DaedTech

Stories about Software

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Reader Question Round-Up, Video Edition

Alright, it’s time to come to account for my haphazard posting performance of late.  I attribute this to a couple of factors, and I list these not so much to make excuses but to explain myself.

  1. This has historically been a blog about software, consulting and software consulting.  And I neither write much software nor consult very frequently these days.
  2. Due to the unexpected (but awesome) success of our content business, I trade in blog posts all day, most days.  So, for me, writing blog posts is sort of like a pastry chef knocking off of work and coming home to crank out a gourmet coffee cake.  (Or, a bad one, depending on your taste in bloggers)

All of this is to say that I’ve had a bit of blogging malaise of late.  So my posts have come intermittently and without much in the way of social promotion.

To Blog-Post or To Video?

On the flip side, I’m exploring new content media, largely as R&D work for Hit Subscribe.  This has led me to do a good bit of work in video, which is surprisingly fun.

Now, as any long time readers will recall, video isn’t exactly new for me.  I spent a year or two on a Chess TDD odyssey with something like 20 hours of screencasts in the book showing folks how to test drive code.  And, before that, I made 4 video courses for Pluralsight.

But I hadn’t touched the medium outside of screencasts, and I hadn’t even done that in a year.

Well, now I have.  I’ve started posting videos to Hit Subscribe’s Youtube channel (check it out if you’re so inclined — I’m doing a “time to joy” series where I explore how long it takes to get going with dev tools and techs).  And I’ve found myself enjoying it more than I thought.

So I figured I’d spice things up a little back over here at DaedTech by starting to clear out my prodigious reader question backlog, video-style.  Here, in the frame below is the result of that — a video-edition of the reader question round-up.

I’m planning to do more of these, at least until I blaze through my backlog.  But I might do other videos as well, centered around the theme of this blog which seems, these days, to be developer empowerment and related topics.

And here’s where I’ll leave things.  I think the biggest driver for content here, whether written or video-recorded, will be your questions.  I love talking about software, consulting, and developer empowerment topics, but I don’t live them day to day anymore.  Thus I won’t have all that much to say unless prompted.

So please, fire away with any questions, in the comments, in the comments of the Youtube video, or wherever.

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Org Chart Types: A Guide for the Aspiring Consultant

Org charts and org chart types.  How companies structure reporting relationships.  The stuff of Dilbert cartoons and tales of disaffected corporate woe, but also the glue that holds most organizations together in some semblance of order.

A Reader Question about Types of Organizational Structure

I’m overdue for answering a reader question, so let’s answer one about org chart types.  This arose out of a post I wrote a while back about how to become a management consultant.  In that, one of the pieces of advice that I offered was to become well versed in different organizational types and structures.

This led to a pretty natural reader question.

After reading your post on becoming a management consultant, I’m wondering if you have useful resources for tackling three of the areas you encourage learning:
1. Business Organization Structures

I’ve elided the second two things he asked about because speaking to all three would make for a pretty disjoint blog post.  So today, it’s all about the org chart.  (Not to be confused with organizational structures like LLC, S-Corp, etc, which I won’t talk about here).

So let’s define the actual purpose of org charts, and then walk through some of the most common examples.  I’ll structure this post by how a company might adopt these structures at different points in its maturity.  But first, I’ll speak to the philosophical why.

And I’ll try to do it all while striking a healthy balance between cynicism and exposition.

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Readers Often Ask Me, “Should I Write a Book?” Here’s My Take

“Should I write a book?”  Someone asked me this today, and I rattled off an answer.

But as I was doing so, it occurred to me that I get this question frequently.  Probably a few times per month, at least.  And this makes sense, since I’ve written a few myself and I’m in the content business.  Heck, one of those books has even enjoyed more success, commercially, than I ever anticipated.

So, no-brainer, right?  Get out the digital quill, put on your frilly Shakespeare-style writing shirt, and let the art flow through your keyboard?

Answering the Reader Question, Should I Write a Book?

I’ll spend the post answering the question, but I can give you a pretty short answer and then let you read on below the lede, if you’d like.  The answer is, “ehh… maybe.”

I think writing a book can be a great exercise in personal growth.  I also happen to agree, at least anecdotally, with the wisdom that “everyone has at least one book in them.”  But that doesn’t mean that you should just sit down and start typing.

Should you write a book?  The short answer is this:

Yes, but only if you can articulate exactly who will read it, how, and why, and then you form a plan to make sure that happens.  If you do that articulation and that planning, and still want to write a book, then go to town.

So there you have it — the short answer.  The longer answer, and the remainder of this blog post, is going to by the justification of my thesis.  And, by way of support, I’m going to explain how I lumbered into writing a book in exactly the wrong way.

Think of this, then, as not just advice I’m giving to the various readers who ask about this, but also advice I’d give to myself 5+ years ago.

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If We Solve the Software Generalist Anti-Pattern, Who Writes the Code?

I am, strangely, not an expert in my own history.  Chronicling my own exploits through digests and Prime Photos have helped somewhat in this regard, but I nevertheless struggle to remember the sequence of my life.

So I think it was 2015 when I was writing about the tales of Emma in Developer Hegemony.  And I think it was a few months later that I first dreamed up the strange neologism of “efficiencer.”  I think, but I’m not positive.

What I do know, however, is that it was a few years ago now.  And I also know that my thinking has evolved somewhat since then.  So I’m going to answer a couple of reader questions today with the benefit of having acquired additional experience since writing the book.  I’ve moved away from management consulting, started a business, and helped a lot of nascent product companies with marketing and positioning.

I haven’t really made any reversals, so if you bought and enjoyed the book, don’t worry that I’m disavowing any points in it.  Rather, I’ve refined how I think so-called efficiencer firms should market themselves.  And, as you can probably infer from the title, it should categorically not involve any whiff of generalism.

Let’s Look at the Reader Question

Alright, so what have readers asked me?  Well, quite a while back (2017, in fact — yes, I have a long reader question backlog), someone asked me this.

The efficiencer model looks a lot like management consulting except the consultants here can do the automation as well. What has changed to make this path more suitable for developers to follow?

And, more recently, someone asked me a question in response to a post I wrote about how any firms that sell custom app dev are selling staff augmentation.  I see a logical progression for software developers, for the most part, moving from staff to staff augmentation to, well, efficiencers.  This prompted the question.

Say we work for an efficiencer firm, and we avoid writing code for pay. In the end someone needs to write code; who is that? Are we back to architects vs. programmers & UML handoffs? Or is this an interim solution?

So we have a question that is literally about who writes the code, and another that, at its core, really asks how software developers can be taken seriously offering consultative expertise.  All of this feeds into the general theme of the division between expertise and labor, and who should furnish each.

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Is It Possible to Have a Company with No Office Politics?

It’s been a little while since my last reader question post, hasn’t it?  Well, let’s do something about that today.

Today’s subject is office politics.  I’m pretty much always game to talk about this subject, as regular readers know.  Except, rather than dissecting them in-situ, I’ll talk about the idea of companies avoid them altogether.

The Reader Question: A Company without Office Politics?

I’ll talk about it because the reader question asks about it.  

Is it too naive to hope that there is that (perhaps small to improve the odds) company out there where a group of technical people work together to solve problems without all the politics and back stabbing? Is politics unavoidable? Is it human nature? I am still hopeful… Part of me thinks when it comes to companies we are still in Feudalism and time will bring about better forms of governance.

There is actually kind of a series of questions in there, and I hope to touch on all of them.  But it really comes down to a matter of defining office politics, for better or for worse, and then seeing if they must exist within a company.  And, if they must, is that okay?  Or must it be an ipso facto problem?

What Is Office Politics?  And What is Politics, for that Matter?

Let’s get down to brass tacks here, and I mean way down to brass tacks.  And I’m not doing this to be pedantic, but rather because it’s important to frame the discussion.  First, a definition of politics, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Politics is the process of making decisions that apply to members of a group.  

Do you see now why I think it’s important to return to this definition?  The word politics carries an amazing amount of baggage in the way of connotations: governmental, interpersonal, etc.  But, at its core, it’s about making decisions that affect participants in a group.  The baggage comes from the means and nature of those decisions, as well as how the members receive them.

I’ve often quipped myself that you have politics anytime you assemble more than 2 people.  And, though I’ve often meant this to suggest that group size 3 is where complex persuasion begins, it applies to the simple, literal definition here as well.

  1. With a single person making decisions, there is no group.
  2. With two people, you either have consensus or stalemate in all cases, so there is no systematic means of making decisions (absent unequal distribution of votes).
  3. But with three people, you have the means for systemic group decision making.

What, then, is office politics?  Well, let’s mark the wikipedia definition up slightly.

Office politics is the process of making decisions that apply to members of a group in an office setting

The Idea of Avoiding Office Politics is a Non-Starter

Through that lens, you can see that the idea of avoiding office politics is an impossibility.  What you probably mean is ways of avoiding toxic (or even unpleasant) office politics.  I especially believe this to be the case, given the specific mention of “back-stabbing.”

To find a company without office politics would be to find a company that made no decisions.  And that wouldn’t be a company for very long.

Now, I can empathize with the desire to avoid office politics, even in a fairly benign setting.  I tend to do a lot of lone wolf work, and I’m not really big on democratic groups or consensus.  In school, my two preferred approaches to group work, in order, were “don’t worry, I’ll just do everything,” and “okay, you guys do everything.”  So I get it.  

But even for an avowed mercenary and lifestyle designer like myself, at least some collaboration is unavoidable, as are companies.  And so, politics are unavoidable.  But I’ll go even further and say that they’re neither inscrutable nor as onerous as they may seem on the surface.

So while there are no companies out there without politics, there are companies without toxic politics.  So let’s look about how you find those.  And let’s do that by looking at heuristics for avoiding bad, stupid, or toxic politics.

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