Agile has fostered a fair bit of change in how software development happens. Change in what people value, how people work together, and changes in openness and and candor. For a long time, software was a black box, or close to it at least. A business feeds in some sort of information about the problem they are trying to solve in the form of requirements, and maybe six months later they get something. That something may or may not have solved the problem. If the problem wasn’t solved, the cycle begins anew.
This post is, in a way, a response to Justin Rohrman’s post about “Ageism in the Tech World“. Does it exist? Yes. Is it detrimental? It certainly can be. Does it have to be? No.
Overcoming ageism, or any other “ism”, requires taking control of our own career trajectories. How do we do that? We make choices and invest our efforts in areas that will ultimately prove beneficial.
Yes, it’s that simple.
No, it’s not easy.
No, there is no one size fits all method to doing this, but here are some things that I have done to address this in my own career.
Ron Jeffries, signer of the Agile Manifesto and co-creator of Extreme Programming, has a new book (currently in beta) out titled The Nature of Software Development. The Nature of Software Development is an accumulation of experience and ideas Ron has collected over his past 50 years of software work. The work is divided into two segments, The Circle of Value which explains his ideas on how software work should be done, and Notes and Essays which are questions from readers and reviewers as well as anecdotes from his experience.
When I ask friends why they moved to a new company, the most common answer I get is they were “just looking for something different”. When salary, benefits and other side “perks” are not part of the equation, their answers tended to end up being one of these three things:
- To learn something new.
- To be challenged and do better.
- To be surprised.
That tells me those things aren’t happening in their old environment, and the person believes they couldn’t make those thing happen — the change is impossible given the work, or the politics, or something else. The answer that comes to mind may be to pull up stakes an start over elsewhere. Sometimes, that is the right answer, but I have to wonder – how far did they push before coming to that conclusion?
Software development hasn’t existed for all that long now, maybe 60 or so years. Things have changed a little during that time, and some things have come full circle. One significant shift that has occurred, is a change in how we think software work should be done. This shift can be seen in the way our development teams are put together.
Hello to everyone who reads “Uncharted Waters”. I am excited to be one of the writers to contribute to this space, and looking forward to collaborating with Matt and Justin on future posts. For those who do not know me, I’ve been a software tester for twenty years (a lot more about that below) and I have had a wide and varied career, touching many different industries and disciplines. Through them all, the primary theme has been to test software and devices, and to encourage other testers to learn more, do more and dare more. It’s my hope that I can continue that tradition here and in future posts.
I officially became a “software tester” in 1994, when I was working with Cisco Systems. Actually, the title I was given was “Development Test Engineer”. I’ve had a variety of job titles since then, such as Application Engineer, QA Engineer, QA Tester, Lead QA Engineer, and other variations that HR departments deemed necessary. I was given the choice of choosing my own title (within reason, of course) when I went to Sidereel. I asked them “Can my title be “Software Tester?” After a quizzical look, they said “Sure, if that’s what you want.” Only once in my career have I had my actual work discipline in my official title. By any other name, do we not still test software the same?
Next time you are at the office, take a look at the average age of the folks around you. The people doing the tech work; programmers, testers, ops and admin people. You’ll probably see some folks in their 20s, a few more in their 30s. From there the numbers quickly drop off.
My data sample is admittedly biased, and definitely unscientific. I’ve worked at mostly early stage startups for the past few years and those have a tendency to attract younger people for a variety of reasons.
Probably partly because startup benefits usually aren’t very competitive, and partly because of the crazy hours most tech startups expect from people.
The question of why people leave tech so early is interesting.
I want to know where people are going when they leave hands on tech jobs, and why.
If you’ve been on the internet in the past few weeks, then you’ve probably heard that Steve Ballmer resigned from the board of Microsoft in August, just seven months after he resigned as CEO. The commentary on the internet is about what you’d expect: Not just Top Ten Reasons Steve Ballmer Failed as Microsoft CEO, but also similar-themed articles with the exact same title “Why Steve Ballmer Failed” in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and on BusinessWeek.
Ironically, all the folks who said Steve didn’t innovate picked the same title for their article.
Yet let’s look at reality here: From 2000 to 2014, Ballmer took Microsoft from $25 billion in sales to $70 billion. That computes out to 7.5% growth in sales per year — starting when dotComs were over-inflated and continuing through the real estate crisis of 2008. Growing at 7.5% in one year may not sound impressive, and it might not be hard if you have annual sales of a few million, but try having to add a few billion in new sales each year and doing thirteen times in a row.
How it is possible to call Steve Ballmer a failure as a CEO? In what way?
Let’s talk about it. Continued »
In the first part of my Starting freelance series, I talked about a few tactics for developing negotiation skills. Hopefully you were able to use that to get a little more money from your tech freelance gigs, or at least get the rate you were shooting for.
In the second part I wanted to talk about a few ways to I am currently preparing myself financially for the ups and downs of the independent life. I’m not independent yet, but preparing has been an interesting experience.
I’m hoping that preparing and developing these ideas now will pay off in the long run.
A lot of this could apply to any type of freelance / independent worker, but this will be directly related to going independent in the tech world.
After three years as an independent (and fifteen more with a day job), I’ve noticed a few trends. Among them: I’d say that a minority of the people actively looking are demonstrably capable of the work. It’s not that there is a ‘shortage’; it is that many good people are not actively looking.
Imagine this scenario: Hiring managers want above average people, HR pegs salaries to market averages, while 3rd parties, who claim to offer a service are actually arbitraging the market, trying to buy labor cheap and sell expensive. Temp agencies, contract houses, companies that do to temp-to-hire and outsourcers are all trying to profit from the billable workers. At the same time, the companies are under intense pressure to get good people who can “hit the ground running” and are available “right now.” Say the steps above are the recipe for a cake. When you try to bake it, what do you expect will happen?