(Software) people have the power!

Where the pure air recognized
And my senses newly opened
I awakened to the cry
That the people have the power

People have the power (Patti Smith)

Hollywood blockbusters have depicted software developers or computer scientists as unstable freaks, unable of living a normal life. Best case, we were performing as a sidekick for the hero, assisting him with some dark security issue, so he can go on, kicking asses and kissing the girl.

average_software_developers

Average software developers discussing how to hack John McLane’s way for saving the world today. One lives in his mother’s basement. The other has no friends at all.

This kind of role is normally associated with comic relief based on clothing, being fat and socially incompetent.

comic_relief_software_developer

You are the one preventing T-Rexes from wrecking havoc so why should you worry for cleaning your desk (or yourself)?

The other role a software developer could play was as assistant to the bad guy. Just a tool for some business or military master mind who is carrying the task of dominating the free world.

average_evil_software_developer

Bad guys: the brain, the brute and the software developer

But, while everyone was having a good time watching this social outcasts helping the main characters, software was already filling every hole, crack and space in real life. First through the internet. Then through digitization and through cell phones. And this software is done by real developers. Not like the ones portrayed in the movies.

Programmers don’t think of themselves as people with the power to change the world. Most programmers I know, including myself, grew up as nerds, geeks, social outcasts. […] What do you do when you wake up one day and software has kind of eaten the world, and it is no longer clear if software is in fact an unambiguously good thing, like we thought, like everyone told us … like we wanted it to be?

To serve man, with software (Jeff Attwood)

And now, without anyone even realizing, real programmers are ruling the world.

We rule the world. We programmers. We rule the world. We write the rules that make our society work. […] Without software: Phones don’t ring. Cars don’t start. Planes don’t fly. Bombs don’t explode. Ships don’t sail. Ovens don’t bake. Garage doors don’t open […] Nothing happens without software. And what is software? Software is a set of rules. […] To protect our society from the power they have unwittingly ceded to us, we should adopt a code of ethics that describes our sworn promise and duty to humbly use our power to serve.

The obligation of a programmer (Bob Martin)

With great power comes great responsibility. What are we doing about it?

Then he waited, marshaling his thoughts and brooding over his still untested powers. For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next. But he would think of something.

A Space Odissey. (Arthur C. Clarke)

 

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It is MY fault: Harvey Specter on Leffert’s Law

The Lefferts law of management: It is your fault

Suits, the TV series, narrates the happenings of a New York legal firm.

Mike is a young rookie with lots of potential, but a lack of business knowledge and real experience. Harvey is an admired, goal-oriented professional, that gets the hardest part of the work done, in search of a sidekick who can take on his legacy in the future. Thus Harvey and Mike develop a protégé-mentor relationship since the moment they first meet.

We don’t have to wait many episodes to see Mike, the mentee, spoil a negotiation for an important client, after being late filling a form.

Mike is worried about Harvey telling the client the mistake was Mike’s fault.

Harvey: You think that’s going to be a walk in the park?
Mike Ross: Hey. Harvey. Did you tell him it was me [my fault]?
Harvey: Why would I do that? I’m responsible for you. It was me [my fault].

Mike was worried about what the client could think of him. But Harvey didn’t tell the client that it was Mike’s fault. Not because Harvey is good people, not because he wanted to preserve his mentee’s reputation.

He didn’t told the client it was Mike’s fault… because it wasn’t.

Even if Mike had been late, it really doesn’t matter. Harvey, nor any mentor, should expect Mike to behave exactly the way he is told. Mike needs to learn by himself. For doing so, he needs to learn from success, but also from failure. He needs to learn to make hard calls with incomplete information during crisis.

And that’s precisely why he needs a mentor in the first place. He needs someone who advice, lead and guide him. He needs someone who can own his mistakes while he learns from them.


  • Related: The Lefferts law of management on ScottBerkun.com “If you have the title ‘manager’ in your name you should tend to absorb blame for what’s going on, while distributing the rewards. When all else fails, be the fall guy.[…] Being passionately accountable creates a shield for others and makes it safer for them to invest more personal responsibility in their work.”
  • Related: Who is your sidekick. “On the other hand, a sidekick is someone you can train as your replacement.”

Great bosses will want you to work less

Not more.

Great bosses leading successful companies won’t want you to work more.

They want you to be more productive. To bring better results in less time. Since…

Productivity = Work done / Time spent

Dilbert's Pointy-haired Boss asking you to work 178 hours a week

When some kind of (pointy-haired) boss asks you to spend more time at work, they are asking to increase the divisor. Increasing the divisor, by itself, will only DECREASE productivity.

Some other type of boss (not as pointy-haired but still kind of) could ask you to increase both the divisor and the dividend. The trick then is that if you would spend an extra 20% time at work, you would need to get at least a 21% increase in the work done to be more productive. This could seem plausible… but by definition extra work is done AFTER you’ve work your normal hours, so it’s unlikely that those extra hours would be the ones getting the most work done.

And all of this leave great bosses with the only strategy able to let them increase productivity. They must make sure to leave alone the divisor. The people is working as much as they should. So they need to INCREASE THE DIVIDEND. More work done in the same time.

How can you accomplish this? Let’s see some strategies:

  • Automation. Every time you need to have something done several times a week (or a month, or a year), please, automate.
  • Change the point of view. People shouldn’t wonder how many extra hours do they need to get this work done, but how is the best way to have this work done in as few hours as possible.
  • Remove obstacles each time tech people is stuck doing other things than their work. E.g. blurry requirements, old-fashioned hardware difficult to work with, dealing with licenses that expired, tough procedures to ask for holidays or reporting progress, …
  • State clear channels for communication. Avoid email lists. Define information radiators. Death penalty on the bosses who arrange long meetings with everyone involved.
  • Focus on focusing. Everyone working in one task at each time, until it’s done.

 

 


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You can be Bart, or you can be Lisa

lisa_gets_an_A

As a manager you could trust more in some members of the team.

As a team member you can trust more in some colleagues than in others.

As a contributor you could gain the trust of your boss, or not.

When wondering about why trust is earned, remember this dialogue between Marge, Lisa and Bart from The Simpsons.

  • Marge: Ready to go back to school?
  • Lisa: [ Weakly ] Oh, I don’t know. [ Coughs ] I mean, I could risk it, but…
  • Marge: No, no. You just stay put.
  • Bart: Wow. You didn’t even feel her forehead. How do I get that kind of credibility?
  • Marge: With eight years of scrupulous honesty.
  • Bart: Eh. It’s not worth it.
    (The Simpsons, Lisa gets an A)

Remeber. You can be Bart. Or you can be Lisa. Every role has its advantages and drawbacks.

Choose. Bart or Lisa. Because you can’t be both at the same time.

Trying is harmful

Do, or do not. There is no try.
(Master Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back)

  • We’ll try to meet tomorrow
  • I’ll try to be on time
  • We try to improve every day
  • I’ll try not to let you down

The verb ‘to try‘ is the shield behind which we hide when we are not sure, when we don’t really feel like doing something, when we try to avoid uncertainty, when we don’t want to make a commitment.

The verb ‘to try‘ is a wild card, is the way we can walk through without burning any bridges.

Up to what point does inserting to try into the sentence affects our mood, our will, the results of our actions?

Are we doing our best when we are just trying? Or are our words leading to a path of failure?

How different do the words sound when we rule the lack of commitment, the laziness and the fear out!

  • We’ll meet tomorrow
  • I’ll be on time
  • We improve every day
  • I won’t let you down

How different do they sound when we stop trying and start doing!

Embed purpose beside the goal

Every project, every plant, every firm has one goal.

So this is the goal: To make money by increasing net profit, while simultaneously increasing return on investment, and simultaneously increasing cash flow.

Eliyahu M. Goldratt.

Sometimes you don’t agree with the goal. Sometimes you don’t understand the goal. Or even you don’t know about it.

But whether you are aligned with the goal or not, you can always work beyond the goal. You can always embed purpose on the project. On your work.

What is purpose?

Purpose is not the goal. Is beyond the goal. And it touches everyone involved in a deeper, more personal way.

mike-tysons-punch-out

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out was a milestone on videogame development.It probably fulfilled its goal.

But the people working on the game also instill purpose into it by inserting an inspiring declaration from world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson into the box.

punchout_advice.jpg

Quitting is for people who are not serious about their goals. If you give up trying, you will never achieve your goal.
Mike Tyson.

Maybe you can’t choose the goal of your project. But you always can choose which kine of purpose you instill on it.