn't the true value of your work lie in what you learned while doing it? Developing such skills is certainly beneficial from a career point of view, so does not seem like time wasted.

      I'd quibble with that, though perhaps merely in semantics.

      The value of your work is what the work achieves. Does it serve a useful purpose in and of itself?

      Past that, there's something to be said for enrichment and accrued positive experience contributing to the total net benefit.

      You make a good point; thank you. Self-education (as opposed to helping others to learn) is not to be scorned. But if I do nothing but improve my skills, never employing them usefully, then I'd file this under self-amusement.

      I have already had an engineering career. While I was paid well I did not feel I was paid for doing good work; rather, I was pressured to do poor work and commit fraud against our customers. I no longer have any interest in engineering for pay, therefore none in making myself attractive to potential clients. My motivator today is a desire to be useful.

      I would do a disservice to the aspiring young engineer if I did not admit that free software projects are an excellent route to a fatter portfolio.

      I'm not the guy you kill, I'm the guy you buy. —Michael Clayton
        There are many ways to serve and get rewards apart from your job / engineering / programming.
Re: Rewards of Service
by raybies (Chaplain) on Mar 08, 2012 at 17:34 UTC

    When I was working for a summer with my dad's space research at a certain university, I remember having put together a lot of work for the project, then someone else took credit for it. I was annoyed by this experience. My dad gave me some advice that I live by... He said "Just do the work, don't worry about credit." He said that eventually the guy that continues to take credit for other people's work will be seen as the fraud that He/she is and you'll still be there after the dust settles.

    My dad worked in a contentious, academically competitive environment. They competed for government dollars and he wrote a lot of proposals, worked with a lot of academics and published where he could. Occasionally, he was looked down upon by fellow academics and engineers because his degree was not in aerospace or engineering but a PhD in a different science altogether, though he managed many engineering projects.

    I once heard someone tell me about my dad, that there were lots of really smart engineers at the university, but if you wanted to make sure a project got done, you gave it to my dad.

    People came, people went. After a few decades of service they'd all gone away, and my dad was still there working as head scientist of the research lab, continually bringing in projects that kept the lab afloat.

    Why? Because over time he continued to get the job done. He didn't have to blow his own horn. That wasn't his thing. In the end, all that stuff didn't matter.

    Perl's a language for getting the job done. It's not always going to be popular. It'll probably never be the one touted by mainstream press agents as the language you need to know. It's not always going to put you in the spotlight. It's not about fanfare or even credit--its about solving problems. It's not always the perfect solution, and yet it's a remarkably capable tool. Even for us babblers and dabblers in the programming realm.

Re: Rewards of Service
by sundialsvc4 (Monsignor) on Mar 08, 2012 at 22:57 UTC

    use soapbox;

    Until the Internet came along, I never considered that anyone would seriously pursue something as inherently unrewarding as a career, or, the production of a commercial-grade software product or module, for any sort of “instantaneously achievable” reward.   Such as, say, PerlMonks “XP,” or any of the equally childish, absolutely Pavlovian “rewards” that are found say on Facebook.   The entire notion of instant gratification is quite strange to me.   Yet, this is what this superficial level seems to boil down to:   the little bell is going dingy-dingy, therefore, salivate?   Absurd!   Irrelevant!

    An Internet knowledge-base (like PerlMonks) is not about “you.”

    Do I care about the “votes” concerning a post?   Nope.   Ask me in five years, because I still derive great value from five-year old posts.   I still appreciate the questions that were asked and the answers that were given many years ago.   It may seem quite strange (or not) if I step out so far as to say, I really don’t care what the “regulars” think ... because, I’m not writing for you.   I don’t even know who I am writing for.   The resource is greater than any one of its many contributors.

    What?   Am I being “defensive?”   Get over it:   the truthful answer is... “no, and that’s the point.”   It is the collective knowledge-resource that matters; not the individual(s).   Not the “points.”   Not the moment.   Only the continuity.

    Idly, I wonder if “scores” and “user rankings” and blah-de-blah are beside the point, because I have never once given a second-thought about the person who (perhaps, long ago) wrote that little nugget of information that saved my asterisk.   I was just incredibly grateful to have found it ... and therefore, that it existed and that it had been preserved.   That was “Priceless.™”

    If you deign to participate in a forum like PerlMonks, then of course you are doing it for more than any silly number:   you are doing it to try in your own way to help people, just as you have for so many times been helped by other people.   Do you need a “number” to “reinforce” that behavior?   Well, did you need a “number” to prompt you to put out that rather desperate plea for help ... which you quickly received that most-excellent life preserver which promptly and completely rescued your butt?   No.

    Ditto contributing a CPAN module.   You do it because you think that your stuff is useful, and that it “makes the grade,” and that you are willing to bust your butt (for no money!) to see that it does.   That’s no small undertaking!   And yet, it’s why Perl is such a fantastic language system today.

    So... no.   You don’t do any of this to demonstrate that Pavlov was right.   You do it because you are a professional.

    no soapbox;

Re: Rewards of Service
by Xiong (Hermit) on Mar 11, 2012 at 22:11 UTC

    There may not be any way I can express myself to avoid being misunderstood by some who consider it an axiom that one's internal feelings are primary. Certainly it is foolish to argue the validity of my opposing axiom. Yet I will say that I disagree.

    I enjoy comforts and amusements but I don't think of them as being my purpose for living. I tell myself I should be pleased to be flattered but in practice, it annoys me. The only thing that gives me solid satisfaction and lasting peace of mind is the certain knowledge that I have done something of benefit to my fellows. It upsets me to read of phantasmal greater good. What is more real than good works?

    Unselfish purpose has gotten a bad name; I'm not sure why. We have come to mistrust anyone who does not speak to his own greed or self-indulgence. Exploring this deviation is beyond the scope of this post. Please accept that I am entirely sincere when I say that I hope to be of service to other people; and that I judge success by this yardstick: their benefit, not my renown. I should be content to pass in complete obscurity if I had a reliable way of determining my utility to others, in the absence of their expressions. It seems I am not destined for Great Works of undeniable and blatant value to the world. My pedestrian contributions are much more difficult of evaluation.

    My readers also seem to be missing the crucial point that my work is not central to this essay. All of us who contribute are equally left in the dark unless those of us who benefit fail to express our regard. I submit that those who are certain they do good, despite (or absent) the criticisms of others, have chosen a fool's paradise.

    Death only closes a Man's Reputation, and determines it as good or bad. —Joseph Addison

      “Why do you care what other people think?”   – Richard Feynman

      “Without fear or favor.”   – Adolph S. Ochs

      “I’m just so proud to be here.”   – Minnie Perl™

      “Life Is Good®” – Some lucky sob in eastern Tennessee

        To add on to the Feynman quote: What other people think of you is none of your business anyway.

        xoxo,
        Andy

Re: Rewards of Service
by emilbarton (Scribe) on Mar 14, 2012 at 14:34 UTC

    The reward is inherent to the activity: independantly of the intrisic quality of one's work, programming is interesting. In the Philosophy of logical atomism Russel suggests that if your life is boring or unhappy you should try to start practicing logics or mathematics and experience a relief. Programming is the intellectually poorer's way of applying such a precept. Then - if you want to maintain this state of mind safe from damaging criticism - you can keep your work for yourself; it'll do too and remain an unknown pity for the ones who'd have found value in your contribution.

    Update: It would have been better to speak of "logic and mathematic" instead of "logics or mathematics" in the context of Russel, and this is perhaps not unrelated to the kind of reward he was thinking of.

Re: Rewards of Service
by talexb (Canon) on Mar 14, 2012 at 17:08 UTC

    I enjoy the work I do, and I'm paid well for it.

    But I also enjoy learning, just for the sake of learning. Sometimes it's the journey that is the reward, and not the destination.

    Alex / talexb / Toronto

    "Groklaw is the open-source mentality applied to legal research" ~ Linus Torvalds

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