Building résumés

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During a wave of fatigue in the end game of shipping a piece of software, a quality engineer (that is one who writes automated tests) came to me complaining about the lack of movement on the defects she had found.  She had a point; they were weeks old and we were shipping soon.

She said, “I mean, what are we building here?”

I replied, without even thinking: “Résumés.”  She laughed one of those nervous laughs and went back to work.

For several reasons, including some out of our control, the result of that work came to nothing in the field, yet the engineers had new, ephemeral buzz words in their list of experience.  And they hadn’t even used the technology well; they displayed no particular talent at producing anything valuable with it.

It remains a tension in engineering work.  If someone doesn’t keep up with changing technology, one becomes typecast.  Or cast as a dinosaur.  Which is unfair because it’s inaccurate.  I don’t write this because I’m an older person – a mere 10 years in my field can produce the same effect if one doesn’t “keep up” with change.

But I wanted to temper and challenge the common wisdom because I don’t believe it is wisdom but mostly a self-anointing priesthood with very little to show for itself.  So here are some observations about living on, promoting and requiring other to live on the bleeding edge:

  1. Technology requires at least 5 years to prove it’s worth investing in. 80% goes away in that time, and only after 10 years is its value – its staying power in production – proven.  The examples are myriad.
  2. Yet marketing stir is so rabid that “new” is a word inspiring great investment. Investment in nothing, because either the cool was based upon only buzz or the technology is pressed into service for ways it was never designed.
  3. Technical people with buzz take full advantage of non-technical people with money and power.
  4. Knowledge being power, those who claim mastery of new tech are quick to dismiss individuals or groups pressing for responsible oversight in key aspects that make solutions valuable in the field.
  5. And that – value – is too late or too infrequently even considered. Talk of the cost of implementation, ROI, and future-proof-ness threaten the résumé building, so they are often ignored until after launch when truth comes out and people move on to other projects.
  6. In the frenzy of knowledge- and experience-acquisition, accountability is fleeting if it exists at all. Organizations don’t seem to learn or care about the insidious pattern, so it goes on.

That list sounds negative but such is the ugly picture I’ve seen.  And .. I am not saying that the use and integration of new technology inherently fails, of course it does not.  Nor am I saying that failed projects are worthless; there are too many nuggets among lessons learned to even think that.  And relevant, up-to-date experience matters, particularly if one goes job hunting.

But even then, I would sooner reward the ability to provide one’s customers with real business value over proficiency in a tool, language or part of the great “full stack” (which to me is a funny adjectival clause because there are some very important stacks “full stack developers” know nothing of).  When I recruit people I ask questions about design and applicability of this technology or that.

Because … I have found that acquired principles – that is, points of applied wisdom – are more important than acquired knowledge.  Because they port, scale and broadly apply.  They build real value, and résumés take care of themselves.

I don’t say any of this as old person who’s slowing down, only one who’s learned the folly of devotion to only keeping up.



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