It's been a fun little run of articles on performance engineering
-- not performance of the software, but instead performance of the team.
I started with articles about little things that impact a person, and thus, a person can fix. Things like Tester Fatigue
and Work Avoidance
. Over time, though, I kept getting drawn back to larger issues -- organizational and cultural issues like The Technican's Attitude
or a Culture of Fear
Discussing these issues today, one of my friends mentioned "that one gig at the union shop." It seems that at this gig he was not allowed to load the paper in the printer, because that was the job of someone in IT, and he was a research assistant. So if his printer ran out of paper and he needed to print something, he had to call and wait for someone from the IT department to add a ream of paper. If he were to add the ream, it would be violation of union shop rules and he could be written up. (To get IT to come over, of course, he had to make a call to the helpdesk, who would fill out a ticket, which went into a queue, where it was prioritized ... eventually, a day or four later, he'd get his paper.)
Individually, of course, he could do what he thought was best for the organization, and risk the write-up. But across the entire organization? Those dudes are hosed
. Sooner or later, some organization that can actually compete to win is going to come over and eat their lunch.
What's a poor research assistant to do in that situation?
And yet I closed the last post with this thought:
I've been a do-er for most of my career, and, as a do-er, have heard every single excuse in the book why people can't do this, and they can't do that -- and all of it's true. Of yes, the big boss may be mean, and there may be no money at the end of the month, and yes, it is a one-company town and you've got to stay in town to take care of your ailing grandmother, of course.
And, yes, characterizing the excuses in this way is a little uncharitable on my part. These are real people, with real feelings, emotions, blood sweat and tears, trying to do the best they can in a bad situation.
But when it really comes down to it, those things are all still excuses. They set up an implicit assumption about how the world works: Things happen to me and I respond.
Here's the secret to the ultimate productivity boost, The Thing That Made Bill Gates Bill Gates, the Thing That Made Steve Jobs Steve Jobs:
I do things and the world responds.
Pretty arrogant of me, eh?
Oh, a few people criticized me for being too tough on poor joe trying to pay his mortgage -- yet I made that statement in that way, on purpose, for a certain impact. (You'll notice I followed it up with a statement like that.)
Don't worry, I was fully aware that on any given Tuesday I could turn into Joe.
Within twenty-four hours of writing that post my position at Socialtext was eliminated
(It was a great run at Socialtext. I wish those folks well. It is what it is. Still, I woke up one morning and, check it out, I'm Joe)
What To Do Now
I still hold that "I have to pay the mortgage" is an excuse. It is consciously choosing to limit your possibilities
to comply with a certain script. The rules in the script include things like "I must own a house", "I can not go bankrupt", "I can not move", and, most likely "I must have a steady stream of income coming in from some provider."
Hey, I live in Michigan, home of the Big-3 American Auto companies.
I know all about the script.
A few years ago I read in Inc. Magazine about this Auto company in Texas. The company invested very conservatively; it had a lot of money in the bank and a huge investment in land with mineral rights. They claimed to be able to operate for something like two years on cash without layoffs without actually selling anything. Yeah. I know
Anyway, the company made auto parts. Then the downturn of the 2000's happened, and, well, they suddenly had fewer orders coming in.
Unless something changed, the company anticipated layoffs.
So they went to the employees, and said something like this:
Look, you're smart. You make things. We have a great shop. You have ninety days. Find us a different customer for our products. Or find us different products. Or something -- but find us a way to make enough money to keep you on as employees. Because we would really like to.
Within a week the employees came up with an idea: Make aviation parts. Within a month they have a plan, and, if my memory serves, they were producing and shipping parts within ninety days.
Isn't that an amazing story?
I used to tell that story at gatherings and events -- but a funny thing happened when I told it over on the East side of the state. I would get replies like "That's great for them that the economy turned around" or "Must be nice to live in Texas, with an economy like that" or "Those Texans get all the luck."
Well ... wait ... what?
The aviation companies they sell to are companies like Boeing or Cessna, located in Chicago or Kansas. It's a global economy; the same in Detroit as it is in Texas.
Those people weren't lucky -- they made their own luck. That was kind of the point.
Three Strikes and You Are Not Out
In the way epic "We Were Soldiers", the hero figure, (Mel Gibson as Lt. Col. Harold Moore) uses the expression "Three Strikes and You Are Not Out", meaning that as long as you are alive, there is always one more thing you can do to influence the outcome.
What am I doing right now? Well, for one thing, lots and lots of writing
. Yes, I'm doing job searches on the web, but I'm also talking to people about lots of opportunities. I'm taking the time to re-assess where I am, and where I want to go. I'm using this as an opportunity to get out on my bike more, and to play with my children. For now though, what I told my wife about layoffs a year ago still holds true:
"If I lose my job, you might not see me much. I'm not sure what I'll be doing. It will be legal, and it will be moral. Otherwise, I'm not sure. But I tell you what: We'll keep the house. You don't have to worry about that."
I may have lost my primary income, and yes, that may be a little scary.
More to come.