Politics People Process

As a developer with fifteen years experience one of the things I regret most, is not paying attention earlier in my career to improving my soft skills. I think I was either lucky or unlucky depending on how you look at it, to have mostly worked in small companies with small teams that had great attitudes and relatively little in the way of office politics. That said I am ashamed of my attitude as a developer back then. I can only think that I was able to get away with my behaviour because we developers were a much sought after resource. So what was my attitude like? Well to put it bluntly it stank. I had very little patience or respect for the end users of the systems I built. I had very little respect for the other departments in the company and I didn’t value their contribution to the business. I was generally arrogant and would try and steam roller conversations with users about bugs. I was very reluctant to admit when I had made a mistake.
So do I consider myself a changed man? Well the honest answer is a bit, but I think there is still a lot of room for improvement. Over the last few years I have started to realise that the software development business is a people business, I have read books like the Mythical Man Month and Peopleware and they have struck a chord with me. Also for the first time in my career I have found myself in an environment where all is not well in the development team, this has prompted me to think about the path that lead our team to where it is now and the mistakes that were made along the way. One thing I have noticed is that my attitude greatly affects my bosses perception of me. If I let my workload get so large that it starts to get on top of me and I start to get stressed this makes me a very unpleasant person to have to work with. I have learnt that it is important to be honest with myself about how much work I can get done. I have found my bosses prefer it when I am straight with them about when I will finish a piece of work even if the date is later than they would like. I have seen many of my colleagues fail to communicate this and end up working all the hours god sends to meet the deadline or at the very last minute confess that they will need more time. Both of these two outcomes are not sustainable, if they keep working all the hours god sends they will either have a nervous breakdown and or their personal relationships will suffer. If they keep delivering late then eventually there bosses will lose faith in them. I think confidence has a part to play in this, having the confidence to look your manager in the eye and tell them it will take six weeks to complete a task when you know they want it done in three requires a certain level of confidence. In that type of situation I always remind myself that when this piece of work is done there will be another that follows and if I want to enjoy my job then it is up to me to communicate with my manager honestly about what I can sustainably get done. Occasionally there are special circumstances that mean you have to put in extra hours to get something done to a specific deadline, but be very careful to examine the reasons given for this and satisfy yourself that they are genuine. In my experience managers often are too quick to play the this is an emergency card.
This post was inspired by the adage that People trump process and politics trump people. As engineers we would often prefer to ignore these invisible forces but they can greatly impact our working lives so it will benefit us to divert some of our attention to them.