Ezra Klein writes:
If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If terrorists were detonating bombs in port after port, you can be sure Congress would be working to upgrade the nation’s security measures. If a plague was ripping through communities, public-health officials would be working feverishly to contain it.
Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not. But that’s unacceptable. As others have observed, talking about how to stop mass shootings in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn’t “too soon.” It’s much too late.
Jef Claes, creator of 2011’s spring sensation arealdeveloper.com, just tweeted a link to a blog on the issue of developer turnover, by Erik Dietrich. This is a topic I’ve considered blogging about, and have probably hinted at in the past. But I’ll let Erik speak for us all.
Erik says one reason talented individuals might leave is that they may be “tired of less talented people in [unearned] positions of [relative] … authority telling them to do things — things that are ‘frequent[ly unwise]’. There is an actual inversion of pecking order as found in meritocracies and this leads to a dysfunctional situation.” Scott Rosenberg writes in Dreaming in Code about how suits often find managing developers as akin to herding cats. There’s a certain hacker culture to this field, a culture that so many still don’t “get.” One thing about geeks is the way they recognize elites and give them props for their skills. This is how Microsoft MVPs are chosen, how employees at Amazon are promoted, and how moderators on Stack Exchange and countless other online forums are picked.
He also quotes Alex Papadimoulis’s description of the “Value Apex”, which I certainly identify with as I consider the presence of “room to grow” a vital selling point for any organization. Jef describes it as a need for a competent mentor. In some companies, either due to turnover rate or personal growth, you’ll eventually get to a point where there’s no one left who’s got madder skillz than yours.
And you’ll start looking for greener grass.
The point of the essay is to emphasize developers’ desire for autonomy and need for self-actualization. While Dale Carnegie says we ought to always refer to potential employers and customers in terms of what benefit it will bring to them—and certainly this is true in how independent developers interact with their clients—what a developer really wants out of their life station is an answer to the question: “what kind of dev will this help me to be?” Will the answer to that question more closely resemble the cubicle-dwelling “Thomas A. Anderson” in The Matrix, “program writer for a respectable software company” who “help[s his] landlady take out her garbage” (disdainful eyebrow) or his night-time hacker alter-ego Neo?
“One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.”
When you hire or manage a developer, you are helping them write their life’s story. What kind of narrative is it going to be? Are they going to find a real sense of purpose? Or do you just want to use them and get your “man-months” out of them to fill in your fancy reports?
P.S. Where’s my damn watch?
I spent the last month and a half working at the least fun job I’ve ever worked at—and I’ve had some doozies. I swear my head suffered more graying and balding in the last 6 weeks than all the years previous, and I was breaking out all over from the stress. I’ve also had some really bad depressive episodes, the worst in my life, I think. My therapist thinks my mood has been understandable considering everything that has happened to me in recent years. But I think it became increasingly clear that my bad situation was having a bad effect on my heart, and on my psyche, and it was hurting my family. The job was literally killing me.
One of the biggest hardships about it was that I was prohibited from exhibiting my passion for quality code and creative and elegant solutions. I applied to be a senior dev and what they really wanted was a mind-numb intern.
So, that didn’t work out…
Fortunately, a friend/colleague I worked with for years at a previous company told me about a great website for freelancing, oDesk. Suddenly I have more clients than I can handle! (Don’t take that too literally if you’re one of them; it’s an expression.) In the space of a couple days I’ve gone from a “Mr. Anderson” dead-end living hell to literally living my dream.
Ask anyone who lives here, and they’ll tell you it’s much better this way.
(And if there’s anyone who’s not a parent who’s wonder what my title means, it’s a reference to Tangled.)
I seem to have a better outlook on life when I am allowed to apply for other jobs. Whether those jobs pan out doesn’t seem to matter as much as you’d think; somehow the benefits that the realm of possibilities brings to my imagination seem to outweigh the pain of any rejections that might occur in the process.
So, if you find yourself as my employer and find me seemingly looking for work elsewhere, fret not. Yes, there is a chance I’m dissatisfied and looking to better my situation, or there’s a chance I’m trying to build up a network for freelance jobs. But there’s also a chance I’m just participating in a mental health exercise, trying to boost my own confidence by dabbling in the job market so I can restore some sanity and come back to work the next day with a brighter smile, and a glimmer of hope that maybe life isn’t a dead end after all.