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Saturday, February 11, 2012

VP says to move out to move up? Your company is doomed.

Here's another sign that your company might be headed into a bottomless pit of despair. This one's a little harder to spot if you aren't one of the people directly affected by it. As a result, you may have to ask around to find out what they have been hearing. What you learn may be educational.

A fair number of companies seem to have a de facto caste system set up. There are people at the top with their ivory-handled back scratchers and private floors. Then there are their toadies, and then eventually you hit a spot where the ordinary people start appearing. There will probably be a point where the population bulges and most of the employees fit into that band.

At a software company, odds are, that biggest band will be the SWEs - software engineers. Outside of management, they will seem pretty special to the people who are below them in the caste system.

Who are those people, you ask? Are they the janitors and security people? No. Those folks have their own little system. I'm just focusing on the ones who still have technical jobs but aren't necessarily treated very well.

These are the people who are actually there on the ground. They actually touch the hardware which runs all of that software churned out by the SWEs. Their lives are in the data centers, colocation rooms, and other "hands-on" places of the company. You might call them DCOps or HWOps or some other name entirely, but they are essential.

Now that we've established who I'm talking about, I will now tell you how you can assess their treatment to see if your company is headed to hell in a handbasket.

Quite simply, it goes like this. At a company meeting, one of these people will stand up and ask a question about how to "move up". They'll tell a story about how some of them have higher aspirations, and are actually rather capable programmers too. They'll ask some full bird VP a direct question: how do we get to the SWE world from here?

If the VP stands there in front of the entire company audience and says "well, you'll have to move up by moving out to another company", you are screwed. The people in charge above you have just told all of those hard-working folks that they are trapped and can never grow into anything more than they are now.

It was particularly cocky to say that they should move out to move on, but they probably would have reached that conclusion eventually. So, when it starts happening, and all of your hands-on institutional knowledge starts moving out of the company instead of up into the ranks, you will know why.

I've never been a DCOps/HWOps type for a medium or large company. I've only been a "doer of everything" at a small place, which is not the same thing. However, the people I knew at one job who had come up through the ranks from DCOps to Support and beyond were some of the most capable folks I ever met at that company. They knew the entire business top to bottom because they had experienced all of it personally.

I have, however, witnessed a VP tell these same people (as the rest of the company watched) that they are stuck and to move on. Things then proceeded to get really bad. Coincidence?

At least he didn't say they were too old to matter, huh?