Monday, March 6, 2017

Why good developers put up with bad workplaces.

Working in technology should
 not feel like being in a sweatshop.
I touched a nerve with my blog last week and it kicked off plenty of debate.  What struck me was the insight from Steve Seather who asked, “…why would anyone work in such a wrong place?”  This week why good people put up with bad workplaces.  I have been a contractor and full-time employee in the technology business for almost twenty years.  I have a lot of experience in bad workplaces.  I will also cop to the fact that I was a poor software developer for the first ten years of that career.

According to the United States Census website, approximately 7.3 Billion people live on the earth.  According to the Verge website of that roughly 18.5 million people know how to write and maintain software.  If you do the math, only .05% of individuals on the planet know how to keep the modern global economy moving.  In short, there is too much work chasing too few people able to do the job.

Since software can be written quickly in a cafĂ© in Nigeria or a pub in Northern Ireland, the laws of supply and demand get twisted into a pretzel.  Domestic developers are pitted against offshore teams to keep wages low but because the skills are still rare wares are relatively high compared to other professionals.  Something has to give, so IT professionals become swamped with work.

IT professionals commonly work long hours and fight unrealistic deadlines because of this labor shortage. Software professionals become contingent workers because much of their work is project based.  They are hired and fired at will and often treated with contempt because they are often “the geeks” they have to pay.  So many people in the profession do receive excellent compensation, but they have zero security or respect.  Like rock musicians, they are only getting paid when they are working.  Unlike rock musicians, we rarely have adoring fans.

Making matters worse is the H1-B visa.  The United States immigration service provides this service.  In short, if you are a foreign national and work in the United States you need an H1-B visa.  If you lose your job you have 30 days to find a new one; otherwise, you are deported. Over my career, I attended many staff meetings where everyone was afraid to talk because if they offended the Vice President, they would be rolled off the project and deported back to the country of origin and this is why I compare the H1-B visa to indentured servitude.

Finally, many managers who lead IT teams have no understanding of the messy nature of building software and treat it like the manufacturing of machine tools.  They use project management and manufacturing techniques to lead IT professions which create numerous situations of labor alienation and crushes productivity.  IT professionals like any other employee have to put food on the table.  IT professionals put up with the lack of respect, overwork, poor security, and incompetent leadership for one reason – the paycheck.

It should not have to be this way.  The Agile reformation started because many smart people felt there was a better way.  People could do work more productively and more sustainably.  It is why I am and agilest.  It is also why I will not put up with ever working in a lousy environment again.  I am getting to old for that kind of grief.

Until next time.