assembly linesPreface

After thirty-plus years working in and around the IT field at various companies, government entities, and whatnot; from very large to very small, I’ve witnessed a few common misconceptions that remain entrenched as much today as they were in the 1980’s.  Here are five (5) that I see almost every day.

“They NEED You!”

Oh.  That line from A Few Good Men, where Jack Nicholson says “You want me on that wall.  You neeeeed me on that wall.”  You’ve probably had that thought at one time or another when contemplating what you’d do if you feel you deserve a raise or promotion, and you expect the boss to say no.

You’ve probably heard this at some point at some job.  Someone, maybe you, starts talking about a possible job offer and the discussion leads into “why” it would even be considered.  Lack of respect, salary, work environment, stalled career growth, access to resources, the list goes on and on.  And this person (again: maybe it was you) happens to have created or implemented something central, something very critical, to the organization’s day-to-day ability to function.  And then someone else says, “Wow.  They need you.  This place would fall apart if you left.

I’ve been next to the person in this scenario many, many times.  I’ve been that person actually, but only a few times.  Regardless.  The fact is this:  Business will continue.

General Charles De Gaulle made a famous quote once that I’ve never forgot.  He said “Grave yards are filled with indispensable men.”  No matter how much impact you, or others, may sincerely believe such a departure would have, the organization will continue.  Like a stampede of buffalo and a pile of rocks.  They might trip over them, but the herd will press onward no matter what.

I can’t know for sure, but I’d bet a few bucks someone said this very same thing to Nathan Myhrvold.  I’m no expert, but I would venture to say his employer managed to continue on after he left.

One employer I worked for years ago, had a policy that was widely repeated. It was “We do not counteroffer.  Ever.”  And that was very true.

Great Engineers Make Great Managers

It kind of follows the same rationale as former athletes becoming great coaches.  Yeah.  No.  It happens, but it’s actually the exception.  Why?  I’m not a psychoanalyst, but I often play on in traffic.  My theory is that certain personality traits fit well with engineering, development, and architecture, but it’s a different set of traits that make a good manager.  Forming a vision.  Leading others.  Empowering and mentoring and all that.  They can exist in the same person, but more often than not, they don’t.

On a different side of this, there’s the nature of the work itself.  If a person is attracted to inventing, planning and building things, it’s likely they will suddenly give that up to push paper, sit in meetings, more meetings, and push more paper, and do evals, and not miss the work they used to do.

The few engineers I’ve seen who made the jump and made it well, were honestly not overly interested in the engineering side to begin with.  Not that they were bad at engineering; just that they were more interested in managing.

Newer is Better

Newer can be better.  However, newer does not automatically equate to better.  If I had a dollar for every single “new” thing that was purchased simply because it was “newer”, and which ended up roughly the same as the old, I’d be able to keep up on my student loan payments.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s newer hardware, software, programming languages, network protocols, value-add services, whatever.  I’m not saying that newer stuff isn’t ever better than older stuff.  I’m saying that the assumption; the perception; that it’s better because it’s newer is flawed.  Flawed like an airplane with brick wings.

The times when the new thing was vetted properly, it was usually a success.  The times when the new thing was bought and then vetted, well, not so much.

Words Mean more than Numbers

At least twice I’ve been on the short end of the stick on this one.  Many more times it’s been colleagues, relatives, and neighbors.  The basic story goes like this:

The company was at one time doing very well, but lately the business is sagging.  General economic malaise, industry woes, seasonal mumbo-jumbo, whatever.  The result is a trending downward curve on revenue.  The suits are all still wearing smiles and reassuring the worker-bees that things are fine and the future is bright.  No need to worry about anything.  Your job is safe.

I had a CEO shake my hand at a Christmas party once, looking me in the eye with a comforting smile, and say (literally), “Don’t worry about your office being in the red this quarter.  We are behind you 110 percent.  Just keep doing what you’re doing.”  I was employed there only four months at that point.  That was on a Saturday evening.  The following Wednesday three of my team mates and I were invited to lunch and told we were being laid off in one week.  The Friday of the following week our office was closed and locked.

At another firm I was at for seven years, a bumpy M&A caused staff to flee like rats from a sinking ship.  (No, I’m not calling them rats.  They were, and are, good folks).  I was left as the last person in my group, which had four only two weeks prior.  The IT department in whole went from roughly twenty to around ten, and the CIO and IT manager had left.

The “on site manager” sent from the new owner kept telling me how vital I was to the smooth transition.  Only to dump more and more work on me and then kindly letting me know my title was being “reduced” (they didn’t want to say ‘demoted’).  My salary was at the mid-point for my old title.  Now it was technically above the high-end for the new title.  Awesome.  It devolved into a much worse situation as well, but regardless, I ended up leaving like the others before me.

Long story short:  It may comforting to be told the ship is sailing along fine, but if you start hearing strange sounds and dripping water, make a plan for escape before you end up at the back of the line.

Automate First.  Improve Later

Oh boy.  This still happens so much today, that I struggle to avoid choking someone out when they dump the “improve later” mess in my lap.

A brilliant former colleague of mine, Brad, used to say, “if you automate a broken process, you end up with an automated broken process“.

Sounds like common sense, right?  Common sense is dead, folks. It died years ago.  RIP.  I see this mess play out all the time today.  It comes from the most educated, most certified, highest paid, people I encounter, which is the tragic irony.  It’s easy to pick on “edukated” people as being book smart but street dumb.  That too is unfortunate, and a flawed stereotype that I hate.  The few idiots make the better folks look bad.  It happens with race, religion, nationality, sex, dogs and cats, and beer.  Oh, those beer haters.  Ugh.

Anyhow, fixing a broken process after it’s been automated is impossible.  It leads to enormous waste of time, money and resources.  It often leads to wasted careers.

Step 1 – FIX the process

Step 2 – Automate the Fixed Process

It works every time.

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