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Working for a non-software company

I've only worked in small (< 100 ppl) companies & startups.  Software companies all of them.  I've been offered a job by a fortune 500 company, but their business isn't software. 

I've heard horrible things about beauracracy and being treated like a step child because you weren't part of the profit center.

Anybody have experience working for big non-software  companies?

Good, bad, or indifferent welcome.

sooner
Saturday, May 17, 2003

Hope you like lots and lots and lots of process.  Had to talk to 5 people (and took a week to get done) to get an ODBC connection set up on a development server at a fortune 500 company - a client of ours. 

Then again, you'll have plenty of time to do just about anything.  So take the good with the bad I guess.

GiorgioG
Saturday, May 17, 2003

If you're contracting then working for a fortune 500 non-software company is a dream come true. It's not days that go by without doing anything; it's not weeks; it's months. The work is always trivial. Bueracracy and politcs (and irrationality) are also the norm. These large companies exist on inertia. They employ people that want "stable" environments. IMO, it is everything a contractor would want and everything a smart programmer would not want.

Although, if you are doing some kind of networking/router/firewall administration then a large evironment would be good.

Tom Vu
Sunday, May 18, 2003

This is an FTE job.  I'm afraid that they will bring in contractors to do any 'real' work. 

sooner
Sunday, May 18, 2003

This is an FTE job.  I'm afraid that they will bring in contractors to do any 'real' work. 

Yes, they will. In-house programmers do nothing but maintenance (if that). You will become labeled as someone that can only do xyz. It's all CYA; managers and inhouse people do not want to be responsible for anything. Try an experiment... take the job and hardly ever show up; see how long you stay there for. 

Tom Vu
Sunday, May 18, 2003

"IMO, it is everything a contractor would want and everything a smart programmer would not want. "

HEY! The two are not mutually exclusive, buddy! [grin]

Philo

Philo
Sunday, May 18, 2003

HEY! The two are not mutually exclusive, buddy! [grin]

I was implying that a contractor (because he is hourly) would want bureaucracy. On the other hand, a smart employee would hate a slow moving bureaucratic environment...eventually quit and become a contractor. 

Tom Vu
Sunday, May 18, 2003

I worked in an IT department of an established company for just over a year.

Not only did they not know what they wanted done but they didn't know what technology/programming languages to use. A double whammy.

One team ended up using over the top technologies and taking over 6 months to write software that couldn't even do what Oracle's SQLPlus provides as built-in functionality. It was scary to watch.

Bagpuss
Sunday, May 18, 2003

I agree with all the above. There are plenty of horror stories. Like taking 6 months to come up with requirements for a project that could be written, tested, and deployed in one month.

However... at least one non-software company seems to "get it" and are doing interesting things with real-time OLAP--Walmart.

My 2 cents.

Himanshu Nath
Sunday, May 18, 2003

My observations, based on experience, both as employee and contractor, pretty much echo what you've heard here. Plus, there have been threads on this at JoS already, but might be hard to find them.

One observation another poster made in one of those previous threads which I thought was quite 'on point', was that you're likely to find yourself as a bastard step-child whenever you're not engaged in an activity the organization considers 'core'.

Then, there are examples, such as what one poster cited in this thread, of big, non-IT organizations that nevertheless realize the value IT brings to their bottom line and does in fact consider it to be effectively 'core', or close to it. Apparently life is better in those, though I've never worked in that particular environment.

Another observation I particularly agree with is the one made regarding the desire for stability over other things--that does seem to be the culture at such big, non-IT companies. Also, it's next to impossible to improve things at such a company -- the entrenched attitudes and inertia of the staff, along with the turf battles among the VPs, plus the accountant/business school mindset of the executive level management generally gets in the way of any real, meaningful improvements. Unless, of course, you just happen to find a VP or higher level executive who just 'gets it' regarding how organizations ought to operate, especially with respect to IT related issues. Then, you might be ok.

In today's job market though, if you need the job, go ahead with it, just don't have any grandiose expectations. My recommendation would be to do the best you reasonably can in the situation, choose your battles carefully, don't expend too much personal political capital -- it's too easy for them to dump you if you make any waves, no matter how objectively correct your positions might be. Be prepared to do what most other folks in such situations do -- we used to call it 'so your 8 and skate', meaning come in, do your 8 hours and skate out at the end of the day. Use the relatively slow pace of things in personal study and improvement until circumstances improve and you can move on to more challenging things. Of course, once you get into it, you might find you like the slower pace of life, the stability, etc. There's a lot to be said for work not taking over your life, getting home at reasonable hours, being able to spend time with your family, whatever. OK, so maybe you're only doing maintenance on something, maybe a system you're working on takes several times as long as it should to get done because of office politics. Enjoy the opportunity to collect a paycheck with less stress than you would otherwise have. Do some freelance work on the side perhaps.

Good luck with it,

anonQAguy
Sunday, May 18, 2003


"Do your 8 and skate".  It's really a pitiful attitude, but it does seem to prevail in large companies.  I don't think I would agree that it is stronger between employees or contractors... it really depends on what drives the individual, not their job classification.

Expecting a change to happen by some cause of management, i.e. top down driven, is exactly the expectation that continues to prevent any real change from happening.  Management is simply too afraid to change an environment that provided and keeps them in their job.

The only real power in an organization are the front line workers.  Until they are able to overcome the fear that keeps them in their place, things will stay as they are.

Joe AA
Monday, May 19, 2003

Joe AA:

"I don't think I would agree that it is stronger between employees or contractors... it really depends on what drives the individual, not their job classification."

I agree Joe. I rechecked what I'd written and don't think I gave that impression, but I if I did I didn't intend to make the distinction between contractor and employee. My comment was directed at the type of organization. So yes, "8 and skate" is driven by individual, not job classification.


"Expecting a change to happen by some cause of management, i.e. top down driven, is exactly the expectation that continues to prevent any real change from happening. Management is simply too afraid to change an environment that provided and keeps them in their job.

The only real power in an organization are the front line workers.  Until they are able to overcome the fear that keeps them in their place, things will stay as they are."

The only thing I can say here is that our experiences must differ. It has not been my experience nor my observation that any meaningful change in a large bureaucratic organization such as we're discussing comes from the grass roots. Because it does make the powers that be uncomfortable -- for the reasons you describe, they're likely to just dump the "trouble-maker" first chance they get, or probably a better way to express it is that only the nail that sticks up gets smacked down.  In such organizations, personally, I've seen the workers "comfortable" with pathological organizational practices -- they may not like them (but hey, gives them something to bitch about, which they also enjoy doing), but through some natural selection process, the ones who've lasted are the ones who've managed to either win all their battles (exceedingly rare) or to have never fought any.  The pathological patterns are so entrenched among the workflow and the people, that no one small group, much less an individual alone can get any traction.

When there's some significant change that has to happen, all it takes is one Director or VP to refuse to participate (doesn't matter why), and the change dies on the vine. Being a change agent in a bureaucratic organization requires a considerable degree of personal, financial, and political captial. The average worker just doesn't have those in sufficient degree to effect any sort of lasting change--unless they gain executive sponsorship. Of course, if the executive sponsor is bucking the current, then the organization tends to snap back to its sick patterns immediately upon that executive changing their mind or leaving.

So, as I said, it appears our experiences in this area must differ.

ymmv I guess.

anonQAguy
Monday, May 19, 2003

They say they promote from within and encourage people to move around the various divisions.

Don't hate me, but I'd kinda like to eventually move into marketing.

Should I believe them?  Is this your experience?

sooner
Monday, May 19, 2003


anonQAguy... there was some other comment in the thread that suggested contractors would want bureaucracy, I was disagreeing with that...

I do agree though... it is easy for a single nail to get smacked down.  Not quite so easy when nails are all around though.

Joe AA
Tuesday, May 20, 2003

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