Quitting the Computer Industry?

Did you ever consider quitting the computer industry when things were at their bleakest?

I definitely considered it after being laid off last year. A friend of mine was (and still is) making money hand over fist with his commercial debt collection business, and he offered me a job (I worked in that industry while in college). However, I was able to hustle and pick up enough clients to launch my custom development practice pretty quickly. I’ve always been able to make money in the industry, even if things were volatile and my cash flow was spotty (sometimes VERY spotty!). That being the case, I’ve continued to stick it out.  I have to admit that during the bleakest days of my personal IT recession, a certain quote came to mind:

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  Then quit.  There’s no use being a damned fool about it.”

I’m keenly aware that I am one of the lucky ones. I know a few guys who did get disgusted and quit the industry entirely. These were sharp, competent guys, too. One fellow was out of work for 18 months before he finally said “to hell with this” and started a T-shirt shop. I know another guy who got a job managing a Starbucks. Then there’s the fellow I met who makes more money as a waiter than he ever did as a web designer. There are others.

It’s sad when this happens, because all the fragile-ego’d geeks that remain in the industry usually don’t know how to validate themselves without tearing down another geek, so when someone decides to cut his losses and leave, he’s often derided behind his back by his peers. “He didn’t belong in the industry anyway,” “Good – now there’s more room for the real IT people,” “If he was really worth anything he’d have been able to hang on” are all comments I’ve heard made about people who have left the industry.

That kind of intra-industry back-biting infuriates me (and is one of the reasons IT work is increasingly relegated to “computer janitor” status, but I digress). The cream doesn’t necessarily rise to the top. We all know at least one guy who is severely under-skilled but has managed to get and keep his position out of pure, blind luck. Isn’t it possible that a lot legitimately competent sysadmins and developers might suffer from the opposite kind of luck? I think so.

Deciding to leave the industry is not a referendum on your worth as an technician. It just means you are a person who is able to recognize when it is in your best interest to try something new.  And that, I think, is the sign of a very sharp mind.  And I’ll tell you what – once I’m in hiring mode, I’ll be looking to lure some people back into the game.

P.T. Scoble, the Master Promoter?

Robert Scoble’s recent piece on getting your blog noticed has stirred up a person or two.  Some say it is brilliant, others call it manipulative.  I say it is both.  By teaching others to promote their blogs, he promotes his blog.  Is that not the essence of a value-for-value transaction?

At any rate, you can color me on the bandwagon.  In fact, Robert’s item on promoting your blog reminds me a bit of a book I recently read, Become a Recognized Authority in Your Field in 60 Days or Less.  If that title sounds unabashedly marketing-ish, that’s because it is.  This book is 100% about self-promotion, which is unpalatable to some folks.  But I’m digressing – the point is that the spirit of Robert’s post was very much in the spirit of this book.  I was in the middle of the book when I read Scoble’s post, and the two just seemed to complement each other well.

I’ll shut up now.

Taking Firefox For a Test-Drive…

True to form, I waited until after everyone else had their say on whether or not Firefox is useful before trying it myself.  But here I am, finally with a freshly-installed copy of Firefox, surfing the web.  So far, the only difference I notice is that the favicons work, which is cool but not really compelling enough to upgrade.

Anyway, I’ve committed myself to using Firefox exclusively for two weeks, just to see what all the rave reviews are about.

Management By Advocacy

During a conversation with a colleague yesterday, the subject of managers that do more harm than good came up (imagine that).  We each had our war stories of organizations that appeared to survive by economies of scale alone, as their actual operations were so crippled by internal politics and poor decision-making that actual productivity was out of the question.  I think everyone in the workforce has worked for at least one company like that, which is a shame.

I have worked for several different types of managers, some good, some bad.  And I’ve managed others, sometimes well, sometimes poorly (although I like to think the poor management is a relic of my early career).  What I take away from all this is an observation – some will agree, some will not – on what makes a manager successful at managing and what does not.  Here’s the observation:

A manager will be successful to the extent that he becomes an advocate for his team as opposed to a commander of his team.

That’s it.  The best managers are neither controllers nor commanders; rather, they are passionate advocates for their developers.  In my admittedly arrogant and idealistic opinion, the chief role of any manager should be to set some goals for his team with their input as a reality check, then do everything he can to eliminate the obstacles that stand between his team and their goal.  Let’s face it – any manager that feels the need to micromanage people in this day and age is just admitting that the hiring policies of his company stink.

I cannot count how many times I have seen a project that included a manager who  established an adversarial relationship between himself and his staff, presumably for the purpose of setting up a scenario in which he can “win” by imposing his will on them.  I’ve always thought this was a weird way to accomplish a business goal.  The most respected and successful managers I’ve known and worked for (and have red to emulate) take a stance of advocacy for their people.  Sure, if good managers have superior knowledge of a thing, they may direct a team member to “do it this way,” but it will be in the form of mentoring.  And if they don’t have superior knowledge of a thing, they don’t pretend to.

I remember one fellow I worked for.  Somebody once tried to go over my head to him when they disagreed with the way I was building something.  He politely listened to their case, then shot them down.  He explained why what I was doing was just fine.  He was on my side – for that matter, he was on the team’s side, because he saw himself as part of the team rather than above it.  A lot of managers are never on their team’s side when push comes to shove.  The default assumption seems to be that the team needs correction.  More often than not, the team just needs to be trusted.

As usual, I’m not saying anything we don’t already know.  I’m just saying things we don’t always do.