book by Erik Dietrich ISBN:0692866809 - Different take on the Gervais Principle for (corporate) developers (pragmatists, idealists, opportunists). If you are one, and you think that learning another language/framework is moving your career forward, you need to read this book.
- He notes that developers own the Means Of Production. But they still, and are treated like, sharecroppers.
- Developers need to stop obsessing over learning new languages, and focus on learning to solve real business problems, partially through code. They should become "Efficiencers".
- Over time, more/most companies will move to outsourcing their dev work to "Efficiencer Firms".
- have a couple concerns with this model
- I like my team having/building Context over time, concerned about that being external
- Having been in a business servicing the PharmCo industry, I'm not sure that model results in happier workers, either. They micromanage budgets. (Though maybe if you're building truly valuable stuff that becomes less of an issue...)
imagine instead a world where there were software development teams structured simply as LLCs
Since she’d switched to the freelance team model, she’d found that a lot of the stuff they’d done before as a matter of course wasn’t neessary any longer
administrative assistant, hired through an agency. He was the one that handled all of the responsibilities that traditional orgs handed to the project manager role
Part 1: A Glimpse of the Future
Chapter 1: Wednesday Morning
Since she’d switched to the freelance team model, she’d found that a lot of what they’d done before as a matter of course wasn’t necessary any longer. Being on a team that was literally self-managed, she’d become aware of how much of her former software development processes had been designed to create the illusion of autonomy.
Emma’s team, for instance, had found that they were getting diminishing returns out of daily stand-ups. What they’d taken to doing instead is scheduling a “pow wow” whenever the team felt they ought to catch up a bit and do a bit of knowledge sharing.
Chapter 2: Wednesday Afternoon
Rhyta had, for some years, been in the habit of meeting three times per year to plan out the next four months worth of software and infrastructure work. It was a typical shop that awkwardly straddled the waterfall and Agile worlds. From their interest in Agile ceremony, it was apparent they understood that massive batch planning of software work wasn’t possible. And yet they engaged in a sisyphean struggle to try to do it anyway.
It was her team’s preference to have a general master services agreement for their work with a client and then to sign a contract for the features to be delivered in a given sprint.
Chapter 3: Wednesday Night
She was a believer in filling her head with details only at the moment those details became necessary
Chapter 4: Thursday Morning
Everyone these days ‘does Agile,’ or at least claims to. I’m talking about how we interact with our clients.
they give you this estimate but make sure you can’t really hold them to it
The next way that we do things differently is that we invite our clients to consider software development as a service instead of considering software as a commodity.
we suggest that they start to think in terms of a monthly software budget
We strongly prefer to work with you to assess how what we’re doing is going to affect your profitability
We don’t have a manager or any kind of role like that,” Emma offered. “We’re a partnership, like a law firm
Part 2: The Corporate World: You Are Here
Be forewarned. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. This part may seem deeply cynical at times, but it’s necessary framing for the parts that follow
Chapter 6: The Corporate Cave
For all of their talk about meritocracy, corporations seemed lightning quick to reassess your “merit” when you had other options.
I invoke the Allegory of the Cave to convey that there are layers to how the corporate world works and how, once you see them, you really can’t un-see them
Chapter 7: Growing Up
there was an archetype whose position could be predicted entirely as a mathematical function of “number of years managing not to get fired
The next archetype that stood out was the people who had inexplicably cut in line somehow
Another archetype that I noted was the “line manager as principal engineer emeritus
Chapter 8: Cynical Theories of Management
The two Gervais principle predecessors were cynical to the point of comedy, whereas the Gervais principle is cynical but accurate to the point of tragedy
In middle management, these clueless folks serve various ends for the sociopaths. But the most important ones are “foil” and “buffer.”
Chapter 9: Defining the Hierarchy (With Less Cynicism)
I have three main problems with using the archetypes, as described, to elaborate on my own theories of corporate politics: (1) the names themselves, (2) the assertion that overperforming middle managers are generally idiots, (3) and the placing of corporate citizens into one of three buckets on the basis of assigning them serious shortcomings.
one has to consider that it may be the system, not the components, that isn’t working
Instead, I think of them in terms of what the modern corporate structure has done to them—broken the losers, tricked the clueless, and forced the sociopaths into ethical conundrums
Corporate structures are, however, substantially less than the sum of their parts, so good faith efforts on a small scale are perverted into rampant dysfunction writ large across the face of industry.
Organizations are pathological, as Venkatesh points out, and they are pathological in a way that corrupts their components
It’s for this reason that I propose that we rename the losers, clueless, and sociopaths to “pragmatists,” “idealists,” and “opportunists.”
Chapter 10: Interviews, Induction, and Nonsense
Before I describe the history of the job interview and the degree to which anyone has made empirical attempts to measure its effectiveness, let me just describe how it actually works
In the end, it’s about four total hours of two parties grandstanding and putting forward their best faces to determine whether or not they should spend the next bunch of years working together. If that seems reasonable, ask yourself if you’d go out for a night of speed dating with the catch that you had to marry someone by the end.
In 1921, tired of hiring college graduates that didn’t know as much as he did, Thomas Edison made up a giant trivia questionnaire to administer to inbound applicants
But was it at least effective in Edison’s day? Evidently not. According to the Albert Einstein archives, Albert Einstein would not have made the cut.
the unstructured interview in which the interviewer asks questions of his or her own choosing is actually worse at predicting performance outcomes than simply looking at resumes and not bothering with the activity at all.
The only company that I’ve heard of actually being empirical about the hiring process is Google, and they’ve come to a similar conclusion
the best current technique they have as part of the hiring process gives candidates a test that simulates work they would actually do, but it only explains 29% of a candidate’s future performance
My hypothesis is that this is perpetuated as something of a subtle perk for corporate idealists, the only ones who appear to benefit from the process
Idealists have no real power from an organizational perspective, but controlling the interview process does a fairly good job of simulating power.
Chapter 11: The Bad Economics of Pragmatism
Pragmatists have their real thing that they care about, and it isn’t the job they’re doing. This is an entirely rational means of ego salve, similar to a teenager making a big to-do over how he doesn’t “believe in” the prom because of some philosophy
You know, I don’t live to work—I just work to live!” This philosophy comes with a price tag. As a matter of fact, it comes with a dreadful price tag. Knowledge-worker pragmatists tend to be salaried exempt employees, meaning that they work for a salary and not a variable hourly rate. And salaried exempt employment is an atrocious economic deal, especially for programmers.
You can think of this 75%, or $75 per hour, as a “stability premium.”
with a full year of $75 per hour (or $150,000 per year) in his pocket, a former pragmatist could hire a commission-based salesperson and an administrative assistant and still have money left over
And even that’s not the worst of it. You see, there’s another insidious characteristic of the corporate world, which is that forty-hour work weeks make about as much sense as laws that you can’t buy alcohol on Sundays
let’s say that you’re way more efficient than Fred was. Within a few months, you’re delivering twice the value
And you know what that reward is?
Well, it’s a hearty pat on the back, an “attaboy, keep up the good work,” and a 5% cost of living adjustment (COLA) instead of a 3% one in twelve months, at your annual review. At your $100,000 salary, that means that you get an extra $2,000 per year, which totals out to $1 per hour.
it could be worse. Speaking of worse economic deals, let’s talk in depth about the idealist
Chapter 12: The Worse Economics of Idealism
A company’s real culture consists of its pecking order, the stories long-tenured folks tell, the company-specific jargon, and the approach to making money and solving problems. And it’s by their investment and belief in this culture that you can identify idealists. Everyone will participate to some degree or another, but idealists will relish participation and judge mutual status by it.
idealists establish a currency of sorts that can be thought of loosely in units of company culture
Part of losing perspective is being willing to delay gratification and make irrational sacrifices to obtain units of this currency, which is completely worthless in the real world.
idealists inclined to assume everyone else is like them. This leads them to make awful strategic and economic decisions as they endlessly chase the seniority
Let’s look at two possible paths through the company: that of the pragmatist knowledge worker and that of the idealist one
Why do idealists work such long hours?
it’s really about proving their prowess within a constrained, artificial environment
Have you ever gone to a carnival where they sell you nine tickets for $15, and everything costs four or eight tickets?
There’s nothing even remotely impressive about having loads of leftover carnival cash
The modern corporate structure robs idealists of perspective. It introduces a bubble culture and funnels their natural competitiveness into zero sum games for worthless prizes while opportunists quietly brush past, looking for actual items of value.
she’ll blink and ten years will have expired
she’ll have minimal leverage with which to go looking for competitive offers, since she’s traded a whole ton of value on the market for carnival cash. Being the resident expert on Acme Inc.’s weird internal SAP installation may net a lot of water cooler cred at Acme Inc. But Beta LLC hiring managers are going to raise a skeptical eyebrow and say, “And that helps me how?”
Perhaps the most depressing part of all of this is that the ruling opportunists understand how self-limiting and non-strategic the idealist career path is. When looking for their next CFO, they’re not looking for people that get comically over-competitive and dump $200 into the fast-pitch game in a futile effort to win a $4 inflatable bat
Chapter 13: The Lonely Profit of Opportunism
When you figure out that (said in The Matrix’s spoon kid voice) “there is no awesomeness test,” the only decision left is whether you wind up an opportunist or a pragmatist.
Becoming an opportunist is to understand that the org chart and what it represents is “but a walking shadow.” There’s really no order or meaning behind it all. To put it more plainly, an opportunist becomes an opportunist the day he figures out that, at the core of things, no one in any position of power or authority at the company really knows what they’re doing any better than he does.
This newly minted opportunist is only interested in playing games that she can win
file a “doing business as” (DBA), which essentially means that they create a corporate entity,
spend $120 per month hiring a virtual assistant (VA) firm to help them perform various tasks around setting up the infrastructure necessary for a software consultancy (a website, bookkeeping, etc.). Finally, I advised them to add “Managing Director, JaneSoft” to their resumes and list management of a global team as
This is smart, and it’s effective for advancement. It’s also lonely
striding toward the tops of organizations (or founding their own) requires a heavy social toll that the other groups don’t have to pay
always do things that strain the ethos of the company culture
Once in power, they bear the burden of pandering to both the pragmatists and idealists, albeit in different ways
opportunists might just give up a bit of their souls
It’s the opportunists that most truly understand the pathological nature of organizations, and it’s likewise the opportunists that perpetuate it
I firmly believe the reason for this is that the nature of the corporate game itself is negative sum
Chapter 14: Faux Ownership—Managers and Owners
I haven’t really talked about the corporate life cycle, offering instead a portrait of the company as an adult near its prime. To remedy that, I’ll talk about the birth and evolution of a company in this chapter
In the beginning, there is an opportunist. Putting aside my archetype jargon for a minute, that statement actually functions well in plain, old English. The kind of person that would start a company is an opportunist
When the company hires someone in exchange for salary or contract pay, it has acquired its first pragmatist
For a time, the company undergoes an accretion process with the opportunist-pragmatist binary alone
But then something happens. The organization gets too big for the co-founder oligarchy model to be practical
This is the original company idealist. This is also the inaugural moment for seniority in the company and, in a very real way, the establishment of what company culture will be
here, in the appointment of the first non-owning manager, the founders have defined what it takes to advance within this nascent company
But let’s now take a look at what’s happened within this company, its culture having just been defined by the enshrinement of idealist number one
The actors will act, the athletes will play, and the managers will deal with mundane meta-concerns that don’t interest the talent
Managers take care of details with which their employers cannot be bothered. Owner-opportunists employ people managers when they can no longer be bothered with the grunt-pragmatists
you hand him a placard that says “manager.” And what do you do to reward him? You’re not going to give him an ownership cut, and you’re not going to pay him a whole lot more. So you give him what the corporate world has standardized. You give him faux ownership.
Idealists are content as faux owners. Opportunists reject faux ownership as an appealing end and use it as an opportunity to continue a never-ending charge toward real ownership
Chapter 15: The Cult of Hours
Whether your ownership matters hinges on the volume of what you own and the context in which you own it
And, unpopular as it may be to say to an audience comprised mostly of full-time-wage earners, you own the assistant. At least for forty (okay, who are we kidding, fifty) hours per week you do
Forty-hour-per-week employment is a completely risk-maximized, non-diversified arrangement
I’ve switched from paying them for the market value of specific labor to paying them what amounts to a retainer for “do whatever I tell you.” I now sort of own them
This arrangement creates a certain opacity to the value of anything that the laborer does
Remember, owners aren’t paying their employees for completing specific tasks with obvious value. They’re paying for laborers to show up and do whatever an owner or faux owner tells them to do. As organizations expand, any semblance of being able to measure the value of labor goes right out the window.
Salary has nothing to do with value. Instead, salary has everything to do with status, which, in turn, has everything to do with culture
sacrificing their own wants and needs at the altar of being a “team player.” A big part of this is an hours-per-week arms race
The cult of hours is the modern corporate incarnation of the Protestant work ethic
given that this is the corporate world’s main guiding metric, is it any wonder that performance reviews are a complete waste of time?
Chapter 16: Performance Reviews and Advancement Theater
The real star of the performance review show is the person to whom it’s done: the pragmatist
once you advance to a certain place within a company, the performance review stops being a thing
Ironically, it’s through these informal or even back-channel interactions that true advancement within a company occurs
Meaningful promotion (e.g., into a role with direct reports) does not arise out of the performance review. Only incremental, titular advancement occurs this way. So in a very real sense, if you’re sitting there being reviewed via the MS Word template, you’ve already failed the real performance review ipso facto
most performance reviews are determined more by the available budget for raises than by your performance
The problem with this messaging is that it’s predicated upon the idea that company and individual performance are in lockstep, whereas the performance review, by its very existence, is predicated upon the notion that every laborer is a unique snowflake
Clearly the outcome of the performance review is not a reasonable expression of individual value. So why the charade about individual performance
The opportunists see reality. They see that budget decisions having little to do with individual, group, or department performance are made and that it’s up to them to translate this into a narrative about who is or isn’t a good, homework-completing little boy or girl
Ascendant opportunists understand that line-level performance reviews are a farce, but they put on an idealist face and carry them out because there’s not really a viable alternative
modern knowledge workers such as programmers are better suited to job hop
Chapter 17: Your Company Doesn’t Care About You
what I’ve omitted up to this point is a discussion of watchdog, overhead entities that emerge as a corporation grows. These include but are not limited to things such as human resources, legal departments, standards compliance efforts
Are people in these roles idealists, pragmatists, or opportunists? And don’t they offer recourse for those not in positions of power?
The answer to that latter question is simply, in practice, “No, not really
The answer to the former question, however, is a much more nuanced.
organizational opportunists, who, in these roles, have a much more bitter pill to swallow than their counterparts in organizational profit centers
The opportunists, however, understand that they are in a role whose actual purpose is to protect the company from its employees, not the other way around
If you start to peel back all logical implications of this onion, you can see it overwhelmingly in all things corporate
This creeps insidiously into even the most benign-seeming corporate institutions, such as morale-boosting activities, company perks, and career counseling sessions.
In such a situation, one can either live in a state of resignation, work one’s way into the power structure, or flee and take up residence elsewhere. The majority of books offering career opinions or advice trade in how to do the first two. For the remainder of this book, I will be working toward a detailed treatment of the third option.
Part 3: A History of the Corporate World
I stayed in my first job for almost 6 years. In the next job, I lasted two and a half years, and, from there, it was always a year or less
They weren’t bad companies, and I’m not a bad human. And yet, on I’d move
Right from the beginning, I was savvy enough only to jump ship for a nice pay increase
A more visceral force was at play here. The fact of the matter is that I wasn’t so much moving toward better opportunities as I was moving away from situations of which I was weary. I was losing faith and leaving, and parlaying the departure into something better for myself while I was at it.
I could oversimplify my mental investment into an endeavor into two competing forces: my belief in the value of what I’m doing weighed against the friction I encounter trying to do it.
really, the central question was, “why do I lose faith so easily?” In the context of Part 2, the answer is that I was being forged into an opportunist
Somewhere between mission statements like, “we want to bring the best gosh-darned widgets to the masses” and the realities of these organizations, a major disconnect happens and the corporations are less than the sum of their parts. Why is that? This part is going to be dedicated to exploring that question
Chapter 18: Legacy: Ancient Corporations
Nearly 2,400 years ago, commercial organizations existed in such a way that we would recognize them today
The earliest incarnation of the corporation was almost certainly formed as a way to guarantee legacy
Chapter 19: Influence: Medieval Corporations
In medieval Europe, these designations described participants in the “guild” systems
Notwithstanding any self-indulgence, however, it also neatly captures the reality that entry level people are often not ready to handle real programming work without the oversight of someone accomplished in the field. And it also neatly handles the reality that software developers, perhaps more than just about any other type of line level employee, bounce around from project to project an awful lot
Unfortunately for our purposes, the modern incarnation of the guild model with software differs significantly from its counterpart of 700 years ago. At least, it does in terms of motivation. The modern software craftsmanship movement is a call to arms to improve standards and quality whereas the medieval guild movement was, in actuality a sort of labor union-cartel hybrid.
That being said, the implied guild contract was, more or less an exchange of value between the guild and its members. The members gave the guild dues, supplied it with labor (and thus credibility and leverage), and participated in its governance. The guild, in turn, offered its members protection, outsized influence, and the medieval equivalent of marketing
The original motivation for the creation of guilds was the imposition of disastrous local taxes within the feudal economy
guild was born out of a desire for collective bargaining
From this beginning, the organizations grew in power, influence, and scope. Many of them were infused with religious overtones and rituals
Guilds ceased to exist merely as defense against noble overreach and began to wield their own power, acting as cartels with monopolies on trade
Guilds in their medieval incarnation lasted, in some form or another, until the late 18th century, making their downfall coincident with the Industrial Revolution
As one might expect from an institution granting monopolistic cartel status, the benefits provided became largely outweighed by the rent seeking behaviors of members and the institution as a whole
But the rise and fall of the guild system and the reasoning behind both provides some insight into what the modern corporation took away from the guild construct of the middle ages. It was the dawn of commercial entities wielding significant political and societal influence at the local and regional scope
Chapter 20: Gestalt: Mercantilism
In the 1500s, an economic philosophy that would later become known as “Mercantilism” emerged. Mercantilism, more or less, held that a country’s wealth and success was the amount of gold that it had at its disposal. Protecting the economic health of the nation, then, became a matter of taking certain, logically deducible steps
large parts of Asia, the Americas, and Africa were fair game to anyone who might happen by
the state would need help to realize the full benefits of colonial plunder.
It was out of this necessity that the chartered company of the Mercantile age was born
The chartered companies did two important things that would set themselves apart from their predecessor guilds. First, they secured underwriters (investors) to go after things not achievable by any one individual (investors often included the crown and governing bodies). And, second, they introduced the idea of a joint stock company.
The separation of ownership, and thus profit, from operation is profound for our treatment of corporate history
Chapter 21: Barriers to Entry: Industrial Revolution
Thus while the principals changed, the Industrial Revolution in Europe saw the superposition of a corporate structure atop a feudal one. The serfs of yore became factory workers, and the lords became merchants, but the game was more or less the same. They key difference for our purposes was that this is the first time the corporate structure included the serfs. They had become employees, willingly or not.
And so were born the first corporate pragmatists in earnest
Chapter 22: Layered Organizations: Taylorism
When commerce was a matter of craft, each good was unique, and each good was produced entirely by the craftsman
As a result of this aggregate competition, new ways for these companies to distinguish themselves emerged. The most notable among these was efficiency
I personally think of Taylor as a magnificent bastard
Taylor’s obsession with efficiency and advocacy of micromanagement translate poorly to the modern knowledge work
categorizing some humans as stupid and beast-like
He proposes another piece of the corporate puzzle that creates the layer cake we know today. He proposes an organization consisting of owners, non-owning but educated managers, and beast-like laborers.
Chapter 23: Ubiquity: Organized Labor
They didn’t simply spring into life in the early 1900’s
for 2 centuries. Early unions were known as “trade unions” and these stood in some contrast to the later concept of “labor unions
As the industrial revolution progressed, more and more of the population found itself performing unskilled labor
not well addressed by trade union tactics
Trade unions were more interested in what might be described as middle class craftsman than they were in the common man.
the political climate created by World War I in the US saw the government begin to endorse, support, and even create labor unions
Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed a veritable goldmine of legislation to protect members of the labor force, and union membership exploded
There was one final wartime curiosity in the USA that would innocuously lay the groundwork for the ubiquity of employment in the half century that would follow. During World War II, the US government was highly sensitive to the problem of post-war inflation that had so affected Germany’s economy following World War I. As such, they set a cap on wage increases, but, almost as an afterthought, allowed a tax exemption on employers providing health insurance. The result, unsurprisingly, was an explosion in the amount of employer-provided health insurance plans
Chapter 24: Anachronism: Rise of Knowledge Work
At this point, corporate structure became remarkably sticky. When the organization scaled up too much and became too complex for even the most scientific-minded person to measure, a reliance on tradition and familiarity took over
But in spite of the fact that corporations have recently found themselves stuck in quicksand, there is one dramatic change that has taken place. It started innocuously enough, and then grew exponentially. I’m talking about the rise of the knowledge worker and, more specifically, the emergence of information technology (IT).
the middle of the twentieth century saw the advent of a new form of automation: the computer
In order to harness this power, an organization just needed the money to buy a machine like this and hire some geek to operate it so that actual business people could solve actual business problems
Yet for these people and for knowledge workers in general, a heavy, heavy legacy remains to this day. Organizations pay lip service to agile methodologies and to servant leadership, but, by and large, bureaucratic command and control structures govern knowledge work
But all of that is a bubble that is about to pop. Ubiquitous and inevitable as it seems, the modern corporation is dying and a sea change is coming
For the first time in recorded history, we easily own our own significant means of production
Barriers to entry still exist, but not the way they used to
So, are organizations worth our faith? The answer, sadly, is no. And that’s because corporations do a remarkable job of solving the problems of yesterday—problems that we no longer have.
Part 4: How to Succeed in the Corporate World, Such as It Is
Chapter 25: Pragmatists Succeed with Alternate Narratives
The real trouble for the pragmatists is that they are not invested in what they’re doing, and that investment is critical for knowledge work pursuits. It’s hard to blame them; they’ve ceded hope of meaningful advancement and influence within the organization, so, really, what’s in it for them?
By and large, this explains both the risk aversion that prevents pragmatists from trying their hands as opportunists and the perspective that prevents them from falling into idealism
familiar equilibrium in which the company and the pragmatist find one another to be entirely predictable
There is a final piece of the pragmatist success puzzle
growing trend is emerging, particularly in software. A growing contingent of us define success by our proficiency with hobbies within the workplace. I am talking, of course, about programming
the overwhelming majority of content, corporate programmers are indeed pragmatists. They value the thrill of flow and the feedback loop of programming over autonomy, ownership, and a will to power approach
Pragmatist success is thus defined by two tiers of goal. The first, essential tier is to maintain steady enough employment to sustain good standing on Maslow’s hierarchy. The second tier of success is then largely self-defined. A pragmatist succeeds if she stays employed and feels good about her life and what she does with it.
Chapter 26: Idealists Succeed with Merged Identity
Where pragmatists define their success by mastery of hobbies and external pursuits, idealists define theirs by their valuation at the hand of the company and their position within the same. Where it gets weird is that idealists have a concept of success that will prove literally impossible for them to attain
gunning for the C-suite
consider the subtle alteration in narrative for an idealist in the twilight years of his career. He’ll say neither that he’s still gunning for the C-suite nor that he thinks his career was a failure because he didn’t make it. Instead, he’ll pivot to a tale of many good years of service, with ups and downs, that made him the person that he is today.
fusion of his identity with that of the company
What they actually want, deep down, is acceptance and approval
founder legend by osmosis
The real currency at stake is becoming a real, honest to goodness, Acme Inc insider
Chapter 27: Opportunists Become Other
So how do opportunists succeed? That is the interesting question in the world of corporate realpolitik, and that is what the remainder of part 4 is going to address
And, while defining success for opportunists is easy, it’s going to require the remainder of part 4 to examine how to achieve it.
Learning powertalk is thus a quixotic mission – the aspiring opportunist needs to learn to acquire power and the powertalk will follow
it is a path of becoming a different person in the corporate context than you might otherwise be.
You need to fundamentally alter how you regard yourself at your office – you need to become an opportunist.
start viewing yourself as the owner of your own personal brand and operation. You are an island – you are other
Once this is your mindset – once you’re really living, feeling, and breathing it – your conversations will begin to consist entirely of powertalk
This also explains why, as I claimed earlier, opportunism is a lonely pursuit
Until you strike out on your own in earnest and start your own company, you’re the only one in your corner (and even when you do this, no one will really be in your corner until your company acquires its own idealists).
What follows is the real, honest key to meteoric advancement at an organization. But it’s also ethically murky, high risk, and prioritizes advancement over everything else in your corporate life.
What you’ll read in the remainder of part 4 is not advice, and I ask that you not mistake it for advice
Rather, this is a high risk blueprint for how to wind up in the C suite. You’ll find your way there, if you can stomach it. But you’ll also probably lose a job or two along the way and do some things that keep you up at night.
Chapter 28: The Realpolitik Tragedy of Corporate Scrum
first we need to lay out some failure blueprints
It should be most natural for us as humans to default to opportunist mode, and yet, we don’t. Somehow, we fail to do that and settle instead into one of these two other unfortunate archetypes. It’s essential to know why that happens and why not doing so feels wrong before we can really get into how to do what feels wrong and not fall into these traps
Knowledge workers tend to be well compensated, so they chase new, more subtle goals: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. The modern corporation has not adapted in many significant ways, but it has adapted enough to sustain a status quo where knowledge workers can serve as grunts, the way their manufacturing floor forebears did. The corporation has done this by creating the illusion of line-level autonomy
essential difference between the forest wolves and the city wolves – between consultant Scrum and corporate Scrum. The former have actual autonomy while the latter have illusory autonomy
the agile manifesto was written by a group of people with options.
As the agile movement gained legs, it created a cottage process industry
As the years passed, this burgeoning process industry gave rise to paradox
The most basic paradox of corporate Scrum is thus the edict from on high to be autonomous (but not so autonomous as to stop listening to edicts from on high).
these “you will now do Scrum” teams are usually measured with a great deal of scrutiny. This is ironic because the lack of trust subverts the foundational autonomy for which agile methods call and makes team mediocrity a self fulfilling prophecy.
Scrum is not an excellent methodology for people who possess only illusory autonomy. In this context, it’s a farce. In this context, it’s realpolitik tragedy for its practitioners.
Does the boss account for yesterday’s and today’s work to his peers and superiors every day? Does anyone “pair” with the boss? Does the boss have a “boss master” telling him how to behave during meetings?
The more enthusiastically you participate in agile methodologies within a corporate context, the worse your advancement prospects.
Servant leadership is a great concept in populist contexts where “lead by example” can define an eventual hierarchical structure. When the hierarchical structure is already defined, “servant leadership” is an insult to opportunist intelligence
organizations like Google, Amazon, Facebook, et al. These companies are building pools, and we think it’s so cool to be building pools that we put up with absurd interviewing process and subject ourselves to false scarcity depressing our wages. There is a massive shortage of developer labor, and the world needs all hands on deck. Yet we operate as if a “good” programming job were a scarcity that we’d be lucky to have.
Being a good developer – participating gamely in team activities, learning enough algorithm trivia to pass interviews, being attracted to “the best and brightest” organizations using the coolest techs, and so on – is bad for your career
Chapter 29: The Programmer’s Escape Plan
you need to start figuring out how not to be a programmer
last I checked “senior software engineer” or “tech lead” are neither owners, executives, nor managers.
Pragmatists are pragmatists are pragmatists, and developer pragmatists offer no exception. They are content to show up, work as much as necessary to retain their comfortable jobs and standing, and then go home.
Where things grow more interesting is with programmer idealists
don’t even require any significant advancement or marginal pay to feel as if they have arrived. Often, you can just call them “principal” and put them in charge of the coding standards document
Programmer idealists can be found in two flavors. The first is the Expert Beginner, who really embodies the “junior idealist” concept.
The second kind of idealist is curiously developer-specific and confounds the established archetypes by actually changing companies a fair bit. This character I will call the journeyman idealist.
The journeyman idealist swaps faith in the company for faith in the nebulous concept of the general, technical meritocracy. His company is the programming industry in general, spread across all companies and domains.
These days, a software developer probably lasts an average of two or three years before moving on to greener pastures
It’d be reasonable to assume that this trend would shatter the idealist mentality, but reality is more interesting. In the world of software development, idealism has become something of a co-op.
He trades the corporate carnival cash of nicer cubicles for industry carnival cash of higher Stack Overflow scores
For programmers, there is no “up or out” because “up” is determined by journeyman idealists for a long time
You can try to make up or out plays, but it really just turns into “out” and there’s no given that the next situation constitutes an improvement in standing (though you’ll probably get a pay raise).
only the opportunist understands that the shortest distance between “junior programmer” and “CTO” isn’t through the wide band spectrum of software development positions
The goal becomes finding ways not to participate in the software development process, but to manage it, somehow
You need to sell out and believe it, taking your joy of working with the tech and completely compartmentalizing it outside of your office. Programming is not a calling, and it’s not a craft. It’s just automation that increases top line revenue through product or reduces bottom line costs through automation
Once you’ve steeled yourself to thinking that way, the opportunities to move toward leadership will start to become obvious:
All of this is not going to be to advance your fortunes within your current company, of course
Chapter 30: Avoiding the Delivery Trap
But, unlike the quality of the estimate, the badness of the outcome is decidedly asymmetrical
“we’ll ask for estimates and then treat them as deadlines!”
the reality is that this is a perfectly rational behavior for a manager in the standard corporate context. I’ll go even further and say that I view doing this as morally and ethically neutral
If we drop the pretense, then, that the manager makes the team operate significantly more efficiently, things become more interesting.
But the manager serves an additional function at scale in a corporation – namely information conduit
In this context, the estimation game makes a lot more sense. What managers really do when it comes to estimates, planning, and the like, is furnish information to superiors. At some level, superiors stake their personal reputations and positions on the outcome of gambling on the future
If you take this paradigm and trickle it back down to the line-managers demanding estimates from developers, you can understand their plight
You need to become too ‘important’ for simple delivery
Don’t worry at all about title here. That will take care of itself later, and possibly at another organization
Chapter 31: Partnership and Transcending the Realpolitik Glass Ceiling
real opportunists do not view themselves as employees of a company, but as single-person corporate entities unto themselves, dealing with the rest of the corporation as a series of outsiders. Opportunists thus view all of their relationships at work as various flavor of partnership.
Pragmatists view the company the way a spoiled, adult scion with generational, inherited wealth views his parents
Idealists view the company as a purely benevolent steward of their careers, praising them when they deserve it and appropriately rebuking them when they fall short. The company is still a parent
Opportunists realize that there’s no such thing as a company outside of tax and legal documents
opportunists don’t really view themselves as a tiny company dealing with the massive one for which they work. Rather, they view themselves as a tiny company, dealing with a large population of other, tiny companies
The opportunist may as well be in a co-working space, wheeling and dealing with partners and prospective partners
Your peers are like nominal competitors in an open marketplace. Think of yourself as a Chinese restaurant, and they’re French, Indian, pizza, and Lebanese places. You do compete, but can also all benefit simultaneously from a rising tide in the general market.
Once you see your boss not as a parental champion of your career, but as the client making you a captive shop, important realizations start to flow. As with any business, that lack of diversification is dangerous. That’s doubly true when you’re stuck in the delivery trap, being measured in a game entirely of that client’s creation
Of the limited plays available inside the ecosystem of players that others call a company, positioning yourself to avoid failure setups is critical
The key to advancement is the illusion of strength above your level. You want to cultivate a mover and shaker air.
Back in the corporate world, you need to start imagining yourself as a displaced owner/executive/entrepreneur with an explanation for hanging out among the grunts. Perhaps you’ve run point on a few startup ventures, but settled into a 9-5 job for the sake of a little stability for a while
You need to do this because advancing requires alliances with comparably powerful partners that see you as an equal in the wrong place.
At every level, you want to subtly leverage the threat of the market, but without being so crude as to actually threaten anything
You can do this in many ways, and you’ll need to find the strategy that works for you. Little things like tons of contacts and recommendations on LinkedIn can actually help. Speak extensively about your experience in other places, cultivating an air of the cosmopolitan that stands in stark contrast to your peers that have only had one or two jobs
You always want to leave your partnerships in as good shape as you can, because of the second ascendant consideration: the quid pro quo
Pragmatists and idealists tend to fail spectacularly when it comes to the quid pro quo aspect of partnership
consider something that you would find for a dime a dozen on Buzzfeed or LinkedIn in terms of career advice
reasons I deserve a promotion
The trouble here is that the idealist/pragmatist taking this advice is not offering anything
If you want your boss to really hand you some valuable benefits, you need to do the same for her. Make her life better somehow, then look for reciprocity
You make her life better by improving her prospects. Find out on what basis she’s being evaluated and what her goals are, and then take steps to make those things happen
This quid pro quo sentiment can also go beyond your boss, particularly if it is, on the surface at least, good for the organization
But if you keep in mind the idea of quid pro quo and the notion of having options, you’ll have an excellent framework to realize the benefits of internal partnerships
And this framework can also help you navigate political minefields, such as contentious peers or corporate enemies
Chapter 32: Avoiding Carnival Cash
But this isn’t as simple as deciding not to value the carnival cash, and holding out for better things. You don’t want to have it in the first place
Your path to opportunism is thus fraught with the danger of stalling out. Getting stuck in the delivery trap makes you a perpetual pragmatist. Getting stuck with a gigantic hoard of carnival cash renders you a perpetual idealist
Would a professional laundry service accept a “laundry service of the month” plaque in lieu of a month’s payment?
You need to be subtle when it comes to avoiding suckers’ currency.
tell yourself that, instead of ‘recognizing’ you, the people in question could simply pay you. And yet, they aren’t
VP would call for a vote, and the top 3 people would get something like) $100 Amex gift cards
serves as a realpolitik petri dish
The people that would receive gift cards and celebrate them were, clearly, pragmatists
The idealists eschewed the cash prizes and nominations in favor of being nominators
What did the ascendant opportunists do? They avoided the whole scene like the plague. An opportunist does not want to be remembered like the pragmatist here: reminiscent of a dog pleased at having a milk bone tossed his way
there’s no faster way to lose your seat in real power discussions than to be viewed as the kind of person that can be bought off for $100 or, worse still, can be bought off for the ‘prize’ of giving someone else $100
The actual, already-ascended opportunists in the organization participated only in running the ceremony and approving the budget. The ascendant opportunists made themselves scarce by avoiding nominations and avoiding speaking up.
Work hard to help your boss advance. Work hard to bring in extra money for your department
do not work hard to please some superior in the hopes that they’ll deem you worthy of a raise someday
If you want a raise, don’t talk about how you’ve improved your leadership skills; offer to bring in a new client. The converse also has importance here – don’t expend Herculean efforts for free without negotiating some consideration ahead of time.
we’re not talking about doing your job, but about going way above and beyond your job
you’re not going to saunter in and make demands; that’s the idealist cartoon of negotiation and not real negotiation. Present these quid pro quos as win-win and leave yourself a plausibly deniable out
It’s rare that you have true leverage, particularly in a line level position. If you’re a positive sum sort of person, look for mutual wins that come from external resources
But carnival cash as a quid pro quo consolation prize is not the only source of this dangerous currency. You tend to accumulate it naturally if you stay in the same place for very long
Like a ship, lack of motion earns you barnacles for your (lack of) trouble.
Always be transferring, switching roles, switching jobs, switching projects, etc
avoid getting too immersed in the corporation’s mythology
there’s a bit of power signaling that goes on when you strike just the right balance between operating in the company’s interests and skepticism for its folklore and terminology. You’re saying, “I’ll help out, but on my terms, and without the BS
enough to let the opportunists know that you have external prospects and expertise to offer (they, after, all, understand the mythology is necessary to keep a healthy idealist layer intact), but not enough so that the idealists start to call for your head as a heretic
graciously say that you can’t accept it because it was really Bob that did all of the hard work
Chapter 33: The Art of No
You generally want to avoid situations that impede your progress, which, beyond offers of carnival cash, might also include setups for failure or obviously subordinate assignments
The art of no is a broad and subtle one, though. It dives far deeper than simply blurting out the word, “no,” (which I’d rarely, if ever, advise).
The first flavor I’ll address is what I’ll refer to as “no by saying yes.” It’s certainly the sneakiest way to say no, but it’s also the one that involves far and away the least amount of conflict
you can say yes to staying later while quietly saying no to doing extra work for the company. Instead of spending those extra hours doing anything for the company, work on beefing up your network, looking for other prospective roles/clients, leveling up a skill, or simply doing some personal errands
“no by self effacement or sacrifice.”
consider a dubious “plum assignment” that actually sets you up for failure.
Be careful with self effacement, though. The last thing you want to do is receive some kind of offer and essentially turn it down by saying, “you don’t want me – I’m a moron.” Rather, you want to self-efface using an apparently beneficial, but really suboptimal trait
Beg off in favor of others because of traits that they exhibit like dedication, working long hours, loyalty, tenacity, and the like. Be sure you’re talking about things that tend to exhibit diminishing or negative marginal returns. Don’t tell them that Jim is more strategic or smarter than you
A related, but more compelling form of “no” is “no by counter offer.” With this tactic, we begin a dive into better examples of powertalk and maneuvering. Saying no with a counter offer is really just saying yes to another question
offers and counter offers represent a course correction of shared narrative
Control your situation via narrative-altering counter offers
“I’d really prefer to see my current project through. What if I stuck with it 75% of the time, and dedicated another 25% plus some overtime to getting someone else going on that project?”
it can also fall flat
You can do a bit better than “no by counter offer” if you’re clever. Specifically, I’m talking about the next form of “no.” I think of this one as “no by better idea.”
you offer a demonstrably superior solution
You can always gameplan for a few days and see what you can come up with.
The one word of caution here is to check your own pride or ego.
Realize going in that there may be more at play than what happens on the surface, and that superior arguments may not carry the day. If they don’t, it’s a data point
Now, let’s get into even more political forms of no. Consider the case of “no by negative sell.”
In the context of saying no to people in the organization, this one is best applied to people with ambivalent interest in what they’re asking you to do
A negative sell, even when not successful, can generate leverage and better offers
Better leverage plays take the form of stuff that doesn’t blow back on you
The last one that I’ll mention can also range from simple to ethically perilous. I’ll call this “no by anticipation.”
On the flip side of this comes some behaviors that are politically smart but rent-seeking in nature
If you want to generalize beyond what I’ve done here, then keep in mind the power balance between you and the company
The key is thus to acquire capital
Chapter 34: Advancement
In chapter 34, I’ll lay out a more tangible approach. This chapter guides you from line level programmer through avenues of advancement.
pick out something else to do. Specifically, go job title/description shopping. You do not want to shop for the job of your dreams, but rather to stake out a road map away from delivery.
build a composite of what you want to be doing in, say, 5 years. Then, work backward
whatever you do, don’t answer something like that with “principal architect” or anything else that requires piercing the journeyman idealist veil – I said 3 years, not 30
two fairly obvious paths to pursue: consulting and project management
I’ll proceed talking about these relatively standard options
I cannot overemphasize the importance of “fake it ‘til you make it.”
you’re going to need to use your current job as a gamification engine to earn all sorts of project management and consulting “badges.”
Seriously, make a list of these types of things
go at it like you were gaming Stackoverflow for some arcane gold badge, upvoting long dead answers or something. You’re building the narrative that you’ll be pitching to your next boss.
“true, but misleading” is opportunist for “I’m about to get a better job.”
the entire world that you’re venturing into with these ambitions is one of sales and nothing besides
Push until someone calls BS, and then back off. If you understand the limits, you can capitalize on human cognitive biases to normalize the stories. Extrapolate and up sell your experience routinely with those around you
In chapter 32, I talked about moving around like a shark as a key to avoiding carnival cash. That strategy confers another benefit, however, in the context here. It facilitates your upward trajectory.
Each transfer, promotion, or company switch becomes a plausible point of narrative enhancement
Always say yes to opportunity, even if you have no idea what you’ll do to make it work
No doubt you’ll be able to figure something out
But if you can’t – if you’re truly lost – that’s okay too
There would be no more appropriate way to wrap this play book than to bring you to the defining play of the opportunist playbook. If you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, the solution isn’t to nobly offer your own head for chopping and cede responsibility. The solution is to maneuver an idealist into the firing line.
figure out a narrative other than “the project manager couldn’t get organized.” Perhaps it’s “the team consistently over commits.”
did you think you’d get there another way? Did you think it would happen with over performance, scrupulous honesty, loyalty, and waiting your turn?
If that sounds like madness, it’s because that is madness
Chapter 35: The Madness of it All
I do endorse righteous indignation at what I’ve typed throughout this entire part of the book, and I do endorse demands to know why these techniques should be effective at all
Only in retrospect do I have access to such a mercenary play book. I don’t currently play it, however. My career ambitions lie along a different path. In fact, I have set a goal for myself to get back to programming
I currently split my professional time between executive consulting and creating content that generates passive income (for instance, writing books). The consulting pays me well, but it can get tiring both being in the corporate setting and keeping my pipeline full of work. Also, I miss programming. So my goal is to keep ratcheting up the percentage of my income that comes passively, from content I generate. Once I hit critical mass with that and no longer need to consult, I intend to return to software development, building things that I find cool
two components that the modern corporation has in spades: concern with legacy and ubiquity. Together, these give rise to the essential characteristic of a modern corporation: growth for growth’s sake
But what need for scale for its own sake is there, truly, in knowledge work, global economy?
We’re factory workers that can’t figure out that we own factories. We’re serfs that can’t figure out that we own manors. We’re founders that haven’t figured out that our legacies are freedom and self-determination.
Part 5: Where We Go from Here
I ultimately wound up leaving the corporate world and staying away. By most measures, this was a pretty questionable play. As a 33 year old CIO, I had a nicely manicured path to a lucrative corporate career
This came from a place of serious disillusionment
Pragmatists give up hope, idealists give up perspective, and opportunists give up their ethical compass.
At every job I took, I wound up in a position where my own best interest were at odds of those with customers, clients, coworkers, and my charter with the organization
This was my essential realization. Until I owned the operation, I would necessarily face choices between what I felt was right and advancing my career
As an independent or entrepreneur, your boss changes from someone in a corner office to your customers/clients
But the “you always have a boss” wisdom misses a fundamental distinction. As an independent or entrepreneurial owner, you’re participating in a system where you’re incented to have as many bosses as possible. In the corporate context, you’re incented, if not mandated, to have only one.
For the remainder of the book, I’m going to talk about where we are and where we’re going. The depressing parts are over, and from here I will talk in terms of optimism and improvement
For the foreseeable future, the demand for technologists will be virtually unbounded
I’m going to profile a number of technologists that have succeeded outside of the standard wage world, and build my “what comes next” offering atop that foundation.
Chapter 36: The Coming Crunch
First, consider the nuts and bolts of a pyramid-shaped, Tayloresque organization
So I want to start offering them 110K per year, but now I have a problem. I can’t do that without bumping the pay of my 5 managers and my VP as well
Now take this dynamic and apply it at a Fortune 500 company with thousands of line level employees and 9 layers of management
another dynamic in our industry: the growing software developer shortage
companies will move away from employing software developers as wage laborers. The economics simply don’t make sense
All of the rules about what employees have to make relative to one another completely evaporate when it comes to contractors and custom app dev shops
But it goes deeper than that. Massive companies have bureaucracies in place that serve two principle purposes: risk mitigation and communication at scale. Both of these considerations are anathema to skilled software development
The trend will thus drive software developers to three main camps: large software companies, startups and small product companies, and custom app dev shops (including solo freelancers).
I predict, then, the freelancer and custom app dev shop starts to dominate the technology space. A picture emerges of organizations having their automation and development needs met by legions of freelancers and specialty software shops of various sizes.
And in that world, a new entity reigns supreme: the autonomous developer opportunist
Chapter 37: Studies in Success
consider what the corporate world takes from us. We must choose among giving up hope, giving up perspective, and giving up high minded ethics
The developer opportunist, an entity apart from salaried development in the corporate world, cedes none of these
I looked for people whose careers can be described by both success and autonomy, and people who enjoyed both of those things outside of the standard corporate arrangement
Here are the people that I interviewed, in alphabetical order by last name
he had occasion to begin using NServiceBus
Many of you are no doubt familiar with the so-called Agile Manifesto (actually the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development”). James was one of the authors of that particular document.
James’ friend, “Uncle” Bob Martin had originally recruited him
Matt is the founder of a company called Excelon Development
It’s a small shop that keeps overhead low
founder of Thoughts on Java, an organization that provides independent training
eventually putting in notice and going to work full time for himself, producing content.
She does this currently with Auth0
also has a consulting practice
creator of the popular Developer on Fire podcast
few app dev contracts. When a family situation pressed him into taking some time off, he began to blog and podcast
founder of Simple Programmer
building mobile apps and to start a blog
blog didn’t make him money (at first, anyway), but proved a more valuable long term commodity, in that it began to generate notoriety for him. Over the course of a few years, he began to get emails and calls offering him interviews, jobs, consulting gigs, and other sorts of opportunities.
wrote his first book
For the full transcripts of the conversations, please see Appendix A
Chapter 38: Profile of the Developer Ubermensch
Nietschze believed that the next step in human evolution would be categorized by those that rejected preconceived moralities in favor of their own. Rather than call for moral banktrupcty, the message could be distilled to, “let’s say that you remove God and any concept of objective morality; the ubermensch is the person who staves off nihilism by filling the resultant void with morality that results from a love of life.” The ubermensch, then, radiates morality in the absence of an externally defined and imposed morality. Think of him as the moral equivalent of a rogue planet in deep space with its own, internal heat source.
All of the people I’ve listed in chapter 37 share this defining philosophical characteristic
let’s take a look at a composite of the people that I’ve interviewed
First and foremost, all of them rejected, in some way or another, the standard, prevailing corporate narrative
folks have responsibilities that go well beyond writing code. And, while some expressed a desire to write more code, no one expressed a desire to do nothing but to write code
recognize that writing code is a means to an end. Whatever that end may be, other means matter as well, and those are also worth seeing to.
Speaking of John Sonmez, let’s talk about the idea of marketing oneself. I say this because John found the concept so important that he actually built a course called, “How to Market Yourself as a Software Developer
I consider sales to be a subset of marketing.
I actually wouldn’t specifically even try to sell the socks at first. I’d just raise people’s awareness of them, establishing mindshare.
it matters to you in the sense of how you sell the only asset you have – your labor.
consider what marketing yourself would look like
You’d establish yourself as having expertise in some particular area or niche
If you market yourself, the labor sales process goes much differently
another nearly universal thread is the general one of content creation
Speaking at conferences, attending user groups, appearing on podcasts, etc are all important. They get you exposure and afford you opportunities to meet interesting people and find mutual benefit. But without something tangible to point at during those interactions, some of the luster gets lost
In scenario two she has a book and a blog (both content) but also a generally better marketing plan. She also explicitly expresses a willingness to consult
the book and blog really drive it home. These say “I am a full time expert with bonafides on this subjec
The people I’ve talked to attack their careers, in many important ways, with deliberate action. But this is not to say that everything happens according to a deliberate master plan
I ask you for the moment to discount the terminology of this book and consider that these people all take opportunistic approaches to their career in the dictionary sense of the word.
developer opportunists need to keep their eyes out for advantageous situations and pounce on them
have an attitude of willingness to leave their comfort zone when something with high upside presents itself
He’s not looking for assignments. Instead, he’s constantly monitoring his business interests and considering which opportunities make the most sense.
All of this falls under the heading of “managing the pipeline,”
But this isn’t just for the solo consultant or head of a consultancy. A developer opportunist that moves from freelance contract to contract, or even one that jumps from fulltime job to fulltime job is managing the pipeline. Identifying prospective employers and doing the interview dance requires a lot of effort, so if you’re doing it with any frequency, you’re also spending time managing the pipeline.
To join the ranks of developer opportunists, you need to start qualifying your work, and managing your pipeline
Developer opportunists have options.
they figure out that they need to spend somewhat less time programming and somewhat more time making sure they have options. Typically, this takes the form of marketing that I mentioned in the chapter.
The workaday programmer uses his programming resume to ask the favor of a job. Contrast this with John’s situation, where the company approaches John, asking for the favor of his services
if you’ve diversified, even when you seek out options, any particular one becomes less drastically important.
Developer opportunists do not get caught flat-footed the way a single prospect employee would
When you get down to brass tacks, all of the non-programming activities that they take on are about option generation
The developer ubermensch needs the world less than the world needs her. And the reason for this is critically important to keep in mind for the rest of the book and in contemplating your own fate. She’s in such demand not necessarily because she’s the most skilled, smartest, or most technically knowledgeable. She’s in such demand because she does an incredible job of identifying what others value and positioning herself uniquely to deliver that value
Chapter 39: The Importance of the Rest of Business
These days, I’m annoyed because we, as software developers, have helped create a business reality where these half baked idea pitchers are right. They’re not right about their half baked ideas being good ideas. They’re right about how much the relative contributions are worth. They’re right that building the thing is worth a quarter of the equity, on the generous side
The thing is, the idea-havers also had it wrong. Having some crackpot idea for an app isn’t worth 75% of the business. It’s not worth any of the business because ideas for apps are a dime a dozen. The thing that’s worth 75% of the business is the 75% of the business that goes above and beyond banging out some code
This means that “I just want to code, man” is fundamentally incompatible with developer opportunism
Understanding that writing code is only a piece of the puzzle does not mean that you need to like all of these other activities, nor does it mean that you need to divide your time equally among them. It simply means recognizing that they have value.
emotionally tied to an idea that marketing is beneath them
We look at the corporate world and demand that it accommodate us with roles where we need not be burdened by thinking of the business. The corporate world is all too happy to indulge our demand, pay us a third of what we’re worth, and let us exist in a bubble of illusory superiority
When we shift to “geeking out” about delivering value and participating in commerce, we will flip the script and start to manage businesses
Chapter 40: Developers Becoming Efficiencers to Take Control
We software developers present as an unusually marketing and sales averse group. We’re skeptical of crap like this, and the world reinforces that skepticism
Sales is an unseemly vocation, so we stay away from it and even disdain it. We don’t stop to consider that not all sales happens equally
What would sales look like if developers ruled the world?
In this chapter, I’ll address why and talk at length about how developer hegemony comes from using our leverage to remake these other facets of the business according to our preferences
And we have this leverage by virtue of the fact that we are efficiencers, whether we realize it yet or not
We allow people to do more stuff in the same amount of time, or we allow people to do the same stuff in less time
Time is, perhaps, the most important commodity of the digital age
“I help you have more time and money.” Or, at the risk of sounding a tad overly dramatic, “I help raise the standard of living.”
. I’d say that time and standard of living as by-products of our work put us on par with those offering services around rights and health. But we don’t really have the same sort of place in the world as doctors and lawyers, do we? At least, not yet. Why is that?
Notwithstanding academic research projects, it was the corporation that gave birth to the modern programmer, and it did so at the grunt level.
Contrast this with doctors and lawyers. Both vocations predate the Industrial Revolution
They have rich histories of individuals and partnerships hanging out shingles and dealing directly with customers
As an industry, we’re at that crossroads that happen in sci-fi movies where the robot achieves self-awareness. The corporate world has become so utterly, irrevocably dependent on ever-increasing efficiency, that it absolutely cannot live without what we provide.
The next phase of our profession’s evolution involves us leaving large organizations, keeping our own counsel, and hanging up our own shingles.
We stop accepting “specs
And you only get yourself in a position to understand and wield leverage by becoming serious students of business – all components of the business
And, on top of that, Efficiencer firms will be savvy enough to start and run firms the way lawyers and doctors do. They’ll partner up and run the business themselves, delegating the parts that don’t make sense for them to handle
Chapter 41: Remaking App Dev Firms as Efficiencer Firms
I think we’re heading in the direction I lay out. My goal in writing this book is to help us get there faster
The corporate world does not know what programming is. They view it as labor (more hours equals more output, cheaper hour rate means less cost), not knowledge work (problem solving takes time and some people are better at it than others). …
It’s interesting how the agile software movement has encouraged a blending of just about all things technical
Breaking down the silos and walls of this type of specialization has, counterintuitively, led to large efficiency gains in our line of work. And yet, one sacred silo remains: business/strategy versus software development
Scrum calls for a “product owner,”
But no one is saying that business people and developers should be the same people. Except me. I’m saying it now
This is the first guiding principle of efficiencer firms. The firm’s principals are programmers
A traditional app dev consultancy practicing Scrum would operate by assembling a team of software developers and asking the client to supply a product owner
But it nonetheless separates business from software. “We write the code and you supply the vision.” No more of that
delegate product ownership to a member of the firm
I owe you some explanation beyond hand-waving of how we get from current state to one where they call us before they need that site.
slowing ceasing to sell app dev and starting to sell efficiency
let’s look at some interim steps
put on your sales and marketing hat and articulate what you offer. It can’t be your labor – it has to be your expertise in making something more efficient. This will most likely take the form of a productized service
alternate billing models are another important step in the efficiencer direction
most firms avoid fixed bid arrangements for anything complex
salaried employment is a zero sum game. So is hourly billing
But if you’re adding productized services to your offering portfolio, you enter a different mode of operation. You’re doing something repeatable enough that you don’t need to completely punt on effort/cost estimation
But, even better than quoting a price based on your cost is quoting a price based on the client’s realized value
This is called value-based billing and, while it’s a nice alternative to other billing models in its own right, I don’t mention it here to say that it’s a prerequisite for transitioning toward being an efficiencer firm. Rather, I mention it because it gives you yet another pretext for having the strategic, “why” conversation for the project. You can’t attempt to ascertain the value of an initiative without having a strategic discussion
you still have one more card to play, assuming that you have a good financial outlook for it (or, even if you don’t, but don’t mind the risk): the negative sell.
But I do foresee another development greasing the skids as well.
I foresee companies springing up that offer all sorts of services to tiny software development shops.
Developer hegemony will start with small firms and developers catering to one another
Chapter 42: Anatomy of the Efficiencer Firm
Forget about the notion that organizations need to scale, in terms of salaried employees. In fact, forget the notion that doing so is even desirable
You can grow an empire by earning margins on the labor of progressively more people. But it’s an ongoing battle, and it’s never going to be as pure, simple, and satisfying as driving up profitability of your own one person operation
without the margin-scale imperative, we can much more easily toss out the job interview
As we interact with our coworkers, we don’t have to play politics over pay bands and mutual status, while playing zero sum negotiating games with a boss.
let me introduce a set of principles by which I propose that efficiencer firms operate
Everyone’s contributions to the organization’s profits can easily be measured
the firm is comprised of opportunists. Anyone who would normally be a pragmatist is, instead, a vendor
If you’re a partner in an efficiencer firm, you have, by definition, partnered with people you believe are compatible
Speaking of the performance review, can you imagine how refreshing it would be to operate in such a way that everyone’s value to the enterprise was transparent and obvious?
My honest opinion on “the best way to scale agile” is “you don’t.”
I encourage you to anchor these firms around a nice – a productized service or, at least, a highly targeted service
there are situations that will come up where you need work beyond your current capacity. In the future state, I see addressing this in a variety of ways
First of all, you could add a new parter to the firm
If you have a more tactical need for automation work, then I’d look to the freelance market and bring on subcontractors for spot work
contrive of experiments where you can see if they’ll work out and fail fast otherwise
if you have a partner that’s really good at marketing and another one that’s really good at finance, they’ll take on those tasks as overhead to the enterprise. They’ll also have periodic sanity checks to make sure they wouldn’t be better served to automate or delegate the things they’re doing
we could certainly use some changes in the general workforce
Another critical component to developer hegemony via efficiencer firms is the supporting businesses that I mentioned – accounting firms, law firms, marketing firms, etc. that cater to us
Firms will perceive a market and efficiencers like us might just turn around and scratch that itch for would-be efficiencers like you (as an aside, I’m actually kicking the tires on doing just that when I finish this book).
shift in what recruiters do as they go from trying to staff developers at MegaTech to looking to match make between efficiencer firms looking to scale up and down for projects
hire someone for a week and see how it goes. Currently, that’s relatively unworkable. Few staff software developers will want to quit their current job to try out another one for a week when the new one might not work out. But imagine if thousands of firms hired this way. Now the risk is gone since you can just temp hire on at a different one each week until you find a good landing spot
could collaborate on a book or video series
you have a lot of options for revenue generation that don’t require capitalizing on others’ labor
The second example I’ll offer is how you could scale and meet all of these criteria. You could scale by franchising the partnership into other geographical markets.
imagine if you weren’t striking out on your own. Imagine if, instead, you were discussing partnership with an established efficiencer firm that had been around for a while.
Chapter 43: Aspiring Efficiencers and the Entry Level
Chapter 44: Fixing the Corporation
I mainly think that the efficiencer firm will start to replace the staff of developers that you see at non-software companies: banks, manufacturing companies, retailers, etc.
Corporate IT in these sorts of organizations typically serves two purposes: internal cost saving automation and product enhancement
One important consideration throws a Paul Bunyan sized wrench into the spokes: the only thing more expensive than a good software development team is a bad software development team
One thing I’ve seen time and again in my travels through enterprises is a pair of sequential “aha!” moments. “Aha! We’re really bad at this, so let’s bring in some consultants to figure out what’s wrong and demonstrate how to do it right.” And then, “aha! Those consultants are really good at this – let’s just pay them to do it instead.”
let’s talk now about the fate of non-efficiencer firms in a future of developer hegemony. These consist of three interesting types of firms that will probably not ever become efficiencer firms: non-software companies, software product companies, and traditional app dev shops (“consultancies”). It bears examining briefly why they will not become efficiencer firms.
efficiencer firms will offer their services to non-software companies and software product companies
These firms will offer more profitable, more autonomous, more dignified, more fulfilling work to software people and that, in turn, will make it more difficult for these other companies to staff software people
So for the rest of this chapter, I’ll talk about fixing the existing corporation to make it more developer (and aspiring efficiencer) friendly
First, the 9-5 workday needs to go away
Speaking of throwbacks, do you still require everyone to be present at the office?
Remake your interview process
Put people in situations that mimic their target job, ask them to do that job, and review their performance with them
Instead of ranting about more problems with the current beast, however, I’ll turn now to what some interesting organizations are doing or have done to help them remain attractive destinations during the days of developer hegemony
First up, consider Github
Github once had a policy known as “open allocation,” wherein the individual employees choose which projects to work on and how to spend their time
Another interesting model is the one I described earlier in describing David Boike. He has his own consultancy, but with a single client, Particular
Speaking of partnering, I’d like to talk about an organization called Pillar Technology
In this chapter, I’m going to focus on actions that involve nothing more dramatic than applying for your next job.
Train Yourself as an Efficiencer at Your Current Job
With all of that experience in place, start practicing your sales pitch. This is where you take your business case, demonstrating a return on investment, and pitch it to a decision maker
you need to position yourself to practice it externally, as well. You need to market yourself, build your brand, and maximize your options. And it’s really, really hard to do that with a company that’s forced you to sign a contract laying claim to all of your intellectual property.
When you’re contemplating new jobs, ask about this right up front. Tell the recruiter or hiring manager or whomever that any non-compete of this nature constitutes an instant deal breaker for you
Another, similar policy that I’d offer is to stay away from big companies as a software developer
If you want to escape the pathological, Taylorist concept, you have a few options: small, startup-y firms, smallish custom app dev shops, non-traditional outfits like Github and Zappos, and free agency. And you’re not going to find any of those (by and large), on the Fortune 500 list.
Politely decline/end interviews that involve trivia
also means saying no to algorithm/whiteboard interviews
This is a human cognitive bias known as effort justification
Realize that the tech giants aren’t that great
You can already write your ticket.
you won’t be advancing developer hegemony
If you go under that mandate, you are embracing the life of the pragmatist
Let’s turn our focus, instead, to the sorts of companies that you should work for. And I can sum that up succinctly, echoing the advice offered by David Boike. Start working for companies that let you get your name out there and raise your own profile
SecretCo Inc, that asks you to toil away in anonymity
Contrast this, on the other side, with working for an app dev shop, a consultancy, or a developer tools/software company. These organizations pay you to go out and publicly interact with other companies
The last type of place at which I’ll encourage you to go work is the small app dev shop. Ideally, you should find one run by a software developer or a recently former software developer.
Start Working from Home
The first important point about working toward autonomy is that working from home, by its very nature, grants you more of that
How many hours do you spend coding, in a state of flow?
acclimates you to thinking in terms of value
Go start yourself a blog
Do the easiest, lowest friction thing
To have a blog that helps you requires two things: actually starting it and maintaining cadence
The idea here is for you to start to own and understand all facets of business
I consider it perhaps the single most important thing that you can do.
you become CEO material
For most of the rest of us, that first end to end thing will range somewhere between “total flop” and “I made enough revenue that my time investment was worth $4 per hour!”
Chapter 46: Full Circle: The Fate of Pragmatists, Idealists, and Opportunists
I want to tell a brief story about the history of automation, but stretching further back than you have probably ever considered. Think back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution
We have absolutely no need for owners and managers, for traditional opportunists and idealists
I’ll flip from an entire book of talking about what corporations take from the archetypes and talk instead about what they provide to them
Right now, pragmatists and risk averse opportunists alike are dissuaded from the free-agent/efficiencer route
The programmer community, for whatever flaws it may have, is wonderfully collaborative and instructive
The same thing is happening with the efficiencer playbook
One of the biggest growth industries imaginable is going to be products and services that help make it easier to go efficiencer. This will include tutorials and guides, as well as “setup a corporate entity in one easy step” service offerings.
Idealists tend to be hard working and well-intentioned
I think they’ll take the tendency to over-perform and apply it in contexts that actually benefit them.
And what of the opportunist? Well, they’ll be more or less the same, but without the ethical conundrums forced on them by pyramid corporation gamesmanship
Will there continue to be politics in these smaller, more value-obvious organizations. Sure.
Chapter 47: What this Looks Like, Long Term
Remember Emma from way back in part one? Let’s think about the couple of day slice we saw of her life.
Emma, you see, is not a CEO, but a partner
You’ll also notice that Emma’s firm does not offer a productized service
because I had yet to realize, in my own career, the full value of niching into a problem far less general than “we write code.”
And yet, I’m not changing it.
Recall the principles I outlined
Emma’s firm checks all of the boxes, imperfections and all
Emma’s firm thus makes a great example. They do a Scrummy form of app dev, but they talk to the business in terms of value and engage in negative sells when they think the project won’t have ROI.
it involves a steady flow of software developers out of organizations that regard them as cost centers and fungible commodities.
That approach produces inferior software
go forward with the business and IT people being the same person
As we begin to have automation experts – efficiencers – that understand both business and automation (software development), we’re creating a legitimate profession. And we’re creating a profession that doesn’t make sense to staff in house
If you make dishwashers, stick to making dishwashers.
If you want to use the internet as a sales or distribution channel, does it make sense to hire several different types of specialized people to manage projects, write code, write tests, design “user experiences” and do “business analysis?” Or does it make more sense to call someone that specializes in automating sales and distribution of appliances to take care of it for you?
Every enterprise I’ve ever walked into has asked about scaling agile
When I’m asked this question, I answer simply, “you don’t.”
you slice up the work into loosely coupled, autonomous chunks that don’t require coordination, thus obviating the need to “scale” at all
I’m proposing a world where we’re all opportunists and we’re all adults, conducting business on our own terms
Below are the full interview transcripts
After the book was published, Udi reached out and thought that since I had written the book, it would make sense for me to do trainings for them. Unlike my previous bosses, ILM was like great, let’s do a partnership
I went to work from-home in 2008 for a venture-funded company called Socialtext
I say suddenly, but it definitely wasn’t suddenly. It took a few years to get real traction on the blog, but when I did, BAM. I was getting emails and calls with all kinds of job opportunities, to work directly, but also to do real consulting
I released my first product called “How to Market Yourself as a Software Developer,”
So, I made a pivot and shifted my Simple Programmer business to helping developers develop their soft skills in addition to the technical ones
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