Monday, June 22, 2015

More than the Man in the Taupe Blazer

I am a guy from a state school with a
taupe blazer.  I am going to help you
get your software written on time.
I have had a lot on my mind the two weeks.  My day job is getting more challenging and my home business is puttering along as it always has.  The most interesting thing about working in technology is the pace of change.  If you don’t like something it is bound to change in the span of a week.  This week I wanted to devote more attention to the fine article in Bloomberg Business Week, entitled “What is code?”  For the beginner in technology it is a fine read, but it does get a few things wrong and in particular they get wrong the role of the “scrum master.”

In the first chapter of the rather long article they describe a “scrum master” as “The Man in the Taupe Blazer.”  According to the article:

“This man makes a third less than you, and his education ended with a B.S. from a large perfectly fine state university.  But he has 500+ connections on Linked In.  That plus sign after the “500” bothers you.  How many more than 500 people does he know? Five? Five thousand?”

In short, a Scrum master is an eccentric person who understands software development along with project management and if a project goes south they will be able to get on with their lives while the executive who hires them will be forced into early retirement.  At first glance this is not an unfair impression.

What the article missed is that a scrum master is just as invested as the executive who hires him.  One of first things a scrum master learns is the difference between involvement and commitment.  To be committed, is to put your career at risk if you don’t succeed.  To be involved, is to be a participant in a project with no repercussions should it fail.  This gets to the classic metaphor about the breakfast shop and pigs and chickens.  In my darker moments, I joke about being a pig because I live on a steady diet of garbage, live in the excrement of other pigs, am treated with contempt by the other farm animals, and when necessary butchered for someone else’s breakfast.

I am not far from the truth.  I don’t know how many times I have had a member of my business organization look at me like I am some kind of insect because I am not as; cool, professional, good looking, or credentialed as they are.  I also spend many moments of my day slopping through the mud of my company bureaucracy and infrastructure to get things done.  I have had people lie to me and get insulted when I point out they are lying to me.  I also remember the week before Christmas 2008 when I was slaughtered because I made a mistake after 14 hours of non-stop coding.

So to be clear my executive friends, many of the scrum masters you face have seen failure first hand and they do not wish to experience it again.  They also know that their success is dependent on the same things that make you a success which is getting the project finished on time and on budget.  We are not some empty shell in taupe blazers.  We are just as invested as you are.

Where we excel is that we understand software and the people who write it.  It is not a pretty job but for every skyscraper built it requires hundreds of people who understand, engineering, construction, and motivating construction workers to get the job done.  The tower may have “Trump” on its marque but it took an anonymous engineer with decades of experience to make it rise.

Unfortunately, software development is not construction in the conventional sense.  While buildings are constructed with steel, glass, and concrete, software is built using languages and systems that often do not play nice together.  We also have differing levels of training and experience which is not taught in schools but rather learned on the job so asking a developer to do something that seems routine can be a huge suck of time and money.  Also software developers, the good ones at least, see themselves as artists.  Which means they cannot be led around like construction workers.  They have to be treated like the smart professionals they are.  Instead, they are treated like expensive pigs ready to be sacrificed when a project goes bad.

Yes, I have a taupe blazer.  Instead of a Bachelor of Science, I have earned a Master’s in Management and I have earned numerous credentials in my field to prove to executives that I know what I am doing.  I also have over 17 years writing software and learning how to adopt to the new technologies.  I am your ally.  I am just as invested in the success of the project as you are.  Finally, if you give me what I need to succeed, I will.  So have a little respect for the scrum master’s in your life executives, we are the steady hands which make software work for your business.

Until next time.

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