Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Getting the Inside Scoop

In a different topic I asked about who really does what and why in a company. I posed the question as "what questions would I ask when starting a new job."

Some of the responses were quite thoughtful, and now I realize that what I am really trying to understand is this:

In every programming team, group, and company there are unwritten rules for getting things done. Sometimes you can ask about them directly, sometimes you have to ask indirectly, and sometimes you just have to watch and learn.

Some of these unwritten rules are negative: perhaps the company talks a great line about being family oriented but always demands that people burn the midnight oil and cancel their vacations to write code.

And some of the unwritten rules are positive: the official org chart is ignored and the company culture is to make decisions in group review and planning sessions.

What kinds of "unwritten rules" have people experienced (good or bad) in their careers? What tips do you have for discovering these unwritten rules?

Reginald Braithwaite-Lee
Thursday, April 03, 2003

Unwritten rule:  If you're presenting some kind of analysis of your target market, or of sales data, or of some such thing, upper management doesn't want to hear about ambiguities, inconsistencies, or other such caveats.  Tell a story and come to a definite conclusion, and a definite recommendation (even ifyou don't believe most of what you say.)

J. D. Trollinger
Thursday, April 03, 2003

Other than the general politics and human nature stuff, I don't really do the "unwritten rule" thing any more - I just ask. I'm generally the one in a crowd asking (out loud) "Why?" "Why can't we do that?" "Why do we have to do [x] when it makes no sense?"

Hasn't gotten me fired yet.

Yet. ;-)


Thursday, April 03, 2003

How about observations instead?  Keep in mind a lot of this is illogical, but it still happens.
- The person assigned to show you the system/area/work may not be the best qualified. 
- Said person is likely to supply you with work they should be doing.  Smile and in the absence of other work do it.
- Look who people seek out for information, experience.  Use them.
- You don't know what you don't know.  In about 3 - 5 months you will know what you don't know.
- Determine how you are evaluated. If they expect lone rangers, forming workgroups is punished.  If they expect team players, coding hermits are punished. Know the terrain.  When you have a  track record you can explore changing the environment. 
- NEVER say "at the last place I worked..."  You either left or were fired so why should we care?
- If you can think of a better approach speak up.  But do so in a discussion type fashion.  Too many people speak from prior experience and it might not apply.
- Beware the ultimate excuse - "We tried that once/before and it ..." Bad decisions propagate this way, for eternity.
- Good people do bad things.  The best people often do a lot of them.  Mistakes happen.  Repeating the same mistake is a career decision.    [Joe was very good, loading changes at a rate 3 or 4 times my next best developer.  People complained that Joe seemed to make an error at least every other month.  - I was still better off for it. AND he almost never made the same one twice. Once I explained it, people started looking to Joe as the technical lead to emulate.]
- Results matter.
- Never use the word Obvious.  It's an assumption and you know what they same about those.

I could go on for days... no one ever should. ;-)

Mike Gamerland
Thursday, April 03, 2003


>Hasn't gotten me fired yet.

Hate it to break it to you, but questioning designs is a healthy thing. I've seen places where some seemingly senior programmer has been in charge of designing a new system and used his outdated platform developer skills from circa 1977 do design a new system without being questioned on design descisions.

Many organizations have unspoken rules of never questioning the descisions of more senior workers.

Monday, April 07, 2003


I did the yelling about not making sense in the above situation, and it didnt get me fired either.

So chances are you will not be fired :-)

Monday, April 07, 2003


BTDT. [grin]


Monday, April 07, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home