Random Thought

I was watching a rerun of Boston Legal the other night, and this quote caught my attention – not all of you will understand why, but some might… 

“It’s sad, how you go from intimacy to nothing, cold turkey. I mean, how many people along the way have true meaning in your life, and to suddenly have no contact, and….it’s sad.” – Denny Crane (Boston Legal)

Interesting post – Conspiracy Theorists and free software

Here is an interesting post on the prevalence (or at least existence) of conspiracy-theory-types within the free software movement (actually, they exist within any community). However, this article points out something which I have said before, which is that these people, and other zealots in the open source world, do far more damage to the credibility of open source as a whole than any opponents of open source ever could.

Eventually, the pitch “we are better because we are not Microsoft” is just not enough, and in fact, begins to hurt the movement.

Transitions

So, today I am moving on from Whitehill Technologies (now Skywire Software). I do so with many mixed feelings. When I look back on what I have achieved here, many things stand out. Helping to grow the company to the point where it became a meaningful acquisition target I think is a tremendous accomplishment. We have also developed a great deal of very cool software, and more importantly, software for which real people were willing to pay real money. To have accomplished this from Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, is a great demonstration of what we can achieve in this region, and is something which I hope to repeat in the future.

The most important aspect of the journey, though, is the people. Having spent the better part of 9 years here, I can honestly say that there are very, very few people I have known here with whom I would not eagerly work again. I would also like to think that I have contributed to the growth of many developers (and other staff). When I joined Whitehill, the development team was very young. Most had only a couple of years of experience. It is extremely gratifying to me to see what has grown out of that team – people who have become technical leaders, managers, and all-around leaders. I cannot express the respect I have for what this group has become. I like to think that I contributed in some way to that growth.

Looking back, there are many people who stand out. I miss the early days with Bob, and Bonzo, and the excitement of working with a small, tight team. Then, of course, there was the winter in a construction trailer in the parking lot with 8 other guys, porting Transport to Java.

There are too many people to list all of them here. First and foremost, I want to thank Steve Palmer. Steve has always been the epitome of professionalism, respectfulness, and generally “doing the right thing”, and I consider Steve to have been an important mentor to me. Among the early developers, Shawn Hogan, who had leadership written all over him 8 years ago, has fulfilled that potential and more. Jerome Sabourin, Greg Clouston, Andrew Sharpe, Anita Richard, Rob Stote and too many others to mention. I am very proud of, and have the utmost respect for, all of you.

It has certainly been an interesting ride.

All of you, take care. I look forward to seeing and working with you all some day in the future.  

Business life lesson – Don’t let anyone steal your dream : Atlantic Canada’s Small Business Blog – IQI Strategic Management Inc.

 

Business life lesson – Don’t let anyone steal your dream : Atlantic Canada’s Small Business Blog – IQI Strategic Management Inc.

This is an interesting post, and fits in well with other things which have been on my mind lately, and with things about which I have posted.

It occurs to me that over the years, I really have let the world steal my dreams. I think we all do this – we get so wrapped up in the day-to-day “operations” of life that we lose track of the grand visions. We also tend to be told that we need to think realistically, and be reasonable, and play it safe. We spend much of our lives being taught what is possible, and even worse, what is impossible. I think that is why so much advancement in science, arts, and other fields comes from the young, because they have not yet learned that what they are trying to do is “impossible”. 

One of the nice things about a grand vision is that you spend much less time worrying about whether it is possible of not, and more time just working towards it.

Treating employees well

“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good”Samuel Johnson

Many companies claim to treat their staff well – claiming in fact that people are their greatest resource. In fact, I am pretty sure that I have never heard a company claim the opposite – when was the last time you heard a company loudly proclaim “we treat our staff like crap, and we’re proud of it”? Maybe these companies do exist, albeit briefly. I guess the companies which actually think this way do not make a point of mentioning it.Thinking for now, however, just of the companies who do claim that they treat their staff well, I have come to believe that there are two main groups:

  1. Companies which believe that you treat your staff (and everyone else, for that matter) well simply because it is the right way to be. There is no analysis of the ROI of being respectful. There is a fundamental belief in the right way of doing things, and a corresponding confidence that doing the right things ultimately leads to long term success.
  2. Companies for whom “treating people well” is a strategic decision, accompanied by detailed analyses of the ROI which will be achieved by treating different people with varying degrees of “rightness”. For these companies, there is no right or wrong here, it is merely a way to coerce the people upon whom the company relies into doing what is best for the company.

The difference between these two flavours of “we treat our employees well” is frequently made most clear when someone is let go – when for one reason or another, it is determined that a given individual is no longer of value to the organization. Companies in the former group treat outgoing employees with the same respect and kindness as they have all along. Companies in the latter group, on the other hand, show their true colours at this point, and will generally treat outgoing employees only well enough to avoid being sued, no more.So, which kind of company do you want to be?

Five easy ways to fail?

Ok, so I just read Five easy ways to fail, which itself is just a quote from his article on Inc. Magazine. While I usually find Joel’s stuff intelligent, even when I do not agree with it, and I actually agree with much of the article, the piece quoted on his blog is one of the most mind-numbingly stupid statements I have ever heard outside of a political speech.

“Even though a bad team of developers tends to be the No. 1 cause of software project failures…”

I have never seen any statistics which support this statement. In 20+ years, I have never been part of a project (either as a member or as an observer) which would support this statement. I have been involved in projects where stellar teams overcame bad management, bad scheduling and many other common obstacles, but never have I seen a well-managed, well-thought-out project fail because the programmers just were not smart enough. I would challenge Joel to provide any evidence to support this.

Then again, I have never seen anyone stupid enough to have hired an entire team of stupid people, and then been stupid enough to keep them. If this is the case, you have a much more serious problem than dumb programmers.

Also, while it would be nice to have the luxury of hiring only exactly the developers who fit your profile, that is a luxury most of us do not have (see my previous post on hiring). The reality is that you are almost always going to have a distribution of talents on your team – you are going to have stars, you are going to have duds, and you are going to have everything in between. I am always guided by an article I read in Harvard Business Review many years ago, where the late Bill Walsh talked about building great teams. The basic idea was that in any team of ten people, you are typically going have 2 people who are so good, they are going to over-achieve no matter what you do. You will also likely have 2 people who will under-achieve no matter what. The six in the middle may under-achieve or over-achieve, depending upon how they are led. And the deciding factor as to whether you have a stellar team, or a failing team, depends upon how those six in the middle are guided/managed/coached/led.

To say that most projects fail because the team is not competent is not statistically supported, is overly general in the extreme, and smacks of the kind of statement bad managers make to cover the fact that they are bad managers.