Friday, May 14, 2004

Everywhere I go I hear the same phrase, over and over: �we do things different than other companies because our product is different than anything else out there�. People treat each situation as if no other company in the world has ever had to deal with the situation before. Our [product|business|company|whatever] is so different that we need our own procedures for [version control|build process|conventions|source organization|whatever]. I wonder sometimes if this is some sort of disconnect from the rest of the world (most companies in my area have a lot of 10-20 year �lifers� who haven�t worked anywhere else and have never been exposed to the internal workings of other companies) or, even worse, some sort of superior thinking (maybe they really do believe they are just that unique).

"Always Remember That You Are Unique. Just Like Everybody Else."

Either way, I regularly find myself in a conversation about stupid, no-brainer decisions that I thought the industry made for us years ago. Most languages for example now come with their own coding conventions (Java, C#, Why would you deviate from them? You don�t like where the brackets go? Get used to it! It takes a lot less effort to adapt to the convention than to try to enforce a new one (especially when you need to deal with third party source code). Is your build process a pain to use? Nothing a few more batch files can�t fix! Why not find out what the rest of the world is doing?

Why? Because the people in charge are the ones who have been with the company the longest. They are rewarded for their loyalty (which make sense in a Ross-Perot-pie-chart kind of way). In return, technical groups are run by those who are the least connected to the rest of the world. The most connected people in the company have the least seniority and the least say in procedure changes.

What can you do? I�ve tried changing the world. Damn thing won�t move. Currently I�m trying the �Thank you sir � may I have another� approach. My sanity has improved dramatically. I can�t be sure it will work in the long run. As far as I know that�s how all these lifers got here. I may just be adding to the problem.


Weiqi Gao writes:
�It won't be long before you will become one of the old timers, managing a bunch young people who think they know the solution to every problem. And the cycle repeats itself. :)�

Weiqi can smell my fear. A year ago, the idea of completing this cycle really bothered me, but I'm beginning to think this stereotype is beatable.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with my wife over the weekend. We were talking about the difference between knowledge and wisdom. I decided that knowledge can be gained in any number of ways, but wisdom had to be obtained by experience (usually because when verbalized, real wisdom can't be distinguished from a silly clich� through outside analysis alone).

There was a time when knowledge and wisdom went hand and hand. Because lives weren't front loaded with education, people learned equally throughout their lives. The older they were the more knowledge they had. Wisdom of course always has worked this way, and always will. A couple hundred years ago, when formal education replaced apprenticeship, things changed. Now people gain most of their factual knowledge at a young age and do their best to keep that knowledge current as they get older (which of course is much more difficult in our industry than in others). They of course still gain wisdom as they gain experience.

This leads me back to my original post. In our industry we have a good deal of young knowledgeable people with, perhaps little real wisdom; and a good deal of wise people who could use a bit more knowledge. Not understanding the difference between the two, our society falls back on tradition and delegates power to the experienced.

The problem isn't in how the responsibility is being delegated (although that is what I inferred in my original post). The real problem is with the employees themselves. The young should recognize the value of wisdom (which is a bit of a paradox, as it requires a bit of wisdom to appreciate it in others). The experienced should realize that they cannot rely only on wisdom. The world is moving too fast to rely completely on past experience.

This seems a much more optimistic view. If we challenge our selves to gain good experiences (and pay attention to the results), we will over time gain wisdom. If we continue to learn and not become complacent, we can have both knowledge and wisdom, thereby breaking the cycle.



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