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Office Politics 101 for Recovering Idealists

In writing my book, I find that I wind up with these thoughts, paragraphs and mini-essays that may or may not find their way into the book. I’m adding to Leanpub sequentially, but writing relevant things as they occur to me, so there are bits floating around, waiting to have a home. I’m going to appropriate one of those bits today, as a blog post, since this is on the fringe of “maybe it will fit, maybe not.”

You almost certainly play the game of office politics, whether you do so deliberately or not. If there are more than two people involved in something, there are politics, so if you work for a company or project of more than two people, you’re involved. Saying, “I stay out of office politics and just work,” is like saying, “I don’t vote or follow elections, so I’m not really involved in laws and policies.” You can certainly opt out of participation in the process, but you can’t opt out of the consequences of that process.

Becoming good at office politics is a messy endeavor, involving a lot of intuition, trial and error, and real life, career consequences. It’s also unpleasant for a lot of people. But if you take away one piece of advice on how to navigate the minefield, let it be this: stop giving away information for free because information is leverage. Read More

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It’s a Large Batch Life for Us

It’s a large batch life for us!
‘stead of feedback we just wait!
‘stead of options we trust fate!

— Little Orphan Annie…sort of.

Before I talk about “large batch life,” I’d like to take a moment to share with you a bemused chuckle at really poorly done verbal tribalism.  Rather than try to explain in the general sense, I’ll offer an example: an out of touch father trying to determine if his kids are doing drugs by saying, “so, dudes, are any of your friend-bros on the pot?”  He’s attempting (and failing) to crack their linguistic code to gain credibility. The kids, presumably, have a tribe with its own invisible speakeasy, and Dad is trying to get in.

There are tons of tribes, and you’re a member of many.  When you say, “pull request,” in casual conversation, you’re indicating that you’re part of the tribe that puts open source code on Github.  When you tell people to “put it on my calendar,” you’re indicating that you’re part of office culture. There’s nothing particularly notable or bemusing about that — it’s simply the mechanics of human communication.  Where things start to get awkward is when Dad enters the mix in the form of a recruiter or hard-charging project manager and wants to establish cred in that world without really having any: “Hey dudebros, can I pull request a phone interview with you?”

RetirementAnnie

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My Candidate Description

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, I’m treating you to a strange post. Consider this experimental art of a fashion, I suppose. Odd as it sounds, this isn’t addressed to you, though I encourage you to read it, hope that you enjoy it, and suggest that you consider doing a version of it yourself. You’ll see why shortly.

If you’re a recruiter, you’re reading this because I sent you this link in response to an email, a message through social media, a message through SO Careers, or something else similar. Let me first say that I thank you for coming here and taking the time to read this. I mean this sincerely; as a blogger who pays attention to various forms of analytics, I’m aware of how many people drop off from a call to action, so I’ve already lost a good chunk of people to whom this is sent. The fact that you’re here and reading means that you aren’t dialing for dollars in volume the way so many of your colleagues with an “URGENT REQUIREMENT FOR A JAVA DEVELOPER IN TEST” seem to do.

Now, I realize that what I’m doing here may come off as a bit flippant or cocky, but I assure you earnestly that this is NOT my intention. As you are no doubt aware, I receive a nearly endless stream of contacts from people looking for software developers, software architects, dev managers, etc. This post, for me, is mainly about time savings. But it’s also a polite but insistent suggestion that we stop playing by old rules that no longer make sense. Gone are the days of a company putting out a job description and waiting for the “lucky” applicants to prove that they’re good enough. You know it, and I know you know it because I’ve spent a lot of time in your situation over the last few years, desperately trying to hire developers in an economy that saw all promising candidates disappear in the two days between a phone screen and a “let’s bring them in for a chat.” It’s harder for companies to find developers than vice-versa, no matter how many free cans of soda and ping pong tables your clients or you are offering.

So what I’m posting here is my candidate description that will serve as pre-screening for inquiries about my availability for work. Assuming your company or the company on whose behalf you are searching seems like a good match for my description and meets the must-have requirements, I may be amenable to further discussion over the phone. I say may because I’m quite happy with my current work situation and have almost more contract work than I can handle, so I simply don’t have much spare time.

Candidate Description

I am an experienced programmer, software architect, team leader, CIO, coach, and technologist that enjoys working with a wide variety of programming languages, frameworks, and tools. The majority of my recent development experience has focused on the .NET framework, though over the years I have worked with C++, Java, and a number of other languages. Projects range from low-level driver and kernel module programming all the way up to user interface design. Types of applications run the gamut from home automation to rigorous code analysis to line of business applications. My more recent work focuses more heavily on software craftsmanship coaching aimed at developers and IT management consulting aimed at IT managers and other positions at the periphery of software teams.

My passion for working with technology extends beyond the workplace and into my work under the umbrella of my LLC. I do various types of traditional consulting projects, but I also produce software-related content for public consumption. I create developer training videos for Pluralsight aimed at intermediate to advanced programmers. Beyond that, I am also an author and active technical blogger.

Must-Have Requirements for a Candidate Company

  • Must be open to B2B contract work (unless you’re looking for a dev manager or CTO, in which case, I’d prefer a conversation first about why you’re staffing that role and potential alternate solutions)
  • Must be open to considering initial arrangements of less than 40 hours per week.
  • Must actively practice or encourage clean coding practices (CI, TDD, SOLID, continuous refactoring, etc.) or else want to bring me in with a mandate to get your team doing these things.
  • Remote work arrangement possibilities are a non-negotiable necessity for development work, though occasional travel for site visits is fine (for programming, a bit more flexible for coaching).
  • I will not consider W2, exempt arrangement for software development.  Not even for a number that you think will make me swoon as if I’ve been told I’m the prettiest belle at the ball.  Contracting a must.
  • Provided I give reasonable notice, time off or with other clients must not be an issue for you.
  • Position must allow creative control of software work product.
  • For interviews, no brain-teaser-oriented interviews or algorithm-centric interviews (see “The Riddler” and the “Knuth Fanatic” from this excellent video about interviewing anti-patterns).  I strongly prefer code reviews and evaluation of my public code samples and am just not interested in discussing why manhole covers are round or in reliving college coursework from 15 years ago.
  • Regardless of language and framework, access to the latest bits is critical for me.
  • If you’re McDonald’s and you’re hiring me to build you a recipe database, I will sign an NDA agreeing not to distribute your recipe to your competitors.  Anything more strict and/or that restricts my ability to do freelance projects in any way at all is an immediate deal breaker.

Nice-to-Haves

  • I enjoy working on .NET technologies and in the connected (mobile or web) spaces.  I’ll happily code away in any language, but C#/.NET is my favorite these days.
  • No expense is spared on software development tools, and I can have my favorite text editors, productivity add-ins, etc.
  • I have the opportunity to contribute to company blog or public thought leadership in general.
  • I’d love working for a developer tools company or one that specializes in software development and surrounding expertise. If there’s developer evangelism in-role, even better.

Thanks Again

If you’re still reading, thanks again for taking the time and paying attention all the way through.  I know this seems strange, but I appreciate you humoring me, and I believe that this will save a lot of time in the long run for me and for you.  As I often tell people that I’m coaching, “it’s almost always better to fail fast and obviously,” so better you shake your head and move on to the next candidate rather than have you, me, and a phone screener all waste time only to have it come out after an hour of conversation that I’m not interested in signing an NDA and starting a W2 gig.

Readers, to address you once again, I suggest you do something like this as well.  Don’t settle; the market is too good.  And don’t let people on the hiring side convince you that you should be lucky to have a job.  I’ve tried hiring people who do what you do, offering generous salaries and a score of 10 or 11 on the Joel Test, and it was really, really hard.  Don’t settle for the first thing that comes along. Make your list, be patient, and be picky.  It will pay off.

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Don’t Learn to Code — Learn to Automate

Does anyone remember a few years ago, when the mayor of New York decided to learn to program? It was a heady time, because it wasn’t just him. I remember these surreal commercials where Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh was encouraging children to learn to code for the good of humanity or something. There was this sudden, overwhelming sentiment that humanity should abandon the folly of any non-programming pursuit and learn them some Ruby or whatever. Andy Warhol, were he alive in 2012, no doubt would have said, “in the future, everyone will write code for 15 minutes.”

Jeff Atwood wrote an interesting rebuttal to this zeitgeist, entitled, “Please Don’t Learn to Code.” The covers a good bit of ground and makes some interesting points, but the overarching thesis seems to be, “avoid thinking of writing code as the goal and learn to solve problems.” I think this is an excellent, philosophical point, but I’d like to add a bit of nuance.

I’ve written in the past about how important I think that it is to be a problem solver, to the point where I wrote a post about liking the title “problem solver.” So please don’t think I disagree with his take that a lot of programmers get too hung up with the particulars of code. I don’t — I think that’s a very common issue. But, at the same time, I think the mayor of New York and Chris Bosh and others have a point that Jeff doesn’t really address, per se. Specifically, the world is getting dramatically more technical, which means that a lot of pursuits are being automated out of existence, while other pursuits require an increasing degree of technical savvy. My fiancee, a professional copy editor, is finding aspects of her job to be easier if she knows a bit of HTML and CSS.

So while I wince alongside Jeff at the thought of people randomly learning programming languages because they think it’ll make them rich or because they want to be a person that writes lots of code, I don’t think we can simply say, “stay out unless you’re serious and willing to spend years getting good.” The rapidly evolving technical landscape has created this black hole of technical savvy that’s sucking in even people well past the event horizon.

The advice that I’d offer on this subject creates a pretty fine distinction. I don’t think that everyone needs to learn to code by any stretch. What I think that everyone needs to start learning about and understanding is how to automate. Or, if not how to do it themselves, at least how to recognize things that could be automated and have meaningful discussions about whether the effort is worth it or not. Read More

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Career Advancement for the Low Price of Your Soul

When I was a kid, I remember my little brother watching Disney films pretty much constantly from the ages of probably 1 to 6 or so. As a result, I have an embarrassingly encyclopedic memory of the plots and songs of the movies from that specific time window. Probably at the epicenter of this Disney knowledge for me was the film, “The Little Mermaid” and I can remember that crazed chef chasing Sebastian the crab around and still giggle to this day. But of all of the songs in that movie, there’s only one that makes me think of the corporate world. I’ll come back to that.

Claw Back, Disney Style

There are a few standard perks in corporate America (and, I’m sure the world, though I’m only familiar with hiring in the USA). Health insurance is pretty much table stakes for serious employment these days, and with a decent employer contribution to boot. Paid time off is certainly up there, along with holidays and general human decency, one would hope.  There’s another tier that includes 401K contributions or some other retirement provision, perhaps a pension of some kind, things like life and disability insurance, and so on.  And, then, you start getting into a land more exotic where employers offer weird, unexpected stuff like “take your dog to work day” or sabbaticals or something.  One that usually shows up in this slightly more exotic realm is some concept of tuition reimbursement for employees that seek degrees or want to acquire skills through classes, certifications, etc.

This perk is a classic win-win situation.  The company invests in the career development of an employee and, in exchange, reaps the benefit of the employee’s learning and added skills.  The employee becomes more valuable to the organization by virtue of new knowledge and skills and, all other things being equal, will wind up earning more money over the course of a career.  What could be better than this arrangement?  Employees donate their spare time to improving themselves for their companies and companies donate money to the cause.  Sounds like a pretty good exchange of consideration.

And the company, really, just wants to help.  Advancing one’s skill set and education isn’t cheap, and there are so, so many poor unfortunates that just can’t afford it.  You know what?  I’ll let Ursula from the aforementioned Little Mermaid explain.

Poor unfortunate souls,
In pain, in need!
This one longing for more skills
That one wants a new degree
And do I help them?
Yes, indeed!

UrsulaContract

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8 Career Tips That Don’t Require Competence

A few weeks ago, I posted my spin on the MacLeod Hierarchy and promised to follow up with a post addressing the kind of vacuous, non-strategic career advice that is often given in Buzzfeed sorts of formats.  I started, then, to type this post, but realized that a bridge of sorts was needed.  So I indulged a digression wherein I described the corporate idealist that typically solicits and follows this sort of advice.  (That post also became pretty popular, with a number of requests to pre-order my upcoming book, which you can now check out here on leanpub).  Now, having described the corporate idealist and his willingness to overwork in exchange for useless status tokens, I can go on to be clearer about why so much of the career advice that you tend to hear is so, well, frankly, dumb.

I started to write this just from anecdotal experience, including various comical, ham-fisted self promotion attempts that I’ve watched over the years.  But then I thought it’d make more sense to go out, do some research, and synthesize my experience with actual advice offered in these “Linkbait for Idealist” articles.  This is a list of the ones that I read as reference material.  (As an aside, I also stumbled across a few that offered fairly sensible, decent advice for how to advance meaningfully, so it is actually possible to find advice that isn’t silly)

KingOfSmallKingdom

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I Have a New Book

It’s been an interesting week with respect to my philosophy about the future of labor for knowledge workers. This post about corporate idealists and seniority got relatively popular and attracted around 10,000 readers. If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you know that one was just the latest in a series of a few posts I’ve done on this topic and you probably also know that these are coming from my work on a book. But this understandably wasn’t immediately clear to new readers, and so I got a smattering of inquiries as to where the book was for sale or whether it could be pre-ordered. I invited those folks to stay tuned or sign up for my mailing list, but alas I had nothing to offer.

A few days later, I noticed the hashtag #talkpay on Twitter, promoting the controversial but clearly forward-thinking idea that making salary information confidential is problematic in a variety of ways (specifically, in this case, that it facilitates gender and racial pay inequality). I’m not a salaried employee, so I couldn’t offer information about my salary, but it did prompt me to tweet this:

As you can see, this was a pretty popular sentiment, which jived with the reception my post about salary negotiation hacks received. There appears to be a great deal of appetite for reconsidering the knowledge worker’s relationship with the corporate structure.

To this end, I decided over the weekend to put an end to my large-batch approach to writing this book and include anyone that wants to come along for the ride right from the outset. I wrote my initial introduction to the book and published it on Leanpub (most of the material I’d been gathering is still scattered in a large document on my personal google drive). Beware, there’s not much there, but that will change. In the coming months, I’ll be writing to the book almost the way I would to a second blog. So, stay tuned.

The infant book is now officially on Leanpub and officially for sale. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing when it comes to marketing or setting price, so please bear with me. It’s doubly confusing because Leanpub offers a lot of different options for differentiated pricing. The minimum price for the book is $1 and the suggested price is $4.99. The suggested price was just the default, and the minimum price is 1 cent more than the default for no particular reason other than selling things for 99 cents seems somehow hokey to me. I considered making the initial minimum price free, since there’s not much book there, but data about whether people would pay for the thing or not is a lot more meaningful if people have to pay for it. If I made it free, I might get a lot of spurious information (lessons learned from Lean Startup and 4 Hour Work Week).

DeveloperHegemony

Now, here’s the nuance. You can get the book for free. I wanted to be sure to offer that option to people that are regular fans and followers of the blog and will provide feedback as I write it along with support and shares. So I created a coupon that I’ll send out to the DaedTech mailing list as well as anyone who signs up for it from here forward. Also, I’m not going to lie. If you just email me, I’ll send you the coupon too, but I’d prefer to do it through the mailing list. For those of you on the mailing list, look for the coupon email in the next few days.

As I said, I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to marketing, so I hope this makes sense and isn’t crazy. I wanted to err on the side of giving too much away if I erred in any direction. Weird as it sounds to say, I’ve never regretted erring on the side of giving away content. People seem to live life petrified that they’ll give something away for free when they could have wrung a few dollars out of it, but for me, the goodwill and engagement created by giving away content has paid far more dividends down the line than a few dollars.

So I cordially invite you to join me on this book journey. And, naturally, I invite you to invite as many of your friends and colleagues as you please! :) I’m excited and looking forward to this, and fascinated to see how it goes.

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Carnival Cash: The Cult of Seniority

Alright, screw it. Let’s burn the boats. I said I wasn’t going to get into this until I released the book, but the idealist career advice post I had planned doesn’t make sense without a discussion of corporate seniority.  If you haven’t read this recent post, in which I outline the terms pictured below, you’ll probably want to read it for reference or this one might not make as much sense to you.  In this post, I’m going to defend a thesis that the best career advice I could offer to any knowledge worker, counter-intuitive though it may seem, would be to avoid earning seniority at a company.

In a prequel to this series I seem to be starting, I define the essential conundrum of the corporate pragmatist.  This post is going to focus on corporate idealists and the essential conundrum that they face, and it’s going to address a reader’s question while we’re at it.  That question provides a good lead-in to the context here.  Paraphrased, it was, “while going it alone may be good advice for seasoned, senior developers, shouldn’t junior developers hitch their wagons to a company for a while, giving a lot of extra effort and working their way up while learning the ropes?”  My simple, off-the-cuff response is, “oh, dear God, no!”  But the more nuanced response I’ll expand on here is, “that may be a strategy, but be very, very careful, because here be dragons.”

Dragons

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Defining The Corporate Hierarchy

Rites of Passage

Think back to being a kid, and you can probably remember a rather dubious rite of passage that occurred when you figured out that you weren’t going to be a sports player, lead singer, or Hollywood star.  You probably felt sad, but your parents and older siblings likely breathed sighs of relief that you’d never be explaining to people that a manual labor gig was your “day job.”  State lotteries notwithstanding, giving up on improbable dreams is considered by adults to be a sign of maturity in budding adults.

If you think about this, the easy message to hear is “you’re not going to be great, so give up.”  It’s depressing and oft-lamented by college kids having mini crises of identity, but it’s actually a more nuanced and pragmatic message, if a poorly communicated one.  It’s that the expected value of these vocations is horrendous.  For baseball players, actresses, and rock stars, there’s a one in a million chance that you’ll make ridiculous sums of money and a 999,999 in a million chance that you’ll make $4,000 per year and have half of it paid to you in beer nuts.  So the expected value of going into these positions is about a $4,200 per year salary and a handful of beer nuts.  So the message isn’t really “give up because you’ll never make it” but rather “steer clear because anything but meteoric success is impoverishing.”

The better play, we tell our children, is to head for the corporate world where the salaries range from minimum wage in the mailroom to tens of millions per year for CEOs of companies that create stock market volatility. Most importantly, you can find every salary in between.   So if you aim for the heights of CEO and fall short, mid-level manager making $140K per year isn’t a bad consolation prize. And so a funny thing happens. We consider it to be a rite of passage to abandon the delusion that you’ll be Michael Jordan, but we encourage the delusion that you’ll be Bill Gates until people are well into middle age.

That’s right, “the delusion that you’ll be Bill Gates.” You won’t be him. You won’t be a CEO, either, unless you pop for your state’s incorporation fee and give yourself that title. You’re about as likely to “work your way up” to the CEO’s office over the course of your career as any given child is to luck into being the next multi-platinum pop star. So, it’s a rather strange thing that we tsk-tsk children for indulging pie-in-the-sky fantasies past a certain age while we use nearly identical fantasies as the blueprint for modern industry. Kid wants to be Justin Bieber? Pff. Thirty-year-old wants to be Mark Zuckerburg? Keep working hard, kicking butt, and acing those performance reviews, and someday you’ll get there!

Pff. Read More

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Please Direct all Inquiries to My Agent

I got an email from a recruiter not too long ago.  I suppose that’s not a surprise, given how I’ve made my living, but what might surprise you is that I usually respond to recruiters, and politely at that.  They’re human beings, trying to earn a living in a way that I don’t envy.  These days, my relatively stock reply is to thank them for reaching out, tell them that I’m pretty happy and thus pretty picky, and to offer to chat anyway, if they just want to network.  As a developer with some community presence, a serial freelancer, a consultant, and general entrepreneur, it never hurts to talk for a few minutes and make a connection.  This recruiter persisted, and said that, even if it wasn’t a current fit, something might make sense later.  Sure, why not?

Come Hear about this Depressing Opportunity!

When she called, we exchanged pleasantries and she asked what I’d been doing lately in a professional capacity.  I explained that the last 2 years had seen me as the CIO of a company, running an IT department, and then going off on my own to do freelance development, consulting, coaching, and a cadre of other activities.  At this point, she began to explain what life was like for line level devs at her company and asking what tech stack I preferred.  I sighed inwardly and answered that I’d been engaged in coaching/mentoring activities in Java and .NET recently, but that I didn’t care too much about language or framework specifics.  She then asked about my career goals, and I scratched my head and explained, honestly, that I was looking to generate enough passive income to work on passion projects.  She became a little skeptical and asked if I had recent development experience, clearly now concerned that whatever it was that I’d been doing might not qualify me to crank out reams of line-o-business code or whatever fate she had in mind for me.

The conversation had become deeply tiring to me at this point, and I steered it to a close relatively quickly by telling her I had no interest in line-level development positions unless they were freelance, B2B, part time sorts of engagements that weren’t very long in duration (and not bothering to mention that I’d probably sub-contract something like that since I don’t have an abundance of time).  She assured me that all of the positions she was hiring for were W2, full time positions but I should give her a call if I changed my mind and felt like being an architect or something, and that was that.

I hung up the phone, sort of depressed.  Honestly, I wished I’d never taken the call more profoundly than if I’d interviewed for some plum gig and been rejected.  This just felt so… pointless.  I couldn’t really put my finger on why, and indeed, it took my subconscious some time to kick into useful mode and deposit it coherently into my active brain.DevOpportunityCost

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