Today Slava Pankratov has some gloomy forecasts for you, and some darkly humorous observations about upcoming trends in team management 🙂 The smiley is necessary here because the topic is actually quite serious.
If you found your way into the world of IT and you plan to somehow survive here, I think you will enjoy reading the observations of someone who may not have worked with a code for a long time, but is constantly seeking ways to deal with unanswered questions. And yes, I’ve been living for a long time, so it’s a longread. And yes, I understand that not everyone has the ability to read a long text, but as you may have already realized, I am writing for those who do.
Today we’ll look at these questions:
What was the IT industry like 10 -15 years ago?
What has changed and in which direction?
What hasn’t changed and is unlikely to change anytime soon?
What can we do about it?
Many years ago when I was speaking at a web development conference, a presenter began with one of those memorable rhetorical question openers:
– What was our industry like 10 years ago? Slow MySQL and leaky PHP. And now?!
And someone in the audience calmly answered:
– And now we have leaky PHP and slow MySQL 🙂
Jokes about the painful things in life always work. It turned out to be a good start to the conference, and amusing for both the audience and the presenter.
A lot of people worked for money. If you wanted a new laptop, then you had to work for it. If you wanted to move to an apartment closer to the office then you worked harder. Wanted a car loan? Work harder still. I decided to start a family … Well, you can understand how the system worked, right? It was simple and straightforward. I’m not saying it was good, but it was
s i m p l e
(for managers / executives / companies)
If a programmer or a tester wanted more money he could simply
a s k
and in most cases, it was given to him (just because he asked for it).
Less conscientious guys had a constantly updating folder of live job offers and they changed jobs just to get an extra 200 – 300 dollars. So why hadn’t I been asked “Can I give you some more money?” I decided the answer was obvious. Once I had got the first 200 – 300 dollars for changing offices, then the next office would add another 200 – 300 dollars. Clearly, it was a question of resource extraction: I just needed to farm.
Unfortunately, “p o u r ” is a term only relevant to that era.
I am not saying that “ask and receive” is how it should have worked. Arguably, it was wrong, but it worked for several years. Then over the course of the next 5 years the industry slowly retrained itself not to do this, and salaries began to reflect the companies’ rate of return.
Since then, a lot of things have changed: the industry has matured, technology has moved on, business has changed, and people (most importantly, people) began to relate to work in a different way.
You and I have grown up, and many of us have grown wiser, or at least we would like to think so. Big and very big companies have appeared. Previously, if you said that you worked in a company of 600 people, most of your acquaintances would say, “Wow, that’s a lot!!” And now, companies of 400 – 600 people are not even remotely considered as big.
Here are some figures for 2017 – 2021:
Mail.ru Group – 6,300 employees
Yandex – 10.000 employees
SberTech – 11.000 employees (for 2017)
EPAM – 36.700 employees
Luxoft – 12.900 employees
By the standards of the now distant year of 2010, this seems like some kind of transcendental space concept in terms of staff numbers. It seemed that this would have a correcting effect on company/employee relations. Big structures, correct processes, everything we hoped for, huh? To be left in peace, writing codes, testing codes and agreeing over our tea that “they run around like headless chickens up there, but we know our business and we’ve been doing it properly for centuries.”
Now an entire
b u s i n e s s s t r u c t u r e
exists to provide work for people, so a real Jedi of technology doesn’t need to be bothered with this issue.
And that’s what happened, right? No, it wasn’t.
We were introduced to wonderful ideas about self-organization and self-motivation by coaches and marketers. And then it moved on to “we don’t need managers here at all, right? Their sole purpose is just to move work from one person to another. This is a job for team leads. Just look at the dynamics of salaries for managers and team leads. Managers’ salaries decreased, but those of team leads rose. At first, all the technical specialists were happily rubbing their hands: “Aha, finally justice has come! Finally, the universe has put everything into order, and programmers are earning more than their managers! “
(offscreen laughter: Ahahaha!)
And then came a slow avalanche of demotivation and burnout. Would you have ever tried talking about this at a technical conference 10 – 15 years ago? The organizers would have politely cleared their throats, and assigned a session like this to a small, separate room.
“We have coaches in a separate stream here, here we have the technical conference, excuse me …” (blah blah blah)
And then the audience (you) stood up and said: “Stop, we need this. Put these speakers on the main stage! ” And competent organizers, who are aware that events are a business like any other, quickly switched the schedule to give the technical audience what they needed and were interested in.
For 12 years I have been working side by side with one of the coolest (according to your feedback) speakers on this topic, Alexandr Orlov. He takes the main stage at technical conferences, giving the best presentation of the event on burnout.
Obviously, I am speaking as a conference speaker, but please consider this:
The best talk at a tech conference is the one on IT burnout.
To illustrate this point, let’s look at one small story from the past year. (It happened at a company on the list above, so not some small, immature company):
“Slava, I’m going to quit. This is unrealistic, my work chat group doesn’t stop until 1 a.m. on Saturday. I don’t have time to live … “
This person’s salary is 1.5 times higher than he could get in a similar position with his experience. He evaluates himself and the industry competently and calmly. He works with teams, clients, and leading technology. He wanted the job because he thought “at least everything will be fine in a large company like this, and operate according to clear guidelines” … And so he was freaked out by the tasks/chats/rallies/toxicity/burned-out people he found himself dealing with. He realized he was “2 steps away from” quite a serious medical problem and stopped.”
What went wrong?
So here is what happened. The number of tasks multiplied, the turnaround speed increased, working with clients was dumped on techies, and what used to be the job of one specific member of staff, is now done by the leading technologist, who is called the team lead.
At home, both partners are at work from morning till night. When they get home, the wonderful wife also cooks/cleans/looks after the children, and does homework with them.
But, more importantly, we have a strong team of engineers who are committed to success!
Incidences of burnout dramatically increased and motivation dropped. Stories about self-motivation turned out to be fairy tales that work as long as the coach-innovator, “pumps”, energy into the team and then … as luck would have it… There are some success stories, but there is also reality, in which the believers are slowly beginning to doubt the rhetoric about how the most motivated teams should function.
I think you can see that over the past 15 years, agile methodologies have become less about people (which is how it began), but rather about the processes: engines, metrics, restrictions and other aspects.
And why is this? Because not everything has changed in our rapidly evolving world.
What hasn’t changed?
People. People haven’t changed.
People are not machines. They do not double their capacity every 1.5-2 years. There is no Moore’s law to quote about quantum processors which are still here, but only just! 🙂
During those 5 years, we haven’t implemented a second parallel processor to lead the team, while the main processor designs a roll-out onto the server cluster.
Why did team leaders get paid more? Because instead of having a project manager + two or even three team leads (RM + backend + frontend + QA), the team lead of today is a mythical multi-armed Shiva. He is a full-stack developer with a team that will pull out all the stops to deliver what the customer needs, covering all aspects of design, writing codes, testing (automation, coverage, metrics …), and, of course, the team lead deals with 1 : 1 meetings, motivation…
Yes, this pale and rapidly graying specialist, who for some reason decided to work in IT, sits in on a presentation about burnout, writing quietly, using his knowledge to create algorithms that will make people’s lives better. He writes everything down, motivates himself, builds a life/work balance, and ignites team spirit in his team. If he didn’t do that, he would crash and burn …
Have they gone mad in IT, or what? 🙂 Who came up with this “elliptical horse” thing? Excuse me, what exactly is a “universal team lead”?
Brake. It doesn’t work that way. This is not a computer into which you can stick a couple more RAM bars or more powerful percentages. And this is not “adding nodes to the cloud” so that the company can run faster because we promised the shareholders we would do that. Each node is a person in this money / company / people carousel. He is a resource, he is his own favorite business and he will burn out, no matter how much money you put in his salary.
What to do about all this, damn it?
We cannot change the way business functions. It is a very purposeful locomotive that must earn and keep on earning. And, yes, from time to time, we need to replace the “burnt out light bulbs”, no matter how cynical that may sound.
We can only change ourselves, our outlook, what we spend our time on, what we focus on, what we do and what we don’t do.
Is it reasonable to believe that being paid 1.5 – twice the average market salary compensates for chronic overload? No it isn’t. The brain does not care how much money is deposited in our accounts after the first 2 – 3 increased salaries. It gets used to money, it does not produce “wow!” pulses each time it receives a paycheck.
You can believe “I’ll get everything going perfectly, the team will pick up and work alone, while I deal with important and strategic issues”. But the team won’t work alone. Every second you are out of focus, the momentum is lost. The short-term perspective of the short release cycle is already established.
Can we abolish the “faster and faster” belief system which business thrives on? No, we can’t. The business offered it to us, and we accepted. OK, the consultants accepted it, but the business realized that we could do this and saw profits in growth plans, hiring schedules, and new project launches.
All we can do is make a determined effort to allocate time for ourselves, and to “think long term.” To understand that “important” and “quickly” are not the same thing. But while you are running, and everything is going fast, you don’t see this. You have to pull yourself out of the stream of small stories and sit down to think and work it out. It’s like deliberately replacing your social media feed with a book with a real storyline. The brain will remember the long-forgotten pleasure of not being distracted every 5 – 10 minutes. And you can immerse yourself for several hours in a world where there is content, people, motives for actions, and a logical sequence of events.
Without this, in 3 – 5 years, and for someone who is running ever faster, a systemic crisis will occur that question “what am I doing with my professional life?” Many of us are suffering from accumulated fatigue, some cover it up with procrastination, but eventually, burnout and health problems will follow.
Maybe you didn’t expect to dive into this kind of topic in a “regular mailshot” (don’t pretend that you read more than 90% of the mail in your inbox and half of the posts in the social feed). But it seems to us … well, it seems to me that what is happening with team leaders in IT now is systematically wrong and it needs changing. Now. Slow down, read a book, find people to talk to about something interesting, learn to play the long game, and not just squeeze more hours into every week.
I’ve just had another thought. I will try to put it into a few brief words over the next day or two.
👉 Webinar “Attracting and retaining people and how that correlates to the quality of management ” May 27, 1 p.m. GTM +3
We will discuss the following issues:
– Feedback about the company in the labor market
– How to calmly and clearly assess team leads and managers (using the 24 parameters of observed behavior)
– Toolkits for working with individuals that dramatically affect a company’s ability to attract and retain employees