An open letter to IT Management

Dear Sir or Madam,

It seems that you have forgotten a something so I want to take a moment of your time to remind you. I, your developer, am a human being. I have a life that is not defined by my job and I have loved ones around me that want to interact with me in real life, not just in instant messenger screens.

I am truly sorry that company revenues are down because of the economic crisis, however, from my vantage point, the company’s performance, in good times or bad, is your responsibility. You would not accept “I did not foresee the consequences of that code” as an acceptable excuse for failure, so I don’t see why I should have to see “We didn’t see this coming” as one.

Instead of taking the responsibility for the financial problems the company is now facing, I see you implement “cost cutting measures”. Most of these measures seem to be simply removing the benefits of my job that help me justify showing up each day. In the worst cases, I see you laying off my friends – other developers – or asking me to take a salary cut. It seems that you feel that words of encouragement after doing these things should be laced with such phrases as “work harder”, “burn the midnight oil” and “all pull together”. To me, this means you want me to work longer hours, for no additional benefits, for a company that you own or own stock in. As I see it, I am putting in all the work but you are reaping all the reward.

So here is my request to you. I will work harder for no additional pay or even less pay to help your company survive if you agree to the following.

  • A member of senior management must be present in the office any time a developer is “burning the midnight oil”. If I have to work 6 days a week for 3 months to make up for a failure in management then so should you.
  • An equal number of senior managers (not middle managers) have to be laid off or take pay cuts in each round of layoffs.
  • Before you cut out my one conference a year where I get to learn new things and actually become a better developer for you, you cut our your management retreats, junkets, and off-sites. If you’ve got to get away to talk, do what we do, walk down to the coffee shop and blow tomorrow’s lunch money on a Latte.

I really think you have lost sight of this one very important fact. Nobody hires us because we have a kick-ass management team, they hire us because we write kick-ass code. When you can do that, you are as valuable the company as I am. Until then, I, your developer, am the most valuable person in your company and it’s time you woke up and fetched the coffee.

 

Sincerely,

Your Developer

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13 Responses to “An open letter to IT Management”

  1. David Locke Says:

    So how would you implement Management/Governance QA at a company? Managers insert assumptions into their company’s operations in the same manner as programmers insert bugs into thier code, so the solutions should be similar. Managers don’t iterate and release.

    Corporate data in the data warehouse and data mining operations are insensitive to policy changes. One day that will change, but business rules technology is not there yet. When that day arrives, management compensation will be computable. “Yes, it was this idiotic policy right here, that caused this large portion of the problem, and YOU did it.” But, with the coming of management traceability, like an arms race, the defensive mechanisms of plausible deniablity will be at the forefront of management research.

    The programmer here should start his own company. Then, maybe he’ll remember to run it in a manner that treats his staff humanely. But, at hire 51, you must bring in an HR to turn humans into resources, so beware, be warned that it will be much harder to retain your humanity after that. I’ve worked for programmers that forgot. The sirens of economic indifference call loudly as the fog rolls in.

  2. anonymousdev Says:

    @David,

    You are sidestepping the issue. In the current (and most any) economic downturn, in a software development company, it is the line-level developer who is asked to pick up the slack. Management may make sacrifices but they pale in comparison to job loss or pay cuts, the offers made to most developers.

    In my many, many years of IT, as both developer and manager, I’ve seen this played out dozens of times, It pains me every time. Developers don’t cause the problem but they are expected to pick up the slack.

    The post wasn’t written to offer up a solution. It was written both to start a conversation and as a call to arms. This situation will never change until programmers start standing and saying no.

    * No, I will not work more than 40 hours a week
    * No I will not work every weekend for the next month
    * No, I will not go quietly in the night when you realize that you messed up.

    I will offer this idea though, in development shops, or any company dependent on the creativity of it’s staff, allow the creatives to elect a board member from their rank and file. Give them full representation on the board so that it is someone’s job to look out for their best interest. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s a start.

    In a software development company, the most important person is the developer. Second would most likely be the sales team and down near the janitorial staff would be management. I’ve watched companies in the past 3 years bring in new CEOs to revitalize the company that have never written a line of code in their life. In the case I’m thinking about, after 2 years and an obscene salary, they board finally let the CEO go but not before burning through almost all of their VC money. They are still around but they’ve had multiple rounds of layoffs and are still on life support. This madness has to stop. (The CEO has moved on to the next company, unscathed)

    As a side note, I have worked at companies both large and small, with and without HR. To date, I have refused to ever refer to my developers as resources and will not discuss them with HR representatives if they are doing so. They are people and as soon as management loses sight of that, things go downhill.

  3. Alex Says:

    “Until then, I, your developer, am the most valuable person in your company and it’s time you woke up and fetched the coffee.”

    Good luck with that with that attitude. It’ll take you far.

  4. anonymousdev Says:

    @alex

    I’ll assume sarcasm in that last comment. Tell me, how is my attitude different than those of a CEO who will cut developer staff – thus billable hours – but not cut his/her own salary? If the company is build on billing developer hours then the developer is the most important person.

    To be honest, you probably fall into one of two categories.

    If you are a developer, and you are giving into these demands from management in hopes of saving your job, you are just hurting the developers around you. It only takes one weak link for management to say “See, you are not a team player like Alex.”

    If you are a manager, well, you are probably part of the problem I’m describing. Of course you don’t like my attitude because if your developers adopt it then you are in serious trouble. (Remember, clients don’t pay for management, they pay for developers)

    So hey, thanks for the sarcasm. Just so you know, my attitude has served me well in my many years in IT and I look forward to it serving me well for many more to come.

  5. David Locke Says:

    For the record, I’m a guy that worked the (16–20)x7 stuff. Oddly enough, the CEOs were programmers in a past life. In one company, the CEO made $200K, and automatically sold his shares every quarter even when the company lost money. But, there were other programmer CEOs who were not so considerate. I know how it will be when I run a company. I’ll make my money the same way the programmers do, from growing the pie.

    Not punching a clock does have its benefits even at 20 hrs a day.

    The QA of management would reduce the outrageous CEO salaries, which for the most part ballooned when regulations required publication of CEO salaries. Some kind of system needs to be in place that says, “Hey, you are cooking the books, eating the future, and dimishing the long-term value of the company.” Until then, all employees, not just programmers will have to put up with the outrages.

    Think about this outrage for a moment, the weak dollar strengthened manufacturing competitiveness overseas. The manufactures were making more money through not action on their part other than possibly lobbying. But, what did they do with the upside? They gave it their CEOs. They did not invest in their businesses to make them truely competitive once the dollar was no longer weak. The weak dollar was actually a tax on US citizens who bought foreign goods or travelled overseas.

    Current stock option grants to employees provide ESOP stock, which does not give employees the same rights as other share holders. Even if it did, the notion that 4% will let you run the company won’t work. Instead, they will give you a slate to vote for, you vote. It’s rigged by and for the CEO’s benefit. Or, for the VCs benefit. Yes, boards do kill companies. Your company hasn’t died yet?

    If you still have a job, consider yourself lucky. As it is, there are plenty of other programmers ready and willing to take your place, do what they are told, and shut up about. Just the reality. Just the enabler of serfdom, which all the adherents of Hayak were supposed to prevent.

    Either run your own show, or expect to be run. And, run it without VC/Angle money. Bootstrap, live free, then inspire. For now, grumble on. It is a gravel parking lot.

  6. AnonymousMgr Says:

    Dear Developer,

    thank you for your thought provoking letter. However, there are a few things I would like to refute.

    I fully recognize you as a human being, and I am no less human myself. The assumption that I take decisions about your friends lightly, is wrong. I have had sleepless nights about this long before today. You state that the performance of the company is my responsibility, and you are right. That means however that sometimes I have to make decisions that people do not appreciate. You state that instead of taking my responsibility I have announced cost cutting measures; in fact, I AM taking my responsibility by announcing these measures.

    The companies welfare is based on a simple equation. Revenue minus cost = profit. If revenue goes down, we have to cut cost, to keep the profit above zero. Profit allows us to grow the company (so you get ever more interesting projects), to invest in our people, to reward bonuses and yes, to award our shareholders for the money that they have invested into the company. This means that last year we were able to visit disneyland and award you that bonus for that great achievement that you did, but it also means that this year we have to cut costs. Money poors out of the company if revenue is down, yet we still pay your salaries. And just as happy I was to be able to offer your friends jobs when the company was growing, just as sad it makes me to lay them off now the company is shrinking.

    Your three points sound reasonable, but rest assured that we have already implemented such measures.

    It saddens me that you define a ranking of value for members of this company. A company is an ecosystem and is dependent on all of its staff, including you and me. If my reply were as harsh as yours, I could say that without salespeople, you had no projects to work on, and without managers, this company would not even exist, while you can easily be replaced by another developer; if not, you have not been documenting the project as properly as you should. However, I will not be that harsh. I will say that you are as valuable to the company as any other individual, but that does not mean that sometimes measures need to be taken to counter an economic turndown.

    Your letter reminds me somewhat of when I was 12 and thought that I didn’t need parents. They had a good life and I did nothing right and I was just given a hard time. 30 years later, being a father of 2, I look back at those days and smile. When someday in your future you take out all your life’s savings and a second mortgage on your house to build that company you dreamed of by risking everything you have, you will look back at this day and smile, for that day, you’ve become the anonymousmgr.

    Sincerely,
    AnonymousMgr

  7. Alex Says:

    Hey, guy, this is capitalism. For a capitalist employees are nothing but a workforce. They hire more workforce when they expand their business, and dump workforce when they shrink. Don’t take those words “we are a team” for true. They are a team, you are just a workhorse they ride to get from point A to point B.

    Read Karl Marx for a while. If you think this is not fair, join a trade union and fight for your rights instead of writing letters and trying to persuade wolves not to eat sheeps.

  8. anonymousdev Says:

    @David

    I’m not sure we disagree enough to respond. You seem to get it. Yes, in this economy, I consider myself lucky to have a job. However, it would be nice to have management recognize some of this. Eventually, I will step out on my own when I find the right job. I know I’ll be hiring developers and I’ll be faced with the same challenges. I hope I rise to the high standards I encourage others to.

  9. anonymousdev Says:

    @AnonymousMgr

    While I detect a hint of sarcasm in your note, for the most part it seems to be well thought out and heartfelt so I’ll deal with you straight.

    Since you claim you’ve had sleepless nights over the hard decisions you have had to make then you are one of the few good guys. Thank you. However, I challenge you going forward to make sure that cost cutting is across the board. The inequities I see are mainly centered on the fact that upper management either does not suffer the consequences of their actions or they don’t let it be known that they do. By the time the message filters down through the layers of management to developers, all we hear is, “things are bad, work harder”. If you are working 14 hour days along with your developers, let them know. If you are not, stop asking them to.

    I am not advocating that investors should not get a reasonable, or even unreasonable, return on their investment. I understand capitalism and the benefits society gains from it. My experience base is a bit different from the situation you are describing though. I’ve mainly worked in large corporations or VC backed startups. In both situations, the management has nothing at stake. That probably colors my worldview a bit.

    It’s obvious you do care about your developers and since I don’t know your situation, I can only assume that you treat them right. If you are a programmer then you understand that developers are not assembly line workers. Programming is a creative art more than a scientific discipline. Programmers are equal parts artist and engineer. To me, this means that talent, true talent, needs to be respected. Management, for the most part, is not a talent; it is a skill that can be learned. No doubt some are better at it than others but I’ve yet to hear of a manager called an artisan.

    I’m sorry you dislike my ranking of the importance of employees but unless you work in a commune, you do the same. Do you have a line level developer involved in the decisions on the cost-cutting measures? If not then you rank people the same as I do, you just don’t like my ordering.

    I liken it to a NASCAR team. In recent years, NASCAR has made moves in the rules and marketing to encourage people to think of it as a team sport. However, at the end of the day, it’s the driver that crosses the finish line. You can have the most awesome pit-crew in the world but it’s the driver that people cheer. Your developers are the drivers; everyone else exists to support their talents. Do you treat your developers like they are the lifeblood of the company?

    I’m not trying to insult you, I don’t know you and as I said at the start, I’m trying to deal with you straight. However, those are the facts as I see them. You sacrificed all to build your company; however, unless you are the developer, you are trading on the talents of others. Make sure you respect that fact.

    No, I’m not a 12 year old and no I don’t think I know more than my parents. (anymore) There is a place for management in the company eco-system but it should be a support role since they are a cost center and not a profit center.

    Thank you for your well thought out comment. You give me a glimmer of hope that not all management are troglodytes.

  10. anonymousdev Says:

    @Alex

    Sorry, all out of troll snacks. Check back later.

  11. Ivo Says:

    @anonymousdev Thanks for your elaborate response! To clarify: I’m the one that wrote the anonymousmgr post (as your gravatar plugin demonstrates even though it promised not to publish my email address ;-)).

    I’m the cto in a small company in the netherlands, I’m not one of the founders of the company and am not one of the major shareholders. Still, being in management I have a say in decisions like the one you describe, and I find them the hardest type of decision to make. After thinking carefully about your post, I wanted to write a similarly styled reply to show the other side of such a story. I thank you for the time you put into replying to it, and hope you’ll be ok and that your friends find new fun jobs as well.

  12. John Doe Says:

    Nowadays experienced developers tend to follow the 10 commandments of the idle:

    No.1 You are a modern day slave. There is no scope for personal fulfilment. You work for your pay-check at the end of the month, full stop.

    No. 2 It’s pointless to try to change the system. Opposing it simply makes it stronger.

    No. 3 What you do is pointless. You can be replaced from one day to the next by any cretin sitting next to you. So work as little as possible and spend time (not too much, if you can help it) cultivating your personal network so that you’re untouchable when the next restructuring comes around.

    No. 4 You’re not judged on merit, but on whether you look and sound the part. Speak lots of leaden jargon: people will suspect you have an inside track

    No. 5 Never accept a position of responsibility for any reason. You’ll only have to work harder for what amounts to peanuts.

    No. 6 Make a beeline for the most useless positions, (research, strategy and business development), where it is impossible to assess your ‘contribution to the wealth of the firm’. Avoid ‘on the ground’ operational roles like the plague.

    No. 7 Once you’ve found one of these plum jobs, never move. It is only the most exposed who get fired.

    No. 8 Learn to identify kindred spirits who, like you, believe the system is absurd through discreet signs (quirks in clothing, peculiar jokes, warm smiles).

    No. 9 Be nice to people on short-term contracts. They are the only people who do any real work.

    No. 10 Tell yourself that the absurd ideology underpinning this corporate bullshit cannot last for ever. It will go the same way as the dialectical materialism of the communist system. The problem is knowning when..

  13. anonymousdev Says:

    @john,

    True words of wisdom.

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