IT: When to leave your job

Anyone who works in Information Technology knows that satbility is not a hallmark their chosen profession. Neither, it seems, is good management. I recently spoke with a younger colleague who was working at his second job in as many years. He lamented that things at his new company seemed to have such promise from the start but eventually everything about his workday – his manager, the clients, the hardware/software he was expected to use to work miracles – had devolved into the same conditions that lead him to hit Dice nine months ago. He asked me if things ever got better.

Are there any project managers out there who actually have a clue as to what their technical staff needs to complete projects?
Do clueful managers exist?
Will I *ever* find a company that does not insist on having their developers adhere to a 9-5 work day?
Most importantly – how long should I give my employer before I start shopping my resume around again?
Over the years I have consulted with several different companies, from SMB/SME’s to global enterprise-level corporations and have come to learn to spot the signs that things may not be going as well as the shareholder’s report would have you believe.

1. No more free coffee
When they stopped offering free weekly massages I didn’t complain. I was usually too busy to take advantage of them. When they took our Herman Miller chairs I didn’t mind – those things have so many points of articulation that trying to get them properly configured was a time consuming exercise in frustration. When they asked that we ensure that our systems were powered down at the end of the day so they could save money on the power bill I actually thought that it was a proactive, forward-looking synergistic action item that would help to assert our goal-oriented, results-driven deliverables. But when they took the coffee…
Now I’m not talking about hand-picked Columbian coffee that was served to us by barristas on loan from the local Starbucks – this was your standard generic foil packages and run-of-the-mill non-dairy creamer. When management determines that they can no longer afford to spring for a cup of joe for their employees it is time to move before they start considering toilet paper to be a ‘frivolous luxury item’.

2. Technical people are asked to do things WAY outside of their job description
It is bad enough that software architects, network engineers, programmers and help desk workers are all looked at as “computer people” and are, sometimes, asked to do several different jobs all at once (i.e. database administrators being expected to install and configure a PIX). What is *really* concerning is when technical people are asked to take on other mission-critical job responsibilities within the company. For a few years I worked as a consultant for a software company. I would assist our clients in getting the most out of our software and took an active role in implementing our tools and, on occasion, assisted in their system architecture. Our department had access to several different databases, application servers, operating systems, development tools – whatever we needed to be able to stay absolutely current. One day we were all asked to attend a training meeting. A sales training meeting. Management had determined that out of the entire company our department had the *most* contact with our customers and wanted to make the most of that. The speaker was a high-pressure sales specialist who didn’t so much teach sales as he taught social engineering. Luckily, I had already read a pretty good book on the subject so I was able to spend the entire class time updating my resume. It turned out that my hunch paid off – everyone that I knew from that company smelled trouble and moved on shortly after we were expected to help augment sales.

3. Mission Statement of the Month
This is not usually something that occurs in larger companies. Most big corporations can take years to even decide on a new mission statement, let alone take any real action towards making it happen. But if you spend more than a few hours every month sitting in ad-hoc meetings so that the CEO can let everyone in on your company’s “new direction” then chances are you need to jump ship before it sinks. A friend of mine works for a small advertising company as a software developer. A few years ago he began putting together a small set of reporting tools that would let clients track page hits on their web sites, responses to mass emails, host little surveys, etc. His project was mostly done under the wire until management realized that other companies were making big bucks selling this type of service. What management did not realize was that those “other” companies had an entire team of developers, database administrators, QA testers and graphic artists, not to mention a project manager who listened to their clients and had an understanding of what was/was not possible with current web technology. During the next “quarterly meeting” (which, according to him, seemed to occur once a month) he was shocked to learn that the ENTIRE future of the company was going to rest solely on the success of this little tool that he had written. Forget the fact that this company already had spent a vast amount of time and money positioning itself within the print ad industry. Never mind the fact that they had more photoshop jockeys than technical staff. Now, everything was on him. Of course, he would not be getting any additional resources. After all – he managed to do this much on his own, why should they mess with a sure thing? After a few months, they realized that this little tool was not the future of the company and decided to do something else (”Concepting”, I think he said). The quarter before the CEO announced that they would be providing more “marketing consultation” and less “busywork” (i.e. the things that clients pay for).
The point to this story is that companies that exhibit this behaviour usually do not last very long. If the company is confused as to what it does, how do you think that company’s clients must feel?

I’m sure that there are other great points out there and I’d love to hear your tips on how to spot a sinking ship. If you’ve got some good ones let me know.

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