Borgification Of Engineering

This has nothing to do with ExtremeProgramming or IsXpBorgDevelopment but with a phenomena I have noticed recently (and possibly even incorrectly). I have been hearing about companies whose management team seems to recognize no shades of gray in talent or experience for non-managers and non-team leads. I'd like to think that even more than shades of gray in engineering, that there is a vertical career path that could parallel management without having to go through management. Something like an architectural path leading to Chief Architect or some such. Maybe making a move into R&D, shaping the technological agenda, or making more strategic road map decision on product-line. I don't know that managers are best suited for that type of work (there was a good lecture on PBS about Managerial Thinking versus Entrepenuarial Thinking) or that those suite to this type of work always make good managers. It is possible to be a strategic leader in a company setting without having managerial aspirations or talents? I wonder if there is a correlation, but lately, I have heard of a lot of companies and even read some articles that seem to religiously embrace the idea of eliminating the role and responsibilites of a system architect and instead just assign a senior engineer as the Technical or Team Lead of a project. I think in most shops, engineers and managers view architect as a position for egomaniacs or that concentrating on architecture is a waste of time for GoodEnoughSoftware. Of course a better solution is to create an environment that encourages workers to appreciate diversity in talent. I have had equally great experiences working with an architect as I have had working as an architect.

I don't recognize this as any particular method or movement.

Well, I have seen this a lot in dot.coms where there is a manager and just a bunch of engineers beneath. While it seems okay to be recognized for your accomplishments if you are a manager or on the executive staff, it is some how viewed as exclusionary to do this for engineers. Almost like the feudal system where everyone below management is regarded equally. This may have to do with companies hiring a lot of young programmers or it may have to do with management controlling the workers. Have you ever seen or heard of shops where a seasoned programmer is given no more authority or input on a project than a brand new programmer? I've not experienced this myself but have heard of such environments. Wow! This almost seems like violent anti-mentoring.:) I have expereinced this - it drove me away from tat company within 6 months At 37, I still aggressively look for mentors for myself. I'm always so happy to find an engineer more senior than myself smacking me in the head and having the ability to have the final say over me in a disagreement when I naively think I'm right. Unfortunately, while I really desire working with someone more senior than myself, it just doesn't seem to happen that much anymore. I'ts not that I think I'm all that great. I think its more that at a lot of shops, they are not willing to pay for the next rung of talent above myself. When they do come in, the senior guys are spread out so, as a result, we end up not working together. Hoh-hum. Most of the mentoring I see these days is the guy with 4 years experience bringing the guy with 1 or 2 years experience up to speed. --RobertDiFalco

At the most poorly managed job I have had our non-programming manager once told us 'There are no superstars here.' I suppose this was an effort to deal with the obvious disparities in talent in our group.

A previous employer did this to me. I had been there for 2 years, with 10 years industry experience. We hired in a newbie, just out of college, not even having intern or co-op experience. Not long after, the bosses were letting him decide the grand scheme of our next product, ignoring all the info I was providing about the pitfalls of our current product. --PeteHardie


Cal Evans suggests in his piece "You Can't Be a Herder Unless You've Been a Nerd" ( that programmers/engineers reject the management path. Perhaps such a strange viewpoint makes no sense to those doing the promoting, and they too quickly assume the engineer is not ambitious; nobody would even thing of a parallel career path here.

Or, alternatively, you could also look at Cal's piece as supporting the argument that there should not be a parallel path, but rather engineers should become managers.

There are some companies that define vertical non-managerial career paths for engineers that offer just as much money and try to offer just as much prestige. At one where I worked, the highest engineering position was called "Distinguished Engineer" and was invented specifically for this purpose. Regarding engineers wanting to enter a managerial career path, see Thomas Allen's findings (as summarized by JimCoplien) about "engineer" vs. "scientist" attitudes in EngineersExplained. --BenKovitz

See also: PlugCompatibleInterchangeableEngineers

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