Monday, August 28, 2017

Admitting personal failure

I failed.  I will get over myself.
There is a saying in the medical profession, “When God puts his hand on the left shoulder of a patient, take yours off the right.”  The meaning being that patients die and even the best doctor will have to accept that they cannot heal everyone.  This week I am leaving the University of St. Francis business incubator, and I am shuttering much of my start-up.  I want to discuss this on the blog this week.

Seven years ago, in the aftermath of my failed second marriage, I founded E3 systems. The goal was to create an online inventory management system which other small and medium sized businesses could use to manage their organizations better.  I wrote software non-stop for weeks.  I would sequester myself to focus on setting up business structures which would scale.  I had numerous arguments with my product owner who also happened to be my father.

I would run into various business situations like people expecting me to give them my product for free.  One potential client loved my work until they realized they would have to pay me.  I even did a classic Silicon Valley “pivot” writing software which handled fleet and equipment maintenance.  I flooded social media with youtube videos, tweets, and Facebook posts and information on my product.  I did everything with scalable technologies and paid for everything out of my pocket.  Sadly, I could not do business development and close sales.  As my advisor told me, I was a dilettante.  The business world rejected me with harsh Darwinian indifference.

I toughed it out for seven years.  I kept my day job and hoped someday I would pack up my cubical and go full John Galt.  The last two years have been a denial of reality.  I did not have a market for my products, or a means to sell those products.  I failed.

I am disappointed, but I have learned some valuable lessons.  I understand that I am pretty good at operations and project management.  My software development skills have dramatically improved including my use of SOLID and test-driven development.  I have been jumping on the chest of a dead business.  Everyone knew this but me.  Now that I have a moment of clarity, I see that now is the time step aside and accept its demise.

I will still be open for consulting and will be happy to continue Agile coaching but my days of selling software as a service are over.  I have a relationship with the Will County Project Acclaim which I will continue to support.  I am shuttering my cloud based software on September 1st.  I will keep this blog open because I still have plenty to share about agile and software development.

In the agile movement, we say, fail early and fail often. Failure is the ultimate learning experience.  As a failed entrepreneur of a startup, I consider this something which makes me a better leader, agilest, and software developer.  Once the disappointment wears off, I will be ready for my next act.  I suspect it will be a command performance.

Until next time.

Monday, August 14, 2017

I would have fired him too!

Freedom of expression is not a license to be an asshole.
Plenty of pixels have been expended on the diversity memo from a Google engineer who argues that efforts to improve diversity were a waste of time.  I have been following the arguments and spoken with friends about the dust up.  It dawned on me that this is not a question about diversity versus political correctness.  The entire affair is really about teamwork and being a jerk to you colleagues.  The author of the memo is not free thinking but using pseudoscience to justify biased views.  As an agilest and leader, there is no room for these individuals in your organization.

Over the years, I have been critical of the “brogrammer” culture.  I have also been critical of engineers who think gender is a disqualifying factor to work in technology.  Last week, I further bemoaned the lack of women in the development profession.  I placed much of the blame on a feedback loop of men pursuing computer science careers and providing a leg up to other men in the industry.  It is also apparent to me that working in technology gives certain individuals the license to be an asshole to others.

One of my favorite business books is “The No Asshole Rule,” by Robert I. Sutton, Ph.D.  Sutton does a fantastic job providing a scholarly definition of what an asshole is and reasons why you do not want them in your business.  I think it should be required reading for any business person along with the “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” by Partick Lencioni.  

According to Sutton, an Asshole has two traits:
  • Test One: After talking to the alleged asshole, does the “target” feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person?  In particular, does the target feel worse about him- or herself?
  • Test Two: Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather those individuals who are more powerful.

Based on the above criteria, it is evident to me that the author of the Google memo is an asshole.  The author considers himself and those like him intellectually and morally superior.  Since they are superior, they should not have to debase themselves by having to educate, mentor, or collaborate with those people.  This"other" could be women, ethnic minorities, and people living different lives.

A modern office is not an environment for this kind of thinking.  Women make up a large percentage of the work force and are filling senior leadership positions.  There are also countless people of color working as professionals.  Finally, individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are collaborating with those who are not.  Anyone who considers themselves superior to others not like them is going to create tension and undermine collaboration in the office.  Eventually, behavior like this is going to trickle down to the bottom line.  From an agile perspective, individuals who feel this sense of superiority are going to be resistant to continuous improvement.  It is not a surprise the author of the diversity memo wrote this after attending a workshop on the bias.

As a manager and agilest I would have fired the author of the Google memo.  He was a distraction to the firm and advocating for a direction that the company had openly rejected.  Finally, his attitude to co-workers different than him would undermine any project he was assigned.  Better to remove a polyp than deal with cancer which could kill your organization.

Until next time.

I am taking next week off to attend the Gen-Con game fair. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Software Development needs Women

We need more women in Technology.
I take a great deal of pride in what I do.  Being a scrum master is difficult but it has plenty of intrinsic rewards.   As I have muddled through my career, I have noticed the technology business is diverse.  I have worked with Indian, Pakistani, Russian, and Latino developers.  I have worked with every possible religious group from atheists and pagans to evangelical fundamentalist Christians.  The only criteria in the technology business I have encountered is could a person write good code.  Race, creed or color never disqualified a person from being a software engineer.  Unfortunately, gender is not diverse in the technology business.  We need to do a better job having women represented in the ranks of coders and agile practitioners.   This week, I want to formally provide my support for efforts to get more young girls to join the profession I love.

In the early days of software development, women and men were equally involved in the trade.  These pioneering software developers were business people first who learned how to write software without a formal collegiate curriculum.  One of the best depictions of this period is the film “Hidden Figures” which shows women of color working for NASA.  The 1950’s and 1960’s were not a golden age of diversity in American Business, but in the early days of software development, there was less gender disparity.

I believe that this changed as colleges began accepting undergraduates for computer science course.  Men began to dominate in this academic major, and it created a feedback loop of men helping other men get into the profession.  As women retired from the occupation, men replaced them.  These individuals knew how to code but did not understand the businesses they were working. As the business of software development became more lucrative and prestigious, companies pushed more women out the activity.  With fewer women in the occupation, the “brogrammer” culture began to grow, and software development teams became hostile work environments.  With the rise of Silicon Valley software shops, this trend became more pronounced, and it has been severely parodied in popular culture thanks to the HBO series. 

I am glad to report that over the years, I have run into plenty of exceptional women who walk a lonely road and work in this profession.  It is also good to see the rise of organizations like Girl Scouts and Code Like a girl encourage young people to get into the profession.  There is plenty of toxic masculinity in this business, and only with the addition of more women, a means to discourage it.  Finally, it is important that men support women in this craft.

Software development is a diverse profession, but it could do better with gender equity.  It is up to all of us in the business to recognize that girls can code and they are welcome in the profession.

Until next time.