Executive / Programmer mismatch

Posted by steve | Blogging | Thursday 14 May 2009 8:41 pm

Quite a while ago I worked as a developer for a firm that employed about 1000 software analysts and developers. The company had a rich suite of software to offer and was operating a successful business. It was also true that, as a technical staff member, you regularly saw evidence that the folks several pay grades higher up the company ladder had no longer any reasonable understanding of how software was written. Make no mistake, this was a software company. It often felt like we were being operated by people who only understood finance. Or maybe manufacturing.

In a company of that size, and because of the deep technical nature of the products we were developing, it was common to work side-by-side with some of the brightest people in the software industry. Critical thinking and analysis skills were strong amongst the developers.

As happens in modern times, the senior executives were often “changed out”. I remember particularly how disconnected the CEO was from where the real work happened – within the development organization. We were facing some difficult times and the company was looking for ways to cut costs and do what it could to improve productivity. As is common in very large developer organizations like theirs was, the processes often got in the way of the work. And the backlog of defects was measured in the thousands.

So late one day the newest CEO had called together a meeting with all the developers for a “pep talk”. Morale was pretty bad already. We were gathered in the main entry foyer of the building where he had a podium set up with audio equipment for proper communication. It was a Friday afternoon, around 4:00 PM as I recall. Mind you, many of the developers I knew were “early birds” and came into work at 6:00. So they were already staying after hours on a Friday for this meeting.

I’ll never forget his attempt at getting the troops to pep-up morale and help pick up the overall productivity within the company. He did come from a manufacturing company before he became the CEO. For many developers, it just drove home a wholly different point.

He actually ended up his presentation by asking each developer to do their part to improve productivity by “writing one extra line of code every day.”

I remembered the old Refactoring approach where I was happy if I deleted lines of code everyday.