Monday, May 2, 2016

Reputation is not licence to be a jerk

We know lots of people like this.  A few of them 
 set the conversation of the technology world.
 Image courtesy of Slate.com.
The world of technology is filled with plenty of smart, talented and colorful personalities.  This dynamic was one of the reasons why I was drawn to the business.  This week I want to talk about of these colorful personalities and how he represents some of the worst impulses in the technology business.

There are plenty of stereotypes in the technology business.  These are reinforced by popular culture in productions as diverse as James Bond movies, the Fox series 24, and the HBO program Silicon Valley.  Having over 18 years’ experience in the business, I have seen many of these stereotypes in real life.  I have also met plenty of great people who are unique and innovative in every way.

By any standard, Alex St. John should be seen as one of the leading minds in the technology field. He was self-educated and self-taught.  He created the DirectX technology which powers Xbox and just about every PC game on Windows.  His work helped make Microsoft the power house it is and he earned further accolades founding his own company.  This kind of achievement should make St. John a good will ambassador for the technology field instead, he is coming off as a colossal jerk.

I can provide numerous examples which have already been articulated elsewhere on the web.  These offenses break down into three categories.

  • He does not see the value of women in technology.  Exhibit A.
  • He thinks that exploitative work conditions in the software business, particularly, the game business are acceptable.  Exhibit B.
  • Finally, anyone who disagrees with him is a “whiner” of not willing to work hard.  Exhibit C.

I have stated repeatedly, technology needs more women.  The fresh perspective they provide to technology is essential to improving product quality.  It also makes the office less like a Mongol raiding party and more like a 21st century work place.  The less testosterone in technology the better.

Next repeated studies have shown that long hours are a hindrance to productivity rather than a boon.  Notions of “crunch” time and working eighty hour work weeks are exploitative and boarder on the illegal practice of wage theft.  Additionally, the twelve principle of Agile discourage this mindset stressing development should sustainable.  To St. John and others developer burn-out, turnover, and alienation are the cost of doing business.  Technology workers are not different that sweatshop workers and they should be grateful for the conditions.

Finally, St. Jon has ridiculed people who disagree with him about issues of diversity and exploitation of tech workers by claiming they are not ambitious enough or smart enough to understand his arguments.  In St. John’s world, I would have died of a heart attack because I would be living on steady diet of caffeine, pizza, and stress.  The technology world has undermined two of my marriages because of high stress, turn over, and uncertain employment conditions.  It is hard to keep good employees if they don’t see or sleep with their significant others.  I consider myself a valuable professional to any organization, but to St. John, I am just a pencil to be ground down into a nub to be replaced by someone else just as disposable.

Bottom line, if you do not agree with St. John, then you are neither smart nor talented enough to work in technology.  This may explain why he is spending more time coaching CEO’s and HR professionals on how to recruit technology talent than actually managing technology talent.  I have worked for people like St. John who are convinced of their intellectual and moral superiority. It is not fun and I consider those periods the low points of my career.  Technology is changing thanks to agile and efforts to improve diversity.  Faced with the changing environment you can, lead, follow, or get out of the way.  I think that St. John is about to get trampled to death.

Until next time.