Let Me Tell You a Story

OpenShift Ninja
Mar 14 · 4 min read
Image Courtesy of Max Pixel

I have friend named John, and he is a developer like me. He loves coding and solving hard problems. He likes where he works because he is building something that a lot of people are going to use and it could bring a lot of new business to the company.

There are some problems though. The first problem is that companies have turned away from paying for developers with a lot of experience and have instead turned to hiring younger people, mostly because they are cheaper. Despite the evidence that this has not improved productivity or revenue, the practice continues.

Another problem is that seasoned developers are often asked to do management or administrative tasks, which pulls them away from hard problems and puts them in places where they are mostly attending meetings, filling out paperwork, having to address political issues, etc. In other words, activities that he was never really trained for and doesn’t have any extensive experience in.

There is also the problem that he and his manage have different perspectives on what responsibilities he has. There is too much work to be done and not enough time to do it in, and this has led to a number of heated conversations. My friend doesn’t feel supported and respected by his manager, and has considered leaving.

Other members of his team have expressed similar frustrations, and some have even left. The project is close to launch but the team has mixed feelings about how ready it is and management is getting nervous. The stress has poured over and the team morale is low.

The team inherited the project from a previous team, and a decent chunk of the work is refactoring and cleaning. The team has expressed concerns about the codebase but the management continued to press for new features while maintaining strict deadlines.

So as you can see, my friend is in a tight spot. He even thinks about leaving software engineering to pursue some other career, but he doesn’t know what. All he has done most of his life is code, and he is really good at it. It is incredibly frustrating to him to see work being turned over to less experienced engineers who aren’t as interested in what they deliver and more interested in just delivering.

So I ask you this: why are we taking our really great engineers and trying to steer them away from what they do best? To cut costs? If you believe that really works, I suggest you find a copy of The Goal or The Phoenix Project, because it really doesn’t.

Cutting costs in order to increase revenue is a tactic that companies have relied upon far too much. The people and processes are shoved aside and everything just becomes a line on a balance sheet. Budgets are cut, and then everyone scrambles to figure out how to do the same work with less resources. How does that make any logical sense?

How about we deal with some of the real issues? How about we deal with overly inflated salaries of senior leadership which has driven our country to extreme income inequality? How about looking at blockers in processes that hold up people from being able to complete deliverables? How about focusing more on making employees happy and productive instead of just doing the minimum and not really being invested in the outcome? How about measuring people by the value they provide to the company and not where they sit on the pay scale and not on performance reviews which are largely ineffective?

I have seen a lot of companies struggle to improve the productivity, even after using employee engagement surveys to guage what people are unhappy about. I see similar responses every year, and although promises are made to improve, the improvements are small and/or largely ineffective.

In my opinion, Business in America has lost track of the most important assets: the people on the front line who do most of the actual work. They are considered expendible and easily replaced, and although compensated at a fair market value, that market value is not keeping up with the basic costs of living.

You can see some of the effects of this around the country. People leaving some cities because they can no longer afford to live there. Companies have turned to outsourcing, and quality has decreased. People have become less happy, and the government has shifted the blame to immigrants and other such diversions to keep eyes off the real issues.

Now we have an election coming up, and if you think that things are great and we should continue down this road, then you are probably going to reelect. If you are really unhappy and think that significant changes are required, you are probably voting for the other party but have a lot of anxiety about the days ahead.

All I can offer for advice is that you should hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

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