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The Dead Sea Effect In the IT Workplace

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the cream-evaporates-to-mix-a-metaphor dept.

Businesses 396

Alien54 notes a blog posting by old hand Bruce F. Webster on the current state of affairs in hiring in IT, focusing on what he calls the Dead Sea Effect. "Many large IT shops... work like the Dead Sea. New hires are brought in as management deems it necessary. Their qualifications... will tend to vary quite a bit, depending upon current needs, employee departure, the personnel budget, and the general hiring ability of those doing the hiring. All things being equal, the general competency of the IT department should have roughly the same distribution as the incoming hires. Instead, what happens is that the more talented and effective IT engineers are the ones most likely to leave -- to evaporate, if you will. They are the ones least likely to put up with the frequent stupidities and workplace problems that plague large organizations; they are also the ones most likely to have other opportunities that they can readily move to. What tends to remain behind is the 'residue' -- the least talented and effective IT engineers."

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Assuming there are other better jobs (4, Insightful)

gelfling (6534) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051726)

When employers all threaten everyone with the same outsourcing when/if the salary budget gets too high then none of us are better off. No one leaves and instead of a Dead Sea you have an algae pond that clogs and festers.

Re:Assuming there are other better jobs (5, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051786)

i'm not afraid of outsourcing, never have been. the only ones that quiver in fear are the incompetent ones who are easy to replace with a $5/hr from banglore.

Re:Assuming there are other better jobs (5, Insightful)

Gr8Apes (679165) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051926)

I'd have to agree. Finding another job isn't really that hard, the hardest part about it is finding the pay to coincide with the right people and boss, right type of work, with the right perks, like no travel.

Adding all that in makes for a pretty restrictive job search, but even then it's not so hard.

Re:Assuming there are other better jobs (4, Insightful)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052362)

And I've got to disagree with both of you. Finding another job that leaves weekends free for your hobbies, or has good medical insurance for my friends who need CPAP machines to sleep well, or that are one block from their house they just paid for, or don't involve a 3-hour daily commute that drains your will and creativity, or where you've mastered the intricacies of the company's proprietary software build system, or where you've built a community of friends that you support and who appreciate your work, all matter, or where you really think the company is saving lives, can all be quite difficult.

Not every job has all or even most of those factors. But they can affect your willingness to put up with dross in the workplace.

Re:Assuming there are other better jobs (3, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051956)

the only ones that quiver in fear are the incompetent ones who are easy to replace with a $5/hr from banglore
Or those who bosses believe they can be. Or have companies that bring in consultants who can be. Or who get bought out by a cost-saving firm who replace the executives with someone who believes they can be.

But, for the most part, yeah, you're right. The benefits of having programmers in the same time zone who speak the same language who you can go and talk to face to face outweighs the possible benefits.

Re:Assuming there are other better jobs (5, Insightful)

TheSkyIsPurple (901118) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052018)

The thing that worries me in companies like mine, is the new management is hot on outsourcing, and have no real idea what we do.
We've seen a large chunk of our work go out, quality and timing suffer, and they're pushing to do it more because the costs are down, and of course there's going to be a blip during a change.

Our skill has nothing to do with it... it's the 6 levels of management between us and the "deciders"

Re:Assuming there are other better jobs (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23052126)

Then they'll kill the reputation that people like you have built up. So you go work for their competitors (or set up shop to be their competitors) because in three or less years they won't be getting work anymore regardless.

Re:Assuming there are other better jobs (2, Interesting)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052262)

Costs are down...

Catastrophic failures are up. Staff productivity is way down.

Combination of SOX, offshoring & out-hosting of our hardware.

When things do fail- there is an increasingly small staff (last time one guy worked 48 hours straight to save the company (multi-billion dollar co)). If he had told them to shine on each day after putting in a 10 hour day, the company would have lost millions. And yet... they are still probably considering continuing to outsource to the people who could do nothing to help us when that happened.

They seem to think, if you looked at the code 2 years ago, you are going to be competent to keep it running in a crisis.

Re:Assuming there are other better jobs (5, Insightful)

hobo sapiens (893427) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052056)

You are assuming the people who make the decisions are aware of or care about your competency. Often those decisions are made far up the management chain. Those in your management chain who are aware of your competency are often powerless. I am convinced that's how corporations work by design: layers of abstraction so that nobody in particular is responsible for anything, and everything is done by the big machine.

I work at a very large company, and have for a relatively long time by today's standards. I have seen it happen time and again. People who are very good at what they do are sometimes just working on the "wrong" project. Often it's projects, not people, who get offshored or outsourced.

Yes, I know I said I have been at my job for a while, but don't be so quick to judge. Some of us have a very cozy niche where we are given a lot of creative latitude, work with a great team, and get to do a lot of self-initiated stuff. As soon as that changes, I am SO done with this place. Or maybe I am being crazy, but the summary made me feel a little defensive.

Re:Assuming there are other better jobs (3, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052162)

"Those in your management chain who are aware of your competency are often powerless"

thats not a problem with outsourcing, that's a problem with your management. people keep confusing the 2. outsourcing is just another tool for a poor manager to make the wrong decision to use.

Re:Assuming there are other better jobs (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23052238)

This has been my experience. Where I am now we used to do a LOT of outsourcing. Management finally realized what we all knew already. The folks overseas are useful as grunt labor but thats about it. They don't have the experience or training for the senior positions. They certainly can't be relied on for any important decisions or critical projects without major oversight. All the leads at my company spend a lot of time up at 4AM hand-holding our valuable outsourced help.

The sum up example would be the "star outsourcing employee" was stumped for two days on a project because he didn't know how to add a directory to his path and couldn't figure out why he couldn't run a certain binary. And for whatever reason didn't ask anyone for help.

Or how about the guy that locked out over 30 different systems from a gateway host because he forgot his password and tried 50 times from 30 different boxes before deciding to send an e-mail asking for a password reset.

Seriously. You get what you pay for. Cheap labor is... cheap.

Re:Assuming there are other better jobs (1)

xmanhattan (1008249) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052470)

It used to be that when you hit 50 you had to worry. With regards to what you wrote, the age has now dropped to about 40, this is globalization. Good night, and good luck! From someone who has tremendous expertise and thought the same as you do.

Laminated talent (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051734)

It shows up in layers, bottom up - the new folks layer in on top, the older tenured employees at the bottom. It's very difficult to improve your lot if you're seen as an expert; it's not so much that you're seen as less intelligent, just more embedded - nobody wants to disturb a working ecosystem by promoting what are seen as essential roles. The result is that the experts sort of decant, and end up on the top layer somewhere else.

Re:Laminated talent (3, Interesting)

karnal (22275) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051822)

Actually, the problem I'm witnessing personally at work is that when one gets promoted within the same department, it isn't as clean of a break from the old job responsibilities as you might think. If the people who are doing your old job don't step up - and you're still in the same general area (even if your title/job duties change) - the old stuff comes with you, and it's your responsibility to make sure others grasp your job.

Granted, I am not complaining, as sometimes there's really no other way to do this. However, my personal grumble is that the others don't truly seem like they have the time - or the initiative - to step up as I did......

But they still complain about not being promoted. I can lead a horse to water with the best of them, though...

Re:Laminated talent (2, Insightful)

SuperQ (431) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052064)

That's why a lot of places have a backwards attitude to promotion. You shouldn't get promoted to do something new. You should get promoted because of what you're doing now.

Re:Laminated talent (2, Interesting)

LittleRunningGag (1124519) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052160)

Many expanding companies see this as training your replacement. If you can do that then you're good for management because you're already kind of doing it.

Re:Laminated talent (4, Interesting)

Eagle7 (111475) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052356)

That is why one of the keys to being promoted is never allow yourself to become indispensable in your current job. As another reply stated, always be training your replacement. Its common advice from hundreds of "career help" books, and it makes sense precisely because of what you described.

To sum it up. (5, Funny)

Mastadex (576985) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051740)

This just in, smart people find dumb people dumb. Film at 11.

Re:To sum it up. (1)

SoupIsGood Food (1179) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052258)

In a stunning follow up, our investigation uncovers that a full 50% of IT workers are at or below average. Sports highlights to follow.

Re:To sum it up. (4, Insightful)

JoshJ (1009085) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052398)

To summarize the summary of the summary, people are a problem.

well (3, Insightful)

gadzook33 (740455) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051768)

Not that I completely disagree...but these people do go somewhere. If you start with the assumption that the distribution of the talent is uniform across the marketplace, then the migration of talent from one shop to the next obviously doesn't change that.

Re:well (1)

BunnyClaws (753889) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051818)

Good point. It isn't like the talented employees leave the industry because they decided to pursue careers in real estate. They have more options and will move on to jobs that pay according to their skill set.

Re:well (4, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052062)

If you start with the assumption that the distribution of the talent is uniform across the marketplace, then the migration of talent from one shop to the next obviously doesn't change that.
That's like saying that if you start with the assumption that the distribution of matter in the universe is uniform, then movements won't change that. But that's not the case. Some shops start with more talented programmers and make an environment where good programmers want to work. Other shops work their programmers like mules and give them a hostile environment that makes them cover their asses instead of working effectively. These processes build on each other until the distribution is more definitely uneven.

In addition, the companies with the best programmers will tend to do better in the marketplace, meaning they can afford to treat the good ones better and fire the bad ones. They can also be pickier about picking up new programmers and will have to hire people less often because they have a core of talent that they tend to expand instead of constantly replacing workers that get fed up. Talent tends to clump just like matter in space, leaving a vacuum where it's hard to find the talent that they need.

Re:well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23052390)

You've written a whole paragraph about the companies with the best programmers. His point was that the article doesn't discuss those companies at all. The article tries to make you consider a directed graph with only outgoing edges.

thats right (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23051782)

anal sex won't do anything but make your dick stink

What remains... (1)

Mastadex (576985) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051784)

"What tends to remain behind is the 'residue' - the least talented and effective IT engineers."

It must be late, because I read that as "What tends to remain behind is the 'residue' - from the least talented and effective IT engineers."

Re:What remains... (1)

Provocateur (133110) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052318)

It *is* late, I almost corrected it to say least talented but effective.

This is true... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23051788)

except for the IT workplaces where these talented and effective IT engineers go to. :P

Money, money, money (1)

Roy Hobbs (1267752) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051790)

There needs to be a better salary distribution. Good network administrators are like world class composers.

Re:Money, money, money (2, Insightful)

drspliff (652992) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051908)

And some managers see it that way, however there's always the war between HR & new candidates to pay as little and for as much as you can and visa-verse, and in my experience this usually leads to scraping the bottom of the barrel for rough diamonds unless strict requirements are set for competency.

Re:Money, money, money (2, Informative)

bfwebster (90513) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052002)

There needs to be a better salary distribution. Good network administrators are like world class composers.
Amen to that, Roy. When I was at Pages (as CTO), I had constant fights with the CFO and the CEO over the pay for our network administrator (Sean Church) and told them it would take several people to replace him. I was right, too. Sean left Pages in early 1995, and it took three of us -- myself, the VP of Engineering, and the Director of Quality -- to pick up the slack. ..bruce..

Re:Money, money, money (1)

Orne (144925) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052226)

Sure, but even Mozart [wikipedia.org] died penniless in an unmarked grave.

Re:Money, money, money (5, Funny)

johnw (3725) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052458)

Sure, but even Mozart [wikipedia.org] died penniless in an unmarked grave.
Surely an unusual place to die?

thank you captain obvious (5, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051796)

Smart people with better options leave. wow who would have thought that would happen. next on slashdot, all about how water is wet.

Re:thank you captain obvious (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23051832)

I think the point of the metaphor was that the water is getting *less* wet.

Re:thank you captain obvious (5, Insightful)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051874)

Smart people with better options leave. wow who would have thought that would happen. next on slashdot, all about how water is wet.
IT people with elitist attitude who think they are indispensable? Not anymore...

Re:thank you captain obvious (2, Insightful)

rootofevil (188401) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052122)

treat me as if (or even better remind me) im dispensible, and ill certainly hold the same view of my position in your company as you hold of me as an employee.

i know thats how i feel about my current job - and how everyone up the foodchain from me feels with the exception of my immediate superior, and have basically since the first month or two.

Re:thank you captain obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23051940)

How is this insightful? It completely misses the point, and is probably a troll.

Smart people with better options leave, yes. However, the point is that unless you hire an equally smart, talented person as a replacement, you'll eventually end up with an IT department full of average staff who don't aspire to be any better.

Re:thank you captain obvious (5, Insightful)

Angst Badger (8636) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051958)

It's worse than that -- the effect being described is pretty much universal across professions, not just IT. Large organizations are by their very nature bureaucratic and only become more top-heavy and inefficient over time. It's that process that makes them vulnerable to the smaller challengers that eventually eat their lunch. It's called the business cycle, and if the original poster is only now noticing it, it just means he's never taken an economics course or, more likely, lived long enough to see the 25- to 30-year cycle that most industries run through.

I'm not even sure it's a problem, per se. I've made a long career out of working for startups and small to medium sized companies. Either they fold, as is the case with the majority of startups, or they prosper and end up growing and eventually being bought by larger companies. Either way, when the bureaucracy becomes stifling, I collect my letters of recommendation and move somewhere more lively. Unless you work in oil or heavy industry, there's always a wave to ride, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. The pay is generally lower than what you'd get being a placeholder at a large company, but on the other hand, I've never had trouble paying the bills, either. Money isn't everything.

Re:thank you captain obvious (2, Informative)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052378)

It's called the 'Peter Principle', to quote from Wikipedia: "in a hierarchy members are promoted so long as they work competently." When you reach your level of incompetence, you stop there.

The principle is also known in more colorful terms as "shit floats". Gifted managers find ways to keep staff at their level of *competence*, but it can get very difficult when managers no longer actually know their staff or become involved in turf wars rather than trying to accomplish the work. And it applies to managers, so in a big organization you can get a long, long line of incompetent staff between the actual workers and the people who really make the big decisions.

Like Slashdot (4, Insightful)

Hao Wu (652581) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051800)

The real nerds are busy doing math and science somewhere, while the fake ones come here to talk about video games.

Re:Like Slashdot (4, Funny)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051988)

Don't hate brotha! I know this other guy who couldn't beat Contra either, even with the 30 lives!

Re:Like Slashdot (1)

urcreepyneighbor (1171755) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052046)

up up down down left right left right b a [select] start

Re:Like Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23052090)

*woosh*

Re:Like Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23052022)

Indeed. Video-gaming nerds shall henceforth be known as ferds.

Re:Like Slashdot (4, Insightful)

AstrumPreliator (708436) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052166)

How is this insightful? Funny maybe, but certainly not insightful.

I sure as heck wasn't aware that being a 'nerd' precluded me from playing video games and discussing them. Nor was I aware that I had to be doing 'math and science' every waking moment of my life. Considering I willingly buy and enjoy reading graduate level math books as well as playing video games I take offense to your ridiculously broad generalization.

And? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23051828)

How is this different from any organization, anywhere, ever?

hurray for ACS! (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051834)

ACS is sort of like a long term contracting company that provides entire IT teams to hospitals. I worked at one for another contractor for a short time. Most of the people were crazy dumbfucks. And guess what, the hospital fired ALL OF THEM (well they kept like 2) and replaced them with IBM people cuz they sucked so bad. Other places with permanent, directly hired IT crews just wish they could do that I bet lol.

it's really simple (4, Insightful)

nitelord (824762) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051842)

This tends to happen when companies don't focus on keeping their best talent, and don't regularly get rid of those who have no desire or ability to learn or do their job better. There are two types of employees - the guys who love their job and would spend time at home (for free) to learn more.. and those who show up, do their job, go home and don't give a shit. Your company is only as good as the people who work for it.

Re:it's really simple (5, Insightful)

ZorinLynx (31751) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052072)

What about those of us who love our jobs and love to excel in them, but don't want to make work our entire life?

I really hate it when companies put employees down for not making work their entire life. I love my job, but when I get home I want to relax, enjoy my hobbies, go out with friends and have fun doing things that aren't work. It's part of living a healthy lifestyle.

People who love their job so much they do it even at home and do nothing but their job usually end up burning out within a decade or so. I've seen it happen.

It's all about balance. You don't want to wake up one day and realize "I put the last 15 years of my life into this company, but hardly any time into *myself*... I have no life outside work!"

Re:it's really simple (1)

BarlowBrad (940854) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052152)

There is a balance that is easy to talk but hard to walk. Love your job while you're there and love your home while you're there.

Great companies recognize that this is better in the long run and encourage their employees to separate work and home life. In doing so they will not burn out their employees or risk lessening returns the more time their employees spend at the office (or with the laptop, or on the Cr^H^H Blackberry).

Re:it's really simple (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052178)

Your confusing people who spend their time at home working so they can get ahead with people who love what they do enough that they would do it for free and really want to do it all of the time.

Of course it's all shades of gray, and if an employer pushes people to work beyond what they are really paid for, it is time to find a new job. Basically, the parent is right that it would be a good way to pick employees, but if you do, you are likely to drive the good ones away. Kind of a Schrödinger's cat sort of thing.

Re:it's really simple (2, Interesting)

dvice_null (981029) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052514)

> What about those of us who love our jobs and love to excel in them, but don't want to make work our entire life?

They are called average.

Programming is my life. I work as a programmer because that is an easy way to pay the bills. If I had enough money I would probably stop working, but I wouldn't stop programming.

Re:it's really simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23052124)

If you paid people more, maybe you'd have more people of the first type, no?

Who wants to slave their life away for mere peanuts?

not just IT (5, Insightful)

tick-tock-atona (1145909) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051844)

This is certainly not restricted to the IT industry.
In my experience working in a large petroleum company I have seen the exact same thing - high turnover of good engineers, with a few competent people who stay on dotted around the organisation, but also a lot of dead weight.

However this is not news. This is just what HR battles every day in large orgainisations - balancing pay, benefits, career advancement etc. against turnover rates, to try to make staying on more attractive. Which is hard because the grass is always greener...

Re:not just IT (1)

Simon80 (874052) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052228)

I'm really not qualified to talk about this, but I would guess that HR is usually full of non-technical people that try to solve this problem with only a "big picture" sort of perspective, when really what is needed is an aggressive, targeted push to reward and keep the talented people. However, perhaps this isn't even enough for people who may be bothered by mediocre colleagues, and it's much easier to reduce the average competence of your employees than it is to raise it up again. How are you supposed to hire better people when not-so-talented people are doing the hiring?

Re:not just IT (1)

bothwell (1272132) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052326)

Heh, non-tech HR are very unlikely to ever get the rewards system right. HR's bright idea to reward the good guys on my team and stop them all leaving after six months (the average time of service) was to introduce a system whereby our performance would be graded on a points system per quarter and whoever gets the most points by the end of the timespan gets a 250 bonus and a bottle of crap wine from the shop across the road. I can imagine this concept works for our marketing team because they're naturally gregarious and competitive. It doesn't work for my own team because we're a small group, don't have anything to prove to each other, and are united in loathing of this nerd cage match bullshit. The average length of service is still six months - until the shitty pay and indifference from management is addressed, quelle surprise!, the top performers will continue to haemorrhage from the company.

reply (1)

Swavek (1139471) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051854)

Depending on where you live there aren't always easy options. I feel like I'm in the same situation as described above and there are almost no IT jobs in my area unless I want to work in (and commute to) the big city (Chicago). I don't! I have never worked in an IT shop that had competent management and that often seems to be the problem from what I've heard (from other IT employees).

Re:reply (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051910)

I feel like I'm in the same situation as described above and there are almost no IT jobs in my area unless I want to work in (and commute to) the big city (Chicago). I don't! I have never worked in an IT shop that had competent management and that often seems to be the problem from what I've heard (from other IT employees).
If you want to work in a quality shop, you have to be willing to move. If you are not willing to move, that's your choice. But you can't expect there to be opportunities galore in comfortable backwaters, the people that hold those jobs are keeping them. If you really want to "get ahead", you'll have to go to Chicago or some other big burg for a few years. It's like here in Seattle: Work for The Borg for a few years (but never as a "permatemp"), then move on to friendlier shops. Yes, you often have to whore yourself out if you want to work your way into a real job.

Re:reply (1)

OnlineAlias (828288) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052058)


"Permatemping" (great word) has made me a lot of money. Because most companies seem to think that a good IT guy costs 200 an hour and there is always some permatemp company who is willing to whore themselves for a dollar just to get the gig, it is easy to make a lot of cake doing that if one plays their cards right...

Re:reply (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052190)

it is easy to make a lot of cake doing that if one plays their cards right...
When you're 50, tell me what's in you retirement account. Nice TV, I'll give you $50 for it.

Tell us more... (1)

mkcmkc (197982) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052236)

Please!

Re:reply (1)

mrbooze (49713) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052304)

As someone who has been on a job search for several months now, I can assure you that there are far far more IT jobs outside of Chicago than inside Chicago, the vast majority of job postings are in the suburbs.

Story is wrong (4, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051856)

I don't want to bust this guy's bubble, but let me give it a try anyway. The problem that he describes is part 'peter principle' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle [wikipedia.org] and part of the culture of bad leadership that infests (at least western cultures) big business.

The trouble is not what you think. Modern western businesses are generally run like the military, at least in form if not function. This puts too much control in the hands of those who are not proven fit to lead. The problem of good people moving on is prevalent in ALL industries, including the all volunteer military, forklift drivers, plumbers, restaurant managers... on and on and on. It has nothing to do with IT other than its affect on IT.

Bad leadership is the problem, and it spills out of corporate offices like stink from a blocked sewer pipe of grand proportions.

Hiring decisions are effected via budget restraints and leadership decisions between what amounts to two basic waring factions within the company: The IT shop and the HR group.

When you start to think of modern corporate businesses like armies you can see how things go wrong. It only takes one bad lieutenant to totally fuckup the battlefield. With field promotions, that Lt. gets to a spot that s/he doesn't belong and it becomes more short term pain to replace them than to let them carry on fucking things up.
Bad leadership chooses to avoid short term pain. If sports teams were run the same way they would never win anything (sorry NY).

The problem is bad leadership. end. of. story.

With good leadership, all the other problems can be mitigated or removed.

Re:Story is wrong (3, Insightful)

swillden (191260) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052158)

It only takes one bad lieutenant to totally fuckup the battlefield. With field promotions, that Lt. gets to a spot that s/he doesn't belong and it becomes more short term pain to replace them than to let them carry on fucking things up.

In combat, that tends not to be a problem for very long because the incompetent leaders die, either by doing stupid things that get themselves killed, or by doing stupid things that could potentially get their troops killed, resulting in a "friendly fire" incident.

Hmmm... how can we apply the notion of "beneficial friendly fire" to corporate America?

Re:Story is wrong (1)

Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052164)

With good leadership, all the other problems can be mitigated or removed.
Or better yet, avoided altogether.

Agreed, but also... (4, Insightful)

mkcmkc (197982) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052170)

The Peter Principle is great, and if you liked it you should also check out The Dilbert Principle (and the entire corpus of Dilbert strips) and The Systems Bible.

The Dead Sea effect is not really wrong, but I believe it's swamped by larger effects:

  1. In general, few organizations can recognize competence in computer personnel and very few care about it.
  2. If you do twice as much work (by any relevant measure), you will get at most 5% more pay than if you hadn't.
  3. The measures most highly prized by the organization are attendance (a la Woody Allen), "being a team player", and (perhaps) dress.
  4. Talented employees eventually figure all of this out and look for sinecures. That is, they look for situations that are pleasant and have sufficient compensations (monetary or otherwise), and once they find one, they tend to burrow in. (Note that this tends to offset the Dead Sea effect.)
  5. Technical excellence is only possible on hobby projects or perhaps in a minor eddy of a larger project (e.g., "the 100 million dollar messaging system I worked on was an abject failure, but I implemented a really nice regular expression library").
  6. If this seems upsetting, take a deep breath and go hug your girl, your kid, your dog, or your teddy bear. In 100 years it won't bother you much at all.

Re:Story is wrong (1)

iocat (572367) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052266)

the culture of bad leadership that infests (at least western cultures) big business

I hope you weren't implying that other regions' cultures run businesses better... because if you were, you've clearly never worked with any!

I've worked with businesses on four continents, with say three different cultures (US/Canada, Euro/SouthAmerican, and Asian). All have their own style, and all of their styles are easily prone, in the hands of retards, to leading to crappy, disfunctional companies.

You can take any system you want -- six sigma, the Japan that can say No, or Yes, or whatever, EuroThis, hell, open any business book written in any language at any time ever -- and in the hands of smart, competant people, they all work fine. In the hands of yahoos, they all fail. There is nothing inherently wrong about the western system (not that there is even one monolithic "western system"), there's just good and bad managers and good and bad business decisions. Oh, and luck.

Re:Story is wrong (4, Insightful)

tom's a-cold (253195) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052460)

The problem is bad leadership. end. of. story.
Not.quite.end.of.story.

This bad leadership has root causes. Incentives to sociopathic management behavior are intrinsic to the capitalist system. In the short term this psychopathic exploitation pays off. Anything with negative effects that manifest after the next quarter's numbers doesn't matter. By that time the perrpetrators have been rewarded and have moved on. Don't assume that better efficiency can fix an inherently corrupt, dysfunctional system. Making the trains run on time has been tried before. Good thing the Allies came along to blow up the tracks.

Still here (1)

with a 'c' (1260048) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051858)

Oh f*#k that's why I still work here ... :(

True for IT in general (1)

that this is not und (1026860) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051866)

This effect isn't simply true for 'certain' companies. It is the general case for IT staffers in general. They either move into management, or remain 'data janitors', the modern equivalent of file clerks, for their whole career. Or they get an engineering or marketing job. IT is an 'infrastructure' job, like the dudes down on the loading dock, or the security guards.

Seems to me... (1)

espiesp (1251084) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051882)

The real problem is that most people are stupid. And in an industry where you're somewhat expected to be smart, I really have a hard time believing there are as many morons trying to make a living doing it.

How do people go home at night and sleep knowing they are completely clueless about their job? Or is the better question: Do they even REALIZE they are clueless?

Most importantly, am I REALLY as smart as I think I am.
Probably.

Re:Seems to me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23052520)

Do they even REALIZE they are clueless?
No, they don't [wikipedia.org] .

where do they go (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23051890)

Where do the more talented and effective ones go? Google?

Re:where do they go (1)

bfwebster (90513) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052016)

Where do the more talented and effective ones go? Google?
Only if they can get in. :-)

Depending upon the business cycle and their own inclination, they either go to do startups (trading security for fun/intensity) or they become consultants (trading security for a multiplier on their salary). At least, that was my observation. ..bruce..

Re:where do they go (1)

grikdog (697841) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052202)

One, two or three more jobs. Then the two-year jump cycle in your C.V. gets noticeable, and the tag degrades from "talented" to "hobo." Eventually, you're hoping (if not actively encouraging) your particular O. K. Corral to go belly up before you burn out, so you'll have an excuse for one last jump. Convert cashflow to Euros or gold, and screw the IRA's (they're managed by "talented people," too), because your economy is tanking as fast as you are. Of course, if you already have the kind of cash that makes this consideration pointless, you already a pretty good notion of what to do with your time and talents, and you will grow an organization around yourself tout suite.

The other side of the coin... (3, Insightful)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051918)

...at least from what I've seen in the several IT jobs I've had in as many years: What I've found is that I am often hired into an environment where the "old guard" aren't exactly technically proficient, but they remain thanks to their collective knowledge of the domain. Which isn't exactly a bad thing: All things considered, domain knowledge often trumps technical proficiency when it comes down to getting the job done.

Still, it's quite frustrating to join a group with a collective level of technical knowledge below one's own. Groups such as this are often resistant to suggestions from the new guy, and it's been my experience that it's the new hires that end up leaving.

I have seen this (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23051922)

I have witnessed this first hand. When I started my new job a couple years back, the "youngest" of the bunch had been there 10 years already, while the eldest was sitting at 25. There was very much the attitude of, "Don't rock the boat", and consquently too many things that should have been done years ago hadn't even been looked at. Further, everyone had a paraniod "don't tell them how it works" attitude, in case someone might want to replace you. Which made learning the job 10x harder than it should have been. Documentation? Are you kidding? You write down what you know, and they can replace you that much easier. It was, and in many ways still is, unreal.

Since I started, I have increased efficiency dramatically by doing simple things like labeling devices ( computers, routers, ect... ), documenting passwords and usernames for network devices, and implementing document storage. And I am a peon, front level line worker. I still have to motivate my "peers" to get off their asses and get something done, elsewise it would be ignored until it blows up in our faces.

IT Staffing Is Just Broken, Never Mind The Symptom (1)

hax4bux (209237) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051928)

Your war story here. Thanks for playing.

Impressive Credentials! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23051934)

"IT engineers." Amazing how worthless the word engineer is these days. Can't wait until high school teachers are calling themselves doctors, because hey, they technically are!

Re:Impressive Credentials! (1)

Doctor_Jest (688315) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052012)

A locomotive engineer will probably like to have a word with you about the various definitions of the word "engineer"... ;) But, your point is still valid, considering the origin of the word engineer ("to design"). Most IT people don't have to do that in IT... they simply have to make sure it stays up and running (for the most part...)

The truly lucky ones get to design their own....

Re:Impressive Credentials! (3, Insightful)

bfwebster (90513) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052044)

"IT engineers." Amazing how worthless the word engineer is these days. Can't wait until high school teachers are calling themselves doctors, because hey, they technically are!
I'm painfully aware (and have written about) the difference between true engineers (civil, mechanical, chemical, etc.) and people who work in IT. I use the term "IT engineers" as a useful catch-all phrase for the full range of people who work in IT (including programmers, architects, DBAs, network admins, QA personnel, and so on).

I someday hope that "software engineering" will be a real profession -- but on the other hand, that has legal and professional consequences (e.g., state boards, state licensing, risk of malpractice) that I suspect most people in IT wouldn't want to touch. ..bruce..

Re:Impressive Credentials! (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052130)

Some of us really ARE Engineers. Raise your hand if you ever had a solo project where you had to design/implement the server code, the client code, the servers machines themselves, the client machines themselves, the database it all ran on, and the protocols in which they all interacted. After all, which, since it is your baby, you get all of the bug reports and feature requests, the work to go with it, and all of the testing your brain can handle. I can't actually see any of you, but I would be a rotten banana that I am not the only one with my hand up.

Re:Impressive Credentials! (2, Insightful)

swillden (191260) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052172)

Some of us really ARE Engineers. Raise your hand if you ever had a solo project where you had to design/implement the server code, the client code, the servers machines themselves, the client machines themselves, the database it all ran on, and the protocols in which they all interacted. After all, which, since it is your baby, you get all of the bug reports and feature requests, the work to go with it, and all of the testing your brain can handle. I can't actually see any of you, but I would be a rotten banana that I am not the only one with my hand up.

Doing all of that, and doing it well, still doesn't make you an engineer. A good craftsman, yes, an engineer, no. And, yes, I raised my hand, and I call myself a software engineer because it's the common term, but I don't think what we do is disciplined enough to really be called engineering, yet.

Re:Impressive Credentials! (2, Insightful)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052288)

True engineers have much higher responsibility/accountability attached. Nobody cares if your program crashes (hence bug reports, new version, etc) but god help you if a bridge collapses because of a stupid mistake, and you're the engineer that signed off on that design. At a minimum, you'll lose your license, and have to find a new line of work. Now that I think of it, that would be good for some "software engineers" I've talked to. Most real "engineers" have the knowledge that screwups will kill/hurt people.

Reasons to stay (1)

The Bender (801382) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051944)

Dammit, if only there were some way to entice the good people to stay... like... pay rises? Promotion? Perks?
That's why I'm still where I am.

Errr, either that or... um... nah, can't be that.

RTFA? Moi?

Self-fulfilling prophecies. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23051970)

I prefer stable business hours work, but find the general opinion of managers is that because you are a drone, you must be not so good; if you were good you would be out consulting and making the big bucks. So you get treated like shit until you leave and go out and make the big bucks.

Fuckem.

EDU also. (1)

apachetoolbox (456499) | more than 6 years ago | (#23051972)

I was an IT manager for about 5 years at a K-12 and I can tell you that's exactly how it works for both the IT departments and the teachers at K-12's.

Copyright Reform! [copyrightreform.us]

I resemble that remark! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23051976)

Thank goodness for this phenomenon, it keeps me employed. I look good compared to my coworkers.

Ouch (2, Funny)

Canosoup (1153521) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052040)

Thanks for insulting my only means of feeding my children, you insensitive clod!

It's even worse than that. (3, Insightful)

The Famous Druid (89404) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052050)

It's not just "evaporation" at work in those places, there's also a filter that actively excludes "fresh water" from the lake.

Consider the position of the talentless drone who's achieved a position of junior management by virtue of being the longest-serving talentless drone in the room when the previous manager left.

Is this PHB-in-training going to hire the best and brightest?

No way, s/he doesn't want underlings making him/her look bad, so s/he'll be careful to only hire other talentless drones.

There's an additional benefit (for the PHB) here, as it requires 2 or 3 talentless drones to do the work on one talented geek, and a managers prestige and remuneration are proportional to the number of people s/he manages.

So only "brackish water" ever flows into the lake, evaporation then acts to make it even worse.

Yup (1)

mkcmkc (197982) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052254)

Yeah, I've seen this on more than one occasion.

Chemical Reaction in that Sea (3, Interesting)

AMerlin (1272110) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052092)

Something else is happening in the Dead Sea. Those who are left behind have an easy time assuming that they are the right ones to inherit the kingdom and will be looking for more like themselves. This may be very appropriate for a time and place so they may not be just 'residue' but it bodes poorly for flexibility. This culture builds until it is the only acceptable culture and the "way we have been and will always be". There is a building self-fulfilling prophecy that can blind a company to other options and stifle the ability to adapt to changing situations. This is fine if the market is on the upswing, but deadly where there is a "self-correction".

Productivity/Output Variance is very high in IT... (1)

railsgarden (1272116) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052180)

I agree that such talent retention problems occur across the board, but I still think the problems are magnified in IT relative to other departments because of the seemingly larger variance in productivity/output in IT. It is common that some people in IT produce several _orders of magnitudes_ more in output than others. Such variability is less common in other fields and certainly it not reflected in compensation. But I do believe that in general variability in talent/ability is much higher than people intuitively believe, because we are all accustomed to prize "equality", perhaps sacrificing cold hard truth along the way. In the future as more traditional companies begin to exploit this in the manner that Google has (Google recognizes talent, is willing to pay for it, and is enormously successful as a result..) an employee's total benefit of working for a company (which includes salary, happiness, intellectual stimulation, pride of work, etc.) will more accurately follow talent and subsequently the Dead Sea Effect will subside.

How large is large? (2, Interesting)

owlstead (636356) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052214)

My company manages all that without being large (~300 persons). Are we sure we aren't talking about every company where the CEO doesn't know all the people working for the company? I can talk to the CEO on first name bases, most of us can and may do that, but he wouldn't necessarily know what's going on and how frustrating the working space can get.

Recruiters don't help either (1)

Herkum01 (592704) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052246)

From my recent job hunting recruiters can hurt more often than help with landing a position. A placement fee of 10-15% yearly salary makes managers reluctant to take any risk. They worry about making a decision that will result in a 3 or 6 month hire regardless of the payoff. Better safe than sorry.

Managers want to hire someone who will make them confident in their decision and will stick around for a long period of time. Not necessarily the persons ability to do the job.

Drawing Corollaries Of The Dead Sea and IT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23052276)

What tends to remain behind is the 'residue' -- the least talented and effective IT engineers
Until I read that part, I was sure you were going to say, "If you fill an oasis with enough crap, you can make anything float! People, prodcuts, managers..." But... you didn't say that. So I guess my own experience in IT has been singularly jaded. Forget I said anything.

The first step (1)

vigmeister (1112659) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052290)

towards getting the best people out there is to stop calling yourself an 'IT shop' and give it a name that doesn't sound so bad with a perpiratory prefix. e.g. sweat consulting firm...

Cheers!

How large corporations work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23052294)

The best move on to greener pastures, the worst are fired or forced out, and the mediocre float to the top.

Peter Principle Revisited (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 6 years ago | (#23052342)

As another poster mentioned, this is nothing more than a restatement of the "Peter Principle", which was a pretty big book not so many years ago. This reminds me to wonder why so many modern "leaders" seem to be so unfamiliar with such influential works of the past.

This has been said many different ways, but its basic truth remains: When people forget the past, they are doomed to repeat it.

I just get angry and depressed when I see so-called "leaders" doing stupid things that other leaders have done and failed at before... for reasons that are obvious in hindsight. There is no reason for this... unless it is simply lack of education in those same "leaders"... which would imply that they are not fit to lead anyway.
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