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Developers as Typists

6 replies on 1 page. Most recent reply: Aug 6, 2007 9:23 AM by Bill Pyne

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Frank Sommers

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Registered: Jan, 2002

Developers as Typists Posted: Jun 29, 2007 3:30 PM
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nes

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Nickname: nn
Registered: Jul, 2004

Re: Developers as Typists Posted: Jul 3, 2007 11:31 AM
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Depending on how much the manager depends on his secretary you might want to train her instead. Some managers can’t even properly place a phone call without help. Again, if the manager was born after 1970 you might have a chance he is actually comfortable enough with computers to generate his own reports if it is easy enough to do.

The situation of developers doing simple clerical work is endemic in the business world. My guess is that in any big company the typical developer spends 30% of the time doing work that could be offloaded to an administrative assistant with intermediate PC knowledge. There is not enough incentive to do so for some reason.

Bill Pyne

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Nickname: billpyne
Registered: Jan, 2007

Re: Developers as Typists Posted: Jul 3, 2007 12:31 PM
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My current employer uses developers as data analysts. Thinking back to past employers, only the software company I worked for 12 years ago used developers strictly as developers. All the other employers (IT/IS) had developers doing data analysis to different degrees. By data analysis I am referring to producing custom reports/forms on demand. These reports/forms are then, when approved by the manager, used by a user to analyze data trends.

(My comments below are based on observations made in USA organizations. I was told by a German developer I worked with that there are differences in management roles between the USA and Germany.)

I have seen the trend to "empower" the end user come and go a few times. Each time it is presaged by a new round of tools. While some of the tools are good I believe that the problem is not the tool but the role of managers. They are predominantly paid to look at higher level organizational activity and not details. Detail work is delegated by the managers I have known. If the manager has the resources, then she/he may have a super-user who gets trained to use tools for data analysis. Otherwise, the developers get stuck with it because they are part of "Information Services" - emphasis on the services.

It is not all bad. Doing that kind of work allows you to get more familiar with the application domain you code for. However, there is usually so much data analysis to do that you never actually get to design better systems from the application knowledge you have gained.

I just do not see the use of developers as "typists" changing unless organizational roles change.

Elizabeth Wiethoff

Posts: 89
Nickname: ewiethoff
Registered: Mar, 2005

Re: Developers as Typists Posted: Jul 4, 2007 4:05 PM
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"The situation of developers doing simple clerical work is endemic in the business world." And who are the people assumed to be doing simple clerical work? Women.

"Depending on how much the manager depends on his secretary you might want to train her instead." The key word in the previous sentence is 'her'. And if there's a woman programmer around to train her, so much the better (cough).

Women programmers (, mechanical engineers, you name it) have the "Developers as Typists" problem in spades. This is especially true in small companies that have no secretary (or the secretary is a hopeless bozo), and everyone wants the company to succeed.

Hence, starting in 1982, I wind up being a power user of every computer and office-y app I touch. I'm the person who figures out how to do a mail merge, force inadequately designed Access databases to spit out useful reports, resize JPGs and convert them to GIFs, produce PDFs with bookmarks, etc.

I call this "playing secretary." Unfortunately, it often takes me a while to notice that I've been sucked into playing secretary. The pattern/trap becomes really obvious when the guys do interesting development work while I'm farting around creating InstallShield installers.

Watch out, gals, for the "playing secretary" power user trap.

nes

Posts: 137
Nickname: nn
Registered: Jul, 2004

Re: Developers as Typists Posted: Jul 5, 2007 11:15 AM
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> "The situation of developers doing simple clerical work is
> endemic in the business world." And who are the people
> assumed to be doing simple clerical work? Women.
>
Administrative assistants. I have actually seen 4 year college degrees from business schools that properly train people for that. There is often a lot more than meets the eye in that area. And I am not specifying gender here at all.

> "Depending on how much the manager depends on his
> secretary you might want to train her instead." The key
> word in the previous sentence is 'her'. And if there's a
> woman programmer around to train her, so much the better
> (cough).
>
In all companies I worked for 90% of secretaries were female. This is a generalization of course and I was afraid somebody would take it the wrong way after I posted it. Please don’t interpret this different than just a statement of what I currently see, and not in any way what it could or should be.

In my first job (a hospital) hired as a developer, I spent most of my time doing custom reports and training for (mostly female) secretaries. That is after I found out that they could explain better what was needed and that trying to teach managers and doctors was a waste of my time.

I feel your pain. In my case it was just a case of earning your right as an entry level employee. In your case it might be that you are just more pleasant to deal with.

Florin Jurcovici

Posts: 66
Nickname: a0flj0
Registered: Feb, 2005

Re: Developers as Typists Posted: Aug 4, 2007 9:01 AM
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> Depending on how much the manager depends on his secretary
> you might want to train her instead. Some managers can’t
> even properly place a phone call without help. Again, if
> the manager was born after 1970 you might have a chance he
> is actually comfortable enough with computers to generate
> his own reports if it is easy enough to do.
>
> The situation of developers doing simple clerical work is
> endemic in the business world. My guess is that in any big
> company the typical developer spends 30% of the time doing
> work that could be offloaded to an administrative
> assistant with intermediate PC knowledge. There is not
> enough incentive to do so for some reason.

> My guess is that in any big company ...
Quite right. A small company cannot afford such a waste of resources (IMO), unless it hires really cheap and anyway unproductive programmers.

IMO, this is more of what happens if you don't work in dedicated development shops. I don't suppose ppl at MS do any clerk work, or at Oracle. However, I suppose there are quite a few of them doing clerk work at IBM or SAP, since IBM and SAP are sort of business doing shops than software development shops.

Bill Pyne

Posts: 165
Nickname: billpyne
Registered: Jan, 2007

Re: Developers as Typists Posted: Aug 6, 2007 9:23 AM
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> Quite right. A small company cannot afford such a waste of
> resources (IMO), unless it hires really cheap and anyway
> unproductive programmers.
>
> IMO, this is more of what happens if you don't work in
> dedicated development shops. I don't suppose ppl at MS do
> any clerk work, or at Oracle. However, I suppose there are
> quite a few of them doing clerk work at IBM or SAP, since
> IBM and SAP are sort of business doing shops than software
> development shops.

I agree with your statements.

Speaking generally, developers will be freed from administrative tasks if the company views them as revenue generators, meaning that the software they produce helps to bring revenue into the company. IT departments tend to be tracked as costs along with Accounting and Human Resources. So, the work developers do in IT departments is not seen as directly influencing the company's "bottom line". There are probably some counter-examples in which the developers of IT departments are seen as revenue generators, large finance companies perhaps, but most of the time they are seen as costs to the company.

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