Posts Tagged ‘scholarship’

Writing, Scholarship, and Software

May 22, 2010

My Google I/O travelling companion was Brian McNely, professor of Rhetoric and Writing in the English Department at Ball State. He told me a bit about his personal daily scholarly regiment: he reads at least 50 pages a day and writes at least 750 words, the latter supported by I respect this endeavor, knowing how, as a professional academic in a university, there are other forces that can drain the time and focus that should be devoted to academic pursuits. Brian clearly enjoys his scholarship, even when he has to make sacrifices to meet his goals.

This made me think about my own scholarship and personal goals. There is a great contrast between my feelings between Fall and Spring of the last academic year. In Fall, I felt productive and I also felt that I was learning. In much of the Spring, I was frustrated. (Interestingly, as I look back at the past semester’s writing to pull out those links, there is more positive ideas there than I remembered there being. That’s encouraging. I suppose I need to spend more time reading my own blog.) One of the major differences between the two semesters was that in the Fall, I was inventing: working on Confluence was a great experience, as I’ve said before. I know that I love the process of inventing software systems, and so I have been actively seeking out opportunities to leverage this as both personal fulfillment and scholarship. This Summer, in fact, my time should be nicely split between some interesting Wave and game projects. I embrace Boyer’s model of scholarship, and pertinent here is the scholarship of application.

When I try to tie these ideas together with Brian’s 50/750 regiment, I hit a contradiction. Clearly, as a professional scholar, I could just adopt 50/750 myself, and this would undoubtedly improve my scholarship. However, I would also like to have time for invention, for creating software. Unfortunately, you cannot measure productivity in software, so how does one set personal goals for invention?

Last semester, I set aside time Friday afternoons for writing on this blog, and I am happy with the results. I feel like I have been able to crystallize several concepts by writing them, and it has given me an outlet to explore and ripen new ideas. There were only a few times in the semester that I was unable to set time aside. However, even in reflecting on this writing, it was done in relatively small spurts of about an hour. That is, it was done in what Paul Graham calls the manager’s schedule. I know, from years of development experience and many semesters of frustration, that if I want to successfully build a system, I need to do it on the maker’s schedule. (Incidentally, adopting inbox zero has significantly improved my ability to occasionally adopt the maker’s schedule during the academic year.)

I don’t have a plan, then, for how to deal with this contradiction of wanting measurable goals for something that brilliant designers call unmeasurable. I have developed some experience using Scrum and MSF in leading teams, and I could always adopt these for myself, except that I am not sure that “maintain development momentum” or “mitigate one high-impact risk” are goals that I can meet. One one hand, these managerial techniques were designed for teams, and on the other, neither really is a measurement of productivity. Of these two, the idea of measuring momentum via Scrum or similar techniques is somewhat appealing, partially because it could hone my capacity for estimating time requirements, and in the end, time may be the only invariant I can use to commit to invention.

No conclusions, but I’m open to ideas.