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Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation?

66 replies on 5 pages. Most recent reply: Jun 29, 2010 11:09 PM by robert young

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Andy Dent

Posts: 165
Nickname: andydent
Registered: Nov, 2005

Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? (View in Weblogs)
Posted: May 24, 2010 12:04 AM
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Summary
Your HR department may be very proud of their career planning publications but does the organisation actually benefit from forcing developers to consider their career?
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I recently attended a presentation which showed off a comprehensive table classifying developer levels, with skills, expectations, experience levels and leadership qualities. At a quick glance, the company had a similar structure for all the other types of employees.

The HR person making the presentation talked in an excited manner about the importance of career planning, indeed making it sound like a major personal disappointment as well as an organisational transgression if people didn't formally plan their career. It sounded a bit like one of those political Progress is good, surely you're not against Progress? speeches.

I was trying to work out why this all made me feel extremely uncomfortable, with nearly thirty years behind me and at least another twenty to go, I suppose I should regard myself as mid-career. Is there a stigma if I say no, I don't want to set career goals?

What do Artima readers think - does having a formal career planning system for developers help an organisation or can it inflict damage in ways that management and HR don't expect?

Is that degree of formality something that works up to a certain level of craftsmanship but shouldn't go beyond journeyman status?


Kay Schluehr

Posts: 302
Nickname: schluehk
Registered: Jan, 2005

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 24, 2010 2:23 AM
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For at least the last 10.000 years career planning and self-assessment wasn't a huge problem for human beings but raising children wasn't either. Suddenly both has become extremely problematic, something I do not intend to deny, but I would like to better understand the underlying causes and put them into context, instead of joining a psycho religion and apply a few rituals.

robert young

Posts: 361
Nickname: funbunny
Registered: Sep, 2003

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 24, 2010 11:49 AM
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This is just the olde canard: you're only of middling competence if you just code/database/analyze/do-anything-tech dressed up in new clothes. Really good people "manage". We all know how true that is.

Sascha Matzke

Posts: 1
Nickname: msascha
Registered: Apr, 2010

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 24, 2010 2:09 PM
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I just had a conversation with my new head of department a few weeks back. You should have seen the look in his eyes when I said: "I have no plan for my career. I just want to create useful things.".

It sometimes feels like a mind crime to just want to develop/create/work and not climb the career ladder as fast as possible.

Andy Dent

Posts: 165
Nickname: andydent
Registered: Nov, 2005

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 24, 2010 6:24 PM
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> This is just the olde canard: you're only of middling
> competence if you just
> code/database/analyze/do-anything-tech dressed up in new
> clothes. Really good people "manage".

The impressive thing in this case was that they had tried hard to define some technical tracks with equivalent levels to management. (Yes, the word architect appeared a lot at the top of them. I don't think I've seen QA Architect used before!).

Two things that made me think they really don't understand developers, or maybe this is a cultural thing for different audiences:
- from the third level of developer onwards suggested post-graduate education as a desirable level of experience (along with 6+ years)
- the level of Senior Engineer suggested they should be leading teams of 2-5 people. As I understand the fan-out of this organisation, that would mean quadrupling the number of junior programmers - they have a lot of what I would call senior people who are very impressive

Fred Finkelstein

Posts: 48
Nickname: marsilya
Registered: Jun, 2008

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 25, 2010 3:34 AM
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People from business administration think in terms of management, people from IT development or engineering think in terms of building things. Thus we have a culture clash here. A problem occurs if the business people try to force IT people to think their way. But a good developer always wants to build something, at least part-time. This should be enabled by the organization.

robert young

Posts: 361
Nickname: funbunny
Registered: Sep, 2003

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 25, 2010 8:24 AM
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> (Yes, the word architect
> appeared a lot at the top of them. I don't think I've seen
> QA Architect used before!).

Interesting that you named architect. Last night, while I watched the Celtics play poorly (fire the manager), this question wormed its way in. I was reminded the Pei and Johnson and likely many others, spent their lives as Architects, not managers (although being an Architect is arguably about management); they plyed their skills right up to Boot Hill (Pei is still around). The same can be said for most other "physical world" professionals, including lawyers!

I suppose it's the cult of churn in IT that leads managers, who aren't of IT, to conclude that the Emperor's New Clothes are always much better, and can only be made by Young Tailors.

Slava Imeshev

Posts: 114
Nickname: imeshev
Registered: Sep, 2004

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 25, 2010 2:13 PM
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This story looks just like an intervention of Furniture Police from Peopleware, though here you've got HR Police. Unfortunately, if the organization has fallen low enough to allow it, there is nothing you can do except as suggested:

> I just had a conversation with my new head of department a
> few weeks back. You should have seen the look in his eyes
> when I said: "I have no plan for my career. I just want
> to create useful things."
.

In other words, just ignore it and enjoy what you have been doing. If this is not possible, let your employer go - there are plenty of fun places to work at and interesting projects around.

HTH

Regards,

Slava Imeshev
http://www.cacheonix.com

Andy Dent

Posts: 165
Nickname: andydent
Registered: Nov, 2005

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 25, 2010 7:24 PM
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Slava, thanks for the lead-in
> In other words, just ignore it and enjoy what you have
> been doing. If this is not possible, let your employer go

and this takes me to my second point - does this actually damage the organisation because people start leaving or, worse, playing political games, feeling stressed or distracted by the things they have to do in order to live up to the career structure?

Paul Korney

Posts: 2
Nickname: pkorney
Registered: Mar, 2008

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 26, 2010 12:32 AM
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> People from business administration think in terms of
> management, people from IT development or engineering
> think in terms of building things....

I think good business people want to build things too; they are entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, there just aren't that many good business people around. The ranks of management in large organizations are filled with people who are mostly incapable of starting or running a business themselves. It used to be that managers had 15-30 reports. Nowadays, most complain if they have more than 3. Why is that? And why is this tolerated?

Slava Imeshev

Posts: 114
Nickname: imeshev
Registered: Sep, 2004

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 26, 2010 12:40 AM
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> Slava, thanks for the lead-in
> > In other words, just ignore it and enjoy what you have
> > been doing. If this is not possible, let your employer
> go
>
> and this takes me to my second point - does this actually
> damage the organisation because people start
> leaving or, worse, playing political games, feeling
> stressed or distracted by the things they have to do in
> order to live up to the career structure?

Yes, it does damage the organization, how it wouldn't? Such actions make developers unhappy, and unhappy developers leave, taking the investment that the organization made in them with them.

Regards,

Slava Imeshev
http://www.cacheonix.com

Slava Imeshev

Posts: 114
Nickname: imeshev
Registered: Sep, 2004

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 26, 2010 12:49 AM
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> It used to be that managers had 15-30 reports.
> Nowadays, most complain if they have more than 3. Why is
> that? And why is this tolerated?

The good news is that these questions are already answered. Retelling it would make a poor use of your valuable time, so here it goes, with my best recommendations:

http://www.amazon.com/Peopleware-Productive-Projects-Teams-Second/dp/0932633439/

I've made a habit of gifting this book to managers that I like :-)

Regards,

Slava Imeshev
http://www.cacheonix.com

robert young

Posts: 361
Nickname: funbunny
Registered: Sep, 2003

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 26, 2010 11:56 AM
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> Why is that? And why is this tolerated?

The simple answer can be seen in the Great Recession, and the morphing of the American business structure which led to it. The fiasco came about because the MBA types reached critical mass about the time BushI took over. There had been years of pontificating from many Ologies that the "service economy" was the proper and prosperous future of the USofA. IBM is a particular example, it shed almost all of its making things and became a company of talking heads.

By the time of the collapse, corporate profit was about 40% financial services, both internal to corps and as financial service corps. Since such folks don't do much more than sit around pontificating, they need many peers to while away the day. Since the rightful place for an MBA is a Throne, the simplest way to create Thrones is to decrease the number of reports to justify a Throne.

In the Olde Days (I was there), a manager/supervisor/boss had as his (not too many hers) primary responsibility deeper knowledge of how to make whatever Widgets were the provenance of the business. Not so with the MBA manager; s/he knows the ins and outs of Management. And so Management metastasized, consuming the whole economy, and killing the host.

Jiri Goddard

Posts: 54
Nickname: goddard
Registered: May, 2007

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 28, 2010 8:15 AM
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IBM does this in order to plan better. It can harm the company if you don't stick to your career plan, but even more if you don't do what you're supposed to do.
From employee's perspective it can be annoying. Several skill assesments - that means taking surveys filled with terms you don't really understand, thus you have to learn a whole lot in order to get it right, which is time consuming. Plus interviews to track your progress or adjust the plan to fit yours / company's plan better.

John Zabroski

Posts: 272
Nickname: zbo
Registered: Jan, 2007

Re: Do Career Plans for Developers Actually Damage an Organisation? Posted: May 28, 2010 12:40 PM
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> IBM does this in order to plan better. It can harm the
> company if you don't stick to your career plan, but even
> more if you don't do what you're supposed to do.
> From employee's perspective it can be annoying. Several
> skill assesments - that means taking surveys filled with
> terms you don't really understand, thus you have to learn
> a whole lot in order to get it right, which is time
> consuming. Plus interviews to track your progress or
> adjust the plan to fit yours / company's plan better.

Right. Career plans are essential to making sure that large companies that sell software to banks on the basis of their group's CMM Level 5 status retain that status, because the cache' is critical to the sale. Ergo, if you want to work for us, we need to make sure you are properly trained in CMM. We'll even have CMM develop a Personal Maturity status to assign to yourself.

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