On being anal-retentive

Before every test in my OAC Algebra & Geometry class, there was this guy who would very slowly and carefully line up his calculator, ruler, pencil, and eraser at various positions around the edge of his desk, making sure that they were exactly parallel to their respective edges. Colin and I used to call him “anal-boy” behind his back, because my friends and I have pretty much always been like that – caustically critical of others (though generally not mean-spirited at heart), yet almost always too chicken to say anything to their faces.

Despite my “youthful indiscretions”, I’ve come to notice: 1) Everybody’s anal-rententive, just about different things; 2) It’s not always bad.

Throughout university, I worked with the same 1-3 people on all group projects, with very little exception. I’m surprised they stuck around for so long, given the terror that I am when required to put my name and/or reputation on the line. I can’t stand knowingly creating something that is clearly substandard. It’s funny, when starting a project we’d always go through the formality of dividing the work, even though everyone knew that there was a very good chance that I’d end up redoing their parts before submission. It got to the point where I’d either stand behind the people while they were doing their parts, “correcting them” as they went along, or I’d just do it while they sat and watched. I always felt bad about it, I don’t like trivializing the contributions of others, but I couldn’t help it. I realize now though that university is just a big sham. Profs are there to get free money to fund their research, undergrad students are there to pay money for the right to add some letters after their names. There’s no point in focusing on accuracy and correctness in assignments and projects, because the person marking them simply doesn’t care either way.

Work is a different story though. If something is not technically accurate and correct, it will always, always come back to bite. It may not bite you if you’re lucky, but it’ll bite someone, and that person will likely track you down depending on how many teeth marks they received. Which is something I hate – if I create something, the last thing I want is for someone to come back and say it doesn’t work right. “Do it once, do it right”, as we say at SlipStream.

I think that philosophy makes sense, and applies to any profession. I want the surgeon operating on me to be an anal bastard, cutting and sewing as precisely as humanly possible during that quadruple bypass so that I make a speedy and painless recovery. I want the carpenters, plumbers, and electricians building my house to be anal bastards so that there won’t be any household quirks that I will have to grow to know and love. Heck, I even want my garbage man to be an anal bastard so that he doesn’t spill random garbage bits all over the street while emptying the cans.

Likewise, the people using the software I write should demand that I be an anal bastard so that the software always does what it’s supposed to do, instead of say corrupting random webpages, losing email, or some other annoying thing.

Because of all this, I’m a terror at work as well. Just like with the assignments and projects, I’ve been known to completely scrap the work of others and rewrite it “properly”. Co-workers mistake this for arrogance, but generally have no complaints about the end result, so they let it slide for the most part. This is one of the reasons why I’m hesistant to ever be around my friends in a work envrionment – I don’t make friends easily, so I’d like to screw with the ones I have as little as possible.

People that know me know that I’ve wanted start my own business for the longest time, probably since about the middle of high school. It’s not for lack of ideas, but more a lack of knowing enough of the right kind of anal bastard. =P


  1. Jaime says:

    hee hee… you’re not the only one… I know another programmer just like you…

  2. Dave says:

    Cool… does he/she have entrepreneurial aspirations? All my friends are more the visionary type, which is fine, but makes it difficult to get things done. 😛