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Andy Brice
Successful Software

Doug Nebeker ("Doug")

Jonathan Matthews
Creator of DeepTrawl, CloudTrawl, and LeapDoc

Nicholas Hebb
BreezeTree Software

Bob Walsh
host, Startup Success Podcast author of The Web Startup Success Guide and Micro-ISV: From Vision To Reality

Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

Are you a good employee?

I'll be honest here; I DO NOT make a good employee.  When I get into a place, it keeps me interested for about 6-12 months.  By then, I know everyone, have an understanding and experience on how the place works, and its technology/market/industry.  No I'm not an expert, but it soon becomes "how to do the same piece of crap work; just faster".  And this is about the point that I begin to crash.  And am actually surprised that I managed to last this long without getting fired.  Motivation goes out the window and my focus is everywhere but the "day job".  The current place isn't really bad at all.  I'm just bored. My manager and I will be having a sit down to discuss my career and how it relates to this place.

I *am* looking for a different job, but have also been thinking of switching over to doing contract/consulting work.  I figure this pace would maybe keep me more satisfied.  As my micro-ISV is still in such infancy, a day job to subsidize it is still required.  But I dream of the moment I can tell "The Man" to shove it.

It then made me realize that I'd probably be happier being my own boss then code monkey #2435 (hence the ISV).  And as my own boss, with my own personal investment in the company, my motivation to grow "my little baby" would probably be sustained much longer.

I've been told that once you have become your own boss, going back to being an employee is just not an option.

Is this the way most entrepreneur's minds react?  Is it even healthy?
sedwo Send private email
Friday, September 24, 2004
Motivation:  You're right.  Every job involves stupid stuff.  It turns out that it's much easier to do the stupid stuff when you're the owner.

Yes, I think it would be very difficult to go back and be an employee.  I used to think I could, but these days I admit that it's just not very likely.

Is this common for entrepreneurs?  Yes.

Is it healthy?  Not entirely.

I've noticed that being an entrepreneur promotes habits which do not help me function well in other settings.  For example, I sometimes find it challenging to participate effectively in any organization where I am not in charge, such as a church.  I often catch myself thinking about how the organization could be fixed to run more effectively.

As usual, admitting the problem is half the battle.
Eric Sink Send private email
Friday, September 24, 2004

I hear ya.

I think part of your problem is an entrepreneurial nature, and the remainder is endemic to software as an industry.

Generally "career" is not a word uttered much by professionals in this industry.  Software jobs are not seen as steps along a path, but ends in themselves.  A lot of ten-year resumes are just a series of positions, instead of a progressive movement through an organization.

Every stick requires a carrot.  Without additional motivation, most ambitious people become restless--and for whatever reason, software as a profession has been passed over on the idea of vertical movement.
indeed Send private email
Friday, September 24, 2004
To be fair, there are other forces at work.

To begin with, companies are usually very poorly run.  As a result, they cannot get much more advantage out of people who have more than 5 years of experience or who are reasonably smart.  Superior technical work requires superior management but this industry is severely hobbled by the lack of management expertise.  So, most smart people that have worked for more than 5 years will be frustrated by the lack of adequate support and expectations (and, thus, challenge) of the project will be low in comparison to their abilities.

The lack of management expertise causes other complex problems.  Generally, a career path is presumed to be:

Software Engineer for a 1-3 years
Senior Software Engineer for 1-4 years
Project Manager and higher positions thereafter

But, unfortunately, as a general rule, Project Managers have no training.  Even if they do have training in the form of an MBA, MBA education is impractical and useless; the academic community has completely failed us in this respect.  Furthermore, Project Managers are more often based on personal friendships and company politics; they are rarely based on management skill.  And, finally, most managers do not acknowledge that management is a skill that they must study and learn so they don't study or learn it.

Thus, in the vast majority of organizations, you are over-educated within 5 years after college for nearly all software engineering jobs and you have no new skills to pursue that can give you any kind of benefit or a likely chance to practice them.

So, that's why you are bored and consider yourself a bad employee.  But, I've met many other people who are exactly the same way: superficially working but secretly bored out of their minds.  In this area, the greatest challenge is maintaining interest in the work, not the work itself.

A more rewarding career path for most is:

Software Engineer for a 1-3 years
Senior Software Engineer for 1-4 years
Entrepreneur thereafter

Your desire to change jobs is driven by the Hawthorne Effect.  The Hawthorne Effect was a study that determined that, if you change things, people will *temporarily* increase their interest and productivity in the workplace.  The study actually took place in a factory whose productivity increased when the lights were brightened.  But, then, productivity resumed its normal level later.  Surprisingly, when the lights were dimmed, productivity increased again, temporarily.  They concluded that change itself, not just what was actually changed, can have temporary effects on productivity.

Of course, this explains why you always want to change jobs after 6-12 months.  You feel good to get the productivity from the Hawthorne Effect and then, when it wears off, you are bored and suffer from unhappiness from decreased productivity.
Daniel Howard Send private email
Friday, September 24, 2004
This is an interesting topic however I think the question is not, "can you go back?" but rather, "will anyone take you back?"

When you are back in a position as an employee you will still see problems you _need_ to fix.  Depending on the organization there will be resistance to this.  For many, it will mean you will be shown the door.  For smaller companies more aligned to your philosophies it may mean a partnership opportunity.

Partners are very important.  They help share the good times and distribute the stresses of the bad.  The pressure of running even a small ISV with one person can be very, very high.
Friday, September 24, 2004
The Hawthorne has little to do with changing environment causing increased productivity. It has more to do with believing one is being taken interest in (by management). The environmental change (in the experiment) was just the physical manifestation of that interest.


So, again it points to the fact that if management treats its employees like kids in childcare, thats what they'll get.
anon-y-mous cow-ard
Friday, September 24, 2004
I stand corrected.
Daniel Howard Send private email
Friday, September 24, 2004
I almost laughed out loud when I read your comment, Eric.

Just last night I commented to the fiancee that I hate serving on church boards with a large farmer contigent (rural area church). It's just so difficult to get anything really done, when they're used to having things their way every time! The tiniest points turn into "my way or the highway" discussions, every time.

(Nothing personal against farmers, but they're the original entrepreneur)

Of course, they're not so much interested in efficiency as getting done early to ease the 5 am milking schedule. Well, that and giving heck to anyone who puts powder in their coffee....

Friday, September 24, 2004
Ooops...fresh install of firefox...the previous was from me...
Nigel Send private email
Friday, September 24, 2004
Daniel, I think you may have hit it on the head.  I think I am probably just approaching the 3rd stage that you have mentioned.  I did the engineer thing for 2 years (where I work that meant going through two positions), I have been a Senior Engineer for almost 4 years and I am becoming very restless.  There has been some rumblings about a project manager type position for me but I am not sure that is the right thing for me.  I seem to be leaning more and more to the ISV path although I am not totally sure it is the right thing for me.  I have recently found myself trying to figure out if my wife and I could live on only her income. :P

To answer the original question, no I don't think I make a good employee right now.  I feel I am working at about 30% of my capacity, I have been working in the same job doing basically the same thing for over 7 years.  I am at the point where the options or the bonuses or the raises don't really mean much to me anymore (as long as the salary doesn't go down) and there is little in the work that I do to motivate me.  Management is horrid, treating developers like childern and setting up an org chart that is more an exercise in empire building then it is in doing what is required to meet customer's needs.
Ray Send private email
Friday, September 24, 2004
The industry seems to have contributed all that it can to your career, Ray.  Now, it can only offer a straightforward exchange: you give your time and it gives you money.

Your own company is your next step so you can start learning again.  Even though that sounds like the route that you are going, the alternative is to take a good look at yourself and evaluate yourself for likeability and industry connections to see if you are likely to succeed to get to the higher ranks of a corporation.  And, of course, you can still do both at the same time.

You didn't ask for suggestions for your own company but I'll give a few.  I suggest working in your spare time for 3-4 months to show yourself that you can both work full-time and work on a company in your spare time, at the same time.  Then, if it makes sense, take 6-9 months to live on savings and work on your product full-time.  If sales are good immediately, then continue full-time.  If sales are not good, then you can return to working full-time to make money and part-time on your own company.
Daniel Howard Send private email
Friday, September 24, 2004
actually, i know someone whom owned their own company (i worked for him about 6 years ago). It was a services company, but they did have a software product. Anyways, eventually he did sell out to a large company. I think the possibility of losing a large client really was getting to him. And the offers were there. About 6 mos after the sell-out he left. Being a Sr. VP at a big software/services company wasn't for him. He wanted to be in charge.

after taking some time off he started looking for opportunities again. It came down to 2 choices: (a) president of a company reporting only to a CEO. In 2 years, the CEO was going to retire. (b) Buy a company and be President/CEO/Chairman.

He bought! I do think he could have handled (a), but really couldn't have gone any lower.
Patrick Send private email
Friday, September 24, 2004
btw - dan i like your post and a few others above.

I do feel that there are some intermediate steps. Like mid-level developer. I didn't feel like a sr. level developer at 3 yrs. Probably at 5 yrs. But, then i advanced quickly into a Team Leader role (actually, i had a similiar team lead role at 3 yrs for 8 mos). Anyways, now i'm bored as a Sr. Developer. I see myself looking at the big picture. It's not about fixing this individual bug. It's about why did the bug happen in the 1st place. Obviously, i need to get into Project Management.

as far as starting your own company, i am going to start an open source project on the side and see where it goes.
Patrick Send private email
Friday, September 24, 2004
How senior is senior?

A person can get a Sr. Software Engineer title within 2-3 years after graduation, even though they probably do not have skills that anybody on this web site would consider advanced skills.  The Internet Boom brought "job title inflation".  So, we're really talking about the same thing but I've phrased it in terms of titles and you've phrased it in terms of actual ability.

In any case, most people might have a career where they work 4-7 years to reach a point where they just know too much to continue learning by simply being an employee.
Daniel Howard Send private email
Friday, September 24, 2004
I can relate to this thread.

I've worked as an analyst programmer on a "ConsultingWare" (as Joel calls it) financials package for over 7 years now. I've recently turned 30 and I've looked at my options. And I'm bored.

Not so much with programming as such, but with the job of programming. As has been said, the job is a job, not a career. There is no logical progression past senior programmer - as a senior programmer is just too damn useful to risk becoming an average man manager or project manager.

So last month I handed in my notice. I'm going to take a break until Christmas to go see some family, work on the house and do some of my own software projects.

Then I plan to go contracting. And ok, there's nothing in the pipeline yet - but there will be, and it will be on my terms.

So yeah, I think feeling this way IS healthy. It's time to leave the nest.
Unwitting Accomplice
Wednesday, September 29, 2004

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