Comment On Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

If you’ve worked at enough companies in the IT industry, you’ve probably noticed that the most talented software developers tend to not stick around at one place for too long. The least talented folks, on the other hand, entrench themselves deep within the organization, often building beachheads of bad code that no sane developer would dare go near, all the while ensuring their own job security and screwing up just enough times not to get fired. [expand full text]
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Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2008-05-04 13:56 • by real_aardvark
192863 in reply to 192145
Steve:
Great article. You have very effectively described the US military. As a 17-year member of the Air Force ... <snip/> ... for us, "up or out" applies, but not in terms of technical knowledge.
Yes, I imagine that "down," in the context of the Air Force, might frequently have fatal consequences.

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2008-05-04 14:13 • by real_aardvark
192864 in reply to 192231
Paolo G:
L O L:
logs are another way of writing exponents...


Logs are useful for transforming expressions that contain exponents into expressions that are easier to work with. If the y-axis on the graph were logarithmic then it might be valid, but clearly it is not intended to be anything other than arithmetic.
Well, making the sane assumption that both axes are arithmetic, the result looks awfully like a conic function to me. I'd hate to think what happens when it dips below the x-axis...

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2008-05-05 14:21 • by Marvin the Martian (unregistered)
192990 in reply to 192127
dlikhten:
In a culture of quitting, companies can begin a "employee exchange" program, where companies create opportunities for employees to move around and be productive and they know the employees are good because they come recommended from a company they know and trust.

Sorry to rain on the self-actualization parade, but the Dilbert Principle shows very effectively, over and over again, how this works *even within one company* where departments try to shuffle their worst losers onto unsuspecting PHBs.

Between companies there cannot even be the fraction of a second doubt "hey, here I'm damaging the bottom line of my own company".

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2008-05-05 17:51 • by Shawn Wildermuth (unregistered)
This seems like an interesting compliment to my recent post on the state of development:

http://adoguy.com/2008/04/23/The_Hard_Part_of_Software_Development.aspx

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2008-05-09 09:51 • by mvno_subscriber (unregistered)
Excellent article, I'll be recommending this to everyone. Thankfully, in my workplace it is common for employees to stay at most 4 years, and everyone sees this as normal (including management).

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2008-05-30 13:28 • by Rachna (unregistered)
I thought the main problem with employees quitting was the sheer cost of replacing one. Isn't recruiting the right candidate a costly and time consuming process?

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2008-06-22 21:30 • by Dedicated_Dad (unregistered)
I would first like to thank you for this fantastic article.

I'm sort of the epitome of what you describe, in many ways.

In a 19-year+ career, I averaged <12 months per position for the first decade. Lots of 3, 6 or 9-month contracts, mostly, though every one got extended even after all other "contractor" peers had been let go, I was kept on to ease the transition to internal staff.

I've dealt with AD and Exchange on a level most will never see, architected and led 1000+ domain NT to 2k/2k3 migrations, etc. I've earned the title "Top-tier" in many, many ways.

I finally found my home in a family-owned IT Services firm. It offered the challenges I crave and the benefits of longevity -- the best of both worlds. I was surrounded by top-tier people - the statistic I often heard was that ~1% of applicants were hired and 2/3 would be gone in 6 months. The standards -- especially for personal and professional integrity -- were stellar and uncompromising. You were "the best" or you were gone -- it was that simple. Work was hard, but rewarding, not necessarily financially-so, as salaries were less than I'd previously commanded, but in being part of an elite team. It was the best job I ever had.

Then we were "bought." For a while it was "business as usual" then the inevitable "pot-stirring" began. I kept my head down, my mouth shut, and concentrated on taking care of my customers. I won most every award given for "customer sat" "consultant of the (month/quarter/whatever) -- you name it.

I became the "go-to" guy. I got all the stuff noone else could handle. The customers who wanted out of their contracts -- I turned them around. The tech-problems noone could solve? I solved them. The internal "process" issues? I found ways to make them better. I "rode herd" on some peers, when necessary, to make sure our obligations to our clients were met or exceeded.

Meanwhile, people left. 60% of our top-tier tech staff in a 6-month period. Meanwhile, my hours continued to grow. Staff in my group was down 80% while obligations increased slightly. Gone was any option to do any proactive work, so problems now had to be fixed instead of prevented.

One day I woke to the realization that there was noone left in my management chain who had any experience or knowledge of our "line of business" -- noone who understood what I did or how it benefitted the organization.

I'd suffered a debilitating injury ~6 years before, and needed surgery that would mean a 12-week recovery. I put this off for the past two years, being led-on by my new masters -- "just bear with us a couple more months. We're going to hire some people. Just hang in there a bit longer."

I finally realized I'd gone as far as I could go, and gave them 60-days notice that I'd planned my surgery, I was very worried about who would take care of my customers. I contacted the benefits department to find out what was required for my disability insurance.

11 days later I was informed my services were no longer required. By the grace of G*d my surgeon was able to re-arrange his schedule so I could get the surgery I needed before my benefits expired, so I was able to file my disability-insurance claim and have pay for some of the time I needed to recover.

Now I'm almost back on my feet and have no job and no more income. My recovery was long and hard -- much worse than it needed to be -- because of the run-down condition I'd allowed myself to get into. I should have put my foot down years ago and did what I needed to do.

I'm not yet well enough to handle the job search, or at least to appear healthy to prospective employers -- but too well to be considered "disabled."

Sorry for the "life story" but... Hopefully there's an illustration there, perhaps a few of them.

In hindsight, it's all crystal-clear. I can see clearly where I missed opportunities and inferred things that weren't really there.

There isn't any loyalty in a big business, and hard work will not be rewarded later. This would never have happened in the business I started working for, but I missed the change in culture that came with the new owners. By the time I awoke, everyone upstream who knew me, what I had done, and could do -- those people were all gone. To those left I was just a name and a salary on a spreadsheet -- nothing else mattered.

On the bright side, I have numerous admirers, and am confident I will have no problems finding a job. My skills are vast, my reputation impeccable, I'll be OK.

I post this in the hope that it will help someone else. Take care of yourself first, don't ever let someone else's bottom-line come ahead of your own well-being. Seriously consider every opportunity, and do so IN A VACUUM. You cannot compare the past to the future, you must evaluate THE PRESENT. Had I done so, I'd have been gone long ago.

If anyone would like to discuss opportunities, I can be reached at my user name at yahoo dot com. Hopefully this helped you in some way...

DD

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2008-07-07 14:52 • by Rick Yazwinski (unregistered)
I think there's another factor in your value graph.

I think there's a "pain factor" that works against the desire to meet the peak value.

I.e. if there are bad hr policies, or a poor work environment, or you're forced to work with other staff who, on a daily basis, remove the joy from trying to hit the value peak, that eventually there comes an inflection point where the "pain endured" is greater than the "delta to peak value" and people jump ship.

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2008-10-08 19:30 • by ogilmor
221926 in reply to 192080
boheme:
I agree wholeheartedly with you, but I feel as though you may have overlooked that jumping from job to job greatly diminishes your chances of retiring with a comfortable pension. Yeah, I know that it's not our father's job market any more. But when you have consider other benefits as well, such as health care plans that may not carry over from one employer to another, it's a scary place for employees who aren't, or may never will be, putting away the big bucks. I understand your desire for a more stolid approach to employee retention, but I think that at the same time, even employees who are able to find other jobs might want to marry and have kids, and settle down into a position that will afford stability. After all, you home is one of the biggest sources of equity in your old age, and unless you're extremely wealthy, moving around every few years to accommodate that new job isn't easy on your kids, your wife (or husband), or your retirement savings.

your point has merit, but could be addressed in several ways:
1) portability of pensions, kind of like a 401K
2) portability of benefits, which would probably need to be assisted by legislation as I don't see companies doing this voluntarily
3) if you're concerned about selling your house or moving, settle in an area with a large job market where you can switch jobs without selling your house.

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2008-10-30 03:05 • by Dan (unregistered)
225736 in reply to 192127
The company I work for has instituted this type of program and it has been fantastic...

Employees are "farmed-out" or swapped for a fixed 3 month period, and are set to work in areas that they are familiar with, but lack specialist skills in (almost like an advanced trainee).

After the 3 month tenure, employees are swapped back and return with new skills, experience in different working environments and a fresh outlook. Many have said it's like "coming home"...

There have been massive productivity rewards, and closer alliances forged with companies that compliment our own.

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2009-01-24 18:16 • by Derek Smyth (unregistered)
Hi, I'm not completely sure this is true. According to Joel on Software, Joel being a fairly respected recruiter, people who are good at there jobs very rarely move companies.

"Numerically, great people are pretty rare, and they’re never on the job market, while incompetent people, even though they are just as rare, apply to thousands of jobs throughout their career."

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/FindingGreatDevelopers.html

Not to mention a fact that companies will do anything to hold onto a great developer including getting rid of the crap developers.

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2009-02-18 14:49 • by Emily (unregistered)
This concept of an alumni system in professional IT culture is really interesting and compelling. However, it would require major changes to our health care system and other benefits systems in order to work. All of our employer-based benefits would need to be completely portable and independent of employment, and that's simply not the system those of us in the US live in.

There are entire industries built around employer-based benefits and reforming those industries would be a painful and heavy-handed process that would probably require government interference (which is unlikely to fly any time soon here in the US at least.)

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2009-02-26 13:53 • by Eric Pearson (unregistered)
Love this, going in this new software manager's mental file.


Eric


Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2009-03-24 14:40 • by Sri (unregistered)
I'm not sure I agree with the hypothesis that skilled employees always quit and unskilled employees always stick on.

There is an age angle to it too. I've seen very skilled people who were hopping jobs, suddenly settle down in a job and act very conservatively the moment they crossed some age barrier, were married and had kids.

From the organization's perspective, these "mediocre" tenured ones are often the most valuable as they ensure that the company's knowledge is maintained and reused. On the other hand, the "smart" ones typically tend to outsmart themselves and dig themselves into a hole far too often. They would have hopped jobs so much in search of this "self actualization" thingie that they neither develop deep skills nor can provide deeper insights to an organization. In fact, the best way to pursue self actualization is to be an entrepreneur or become independent than work as an employee in the first place.

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2009-08-23 16:43 • by Nuero (unregistered)
“make partner”

ah so like layers and certain old skool invetsment banks - most companies arnt going to be at all interested in letting the geeks make "partner" A becuase 99.9% of places that employ it people arnt partnerships and B It end engineering has to low a social status

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2009-11-15 17:58 • by Burp (unregistered)
Architecture and management, the natural path for talented developers? Bollocks and nonsense. The worst managers and architects I have met were exactly the developers you are talking about. they were people with (a long lost) talent for coding and absolutely no talent for managing.

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

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Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2011-03-04 21:16 • by retro jordans (unregistered)
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Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2013-01-02 10:58 • by ObiWayneKenobi
The problem is many companies don't care a lick about their employee's long-term goals; they just want what they can take. You hire someone who makes it clear they want to move up in rank over time, and the company will either never give the opportunity or, worse, the person's manager will take offense since that means the new employee wants THEIR job, and try to get them to quit or fire them at some later date.

It's rare to even get a decent raise, to say nothing of a promotion if you want it.

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2013-01-30 05:05 • by Paul Mansfield (unregistered)
A long time ago I worked at a small start-up in the early days of the internet become a commercial proposition. It was clear to me that the company was floundering, and I left. The company did fail and pretty much everyone ended up working in an ecommerce company. I left the place I worked at after some time and went somewhere else, and that place floundered and I ended up at the ecommerce company where most of my former colleagues still worked!
A big corporate took over and spoiled the company and about six months later I left, but the place I went to also got taken over and spoiled things, and I ended up back at the ecommerce company in a different role.
When I left there I joined a tiny start-up where I had quite a long stay, but it floundered and I left, made a poor decision, left there, and ended up at a new ecommerce company where a lot of my former colleagues had also gone.

So I worked with the many of the same group of people four times across three basically difference companies.


I've always believed on leaving on good terms and not crapping on my former colleagues, and generally we've been quite good at helping each other along the way. This has helped me in that the city where I work is quite well connected so you tend to meet the same people over and over, and if I do go somewhere for an interview it's usually a less formal process and completed fairly quickly.

Re: Up or Out: Solving the IT Turnover Crisis

2013-05-06 10:21 • by ObiWayneKenobi
I also have to say that I would love to work at a company with this mentality. The idea that you come in and can get solid experience to either move on later or work your way up is tantalizing and, dare I say it, almost utopia-sounding.

Unfortunately, it seems very few companies adhere to this anymore, at least not for IT workers. If you work at a law firm, I'm sure the lawyers operate on that principle and can "make partner". The tech staff, not so much, it's either do the job you were hired for with miniscule raises (barring VERY rare cases where there's promotion opportunities), or quit after some amount of time and go repeat the same thing elsewhere.

That's very sad because as someone who aspires to advance I would love the opportunity, but they don't exist for us outside of very few fringe cases. In my experience showing ambition is more likely to get you fired or given boring work until you quit, because your ambition shows your boss that you want his job, nevermind the fact in many companies there's only so far you can go in an IT department. Kind of hard to move up the ranks when you have just one boss above you, and one boss above him, and your boss' boss is co-owner of the company. Where, exactly, can you go?
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