Knit 1, Code 2: Why I Miss Techies
Most of my career has been spent in software companies, and one of the great work pleasures I've had has been working with techies. Reading Joel Spolsky on software reminded me why. He has a wonderful rant on management consultants who convince companies to hire them to make their developers more productive. One way the consultants "accomplish" this is by coming up with bogus metrics that don't measure anything other than the developers' ability to figure out clever, clearly counter-productive ways to game the measurement system. Its a great riff that also takes off on bright young management consultants:
The whole fraud is only possible because performance metrics in knowledge organizations are completely trivial to game. The best part is that most management consultants, the stunningly good-looking, bright, earnest chipmunks with 4.0s in Russian Lit from Harvard who work for these companies, have absolutely no way of knowing this, so they can go through this whole exercise without even knowing that they're doing it! They get all the way through the 2-year associate program on their way to MBA school without even realizing that they haven't done a goddamn thing about productivity, all they've done is caused a fairly pointless transfer of wealth from ExxonMobilConoco to BainMcKinseyGartner's senior partners. And it's a lot of fun! First class flights to Houston and Oslo! Helping the world be more productive! Rock on, young stunningly-good-looking Management Consultant.
Talking about software coding productivity reminds me of one of the hands-down most brilliant software engineers I ever worked with. "Tasha" was an incredibly elegant and fast coder, not only adept with her own programming, but a complete wizard when it came to unraveling spaghetti code and improving the programs written by less talented peers. Her managers always loved her. But she had a couple of work habits that occasionally annoyed her peers in development, and more than occasionally annoyed the non-techies who had no idea what she did.
If you looked into Tasha's office as you walked by, most of the time you'd see her sitting there knitting. (She knit the most gorgeous sweaters imaginable.) While she knit, she was also watching a soap opera or Oprah on the tiny TV she kept on her desk. People would go wild, "Tasha's not doing anything! She gets away with murder! It's really bad for morale to see her sitting there."
What the complainers didn't get was that while Tasha was sticking to her knitting, she was also working through programming problems in her head. Once she'd worked something out, she'd put down her knitting and speed code. The QA people would always say that they barely had to test anything she'd written.
A productivity consultant might have looked at how many lines or code she'd written or how many strokes to the keyboard her fingers made - or just watched her sitting there knitting - and pronounced that we could be getting so much more out of Tasha if only she'd work more hours. And wrong they'd have been.
My consulting work has, in large part, put me at a remove from techies. I still work almost exclusively with tech companies, but I have far less day to day interaction and schmoozing with th engineers than I've had in the past. Reading Joel Spolsky reminded me of how much I miss them.