Keeping Technical Talent or Why I Just Quit My Job

Spolsky Drinking Straight Vodka... L'Chaim

Spolsky Drinking Straight Vodka... L'Chaim!

I’ve been a long time reader of Joel Splosky. I enjoy his writing. He is Jewish, opinionated, and successful. I, am only opinionated so I enjoy his differing experience from my own. Joel runs a software development firm in NYC. He also really understands developers. His business model is, in short: Hire great developers, keep them happy, count the money. While his writing is almost totally focused on software developers, there are a LOT of allegories with other technical knowledge workers.

I’m not a programmer. You know this because you’ve seen my crappy code examples in previous posts. I’m more of a data scientist or Hal Varian’s sex symbol of the future. But I think that in the blog post Joel wrote back in 2007, he nailed a number of things that are important, not just for developers, but for sexy data demigods like myself (you know I’m humble because of the prefix ‘demi’).

Here, in bullet point fashion, are the main points Joel says are important in understanding the needs of software dev’s:

  • Private offices - Devs need peace and quiet with few distractions
  • The physical workspace - Beyond quiet: location, facilities, windows, comfort
  • Toys - Tech books, magazines, multiple monitors, bitchin’ computers
  • Social Life of Developers
    • How are Programmers Treated? - Rock stars or typists?
    • Colleagues - Are the others folks pricks?
    • Independence and Autonomy - Are managers dicks?
    • No Dysfunctional Politics - Are personal considerations more important than technical ones?
  • What am I working on? - Don’t give rock stars shitty tasks day in and day out
  • Can I identify with the company? - Do devs connect with the company and its goals?
  • Money is not a top priority - Hard to believe, I know. But money complaints are often the symptom of other problems.

I believe every single point above applies not just to software developers, but also to other technical knowledge workers. Most of the points probably have a fairly direct mapping to things that are important to non technical knowledge workers too.

So how does this relate to me? Well over a year ago I was recruited to work for a small firm that was privately held. The analytics team was in Chicago doing cool work¬† and I really wanted to be a part of it. So my wife shut down her successful law practice, I quit my job with a fortune 500 insurance company, we sold our house in suburban Virginia (during an amazingly shitty housing market), and moved to Chicagoland. A week after our house sold it was announced that the firm I was working for had been sold to a large conglomerate. Uh oh! We moved to Chicago and I was in my cool office looking down on the Chicago Board of Trade for less than a month when the movers called telling us they had been instructed to move us out of our building and into the offices of the acquiring company. Yes, we found out we were moving when the movers called. And it went down hill from there. Since I like matrices, let’s outline my situation using a few salient points from Joel’s framework:

Issue Old Company New Company
Private Offices Yes 6×8 interior cube
Physical Workspace Great view of CBOT, cool building, small office but very nice No windows, bad location, dirty and old, rows of cubes.
Toys New Laptop, dual monitors, docking station at home and office, good servers, budget for other stuff 3 year old laptop, all requests need many bureaucratic hurdles jumped
Treatment Analytics was part of a profit center Analytics is a cost center
Politics Needs were accommodated quickly. Very easy place to get stuff done. I had to fight with IT just to get access to my own data on my own DB server. Everything is a battle.
Identify with company I was part of a team giving great data-centric service to clients I didn’t even really know who my boss is and three months after the merger I don’t know the ‘new vision’

For months now I have had zero control over my situation and my environment. Joel has opined on this topic as well. Although he was talking about user interfaces, the truth still holds: Controlling Your Environment Makes You Happy.

So I’m a creative bloke. What did I do? I started having lunch with everybody I knew in town (and a few guys who I saw sitting around the CBOE reading big yellow Springer books). I didn’t bad mouth my new firm. Nobody likes a whiner. I just asked how things were doing and I let it slip in sideways that I had my doubts about how I fit into the new culture. Plus I talked about all the cool stuff I was working on and how generally enthusiastic I am about being such a big fat analytical stud.¬† Next thing I know I’ve got multiple recruiters dropping me emails and a couple of firms calling to ask me if I have ’settled in with the new company yet?’

So the firm I went with nailed every point on the ‘Joel List’. I’m honestly excited to be part of their team. After giving notice, my prior company immediately wanted to talk about a counter offer. I think they were sincerely shocked when I said that my move was not all about money (although you better believe I improved my earnings potential with this move). They really wanted to throw money at me to make this all better. All of a sudden I am on the phone with Managing Directors and a Member of the Board discussing how lucrative and important my role with the post-merger firm can be. Where were these guys for the last 3 months?

I think they need to read more Joel.

2 Comments

  1. [...] one glace at my user logs shows the truth: no one gives a rat’s rump that I just quit my job; you just love you some Twitter R code. And I’m nothing but an attention whore, so come get [...]

  2. An oldie but goodie here, JD.

Leave a Reply