Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Are you happy where you work?

Today I happened upon some interesting reading. There's a software company in New York called Fog Creek Software that has a very unique way of looking at employees, hiring processes, office layout and company structure.

I cannot say I condone everything I read on Fog Creek's site, but there were many things that certainly rang true. I've worked a couple of places where I felt that the pool of IT talent was going to waste either because upper management saw the programmers and other IT staff as "the people who know how to deal with the ones and zeros" or because there were really clear lines drawn (in the sand!) as to what's allowed and what's not in terms of technology, methodology, tools and software. These things are just crippling to creativity, and really limiting when it comes to building new skills within an IT team.

I really recommend reading what the owners of Fog Creek have to say. Read the About page, the bit about the Development Abstraction Layer, and the spiel on how to treat developers. The description of the office alone makes me want to move to New York.

It was actually the article about the Fog Creek office that made me so enthusiastic about what these guys have to say. Fog Creek really appears to invest heavily in their developers. Seriously. Some of the figures seem just crazy at first glance. Just take the $800 chair that everybody sits in. Or the $700 per-developer-per-month cost of the office. I'm sure most CFOs would cringe just at the thought. But the idea, Fog Creek's idea, is that this investment in people means highly motivated workers, better focus, higher productivity, higher quality - and the end result is of course better products that sell better than the competition's.

This just makes me think of jobs I've had in the past where software development is at the centre of what the business does, yet programmers and IT staff are sidelined in every way possible. Take for example the digital agency I worked for in Sydney that had an awesome building in a top location, with a huge bar with perfect views of that spectacular harbour. Yet when the company expanded, who were the ones that were pushed - literally - to the very back of the office to sit directly underneath the central air conditioning vents, where by 11am your fingers would be numb with cold? Or take a more recent job in London where the offices were also very flash and modern, yet the IT department was placed closest to the office entrance so that there was constant traffic of people coming and going. Hardly an ideal location for the hard thinkers of the company, the people who kept the "shop open" 24/7.

The difference between those companies and Fog Creek is pretty clear. Fog Creek understands its own business and who make it happen - and they invest in that, convinced that this investment in people is what will increase profits.

I'm a developer so it's no mystery that I like reading about a company that puts proigrammers in the spotlight. But it's the same for everybody - we want recognition that the job we do - our individual contribution - is important to the company we work for. So I encourage all of the CEOs, MDs, CTOs and CFOs out there to take a look at what Fog Creek does and try to apply some of the tips in their own companies. Of course, the CEOs, MDs, CTOs, and CFOs don't read my blog - so forward them the link to this post :-)

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