Monday, November 24, 2008

Programming is Creative

Last Friday, I had the privilege of getting a tour of Pixar Studios, the company behind the movies Toy Story, Wall-E, and Cars. The campus is based in Emeryville, California, near Oakland where I live. It's a secluded little patch of green amidst a sea of overpasses, homeless people and a Home Depot.

The company grounds are resplendent with roses, soccer fields, a pool and all manner of fun things to keep bodies and minds fresh. It's a refreshing workplace that made me wonder if this is what Xerox Parc had been like back in the day.

At Pixar, the whimsical and the fun are encouraged. The kid in every employ is coaxed out through constant artistic renderings, radical cubicle modifcations and a stimulating afterwork schedule of things to do.

Of course, this is also the sort of workplace where people spend days at a time, working their fingers to the bone to get movies done in time for their theatrical release dates. It's also a company that produces its own rendering and deisgn software, and has a history of selling boxed products, such as Renderman and Typestyler. I actually have a boxed copy of Typestyler.

With all of these different folks smooshed together in this one magical place, it became clear to me that the writers, artists, actors, directors and software developers here all had something in common: they were all creative talents. Call them no-collar workers.

I'm nnot exactly sure how they've done it, but Pixar has fostered an environment where fun and hard work are both acceptable. In fact, they're both mandated. It's more like a college than a company.

Perhaps pulling out the beanbag chairs and setting up the ping-pong table isn't enough. You must also get your team into these acts of funness. Mandatory ping-pong tournaments, or Friday beer-bashes might be on order. The Pixar folks seem to enjoy these sorts of work-related activities. So much so that there are often after-hours parties in work areas. Internal social interaction is good for creative workers. Maybe it's not for the lawyers or accountants, but when a team is trying to build something massive together, it can only help to get everyone into the same psychic groove.

Oh, and it also helps to have good lunches made on campus every day. Tastey!

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