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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Matt Day.

April 15, 2008 at 2:33 PM

‘Running of the programmers’ on 520?

This interesting report in The Economist on how mobility is changing urban and suburban landscapes pulled some solid examples from our region. One brought to my attention is a description of the afternoon clog on Highway 520. An urban movement researcher focusing on how traffic patterns are evolving discussed in his 2006 book “a ‘reverse commute’ in Seattle [in which] lots of male computer scientists at Microsoft in the suburb of Redmond raced downtown to find females—a weekday ritual called ‘the running of the programmers.’ ”

Quite the image.

The researcher is Alan Pisarski, who has written three studies over the past three decades called “Commuting in America.” He’s at work on a fourth and was in Seattle last year to participate in the state auditor’s examination of congestion in Puget Sound.

“I was astonished at how ugly your traffic is out there,” Pisarski told me this afternoon. Ouch. “It’s really very unpleasant.”

I asked him about the origin of the phrase “running of the programmers.” Pisarski takes no credit, saying he heard people out here using it and the phrase stuck with him. He heard it from a friend at the University of Washington and another member of the audit team.

As for the description of “male computer scientists at Microsoft … rac[ing] downtown to find females” — that’s the reporter’s language, not Pisarski’s, he said. But there’s a grain of truth in it. The downtown is a happening place with bars and people, and it’s “not a shock that younger singles want to be in the city,” he said.

Pisarski is gathering data for his next book and the big trends, as he discussed with The Economist, are not surprising: Retiring baby-boomers are “forcing employers to compete for new talent by letting younger employees work wherever they please.”

He said Microsoft’s South Lake Union “Touchdown Space,” which I wrote about today, fits in with that trend. It also helps Microsofties get out in front of the “running of the programmers.”

(Thanks to Kim Peterson, formerly of The Seattle Times, now blogging at MSN Money, for a pointer to The Economist article.)

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