Figuring out rank in the Boy Scouts is easy. You get this number of merit badges, complete these projects, do a review board and presto. The work isn’t easy of course, but at least the boundaries are clear for people that want to progress. Ranking in the workforce is a complete mystery. It is more social than earning a badge. The number of blog posts trying to describe how to advance in a company hierarchy is testament to that. Regularly talking with people and doing the occasional interview has driven this point home for me.
I had a senior person on the phone more than once that couldn’t describe the work they were doing, and they couldn’t tell me about where they fit in the project. Despite years of experience, by the end of the call I definitely thought they were closer to intern than architect.
I have a few soft expectations of people when they claim to be senior.
A few years ago I visited a company in West Michigan that had graphs on all the walls. Graphs everywhere; very impressive.
Then I looked at one.
It was a percentage on on-time project delivery chart for the past year – and it looked something like this:
The typical response to this is probably either excitement (they are doing the best humanly possible!) or disbelief, or perhaps, a small chance the company actually managed to hit dates by cutting scope. My response was a little different.
I saw waste. Continued »
How long does it take for process transformation to work? To a reach critical mass at a company for the amount of people that will not just abide by the new rules, but believe in them.
For Holocracy, that number seems to be about five years. If it can catch on at all. Five years later, Zappos seems to be struggling to keep the vision of Holocracy alive. Employees feel like the management system is designed to empower process (and maybe process consultants) instead of people. Under Holocracy, meetings have a particular flow and style that can not be interrupted. And, new roles have to created and documented for each task that might need to be completed. It seems that rather than helping people develop software in a sustainable way, Holocracy has become the Borg from Star Trek.
Holocracy might be irredeemably bad (if it were good there would be other large, public case studies aside from Zappos, right?), but I’m not sure that is why it is taking so long to catch on. Process change is like changing the direction of a large boat. It takes a long time and a lot of people.
Let me explain.
Several years ago, (so many I can’t find the original blog post, even here), I claimed that because of the amount of unknowns, creating a real estimate was impossible. My friend Ben Simo left a comment, saying “Two Weeks.”
I guess I didn’t say it had to be accurate.
Tom Demarco once claimed the way most estimation is done is to guess a number just hard enough that the technical team is scared, but not aggressive enough that they laugh at you. If they breathe a sigh of relief, DeMarco suggested that [bad] management can find some emergency reason to make the dates more aggressive.
Here’s the kicker: Most organizations can see a massive increase in prediction accuracy using a technique I call the Heusser Estimation method – a method I’m willing to give away, on my blog, for free, right now. Continued »
Having a newborn makes you (or rather, me) re-prioritize things. My house has the original smoke detectors from when it was built in 2009. There is nothing wrong with them if you ignore the fact that they go off if you over cook dinner. Or the occasional 3 am chirps to let you know that one of the 4 smoke detectors in the house needs a new battery. This seemed like an ideal time to upgrade the smoke detector near the nursery to something that has a carbon monoxide detector built in. And also something a little more modern that I could monitor from my phone.
Here is what I think about the Nest Protect so far.
This blog, Unchartered Waters, is designed to help people. Sometimes, the help is advice on how to estimate projects. Other times, it’s how to negotiate. Today, I’d like to write about what to gift ideas for your tech friends. Specifically, little stocking stuffers – small gifts, between $5 and $25. I tend to like toys, games and books that lead to a conversation. People can react poorly to a book, because it implies an investment of time, while a game says “I want to spend time with you on something fun…”
Here are a few ideas.
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.