Lying Liars

It has become something of a tradition in IT circles, particularly in Software Development, to trash your predecessor. There are a number of perfectly valid reasons to do so, of course. The old guy isn't there any more and he took with him a good chunk of institutional knowledge that is now lost--things like what were they thinking when they did that. And you want to look good to your new boss, the simplest way being to trash the guy who left him in the lurch by leaving or who got himself fired for (presumably) plenty sufficient reason.

Knowing the tradition well, having been to my shame a participant from time to time, I expected to hear stuff when I was given "involuntary sabbatical" from XanGo recently. Well, my expectations have been exceeded, it seems, and I find myself in the most extraordinary position. How do you defend your track-record against public assault when you have signed an agreement not to disclose proprietary business information about your former employer? Even saying "there was no such project!" is enough to constitute a potential violation. New IT management at XanGo has decided to spend a whopping lot of cash to bring in a new tool that will rid them of all cares and worries, bring paradise on Earth, and cut current and future costs practically to zero all at the same time. This new vendor has made it a practice of leveraging the contract with XanGo by making the most outrageous claims about former XanGo development practices and how purchasing the new tool has solved all their problems.

Since I still have friends in XanGo IT, I have had a front-row seat to the goings on since my departure. It has been frustrating for me to watch as the pain begins to penetrate there. This new tool has some serious "feature challenges" that have plagued the poor souls left to attempt implementing them. No source control, no Unicode support, seriously compromised object oriented principles, clumsy system backup, you get the picture. It's a nightmare for any serious developer to work with, particularly in a multi-developer environment. And worse still because they have been forbidden from speaking of any of the drawbacks or challenges with threats of being fired should they squawk even internally at XanGo. And since the project seems so doomed, when it comes time to implement this great new tool, they are pretty clear that the sacrifices to expedience will be the developers due to their "lack of performance" (because such a great tool must mean that they are the reason for failure).

So I'm being trashed, the team I left behind has been cut all to pieces and some of the best programmers I know are finding their competence being denigrated all for the sake of a questionable business relationship of questionable value to the company with a partner who was very near closing their doors until the XanGo contract showed up and saved them from worry or care (how looking at the financials and law suits against the company didn't prevent them from going with this vendor I'll never know).

How do things like this happen? How does a rapidly growing company leave itself open to such outrageous conduct, and what can possibly be done about it? I don't have any answers to those questions. Frankly, there isn't a lot that can be done from where I sit. The only ones with the power to alter the situation are busy with all the concerns brought about by their rapid growth and popularity. Anything I can do is compromised by the fact that I was forced out in the first place, anything I say is easily dismissed as mere bitterness and spite.

I will say this, though: This whole thing has strengthened my resolve not to participate in the time-honored tradition of trash-the-old-guy in my next position. And it has strengthened my suspicion of tool vendors and their extravagant claims of cost/time savings.

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8. June 2005 10:41 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Family Sacrifice

The post-40 mother seems to be the topic of the day, particularly with Mother's Day so near. I watched a late-night women's issues show earlier this week and one topic they covered is the dangers of having babies post-40. They discussed how women don't seem to give enough weight to this difficulty and that they delay having children too long due to career and other achievements. Some of the women (the panel had a good mix of conservative and liberal women, actually--it was a good discussion) bemoaned the fact that men didn't have the same restrictions and could have children even as their careers flourished. Mention was made, of course, of Karen Hughes who recently resigned a high-powered post in the White House in order to be a parent for her teenage son. Supposedly, men don't ever do this--resign a position in order to spend more time with their families. Or at least, if they do, it isn't as extreme as pulling entirely out of the work force. I found a great treatment of the topic by Marianne Jennings. It's worth a look.

But I want to go into the whole man thing. You see, I'm personally in a position to attest that some men make career sacrifices for their families. I met this specifically when I worked at Jenkon. Unlike other programmers there, I went home at 5 or, at the latest, 6 every night. I did so to be with my family. This "lack of dedication" was noted. It came up in conversations with my boss. I'm convinced it played a role in my compensation. And really, it should play a role in my compensation because, frankly, it means that I'm arguably not as productive as I would otherwise be (I believe that I am more productive than other co-workers, and I believe that part of that is the rejuvenation I get with my family, but that's a belief and hardly proven). The call of family is an important one and having a family means making sacrifices. That's just the way it is.

Some claim to perceive the workings of Satan in this pressure on the family. While that may certainly be true (I'm one of those quaint religious people who actually believes in an active force in opposition to good), it is not the whole story. You see, this sacrifice hasn't always been an issue. In past centuries, a married man could out produce a single man on the job. That's due mainly to the amount of home manufacture that was required to maintain a household. Think of it in terms of making dinner and doing laundry. These activities had to be tackled in the home and took a significant amount of work. Eating a balanced, healthy meal required literally hours of preparation. Likewise clean food and healthy living conditions. In the absence of chemical soaps and automated washing processes, it took hours of care and a lot of hard work to ensure a clean home environment. It was weighted enough to the advantage of the married man that single men often congregated in boarding houses--thus pooling their resources and essentially "renting" domestic service.

And it wasn't just having the wife that helped out. Children were also a net asset to the household income with the average child bringing in close to 1,000 pounds net before leaving home--in the study I read about a year ago (I'd reference it if I could--I hate vague statistics thrown out like that, so I'm open to refutation or confirmation). Children worked farms and stores, they did chores, there were no child labor laws. Having children was more than just a personal joy in your offspring, it was a direct benefit to the home in specific material ways--and a form of retirement insurance as well. This dynamic exists still in poor countries. Population controls in countries with heavily agrarian economies is going to continue to run into road-blocks as long as children contribute to total household income. This is why you see the average number of children per household decline in developed countries and birth control initiatives run into brick walls in undeveloped countries.

Contrast all that to today. Home production is a thing of the past. A balanced meal can be had in five minutes and a microwave. Laundry is similarly streamlined and home maintenance is easier and cheaper than it has been in the past. Further, children are now a huge sacrifice on the part of parents costing literally hundreds of thousands of dollars before leaving home and requiring a huge amount of concentrated effort to rear--often incurring the double whammy of requiring the wife to stay at home in addition to their consumption of family resources. Which means that the strains on the family are as much economic as they are demonic. This economic pressure is real, it is harsh, and it requires sacrifice on the part of men and women if it is to be done right.

For me, the trick has been to accept that and move on. I decided to have children, not for their economic benefits, but because I believe that it is right for me to have children. It is a religious conviction for me. It is an explicit doctrine of my church. So I make the sacrifice. I don't achieve the peak of my profession and never will. I'm resigned to that. And I'm happy to support and applaud those others who resign from the full extent of their potential achievements in order to raise a family. So, I guess this is a Mother's Day post when it comes right down to it. Thanks Mom! You pioneered a difficult process and I hope I can live up to the standard you set.

9. May 2002 10:27 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

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