Gant Software Systems

Reader Questions - September 2014

So, I’ve been blogging for a bit and finally got something I had hoped to receive for a while, that is, some questions from a reader. In this particular case, the reader was a friend who called to ask the questions on the phone, but I thought they were darned good ones and took notes. I think committing them here is a good idea because if one person is asking a question, it’s a good bet that others are too. Further, it’s an excellent way to generate a bit of actually useful content based on what readers actually want to know, which is often a hard thing to discover, since readers tend to stop being readers if they don’t read things that are useful to them. I didn’t quite get the exact questions down, but I got enough of a gist that I think I can answer a few. I’ve thrown in a few others as well that have come up casually in conversations with other friends, as I kept the list until I had enough items to make a post out of it. Some of these I didn’t completely answer during the conversations in question because I kind of wanted to chew on them a bit.

  1. How do your potential employers react over you having a blog? In particular, what are they saying about the posts where you talk about dysfunctional companies that you’ve worked at? I think this is a good question and an important one to answer for anyone wanting to have both a blog and a professional career. I would say that, at first, potential employers haven’t looked much at my blog in the first place (traffic is still a bit low and swings rather wildly), even though I do share my posts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. I don’t have a tremendous market penetration at the moment anyway, but I’m also not worried about what I write for a couple of reasons. The first is that I don’t give anything resembling identifying information about a situation unless the behavior was extremely out of line, and even then, I don’t bring names into it. Second, I do filter potential work opportunities based on what I’ve learned at the more dysfunctional companies. A company might look at what I wrote and think “he might write that about us”. Another company might think “I’m glad we aren’t as messed up as those guys”. The second one is a prime client; the former is likely not. I have a fairly strong personality and I find that very few people are particularly neutral about me as a rule. Going to a place where they are just going to end up hating me (after I had worked there for a few months) is worse for my career than a blog is. People quickly forget the guy that they ruled out in an interview because he said something on his blog they didn’t like, whereas a guy that worked with them who just didn’t fit gets bad-mouthed all over the place.
  2. Did you really get sexually harassed? By the definition of the term, absolutely. Did it bother me beyond causing cringing discomfort? No, not really. Honestly, it was one more busted brick in a pile of rubble at job that was already going pretty poorly before she got there and continued getting worse until I left.
    How do you think that employers are going to perceive your comments about overtime? Hopefully sensibly. I maintain that it is highly destructive if pathological, as much for them and their customers as for the employee, if not worse. We have a 40 hour work week in this country for a reason, and that reason is not because unions gave it to us (Facebook memes aside). It’s because a bunch of filthy rich capitalists discovered that much beyond that and productivity plummets. And honestly, as a subcontractor, if I’m working a 40 hour week for someone, I’m already working overtime, merely because of the overhead of running a business. When they start pushing 60 hours a week, it starts hurting in a big hurry.
  3. What do you think about big data? It’s going to change everything, for good and ill. Humanity has always leaped forward with increases in available information. The advent of speech helped us hunt large prey, but caused extinctions. The advent of writing allowed the dead to impart knowledge to the living (not from the grave, obviously, but it allowed storage), but allowed bad knowledge to be perpetuated with the good. The printing press wrecked long-established social institutions and spread knowledge like nothing before. And now we’re on the internet, and people right now, in Brazil, are reading at no cost to them what a computer programmer in Nashville has to say about big data. Can we even project what this will do for us as a species? I kind of doubt it. Of course, our own foibles are can not be escaped either, even in our current state. It’s said that a million monkeys on typewriters would eventually generate Shakespeare. A billion humans on keyboards have generated facebook, so I suppose we have to watch out for that. The upside is tremendous, but the downside must be mitigated carefully, because you can misuse power nearly as easily as you can create it.
  4. I see the occasional bit of profanity on your blog – don’t you think that will turn someone off? I’m certain it will. However, there is a point in every adult’s life when they can no longer allow every little action that might offend someone to dictate their action. There are hordes of people out there waiting for a reason to get offended. They will find it, now or some other day. Besides, I do keep the level of profanity down, but I also assert that sometimes bullshit must be called what it is.
  5. If everybody worked for themselves, nothing great would ever get done. Doesn’t that somewhat invalidate your advice that everyone should be moving towards working for themselves? Not at all. For one, a free market does indeed depend on everyone working for their own benefit from the outset, regardless of whether they are an employee or not – my advice is geared towards maximizing the results that a worker sees for themselves. The system fails when this stops happening, at whatever level. Second, I don’t expect that any rousing speech I make towards self-employment is going to push someone that way that isn’t headed there already. You can’t make someone who wishes to always be an employee into an entrepreneur, and further, you can’t forever contain an entrepreneur in an employee role (although with enough cash, you can keep it up for a long time, but their soul will always have one foot out the door). When I write something like that, it’s more for the entrepreneur who is still stuck as an employee. That guy needs to hear what I say there, because he needs to get fired up and go do something before he gets old. Finally, someone who truly offers something big to a project should have a stake in that project if you don’t just want a warm body in a chair. Pay will get a lot out of people, but people will push much harder when they have actual skin in the game.
  6. You’ve written about how employees get mistreated, have you considered doing the same for employers? Yes, I have. That said, while I know a set of anecdotes I’ve seen, I don’t know that I’ve seen enough to write something valuable, although I am pondering it. For the record, I tend to side with employers over employees in a high percentage of situations. I don’t consider the employer at fault for most of the funky stuff that happens in development jobs – I consider the employee complicit in his own misery much of the time. For instance, regarding training of developers, it’s a bit silly to expect a company to train you so that you can get a job elsewhere – if you are self-employed, you can pay for training and write it off (but it’s expensive, so you’d best be darned sure you need it).
  7. How do you blog? What’s your process? I basically sit down with an idea, and blast it all out in one sitting, then let it sit for a couple of days, go back and edit it, then schedule it to publish. I’m fairly careful about grammar, but I also acknowledge that people can really like what you write, even if an English teacher would have failed you for it had you written it in school. As far as coming up with ideas, I keep evernote on my phone and capture ideas as soon as I have them. Then when it’s time to write, I just pull one and go with it. Getting in the regular habit of writing will allow you to write loads of material in short order; if you need practice, rant on facebook and explain your ideas long form. That’s what I’ve done. You’ll know when you’ve found your voice because people you’ve never met will start friending you as a result of things you write. Now, when I did it, I wasn’t doing so to get where I could blog, but it flowed naturally from there nonetheless. That said, it’s a hard discipline to keep up – I try to get two blog posts out a week, but I can’t always pull it off.
  8. You say that some employers are remarkably tone deaf about the fact that you have your own business and want you to be an employee, care to elaborate? Sure, lots of them seem to think they are going to turn me to an employee, even after thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of my time committed to not doing that again. They seem to think you are living in some fever dream of self-employment from which you will soon awake, rather than thinking that you made a calculated and deeply premeditated decision to chart your own way. Not to be patronizing, but I am not coming in as a cook in your kitchen; I’m a cook in mine and cater to you. That means that if I don’t make tacos, you and I aren’t going to make tacos, but I will happily refer you to someone who does. It also means that I’m not going to sell my kitchen and move into yours – I have a very different path than an employee.