Let’s try a thought experiment. Imagine that any reference to any credential, work history or licensing body you or I might have was housed on a central server. Now imagine that server suffered an irreparable meltdown. Boom! In one instance, all the proof of our schooling, our work history, any certificate we ever earned, any certification or credential we may have ever held, is now irretrievably gone. Oh, and we are both looking for work.
What would you do?
Matt Heusser posted a well rounded commentary of “Zero to One” last week, and in it, he asked us to consider and discuss “a counter-intuitive truth” that we know or believe to be true, but flies in the face of convention or current practice. I’ve determined that my counter-intuitive truth fits in with the above thought experiment; those of us who forgo traditional resumes will do better than those who relentlessly polish theirs.
The company I was working for had traditional cubicles and was considering an office redesign. “Extreme Programming” was all the rage; people were talking about war rooms with no walls. I was much more interested in the private office, likely due to PeopleWare, which I read very early in my career. I even suggested to my manager that we ask our design firm to read PeopleWare, too.
The next five minutes blew my mind. Continued »
Certifications can be found in every niche corner of the high tech industry: networking, hardware, programming languages, process models, auditing models, software testing, and so on. This is a big business and it seems to only grow as time passes.
There is a spectrum of certifications to chose from. At one extreme, you sign into an account online, take a test, and get a PDF in your inbox a little later with your name on it to show at your next interview or performance review.
Are you sure you need to be certified?
Last year I suggested a stocking stuff in Cubu, a strategy game with a politics angle.
I’d like this years gift to say something about my company, Excelon Development, in what we are trying to do, and what it means. Eventually I landed on a book by Peter Thiel, co-founder of paypal and an early investor in Facebook and Twitter. Zero To One: Notes on Startups, or How To Build the Future covers a great deal of ground, including different kinds of change and what a startup needs to succeed. Perhaps most insightful, I found Thiel explaining the why behind the thinking in Silicon Valley, including the Lean Startup thinking that is so common today, and where it came from.
Tech jobs are often steeped in ego contests and political games. Matt wrote about a scenario he calls ‘Faking it‘, where some people will navigate their way to the top of a company by doing anything except work that directly adds value. Telling the difference between bad and good and great work is difficult for folks that have been out of the game for a while. People still in the game, I mean the technical contributors, often want to advance through the ranks. The obvious route to that is sometimes self-promotion. I mean working specifically so that each thing you do is a strategic step toward a raise or promotion.
There is also a more difficult route of humility and service. I’d like to talk about both.
During the latter part of November, I had the pleasure of attending EuroSTAR 2014 in Dublin, Ireland. Many of the talks delivered at this conference focused on diversity in the workplace. I think it is imperative we endeavor to engage the the creative talents of as many people as possible, and that we do so without regard to gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or factors related to physical mobility and information processing. These are areas frequently used to describe diversity. They are the most visible, and therefore, should rightly be considered examples of “external diversity”. That’s important, but it’s only part of the story.
Internal Diversity Matters, Too
Another level of diversity is also critical, but more difficult to manage. It should rightly be called “internal diversity”. This is diversity of experience, of thought, of conscience, of opinion, of belief, and of interaction. Over the past decade, I’ve noticed a tremendous amount of pride in companies for hiring an externally diverse team, but when we get everyone together, there’s still a “sameness”. Externally, the slots and checkboxes are met, but the internal diversity, if it is there, is well hidden.
In small organizations, similarities in experience and background can be very helpful. People working on a particular problem can count on the fact that their teammates are well equipped to tackle that challenge. If the goal is clear, and the desired outcome is fully agreed upon, this “sameness” is helpful, more efficient, and perhaps even orders of magnitude more effective.
When “Sameness” Is a Disadvantage
This “sameness” falls short when the team wants to innovate in an entirely different way. If we are content to copy what others have done, to provide only incremental improvements, then this is acceptable. If our desire is to make something new, something boldly different, something that has “never been done before”, a team lacking in “internal diversity” will struggle.
By contrast, a team that genuinely embraces differences in experience (think Linux vs. Windows, atheist vs. religious, extrovert vs. introvert, country vs. opera, etc.), and takes the time to leverage that breadth of experience (and actually embrace it), that team has potential for breakthroughs. It may not always be comfortable, but here is where having a clear view of which diversity matters (and which sameness matters) really becomes important. If a sameness needs to exist, it should be the sameness of purpose, the sameness of the desire to meet the goal.
Think Different, For Real
As Albert Einstein famously stated: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them”. Likewise, its unlikely we will develop new ways of thinking and interacting if we haven’t had practice actually challenging the ways we think and interact. External diversity is very important, but internal diversity is even more so. Genuinely encourage the internal diversity of your teams. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the new insights that develop.
Things almost never take the amount of time we initially think they will, do they?
Programming is no exception. We can sorta kinda figure out how long a task will take to complete using yesterdays weather, but todays weather is complicated.
Here is the dirty secret. Well, it isn’t all that secret.
Developers work long hours, often late into the night toward the end of a development cycle, to get things done. Done as in something that can be shipped. This isn’t because of estimate problems, though they certainly don’t help. This usually isn’t because of misunderstanding scope, there are many ways to solve that problem.
The work never gets done on time because the programmers can’t get it done on time. There are too many impediments for them to do the work.
Let’s talk about that.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the possibility of a shortage in technical talent. It’s difficult out there for both employers and employees. Companies are struggling to find the people they need and people are struggling to find companies they actually want to work for.
Matt Heusser wrote about a scenario where some folks lie a little bit on their resume to get into a job, delegate their way through projects, and social-engineer their way up to the top of an org chart.
I want to talk about honor and truth.
I also want to talk about how to help people get the jobs they want starting with what is often the first impression, the cover letter.
The truth is yes. Oh yes, I am scared. Scared every day. I feel, a bit, as the neanderthal in the jungle must have felt thousands of years ago. Each time the neanderthal woke up to go hunting, he was alive, engaged in the moment. He may have gone hungry, he may lose in battle to a large animal, or perhaps, captured the tiger and fed for a month. As long as the neanderthal is living, though, he is living free.
I feel more … alive running Excelon Development than I can remember in my professional life. But scared? Certainly. Running a small consulting business is scary.
So when I heard that Ben Horowitz, a founder at Netscape (and multiple other companies) had a book out on entrepreneurship titled “The Hard Thing About Hard Things“, I was intrigued. When I realized the subtitle was “Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers”, I immediately purchased the book and read it in one sitting. The most obvious lesson in the book isn’t quite what I expected, though.
Let me tell you about it. Continued »
As I was looking at Maxine Giza’s article regarding the Long Term IT Outlook, I was drawn to the areas many people cited as concerns. I likewise see that there are many challenges we are all facing, and that challenges differ between organizations. How optimistic or pessimistic we are depends a lot on where we are, what we do, and how flexible we are with the work we do. With that, here are several concerns voiced in the article, and my comments about them.
Career advancement is limited
As a software testing practitioner, I can continue to be a practitioner, and get better at what I do, or I can manage other testers. Those are generally the options, without changing my role… and that’s the key. If I expanded into coding, security auditing, or working on a less well served initiative, that greatly expands my career opportunities. It may not immediately expand them upward, but it will certainly expand them outward.
Management is ineffective
This would have impact on my own feelings of positivity for the future. What can I do about it? Keeping an open dialog with my manager is critical. It’s also important to get a higher view; see what my manager’s manager is looking at. By working to understand my business better, and what matters to my business, I can better understand management’s motivations and priorities, and align my efforts where possible with those priorities.
Training is limited
Considering the wealth of information that is available on the Internet today, and the ability to create virtual spaces and to download applications to create services, I feel we have a leg up here. Granted, some opportunities to learn will not be done in this manner. I cannot realistically simulate a mainframe or a big data cloud. Still, today, anyone can create a plan to learn more and become more proficient at almost any area they choose. For those areas still out of reach for a do-it-yourself learner, up-front initiative so far has helped sell the organization on me taking the next step.
The IT Budget Keeps Getting Cut
This is hard to overcome, but its not impossible. Initiatives can be developed for free with open source tools. Cloud devices can be configured and used on demand. Scripting and removing repetitive tasks can win back some of the discretionary budget by making onerous and time consuming tasks more manageable. Doing more with less always sounds like a cop-out answer, but if we can consider it a challenge to rise to, it may well pay dividends later on.
Little room for innovation
If this is a top down view, perhaps bringing a small side project to fruition will help management think differently. If it’s bottom up, there’s little to stop me making the future I want to see. Limitations may of course exist. Rewriting our legacy application in a new language may be impossible if attempted up front and whole cloth. Iteratively, and over time, it may be much easier to accomplish.
Jobs are being outsourced
I have seen this done effectively. I have also seen it cost companies much more than if they kept jobs local. Companies that choose to “race to the bottom” ultimately get what they pay for. I have to innovate on a different level, in a way that cannot be outsourced. Is that a high bar to aspire to? Absolutely! However, I would say working with that approach may well make me harder to replace.
We are still in a down economy
How important is long term job security to me? If that is important, then fears of the economy, and the ways larger companies hire, do play into this. If, however, I am willing to place bets on smaller organizations, am willing to move for work, and can deal with the possibility of needing to look for new work every couple of years (on average), working through a down economy is not so scary. To paraphrase James Bach, “I don’t need every company to hire me. I just need a few. In fact, at any given time, I just need one!” How I position my work, and my efforts in the broader community will have more effect than an up or down economy will.
To reiterate, my assessment of the future outlook in IT is “guardedly optimistic”. Disruption and challenge face me every day. There will be challenges in the next few years I haven’t even started to consider. I also believe showing activism in my craft and getting involved in initiatives will help with that uncertainty. Ultimately, my questions is this: we see the future challenges… what are we going to do about them?