Why don’t the managers get it?

Flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

Yeah, heard it all before, will you nerds stop whinig about your work conditions? Well, no and it is because of that state above. Have you ever wondered whether the managers get it at all? And why do they cram people into open space Dilbert-like cubicles? So, dear programmer, I have some bad news for ya – the wonderful, quiet, private, well-lit office is an almost unachievable dream. Here’s why. As Joel has once written, there are several (in his opinion 5) different worlds of software development. The largest part of the programming world are the in-house programmers (and this is by large factor, I suppose). Now, notice that fo the kinds of organizations that these people work for, they are not the “core business”, which basically means they are not something that the organization is living off. So, if they are not an asset, then… you guessed it. They are the cost, the burden of running the company. Which in turn means the software development departaments in these organizations have little voice and little power. Which directly translates into: the equipment quality (the developers are the last to get LCD monitors and nice chairs), the accomodation quality (usually an open space, probably in some old building, little to no daylight, no free cofee etc.). So, if you’re one of these Java or .NET or c++ monkeys doing some accounting system for a bank/insurance company/telecom/whatever, you’re doomed. Sorry. The fact is that out of all the worlds of software developoment, the only place that you can be trated nicely is when your work translates directly to company’s income. Which is shrinkwrap software (and/or commercial web-based software, which essentially is the same thing, just instead of having to deal with gazillion windows configurations you have to deal with 5 or 6 web browsers <ok, most of the sites test using 2 or 3 and it suffices>). But, I’ve heard war stories of shrinkwrap software companies, where the CEO held an all-hands meeting just to tell the people, that their salaries were the largest cost of running the company, and that it had to be reduces. I wander, why noone told the guy: it’s and investment not a cost goddamnit. Perhaps he came from some cable manufacturing company or a reail chain or something like that and had no clue about the software industry.

So, back to the title question. The managers do get it. At least some part of them do. And it’s not like they do not appreciate the fact that creating software is a highly creative excercise, but there is a reason for the programmers to be called “monkeys”, right? And the reason is that from some point up the hierarchy all these developers seem equally significant to the manager. Every one of them is just a unit of time, a head in a count, that for all they know can be replaced (with more or less effort). They do not matter as a single person, they only matter as a piece of the machine… Like on the assembly line. Like in Office Space. If that movie seems familiar, you’re in deep shit. Get a 5 year plan to land in a decent company that makes shrinkwrap software, cause that is where you can be treated nicely, or, alternatively – make a plan to start up your own.


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