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Show ’n’ tell IX: knowing your business

Show-n-tell Thursday logoThis week’s tip is a little bit odd, slightly apart from what you’d expect, but I think it’s something that should be brought up more often, and it goes beyond Notes geeks :-).

My tip is for anyone who manages developers, and it’s a really simple one: let them develop! By this, I mean that as you would with your other employees, you need to foster an atmosphere in which your developers are comfortable, where they have the tools and environments they need to produce top-notch code, and where they feel they can contribute to a project. Let them read up on new stuff, let them play once in a while, perhaps even implementing the odd proof of concept.

Easy no? And it doesn’t really cost anything.

Today’s thinking around the issue of organisations, structure and approach to business started when I read Joel Spolsky’s recent essay, The Development Abstraction Layer. It’s pretty good, although combined with all of Spolsky’s other declarations about keeping your developers happy, I sometimes wonder how his business pays for itself…

With a software company, the first priority of management needs to be creating that abstraction for the programmers.
If a programmer somewhere is worrying about a broken chair, or waiting on hold with Dell to order a new computer, the abstraction has sprung a leak.
[…]
A programmer is most productive with a quiet private office, a great computer, unlimited beverages, an ambient temperature between 68 and 72 degrees (F), no glare on the screen, a chair that’s so comfortable you don’t feel it, an administrator that brings them their mail and orders manuals and books, a system administrator who makes the Internet as available as oxygen, a tester to find the bugs they just can’t see, a graphic designer to make their screens beautiful…

… Yes Joel, we get the idea ;-). Moving on, a colleague posted a Wall Street Journal link on our internal wiki. The article looks at—who else???—Google, and examines how their organisational structure and management style directly contribute to their business success. The article, entitled Management à la Google (crazy URI; you thought Domino was bad) is actually very good. I particularly liked these points made:

Evolutionary risk factor #3: A tendency to overinvest in “what is” at the expense of “what could be.” Google’s response: A company-wide rule that allows developers to devote 20% of their time to any project they choose.
[…]
Evolutionary risk factor #4: Creeping mediocrity. Google’s response: Keep the bozos out and reward people who make a difference.

Elitism may be out of fashion, but Google is famously elitist when it comes to hiring. It understands that companies begin to slide into mediocrity when they start to hire mediocre people. A-level people want to work with A-level people. B-level people are threatened by class-A talent. So if you let a B-lister in the door, he or she will hire equally unremarkable colleagues. As the ranks of the mediocre expand, it becomes harder to attract and retain the exceptional. The process of dumbing down becomes irreversible.

Via Collaboration Loop.

I don’t seek to make a statement by picking these particular points out (!), but I do want to show that clear lines of focus, a clear idea about what you want, make a whole lot of difference to how you conduct your business (and, as a corollary, how successful that business could be).

Related reading: Collaboration Loop: Stop Acting Your Size.

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About

I’m a software architect / developer / general IT wrangler specialising in web, mobile web and middleware using things like node.js, Java, C#, PHP, HTML5 and more.

Best described as a simpleton, but kindly. You can read more here.

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