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Do we deserve fragmented roles?

Re: "Role fragmentation" thread, and one original source:

http://developers.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/12/06/1611214&mode=nested&tid=126&tid=156

I read the comments on Slashdot from administrators defending their role. I tended to agree with both "sides" of this issue.

Maybe... if developers tended more to be "renaissance men" (and women) than most are in industry, aware of the issues that administrative people deal with, such as security and data normalization, then companies would not place the gauntlets of admistrative roles around development...?

Most people I know in development have no clue on anything *but* development. An example would be the c/s developer to whom basic TCP/IP configuration and network topology is a mystery, or to whom basic procedures and concepts in a different OS are a mystery (the Windows person faced with working within Linux, for instance.) It surprises me how many people in this industry don't know what the IP address 127.0.0.1 "does", for instance.

We can't all know everything, but I suspect that industry has sought to make us into disposable commodities, and making the job roles "easier" (aka more one dimensional) may be an important ploy to this end. 

Also, seemingly as people filling these roles become more one-dimensional, it becomes increasingly laborious to get anything done. This is because every minor deviation from specific role areas (the developer needing DB table changes on an ongoing basis, for instance) requires meetings, justification, and communication, and you have specialists "coordinating" who have  little shared knowledge. 

But from many comments on Slashdot it is plain that most developers can't be trusted to fill multiple roles.

Bored Bystander
Monday, December 08, 2003

such is the nature of business.  develop a system, rely on the system.  people can be replaced.

not mr. johnson
Monday, December 08, 2003

Based on slashdotters' comments,
* Child pornography is protected speech.
* Parental supervision is the equivalent of facism.

I wouldn't trust to average /. poster to take out the trash, let alone manage a corporate network or write software.

hoser
Monday, December 08, 2003

I too tended to agree with both "sides" of this issue. However, I only read the comments made at softwarereality.com.

BB, for the sake of argument I will provide a slightly different viewpoint for you.

BB wrote, "Maybe... if developers tended more to be "renaissance men" (and women) than most..."

Well, "renaissance men" do exist in this industry.  Most of them are called maintenance programmers and you can find them working at just about every corporate IT department on the planet.  Most of these "renaissance men" typically work for a consulting firm and most of the ones that I have met hate their jobs and feel trapped.

BB, have you ever done maintenance work at/for a large corporation?

I have and like many others that I know who have done this type of work, I generally hated every moment of it.  Having said this, I won't attempt to bore you with a stories of how tough the work tends to be. What I will say is that I don't believe corporate management respects "renaissance men" more than do any other types of developer.

BB wrote, "Most people I know in development have no clue on anything *but* development."

I believe my last paragraph above explains why SOME developers simply don't want to have a clue.  Many probably have asked themselves, "Where is the reward for having a clue."  Imo, being able to fill multiple roles and being paid more money for doing so are two different issues.

One Programmer's Opinion
Monday, December 08, 2003

In every industry, specialists are more sought out and command greater rates than renaissance men.

Tony Chang
Monday, December 08, 2003

I don't disagree with you guys at all. The problem *is* that the only kind of worker in this industry that is valued is a specialist, and being "ecumenical" is usually defined down as not being particularly good at anything.

I think it's possible to be valued as a generalist, I just don't think it's generally probable in the context of any salaried position.  I agree that the likely role of a generalist in a corporate environment is maintenance programming, which is VERY difficult yet is viewed as trivial sh*t work.

I think a "valued" generalist will have to be a consultant and will have to find business related reasons to hook to his generalist background in order to sell himself.

Bored Bystander
Monday, December 08, 2003

william whyte had some thoughts about specialists back in the 50s. interesting reading:

http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/whyte-main.html

_
Monday, December 08, 2003

The other reason why it sucks to be a generalist is that everything gets dogpiled on to you when all the specialists who only know their little area are stumped.

So you end up doing all the little odds and ends and are always the one who ends up with the little shit jobs nobody else can do (or just as often wants to do).

Even worse, you'll be the one tidying up when one of the specialists steps outside their area of speciality and screws things up royally.

And of course you never get the fulfillment of finishing anything, because there's always something else you'll get thrown onto as some manager decides it simply has to be done yesterday and you're the only one who has any clue about the technology involved.

There's no job satisfaction filling a generalist role, IMO.

Sum Dum Gai
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

One problem with being a generalist is that it's difficult to objectively  QUANTIFY your contribution.

The guy who creates the program installs can point to the install and say "I did that".


It's sort of a internal marketing problem.

Perhaps a generalist could "advertise" or "label" thier service as "trouble shooter".

Ironically, the GENERALIST is, if he has good people skills, best suited to the the boss (or at least in management).

As  generalist WITHIN a company, I was a peon. But I took that generalized knowledge, and ability to do ALL of the tasks (spec, programming, marketing, sales, etc.) and started company.  I'm much happier (and make significantly more money).

Entreprenuer
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

>> As  generalist WITHIN a company, I was a peon. But I took that generalized knowledge, and ability to do ALL of the tasks (spec, programming, marketing, sales, etc.) and started company.  I'm much happier (and make significantly more money).

Pretty much what I imagine is the rule; and congrats.

Interesting how the system of corporate employment actively breeds well-rounded attributes out of people. There are few options in the entrepreneurial world for just a DBA or codehead, so it also serves as a way to limit employees' options. And it's also interesting how the system penalizes well rounded people; definitely there's a ratchet effect of economic punishment at work. Once you have too many skills, you're "not good at anything".

Bored Bystander
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Hmm, I'd never really thought of it as a tool to control your workers, in the sense of making them unable to build the "whole widget" so to speak.

I guess it does make sense (whether that control is intentional or not).

It does seem to come at you from all levels though, you're expected to be an expert in doodah A or doodah B, and have to take sides (Windows vs Unix, Web vs Client/Server, DB vs Backend vs UI).

And once you get a job where you take a particular side, it's hard to get a job doing something else. You can't get a job at your current experience level because you're told your experience isn't relevant. You can't get a junior position because you're seen as being overqualified.

Sum Dum Gai
Wednesday, December 10, 2003

>> And once you get a job where you take a particular side, it's hard to get a job doing something else. You can't get a job at your current experience level because you're told your experience isn't relevant. You can't get a junior position because you're seen as being overqualified.

That's exactly what I meant about control over employees. Highly defined roles limit employee's career options and make them unsuitable for much self-employment.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, December 10, 2003

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