Take a seat kids, this one’s going to be long and ranty, but it’s just something I have to get out of my system. Apologies in advance.
When my employment was ended, I had the opportunity to have an exit interview. Or so it was called. It turned out that it was simply an equipment return and paperwork session rather than an “interview”. I have no idea if that was the norm or if it was just the way it was done by my interviewer. I turned it into an exit interview anyway.
Even though I was part of a “resource action” (downsizing), there were still things I liked and didn’t like which I thought I could contribute to the betterment of those that remained. Of course, from an employer point of view, they probably couldn’t care less what I had to say since technically they weren’t losing someone of interest to them, they were getting rid of dead weight. One of my previous managers ended up conducting the session. I think I learned more about the attitudes and directions management had on my career from that one interview than I had in any previous discussion with my managers (we had annual one-on-one progress discussions).
It did not sit well with me. Hence here I am.
I’ve come to terms about being ”chosen” as part of the resource action. I think the combination of a completely uninteresting final project and my inability to find another project I could contribute to led to my ultimate demise. I just couldn’t get to another project/group fast enough before the axe fell. The sad part was that had I managed to survive the cut, I was being recruited to work on another far more interesting project. C’est la vie.
But of course, decisions are not based on one thing alone. My project before my final ill fated one was an ambitious attempt that just couldn’t find the right footing in the right places. Although it managed to do what I wanted it to do, I just couldn’t find the right adoption rate, and that, for any project, is a make or break deal. No matter how promising or interesting (my view) the project may be, if people don’t want to use it, then it’s not worth it (management view).
I labored on that project for around 15 months before it was put to rest. But those 15 months were a key determining factor for my production value. A canceled 15 month project plus the last project also lingering in an adoption and implementation fight for 12 months, in retrospect, probably didn’t bode well for me.
During those 15 months, I was too blinded to know just how stalled management considered the project. The worse part, my manager at the time (the one also conducting the exit interview) didn’t feel like he was able to get me productively pointed towards any goals and that I was unmanageable and ended up just doing what I wanted. I can see myself doing that. I had still believed in the project long after management stopped believing; and trying to continue a project that is a dead end in management’s eyes is certainly not a career wise decision.
At the exit interview, he mentioned that he probably should have canned the project 3 months in if it didn’t have the possible footing for adoption. Admittedly, I agree that would have been an appropriate action, but I had enjoyed the project concept and the potential too much so I was blinded. He was not a able to assert himself enough to outright can the project, instead he let me languish with little value seen in what I was doing.
A complete failure on my part to see the bigger reality around me, a complete failure to see that I was indeed forsaken by management. The project also was not a good fit for my manager’s interests, so I feel that he was more inclined to leave me alone far more than I should have been while he tended his other more valuable projects. It was perhaps a little abandonment, but at the same time, it was a bit of freedom for me to try to take it to the next level to show value. Alas, I was not able to do that outright.
swept under the rug
In retrospect, the problem is if you have a disinterested manager, you have someone who would have normally be a proponent for your project be an idle bystander. This disinterest led to a lack of focus towards the project, a lack of want to participate in it (he barely touched it) and just a lack of understanding about the bigger picture. I was doomed.
There were only vague references to “anything done this week?” and “what’s the progress made?”. There wasn’t any deep involvement with influencing ideas, thoughts, directions, methods, usefulness. No conversations or debates or suggestions. It was just in cruise control mode until he finally managed to find a way out for me… or rather for him to have to no longer deal with me: I was shuffled during a department reorganization.
At least he managed to learn his lesson that if a project isn’t succeeding, kill it fast and quick before it ends up being mired in months of directionless development. As the department reorganization took place and I was shuffled, that conveniently ended that project cold. But even with this opportunity, he had no real idea what to do with me. That was perhaps the most disappointing part. I was simply shuffled to get me somewhere else, to someone else, in hopes that I would find a better fit elsewhere. Anywhere out of his hair.
Unfortunately, there was no discussion or postmortem as to what went wrong, what I could do differently, where I may like to be, what projects interest me. There was none of that. Instead I was simply off loaded onto a new team whose focus, if anyone had asked, was one of the last things I would have ever wanted to do as a programmer (hence the uninteresting-to-me project that ultimately led to the end).
Swept under the rug… or rather, under someone else’s rug.
There was no real concern for me or any offer of options, I was just a cog in a wheel, a faulty one at that. When I brought that up during the exit interview, I was retorted with a reply that people in a company like this are rarely given a choice about where they want to go. An example was given about the rotating executives and VPs. They are assigned and moved, why should it be any different for me, especially when I’m no where near being an executive?
Good managers will find ways to move people around properly to fit their skills, and thus their productivity. Understandably, at times, it may simply mean a dismissal is in order. That’s fine too. As a manager, you have to do what you have to do. But some managers, they’ll just ignore you or sweep you under the rug, shuffle you to somewhere else out of their hands, or when opportunity presents, they’ll just make you disappear. The subtle difference is in the amount of effort they may put into people managing, as opposed to just project managing.
It was certainly a wake up call about the attitudes prevalent in the company that some (certainly not all) of the managers were mired in.
specialists and generalists
A homogeneous treatment of employees at all levels can only lead to disaster.
Executives and VPs are career oriented to gain a broad knowledge of the company. It’s important for them to see the various areas, gain strengths, and provide that global picture for eventual grooming that may lead all the way up to the job of CEO.
Programmers are a completely different beast. Maybe it’s wishful thinking and my own naiveté, but as the cogs and engines of the company, you really want to assign a programmer to where they can specialize and excel. You want them working with a passion on something that interests them and excites them. That’s where you’ll get the best productivity. You don’t need to necessarily have them get good at all areas or versed in every aspect of the company. Programmers are hired by the dozen and are meant to specialize and work together, not do broad level work. You need that type of specialty and passion to be able to create things the world has yet to see.
Not to degrade executives, but sometimes they are truly there just for the time they are assigned to that position. They do the job, gain the perspective and experience, and are then ready to move on within a few years (as part of the rotation plan). Programmers I think see a much longer term evolution of their job rather than it being transitional. The mindset differs, so therefore should the treatment.
The term “job satisfaction” can indeed be a strange concept for some people. Too often, people choose to trudge through things they don’t want to do to get to where they want to go. That’s fine, but it doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do things. Not everything you do at a job should be a sacrifice in order to simply ascend rank and ladder climb. I have a feeling that for those solely focused on climbing the ladder, the goal, not the journey, is of utmost importance. But for others, like myself, the “here and now” are what’s important. Ascension is not a goal, it can be a by product, but never the primary target. To be able to enjoy with a passion what you do now is what can bring the greatest satisfaction, not to mention the best productivity.
That concept was evidently lost in this conversation, and apparently lost in the management of myself.
I know this may sound more like sour grapes, and perhaps my glorified viewpoint of programming is far removed from the realities it takes to run a company, but I still believe that personal interaction, transparency, skill matching, and job satisfaction are key elements when getting the best out of people. I feel like those were lacking, either because of my motivation or by management attitude. If that was indeed the case, perhaps it was time for me to leave (or get booted).
All I had wanted was to be consulted, or at least notified, when my skills and efforts were being transferred to another location because of my lack of success or a difficulty in being managed. Instead, I got the corporate shuffle where we were treated like cogs instead of people. The last bit I asked him to do as I left was to actually talk to the people he manages, discuss with them issues, consult with upcoming plans for shuffles, even if it’s off the books. To have this talk we were having right now at the exit interview instead at the annual reviews so that people have a chance to evaluate and adapt.
I realize perhaps management is taught never to discuss department shuffles with people being shuffled because you don’t want to have to deal with the complaints or drama that may occur. But that sentiment already seems like something completely counterintuitive to me. You’re already fearing the reactions and therefore not giving any due respect that we can indeed be adults and handle the situation as needed.
To know in advance is at least better off than simply being moved around like pawns. Even if we know that we may not have genuine ability to change our future in the company, it’s that little effort of actually asking and having that sliver of a chance that you can have some say in your own destiny is an empowering and important thing to have.
I hate to see that this type of respect is not present (and maybe never was) in a big corporation that in general, I still respect.
So what can you do if you’re heading in my direction?
It may seem rather mundane and stupid, but ask questions. Open a dialog. If you’re being shuffled, ask why. Ask how you were to manage and what you could do better to improve yourself. In reality, you should be asking this each time you have an annual review. Often times we only concentrate on what we accomplished when we do retrospective reviews, but if your manager is worth a grain of salt, they will know what you’ve done. If they don’t, that’s a whole other set of problems on your hand.
So ask questions, know what they think of you, and don’t be afraid to let them know what you think of them. Too often we pretend that everything is a one way communication from the top down, when in reality, there’s plenty of bandwidth for a genuine bilateral discussion. Now whether they are in the mood for listening is something you’ll have to ascertain for yourself.
We may be programmers, but there is a certain level of humanity left in us. If you manage coders, and want to tease out the best in them, be sure to actually treat them like people and take the time to genuinely figure them out. Cause if you’re already thinking how time consuming that’s going to be, then you’re definitely not really a good fit for being a people manager. Remember, there’s a difference between managing people and managing projects.
We can program, but we don’t just churn out code. Some people do it out of necessity, but I’m sure if given a choice, we would love to do it out of love and excitement. Trust me, you’re going to get a lot more productivity out of programmers when you treat them like people instead of just cogs.
* this post just kept growing in length. I was even considering splitting it in two, but I think I’ll just instead expound on some of the points here with later posts. So for this time, you get a super verbose post. Hopefully at least one person will read it to the end.