I did something stupid a couple of days ago, I got into an argument on twitter. Someone made a post claiming monetary incentives always harm performance. The word always being used there made my head spin, and I just couldn’t resist.
I have been reading a book called Why We Do What We Do by Edward Deci over the past couple of days. Deci is a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and has spent a significant amount of time researching different types of motivation and how they affect performance. Like with any psychological study, the results are varied and difficult to understand. But, there are a few common themes, and I think they apply to how technical people are compensated.
Here is my take on motivation and incentive plans crossed with a little academia.
For twenty years, Microsoft has been a Windows company. The original phones were supposed to run a true version of Windows; Bill Gates wanted Windows to run on the original Xbox. Windows 8 was a ground-up reboot of the operating system, designed to have tablets, phones, and laptops all run the same core code. Microsoft’s programming tools, called Visual Studio, ran on Windows, which is also where Microsoft Office ran. When it came out, Windows cloud, Azure, allowed you to run windows on the internet.
All that is changing. All of it.
Xbox never did run windows. It turned out that a single operating system for all form factors is not a great idea. Windows 8’s touch screen assumptions didn’t really work well with laptops, and Microsoft backed off in Windows 10.
Azure allows user to run Linux now. The big news, however, is bigger news.
No, it’s not that Visual studio is coming to the Mac. The big news is why, and what that means.
A few years ago I was working on a first generation iPad app designed to help medical professionals document surgical cases in real time. A patient would come into the operating room, and a nurse or doctor would take notes using this iPad app on the patients vitals, and what drugs were being administered. The app was data intensive, had a lot of custom controls, and was maybe more complicated than it needed to be. The initial releases were plagued by problems — crashes, data loss, and some generalized slowness.
Customers were getting angry and threatening to not renew their contracts. We had to change something in our development process. I had a few ideas on what could be done — a few layers of code quality practices and test automation. Our manager at the time had his own ideas — metrics program to try to measure how many problems were introduced and caught each release, and also a consultant. We ended up using some of his ideas and none of mine.
I spent my last few months there being grumpy about a dismissive manager that wouldn’t assimilate an idea that was clearly good into what we were already doing.
Why did my attempt at being a tech change agent fail?
The Screwtape letters by C.S. Lewis are told from the perspective of a demon writing to his nephew about how to corrupt man. Of course, the real intended audience was good people trying to avoid life mistakes and pursue virtue. In the spirit, I’ve decided to write a careerists guide, telling you the things a careerist might do. Our first careerist example is the firing gambit.
Before I get to that, a bit more about the guide.
Most of our readers have a sense of justice. They want the world to be right, for the right behaviors to be rewarded. Careerists recognize that is not so, and exploit the system, making the right friends, damaging the reputation of rivals, and using whatever tricks are necessary to advance.
Sadly, the world is not just. That does not mean you have to become a careerist, but you might want to understand what the tricks are, so you can notice and counter when they are used on you. As a bonus, you might also want to know when your own activities that “should” be neutral as shooting you in the foot.
Let’s get started.
My wife and I had our first son born this past Monday. People have been giving us advice for months — make sure you enjoy your last few sleeps, this and that are difficult, your life will be completely different. But of course, it takes experience for any of that to register. It’s been an interesting few days.
We went on a short walk this afternoon to enjoy our first sunshine since Saturday morning while Grandma watched baby boy. We were talking about some of the testing doctors do for newborns, normally just a few hours after birth. This talk was a good reminder of one of the downsides of lean principles and expediency.
This new job is amazing! Shouts your old friend into your ear. I’ve gotten more done in three months than I did at three years at LastJob! Best of all, there are no hidden agendas. Everything is out in the open.
Until, over time, he slowly realizes it isn’t.
The thing about hidden agendas is that they are, well … hidden.
Today I’d like to write about how to discover those agendas as early as possible, ideally before starting on the job. Continued »
A few things happen at the end of every agile release cycle if you’re dong agile ‘by the book’– a demo to show off what will be delivered to the customer, a meeting to start talking about what to develop for the next sprint, and a retrospective.
The retrospective is an airing of grievances with teeth. People talk about what went well over the past two weeks. But more importantly, they talk about what didn’t go well and what they what they might do about. In my experience, the retrospective is a sign of dysfunction. Not the retrospective itself, driving toward improvement is good, but the fact that there is a dedicated meeting.
Let me tell a couple of stories.
My co-blogger, Matt Heusser, wrote last week about his take on the service and gig economy. His post centered around how people using their own belongings, mostly houses, computers and cars, could make some extra money each month without the trappings of full-time employment. The gig economy creates virtual business ownership.
I think the gig economy is a trap, a ghetto. People working these gigs take erratic hours for low wages and don’t even have access to those wages without expensive barriers to entry. Instead of creating more wealth, the service economy creates share-croppers.
Let me explain.
Remember in A Christmas Story, when Ralfie needed some privacy to decode the radio message? The bathroom was his only option; Ralfie shared the second bedroom with his brother, and the family had just one car.
Have you noticed that doesn’t happen any more?
The typical house size in the United States has increased by a thousand feet since 1973, which is presumably larger than it was in 1940 for the Christmas Story. Meanwhile the average family size shrunk from 3.67 to 2.67, and the number of vehicles per household is up from 1.16 in 1969 to 1.89 in 2001.
In other words, there are less people with more automobiles in bigger houses. Continued »
I have been working in technology for about 13 years, and software specifically for 10 and some change. According to this article, it’s all over, I’m done. According to the author, Jon Evans, people that have 10 years of experience are too set in their ways and probably can’t keep up with the pace of change in technology anymore.
Contrast that with this article by Dan Bricklin describing the team that created the IBM PC. Every person on the team had credentials in the form of sweat equity. They had spent time working and building important, or at lease useful projects, for years before the PC came to be.
So which is it? Does experience in technology help people create novel products, or is it something dragging teams down?
Does experience have value?