The Value of You

During WWDC, I had dinner with a friend who held a senior position at a large company in the valley. We were chatting about various things but, as so often in this global village, the topic turned to air travel. I recounted the sorry tale of my uncomfortable trip to WWDC on some of Continental's smaller aircraft - the 737-800 and 757. I explained to my friend how my schedule had involved travelling 18 hours into SFO and, in the next day or so, presenting my current and future work to most of the Flickr dev team. I then described my generally poor levels of energy and mental clarity in that presentation because of the travelling.

My friend was incredulous that I had not travelled business class.

I tried to explain how expensive it was - and it certainly is expensive to fly business to the west coast. My ticket would have cost £2000-2500 instead of the £560 I paid. My lunch partner was having none of this. His response, which I'll never forget, was along the lines of: "Well, how valuable is a meeting with the best minds at your most important business partner?"

One of the most interesting things I find, when going between my various circles in Britain and America, is the differing values placed on the time and productivity of people. Google is, of course, famous for their provision of services at work to their staff.

Investing in the happiness, comfort and productivity of people seems to be a rare attitude in Britain. I'm sure it's not universal in the US either, but it does appear to be a little more common.

Another anecdote: When I was a student, I did an internship programming Java at Eclipse Services in Philadelphia. One day, the lead developer's dev machine broke down. I was expecting 2-3 days of downtime whilst it was repaired, but the boss said: "If you can't fix it yourself this morning, go out and get yourself a new machine this afternoon". Another lesson I've never forgotten, and that was approaching ten years ago now: the lead dev could earn more for the business in one day than a new machine costs.

I'm not saying that nobody in Britain thinks that way, but I have a hard time imagining the above scenario being played out in a UK business, outside of mission critical systems.

Thoughts from both sides of the Atlantic would be very welcome in the comments.