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Developers "10 time zones away"

Joel,

Are you saying that just because a company hires programmers from some place where it costs them less, the quality of a product will automatically fall?

I'm sorry, but I'm unconvinced. And which place do you refer to when you say "10 time zones away"? Are you saying that all programmers from there are useless?

MadMan
Sunday, February 03, 2002

I think Joel meant that working with people remotely is definitely less
effective. And if their time zone is different from yours, you (or they) have to stay at night.
No offense ..

Evgeny Goldin
Sunday, February 03, 2002

I was recently involved in a successful project (successful meaning we released on time, or nearly on time) that used contractors from around the globe.  In fact, we had four developers in-house, but the majority of the developers were stretched around the world.  We used to say, "The sun never sets on the Gen<X> dev team". 

We used developers in the US, Egypt, Australia and Russia.  The biggest hurdle to this team was communication.  We used Source Off Site (for source control), DevTrack (for defect tracking), e-mail and instant messenger to keep the lines of communication up.  In addition, we did twice daily builds (thanks to Chris Tavares) to ensure that we were not at work stoppages because of broken builds.  We did an early morning build to make sure that the other teams didn't break the working set of code, and an early afternoon build to make sure we didn't break it for them. 

This can work if you just keep in *constant* communication.  Our reasons were not just about cost, but also about expertise.  We picked people who could help the project to completion, not just on price.  Good developers are good developers, period.  Communication is just as important with developers in your own office.  Having them outside the country is more difficult, but with proper management, you can do it without too much risk.

Shawn Wildermuth
Sunday, February 03, 2002

I think Joel's issue is that developers are 'being treated like interchangable code slaves.'

It is sad to say that these companies are not looking India for its talanted and dedicated programmers, of which it has many.  Instead they just want cheap labour.  They don't respect programmers from any time zone.

Companies that abuse their key assets like this can only fail.

Ged Byrne
Sunday, February 03, 2002

Agreed, Ged. Software companies *should* treat their people well, but it's sad when you see that not all of them do.

I left a fairly important position at my last company (where I headed the User Experience department) because the CEO had lost the plot. He would call meetings of department heads where he announced that he was shocked to see people leave at 19:00 and hence questioned their commitment. He was a firm believer of the "no pain, no gain" policy (what tripe!) and always used that excuse when people complained about absurd deadlines for completing projects. He decided to introduce "time sheets" for ALL employees (including dept. heads) to closely "monitor" how employees used their time. He'd sometimes look at timesheets and say, "this guy only spent 30 hours this week on ProjectX. What's he doing goofing around for the rest of the week?" (never mind whether he finished his work or not, or that he did more in those 30 hours than others did in 50.)

What's worse that his vision for the company changed every 10 seconds. One day, he wanted to be an "enterprise solutions provider" (with less than a hundred people, most of whom had no experience building 'enterprise solutions'), the next day he wanted to be a maker of Intranet software, the day after that, he had changed his mind and wanted to create "ELearning solutions", and after that... well, you get the idea. His employees stopped believing in him, and started referring to him using four-letter words.

I can never forget the time when he gave a talk to the entire company and described how he had worked 14-16 hour days when setting up the company, and how unless everyone else had done the same, they hadn't really worked hard. (I was silently wondering whether to laugh loudly or to shed tears of pity at this point.)

No, giving him a copy of The Mythical Man Month ( http://shorl.com/bumydatramaku ) and several other books on software management didn't help much. :(

Since my management principles were in direct conflict with his, he wanted me to move out of managing people and serve as a functional expert instead. I couldn't put up with that crap, and so I resigned with the required one month notice. A few days later, the company laid off 9 people (including 7 from my department) by calling them up at 21:00 and telling them not to come the next day. The department heads were neither asked nor told about this move. Ironically, this was after two separate annoucements from the CEO that he wouldn't lay off anyone, despite alleged pressure from the venture capitalists.

I'm sorry I've ranted so much about a slightly unrelated topic, but here's essentially what bugs me:

1) Go to *any* software company's corporate web site and you'll invariably see something like "our people are our greatest asset" and yet so many of them treat their people like crap. In return for the company cafeteria, gym, and other amenities, you are EXPECTED to work overtime, sacrifice your weekends, and give up any hope of a social life. Most amenities that HR pukes tout are in fact designed to make sure that you spend more time at the office. Have errands that you have to run? Bills to pay? Hey, the company will pay your phone bills, reserve your movie tickets, anything that you'd waste time on; just make sure that you spend your now free time at work, working like slaves instead. Bah!

2) These conditions aren't unique to my country, India. Programmers all over the world face the same problems. I'm sure you folks in UK and USA will have your own horror stories to relate.

3) Since they're not unique to a country, describing hired programmers from India, China, Russia, etc. as "slave labour" - as some people do - is neither accurate nor warranted. There is enough slave labour in USA too.

I think I better stop ranting now ;)

MadMan
http://madman.weblogs.com

MadMan
Monday, February 04, 2002

Madman,

Rant away, I enjoy them.  I've spent a little while at your weblog and it was a good read.  Heard from KPMG lately?

So many cultures have an ingrained distaste for manual labour.  Its a snobbery that seems to pervade corporations.

They seem to think that anybody who gets their hands dirty actually making something is beneath them and untrustworthy.  They begrudge every penny they have to pay them, even though they are the ones that produce everything.

Personally I want to be a craftsman who can take some pride in his work.  They want me to be a drone who can easily be replaced.

Ged Byrne
Monday, February 04, 2002

> They seem to think that anybody who gets their hands
> dirty actually making something is beneath them and
> untrustworthy. They begrudge every penny they have to
> pay them, even though they are the ones that produce
> everything.

Of course, many engineers have the same feelings for upper management, who do not produce tangible results, just "leadership".

Banana Fred
Monday, February 04, 2002

Ged, you're right. People in the software business are NOT drones, and neither should they be treated that way. The software business is about *people*. They're not interchangeable parts.

In marketing, they say that it's much easier to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one. Similarly, it's much easier to keep a good developer than to hire a new one and bring him or her up to speed with what the previous developer was doing - a process that usually takes a LOT longer than management thinks.

Hey, I just found this site about bad managers: http://www.bad-managers.com/
It's got some interesting stuff.

MadMan
PS: Hey Joel, want to improve the usability of this forum? Put the posting TEXTAREA right at the end of a thread, so people can a) enter comments without clicking on another link and b) see other people's comments so that they can respond without memorising what the original poster wrote. See http://webword.com/weblog/00000851.html#comments as an example of what I mean. I can immediately add a comment after reading other comments.

MadMan
Monday, February 04, 2002

I'll be devil's advocate for a moment...

I became an independent consultant not because I was frustrated with management, but because I was frustrated with OTHER DEVELOPERS. In one of his articles, Joel describes the ideal employee as "smart and gets things done."  I've encountered this in about 10% of the other developers I've worked with. Another 20% of those people were "smart but didn't get anything done" and 70% of the developers I've worked with were both "not smart" and "didn't get anything done."  I was sick of being 1 guy responsible for entire projects that were supposed to have 10 people working on them. I figured, if no one else is going to do any of the work, anyway, I might as well do this independently and charge however much I like.

Developers bitch and moan about how "management sucks" which I suppose is usually true, but that doesn't mean the developers by default aren't drones. Most developers I have worked with have been worse than drones, because at least drones do work...

El Grumpo
Monday, February 04, 2002

El, if 70% of unproductivity, as you've witnessed, doesn't convince you 'management sucks', i don't know what will.

Let's face it, managing others are much more challenging than managing yourself. 

who cares
Tuesday, February 05, 2002

El, if 70% of the people in your company suck, I'd start looking fer another company. ha ha ha!

Seriously, the future of the company seems in serious doubt.

Robert Crowe
Tuesday, February 05, 2002

El, management doesn't always have to suck, and indeed it doesn't. There *are* companies that are visionary, treat their people well, and do well in the market too. They're just a little harder to find.

Software people have to be managed differently from other professions. Unfortunately, senior management is usually full of Harvard MBAs who think that they can just apply their book knowledge and make yet another "case study" of the problem. Unless they have been techies themselves, they don't get it.

I found an article by Eric Schmidt (ex-Novell and now head honcho at Google) about managing geeks. It's at:
http://www.fastcompany.com/online/25/geeks.html

Pity Schmidt couldn't rescue Novell from the ditch it's now in.

<aside>

Where on earth is Novell? Netware? It doesn't even get mentioned in OS comparisons. Not too long ago, Netware ruled over small and medium-sized networks.

</aside>

MadMan
Tuesday, February 05, 2002

Software developers don't really need managing that differently from anyone else.  Sometimes developers are really too precious, coddled and their egos massaged beyond belief.

Everyone deserves humane and intelligent treatment at work, allowing their expertise at whatever the job is, whether its nursing, emptying waste or developing the most elegant piece of code in history, to be part of the process.

Managers deserve humane treatment as well from their staff and an understanding of their pressures and cooperation to relieve those pressures and enable higher management to understand.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, February 05, 2002

Good Managers are a rare a precious breed.  If I find a Good Manager I try to stick with them.

I'm sure that Good Managers feel the same way about Good Programmers.

Bad Managers are unable to recognise either Good or Bad programmers.

I suspect that this is why Bad Programmers rather like Bad Managers.

Ged Byrne
Tuesday, February 05, 2002

El didn't say that the 70% were stupid or that they sucked.  He said that they are "not smart."

A friend and former cow-orker of mine once wrote to me, "sometimes i have to sit back and re-evaluate new people that i meet. i have to realize that 90%+ of my friends are in the 95+ percentile of intelligence which is not a significant portion of the population. it's difficult to realize that most people are not truly stupid, they are just average."

I am constantly repeating that last line to myself.

A.Nonnie Mouse
Tuesday, February 05, 2002

Mr. Mouse (why are so many people hiding their identity?),

It amuses me when ALL companies have the phrase "we hire only the best" (or variants thereof) strewn over their corporate web site, especially in the "careers" section.

Statistically, we know this can't be true - there are only limited number of the "best people". So yes, most companies do have many people who are just "average".

This reminds me of a quote from the book Marketing Warfare by Al Ries and Jack Trout. They wrote:
"The larger the company, the more likely the average employee will be average" ;)

MadMan
Tuesday, February 05, 2002

I didn't say that management had to suck. I was just trying to point out that developers often have this attitude that "management sucks no matter what" whereas often the problem is that the developers are really the problem. Only the most elite technical managers can come into a company and deal with some of the surly primadonnas that are often entrenched in engineering departments! It definitely IS harder to manage people than it is to manage one's self...

Pardon the negative tone, but I'm just a bit disillusioned by the whole industry. I came into it about 10 years ago because I had an aptitude for math, and programming seemed more fun than being an actuary. I do enjoy programming, but I don't necessarily enjoy the physical reality of sitting in front of a computer 16 hours a day. It seems like gradually over the past 10 years, the majority of people I have encountered on the job have tended towards the other extreme: people who have no particular aptitude for hacking, but just enjoy farting around in front of their computers all day.  I'm not sure how these folks got hired in the first place, but that's who I'm running into, and it makes me depressed. However, I'm currently doing ok working at home with a friend who also works at home, and I'm feeling Much Better Now(tm). ;-)

El Grumpo
Tuesday, February 05, 2002

A timely link that was passed to me on this management thing:

http://www.plethora.net/~seebs/faqs/manager.html

John
Tuesday, February 05, 2002

John,

Funniest link I've seen for some time.

Ged Byrne
Tuesday, February 05, 2002

I'll disagree a bit with El Grumpo.  I can easily believe that 70% of the developers at some facilities may not be very productive.  But it is management that makes the decisions that determine the culture at a work place.  This includes decisions about hiring people.

Gary Chatters
Tuesday, February 05, 2002

Madman, it looks like your quote made sense but really it didn't. I once heard a comment from a manager at Microsoft, something like  "There is simply more smart people per square foot here at Redmond"  and I truly believe that, even though I have never been an employee of Microsoft.

I have to agree with Gary. At my place the engeering directors are very strict in hiring new developers. Despite the abundance of resumes floating around for the past 6 months, they still insist in only hiring the *right* guy, even that guy might never show up in next 6 months.
That is totally in line with Joel's hiring principle.

Mac
Wednesday, February 06, 2002

Smart does not necessarily mean they have any common sense or even think about consequences.  I doubt that Microsoft has any more common sense amongst its employees than the average bottling plant.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, February 06, 2002

With microsoft it isn't just that they have smart people, but they know how to give them some credit, and the authority and control they need to get results.

I think Joel's articles that compare Microsoft with Juno show this.  They also demonstrate nicely the need to ballance good programmers with good management.

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000072.html

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000075.html

Ged Byrne
Wednesday, February 06, 2002

>And which place do you refer to when you say "10 time zones away"?
>Are you saying that all programmers from there are useless?

Whoa Madman, stop looking so hard for a reason to get offended!

Politically Correct
Wednesday, February 06, 2002

Mac,

Actually Joel's written an excellent article about this.

Big Macs vs. the Naked Chef:
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000024.html

MadMan
Thursday, February 07, 2002

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