Sunday, September 28, 2008

Managing programmers

Lots of books have been written on management. Not sure if there are too many on managing specific types/skills/professions. Perhaps there are tonnes of books with "Managing Accountants" somewhere in their titles. Wouldn't really know, seeing as I'm not an accountant.

But why would I expect stuff written for specific groups of people. Management is management right, and programmers are people. Strange people, but people nonetheless. It's this "strangeness" though that makes, I think, normal strategies not be very effective with them. They tend to have certain qualities. Qualities that make managing and retaining them using conventional wisdom somewhat elusive. Most management structures must really scratch their heads about these techie types. Where I work, the average lifespan of developers [I don't much like that term] is 1-3 years. Other guys in the same department have been there for [10] years. The programmers though just seem to come and go. Why. Demand? Not sure. There are comp sci. graduates who don't have jobs. Just before I joined, a guy had left. [I guess that's why they were hiring] I knew the guy who'd left, and had heard about how much he was earning. Although such third person info tends to be unreliable. But I also heard that they had a higher budget for the next guys they hired, presumably considering they were paying this previous guy a lot of money but he still left. I would be one of those to benefit, apparently. But I had a hard time asking for "a lot" of money, so I suppose they were pleasantly surprised and ended up making significant savings. If you're hiring two guys to do the same job, do you pay them the same amount, or pay more to the one who bargains harder. I need to talk to someone who's done a HR course to try and understand the rules at work when hiring.

I've always held that programmers are pretty easy to manage. Just don't bother them. Signing a register when I check in, under the threat of disciplinary action if I'm late won't motivate me to come in early. It'll just motivate me to leave at 5, which is not what you want. So threats don't work too well, and all manner of restrictions, procedures, politics don't go down too well either. Which reminds me of my initial question. Why would any of these be unique to programmers. Saw an ad in Friday's paper. Craft silicon are looking to hire among other people 20 programmers. 20. Did they get some huge government project or something. Anyway. Some of the wording of the ad intrigued me. There was something in there about subsidized lunches. Google-esque. There was also a statement that the financial package will not be a limiting factor. I wonder if they'll be saying the same when they hear the salary demands they'll get. Most interesting was that they are looking for people who'll take a long term perspective with them. Basically acknowledging the tendency of guys to stay for a couple of months or years before moving on. Perhaps they've gotten it.

It's food for thought anyway, what to do with programmers.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw the ad too. You have to be very careful about software houses that are aggressively expanding. They can easily crush and burn. I do programming and tech support for a popular textbook publisher. A pretty uncool but pretty stable industry.

Thank God I was hired by a programmer (my boss) and not by some HR person who doesn't understand us. My employer has no HR department so programmers are hired by programmers, accountants by accountants, book editors by book editors, etc.

Monday, September 29, 2008 4:11:00 PM  

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