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.
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.
It is not uncommon for people in technology to occasionally shoot a provocative idea out into the wild and then make a temporary show of it. David Heinemeier Hansson did this recently by claiming that TDD is dead, and Woody Zuill did the same with NoEstimates.
A lot of the time, the conversation softens a bit when you step away from the loud title and figure out what the person is really trying to say. That can be difficult to do.
His post outlines a couple of main needs in creating software such as customers wanting products that work, companies needing a positive reputation, and people on the development teams needing to feel competent.
The question being posed via the NoTesting hashtag is “Is testing the best way for a company to meet these needs?”
Lets take a closer look at the question, the premise, the rhetoric, and test this idea.
“You have to put keywords in your resume because everything is digital now. So you need to make sure you show up in searches for the jobs that you want. You may only have 80% of the skills needed which is usually ok but you need to lie about the other 20% just so a recruiter will talk to you.”
– Anonymous Hiring Manager, Private Correspondence, November 2014
Imagine a world where this is actually true, where every employee lies in order to get the job, or at least, most of them do. This leads to the worst kind of imposter syndrome, one where people are afraid of being found out, not because of a lack of self-confidence, but because they can’t do the job and are faking it.
I expect three things would happen in this kind of world: Delegation, Deflection, and Destruction. Sadly, I’ve seen them all, all too often.
Let me explain.
If you don’t know how to do it, that might be okay — you just need to find someone else that does. As awkward as this sounds, it is exactly how upper-level business functions: The senior executives set vision, middle executives declare tactics, managers break that down into tasks, and the person at the bottom actually does the work.
In some cultures, getting someone else to do the work is a sign of leadership.
In a world where everyone is doing this, there will be one poor loser at the bottom keeping the lights on while everyone else is busy managing or architecting or analysis-ing. It’s sad.
Most companies are not this extreme, but I have worked with a contractor or two that did not understand the difference between compiling the code and executing it. How did anything get done?
He had a buddy.
If you can’t do the work and can’t delegate, then next best thing to is find someone else to blame. The project isn’t your fault, after all: It was the vendor who couldn’t deliver their part. Perhaps the analysis was too vague or the DBAs couldn’t configure the system. You can blame anyone involved — just don’t admit that you can’t figure out how to do your part. Maybe, if you blame and stall long enough, you can find someone else to do the work!.
Again, the world isn’t really this dark, but I did work on a major project for a large telecommunications company you’ve heard of, and the permanent employee who was “supervising” us couldn’t get Microsoft Visual Studio installed on their machine. In a two month period. They asked us to do it for them. Really. (It was little more complex than usual: Windows 8 was in preview, we were building apps for the windows store pre-launch, there were VM’s involved … but no, it wasn’t that hard.)
Sometimes, competent people make a ruckus about how everyone else is incompetent. If that is true, the bad news is the competent person is vastly outnumbered, and the incompetent have something to lose. The result is an activity known as workplace mobbing. Psychcentral describes workplace mobbing as a reverse-bullying where a bully enlists co-workers in a campaign of “psychological terror” against victims who are typically “competent, educated, resilient, outspoken, challenge the status quo, are more attractive or empathic and tend to be women, aged 32 to 55.”
Reading that list again, I notice these are virtues. The competent person is good and experienced. They likely gained that experience outside of current company, recognizing shenanigans and incompetence for what they are. The person goes one step further and acts on this knowledge – putting the fakers at risk. So the fakers destroy them.
Undistracted by little things like work or the pursuit of excellence, the fakers have plenty of time to plan and organize the destruction.
If any of what I wrote above feels a bit to close for comfort, that’s likely because it is a little bit too true. The anonymous example above is real, taken from a hiring manager from a real message board, talking about real work.
The “imagined world” is not quite real, but it is a little too realistic for comfort.
Here’s the big news.
This is about us. All of us.
It’s easy enough to criticize those horrible people that lie on their resume. As long as those are other people, we can feel smug, secure, even superior. But we’ve all done some things wrong. If you haven’t ever lied, there is always the misrepresentation – saying a truth in such a way that it gives the wrong impression.
The further you climb, the more the temptation to misrepresent, to be bigger than life, to get someone else to do the work. Meanwhile the system rewards the lying.
We can’t change the system, but we can change how we behave. Take the hit for doing the right thing. Be the manager that rewards the right behavior. Protect the team from silliness. Hire for ability to learn, dedication, and integrity.
For fifteen years, my friends and family told me that if I hated the system so much, I should start my own company.
In 2011, I took Excelon Development full-time, and we ain’t starving.
What have you done to make the world a better place lately?
What are you doing today? And tomorrow?
Admittedly, the title is a bit misleading. Time is a constant. We cannot really “make time”. We can’t bank it, we can’t borrow it, we can’t really even “manage it”, contrary to popular belief. There is only one thing we can do with time, and that is use it. Each one of us gets the same twenty-four hours as everyone else, and each of us has to make choices as to how we will use that time.
Additionally, we have another limited resource, and that is attention. We like to think that we can effectively multi-task, or that we can accomplish many things at the same time. For myself, the more critically I look at the way I work and the goals that I can accomplish, I have given up on this idea. Sure, I can read email and listen to music at the same time, but that’s not the multi-tasking I am referring to. When I need to be working on something that requires focus and attention, I do much better when I can partition the work I need to do, and want to do, in discrete chunks of time. Even here, it can be difficult to give the proper attention to multiple areas that need it. Also, there is the very real problems of getting stuck on a problem, and having to deal with a challenge that, for lack of better words, is just tedious.