As anyone who has read The Big Book of Jerkcity knows, the Jerkplayers sit in a private IRC-like chat room pretty much 24 hours a day. It was Pants who originally invited me into the room in 1996? That sounds about right. This means I’ve effectively been logged into this room for seven years. During that time, I’ve had three jobs, three cars, and one cat.
The novelty of the room wore off long ago, so the question is, “Why do I keep coming back?” Well, first, it’s a known quantity. I personally know all the people in the room even though we sometimes go years before we see each other face to face. Also, it’s private, which means they are not random twits stumbling in and creating useless noise… a primary reason I tend to avoid the major IRC networks.
Lastly, and most importantly, it’s a very good place to work.
Whuuuuuuuu? Rands, did you say work?
For me, the work done in the Jerkroom is not the classical definition of work. Work is what I do for money and, as of yet, I’ve yet to see a single penny for Jerk-related adventures. Still, we do produce a product and that product is comedy. When more than one person is active, it’s almost always a free-form comedy stream. A stream which, among other things, becomes Jerkcity.
The question: is there other work a Jerkroom-like set-up might be useful for?
At the gig, one of my development teams has begun a heavy duty design phase for a product. The manager is struggling with how to keep tabs on the team while not coming off as a micro-manager. He was playing with several ideas: daily team meetings, daily status emails, or daily 1:1s.
Anyone who has worked in software will look at those three options and shudder. While there is a time and a place for daily meetings, it’s not early in the product cycle. The design stage is the creative one and, while you want collaborate on ideas, you don’t want to stifle the process with daily management overhead. So, what’s the compromise?
A Jerkroom — a private IRC room. Here’s why:
PULL, NOT PUSH: Team members who want to collaborate do so at their pace. This means that if I’m deep in design land, I don’t need to break stride to write a 5pm status email to the boss.
COLLABORATIVE: If I’m stuck, I can ask for help from people who know what they’re talking about and who I trust. “Why isn’t this building?” “Has anyone seen problem X?” “Anything thought about design Y?” “Tacos? Anyone? Anyone?”
HISTORY: When I do have a problem, ie: “The product isn’t building”, before I type anything in the Jerkroom, I can scroll back to see if anyone else has had the problem. (Note: A Wiki is probably a better tool here as the history in a chat room will be limited… A Wiki has more memory)
PRIVATE: This is obvious, but important. The folks in the room are invited and trusted. There is no banning or OPS or twits_in_general which means a good signal to noise ratio on the content. That’ll keep ‘em coming back.
FAMILIAR TOOLS: All that is needed to participate in the conversation is chat room and a keyboard. As engineers are, by definition, creatures of the keyboard, providing a Jerkroom is a natural extension of their desktop. Regular 5pm meetings downstairs in the meeting room that looks like a fishbowl are not.
This is not a new idea. There are scads of rooms on IRC that a devoted to the collaborative development idea… #mozilla is one I’ve participated in. If you are a denizen of ones of these, I’d like to hear about the experience. Did it work? Why? Did it degrade to dick jokes? I’m shocked.