Monday, April 12, 2010
How much context do you need to do your job? Can we quantify context in any way?
Jeff Atwood has mentioned that he doesn’t shut his machine down every night. He wants his environment to be as he left it at the end of the previous coding session. Getting all the apps, tools or other windows opened to the right place takes not only CPU time but mental energy, aka context.
Some jobs require no context, for example a bank teller can walk in to work on Tuesday and not need to remember any of the transactions that took place on Monday. Contrast that with a novelist in the middle of writing a new book, let’s say writing the next chapter not editing anything. They need to remember all the characters, their personalities, the existing story, and in what ways the plot threads are to interact in the new material.
Another good contrast is a professional athlete. A pro baseball player doesn’t need to remember what happened in yesterday’s game in order to pitch a strike, hit a home-run, or execute a double-play. The limited context that does appear has to do with the optimizing performance. A pitcher does need to know the preferences and history of the batter who is at the plate, just like the batter needs to know if the pitcher has a wicked slider.
Companies want to be “green” these days and have instituted policies to shutdown computers overnight. This may be pennywise and pound foolish. Here’s why. A consultant gets paid $50/hr and it takes 30 minutes to get their workspace ready after an overnight shutdown lasting from 5pm to 8am the next day, 15 hours. A conservative energy estimate would be if electricity costs $0.25 a kilowatt hour multiplied by 15 hours for a cost of $3.75. So $25 is spent trying to save $3.75. That’s motivation to use the hibernate feature at a minimum. It also is a very simple way to quantify the cost of context.
Can we describe jobs by how much context is required? If so, is there a relationship between the amount of context needed and the average salary? Those are interesting questions, maybe I’ll cover those in a later post.