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The disconnect between work and reward has never felt greater - Elf M. Sternberg
The disconnect between work and reward has never felt greater

Seeing as it’s January, that means that we go through many accounting phases about what happened last year. Most of the ones we go through publicly are ones about how we spent our time: did we work out enough, write enough, study enough, love enough. Others we Americans tend to go through with a deep sense of reserve and privacy, mostly about money.

Last year I made what is, to me, an insane amount of money. Far more than I ever thought I’d be making in any given year. And it’s more than the year before that; in fact, it’s been steadily going up every year since the 2008 recession. Even after adjusting for inflation, I’m still making more per year than my father did, which I have to say is utterly mind-boggling, since he was a radiologist, a pioneer in nuclear medicine, and a real estate mogul all at the same time.

Yet, I’ve never felt the connection between work and reward feel more tenuous.

I’m currently in a large infrastructure position where, nominally, I was hired for my skills as a software developer, yet I now joke that I write code during the commute because they don’t let me write it at work. Instead, I manage configuration files. I worked on fleshing out a platforming initiative for a massive chunk of network monitoring software; that platform is now mature enough that the skills I initially brought to the table are no longer needed. The real skills I spent twenty years acquiring are now being allowed to decay while I fiddle around the edges of an impressively large but intellectually dull enterprise software product.

On the other hand, because it is a network monitoring tool that helps prevent enterprise-scale service failure, finacial loss, and outright fraud, there is an unbelievable amount of money sloshing around the sector, and my company has seen fit to reward me repeatedly with bonuses, raises, and stock options.

And yet, I know I don’t work nearly as hard as the average apple picker in the agricultural regions just east of where I live. I am not as ambitious or go-getter as many of my co-workers; I’m consciously on a daddy track and I’m not going to sacrifice my family’s time to my employer. I do my job, hopefully well, and go home at the end of the work day. The maturity and prosaic nature of the project, I confess, leaves me cold with desire to push the state-of-the-art. (This is the flipside of my time at IndieFlix or Spiral Genetics, where I worked like a dog and put in evenings because the project was flippin’ cool.)

I really don’t have ambition to “maximize shareholder value” except to the point that I’m currently a shareholder myself. I have an ambition to make the world a better place. Every job I’ve had of the first type paid excessively well; every job of the last type was inspiring and made me feel good about myself.

When I read about that weird Silicon Valley meme that “we work hard, so our rewards are commensurate with what we do,” I have to shake my head and wonder: really? Canada’s Micronutrient Initiative’s costs about $200 million, and has prevented almost 400 million cases of life-threatening birth defects in India, Canada, and North Africa; Candy Crush is worth $7.1 billion, and I doubt it’s developers actually work as hard as the people hauling sacks of iodine crystals through the third world’s back roads.

The disconnect between effort and reward has never been as stark or as absurd as it is today. My experience is a microcosm of that disconnect. I’m happy to do my job, and happy to get paid to do it, but I can’t help but feel that there’s something very off about the relationship between the two.

5 comments or Leave a comment
autopope From: autopope Date: January 10th, 2016 09:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I diagnose a bad case of survivor's guilt on your part.

Seriously, forget apple picking. If you were picking apples at your age you would be in dire shit because (a) poverty and (b) you're about my age, which is to say, about when people in rural agrarian communities used to be dying of old age/worn out body back in the 19th century and earlier.

Yes, wanting a rewarding job is fine. I means your problems are way up Maslow's pyramid, near the top -- self-actualization. This is a good place to be. Being able to survive and provide for family? That's nothing to spit in the face of. If you want a reward, is there something else you could be doing in your spare time, or don't you have enough spare time in the first place?

(NB: Am not that far out of that place myself. Publishers throw money at me for writing goddamn sequels, not even allowing me to stretch myself and write something original. Sucks to be me, but being poor sucks harder.)
elfs From: elfs Date: January 10th, 2016 10:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I'm not complaining! I'm just saying that the current relationship between work and reward has started to feel weird in a way that it never did before.

There may also be a case of imposter's syndrome: "Geez, if I can do this, anyone can. So why am I making an income and lots of other people are suffering?" This is offset (a bit) by my currently teaching a class of high schoolers the basics of HTML & CSS: there's so much distinterest it's disheartening.
autopope From: autopope Date: January 11th, 2016 12:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
We sit atop such steep stacks of expertise that sometimes it's easy to forget how much work it took to climb them in the first place -- especially since we were there while all this stuff was being invented/developed. Seen from outside, as a monolithic whole, it can be really intimidating.

(That's why I don't really do my own web stuff any more. It's hard enough grinding out novels to publisher editorial QA standards ...)
stepa_nekurit From: stepa_nekurit Date: January 12th, 2016 01:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Доброе время суток! Меня зовут Степан, я из СПБ. Предлагаю дружбу и общение.
lovingboth From: lovingboth Date: January 16th, 2016 09:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Of course there's a disconnect. Most success is down to a big dose of luck, but the string of excuses used to pay yourself more is endless.

Enjoy having the money, and do something you enjoy with it?
5 comments or Leave a comment