Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Magic of Doing the Right Thing

Doing the right thing is not magic.
There is a lot of news that has bubbled up through the web and media about doing the right thing.  From administrators mismanaging VA hospitals and providing inadequate care to our nation’s veterans to the ongoing controversy regarding the National Security Agency; each day we are confronted with people who made impossible choices and exposed wrong-doing or corruption.  Setting aside the politics of this news, it is clear that people will do the right thing even when it is not in their best personal interests.  This gives me hope because as long as there are people in business and politics willing to do the right thing there is hope for the future.  I wanted to discuss this in my blog this week.

Doing the right thing is a very vague term.  If you Google it you are taken to a weird mixture of self-help sites, quotations, and a shout out to the Spike Lee joint by the same name.  During the revelations of the Pentagon papers, Daniel Ellsberg was considered both a traitor to the nation and a hero to the counter culture.  Looking back on the situation, it is clear that without Ellsberg’s efforts open debate about how to prosecute the war in Vietnam was greatly informed by the leaks of this classified information.  Thanks to Ellsberg and his efforts, congress understood how Democratic and Republican administrations lied to them about involvement in Vietnam.  It was also a valuable source of scholarship for historians and military professionals seeking to understand the conflict.  As Ellsberg said himself, “I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.”

In 2009, Mattel the makers of Barbie and other popular toys was dragged into court because they had violated the federal ban on lead paint in their products.  This time the whistle-blower was a Chinese factory worker and the plant manager committed suicide before the full extent of the contamination was exposed.  Thousands of toys were recalled and the company had to pony up 2.3 million dollars to pay fines.  Worse was the hit to the reputation to the company, as it went into the holiday shopping season and had to explain to nervous parents how their products were now lead free.

These two stories have one thing in common.  When someone was confronted with an ethically dubious situation or a clear example of corruption, they decided to expose it and then they took responsibility for their actions.  They did not “play ball” and allow these situations to continue rather, they decided to change them with the only tools they had at their power which was information.

I have spent the bulk of my career trying to do the right thing for my customers, co-workers, and clients.  In some situations, I was rewarded with unemployment.  In others, I was demoted or marginalized.  That did not change how I operated because I always felt that when the chips were down others would always remember when you were under tremendous pressure and still did the right thing.  This was one of the reasons why I founded E3 systems.  I wanted to be the owner of a software development firm and I wanted to continue to do the right thing.  Please look us up and we will tell you more.

So as we come out of a long holiday weekend commemorating the sacrifices of military during the history of our nation.  Take a little time to recognize the people big and small who sacrifice every day doing the right thing for others.

Until next time.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Stepping out of the Office

New Orleans and it feels
so good.
The software developer and entrepreneur does not live in a vacuum.  They have to interact with customers and other organizations.  If you don’t get out of that comfort zone you will stagnate and fall behind the times.  This is why I attended the Scrum Alliance Gathering in New Orleans this last week.  It was a very healing event as I got to meet other like-minded people and mingle with others who are attempting to build their own organizations and products.  This week on the blog I want to talk about the experience and let you know what that means for the future of the organization.

The Scrum Alliance is the membership organization which charters the training and education of scrum professionals.  The certification for all the major branches of agile professionals flows through the organization.  My career prospects improved instantly once I became a Certified ScrumMaster and I felt that my four years of agile training and experience culminated in receiving the certification.  Little did I realize, that being an agile developer was not preparation for being a full time ScrumMaster.

What the conference did to reinforce what I have learned over the last five years as a developer and ScrumMaster.  I had a chance to meet people who had the same problems I did.  I got to share some knowledge that I gathered over the years and share it with others.  I especially want to give recognition to Arne Ahlander and his outstanding presentation “The Listening ScrumMaster”.  This session taught me that I needed to spend more time trying to listen to the people on my team rather than attempting to coach them. 

I also had an opportunity to learn a little bit more about values of Agile which are: commitment, courage, openness, respect and focus.  This was a very important course for me because I can see these values waning in my business and in my agile teams.  It takes a lot of energy to get people to work together so it was nice to see what it needs to be done to mold at team into a high energy outfit. 

I am going to take these values back to my organization and company and see if they work.  It is nice to get away from the office and go to a conference.  It is also nice to escape the vacuum of isolation and get a fresh perspective. 

Until next time. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Insanity of Software

At times someone distills perfectly what it means to be a software developer.  This week Peter Welch posted the following article to Gizmodo and I strongly recommend it to my readers “Why a Job in Programming Is Absolute Hell”.  This week, I wanted to comment on this blog and try to let you know that while programming is hell; the trip is worth it if you can help customers try and solve their problems.

Welch’s thesis is that while software development does not require you to lift 50 pounds or dangle from a building while you wield together iron girders, it is filled with stress and insanity.  I can attest in my career that software is one of the few products we make in western civilization which is made completely by hand.  That said many of the people who build software see themselves as artists and craftsmen.  This is a recipe for mental illness and conflict.   Because no two software developers will build the same thing the same way, this means that the more software developers you have working on a project the more disagreements about how the work is going to get done.

I am going to postulate something known as Wisniowski’s theorem.  For every developer on a software team, the amount of disagreement increases by the power of the number of developers on the team.  Thus, a team of seven developers is two to the seventh power more likely to disagree about how to build something than a team of two developers.

To prevent this from spiraling out of control, scrum masters and project managers were created who were supposed to act as guides and leaders to prevent conflict from spiraling out of control and get work done on time.  This has created an entirely different set of problems because many project managers and scrum masters do not come from a technical background.  So they do not know how to mediate conflict in a technical team or even what questions to ask.  This means that developers become insubordinate and work around the project leadership to get work done.  By the time someone has realized what has happened, it is either too late or the developer has decided to switch jobs working someplace else.  If this sounds like madness, it is.

So what company to do?  Well many people purchase software in the hope of never having to figure out how it is constructed.  Others pay millions of dollars for consulting companies to build the software and hope that it works.  Finally, the truly brave hire developers and IT professionals and hope that they can keep the organization afloat.  I have lived it for over 15 years and I have to scars to show it.

This is why I founded E3 systems.  I wanted to help businesses with low cost and low hassle solutions to fleet maintenance and inventory management.  Contact us today and we will tell you how.

Software development is filled with stress and insanity.  It has rewarded me with a modicum of independence and a middle class lifestyle but I know for a fact that there has to be a better way to practice my profession.  So enjoy that working software because someone had to go a little insane to make it a reality.

Until next time.