It’s up to Us

We complain about companies. We complain about our working environment, or how we don’t have automated builds, or how we just can’t seem to get managers to realize we need large monitors and little interruptions.

The companies aren’t the problem. We are.

The last time you talked to a recruiter (headhunter or otherwise), what questions did you ask him? If you’re like me, you asked about the job, the company, the pay, the benefits, and whether it’s a contract or permanent position.  And just like me, you became the problem.

The reason why companies don’t improve our work environments is because we don’t hold their feet to the fire. We don’t ask the questions that need to be asked.

It’s up to us to ask the right questions.

The Joel Test is a good place to start. It’s written by someone who is respected both by businesses and by the software community.  Better than all that is the fact that his name wasn’t something like “Vladlimir”. That doesn’t sound good at all. “The Vladlimir Test” (bonus points if you say it with a faux russian accent).

  1. Do you use source control?
  2. Can you make a build in one step?
  3. Do you make daily builds?
  4. Do you have a bug database?
  5. Do you fix bugs before writing new code?
  6. Do you have an up-to-date schedule?
  7. Do you have a spec?
  8. Do programmers have quiet working conditions?
  9. Do you use the best tools money can buy?
  10. Do you have testers?
  11. Do new candidates write code during their interview?
  12. Do you do hallway usability testing?

The Joel test should be the first thing you send to a recruiter. Don’t continue the conversation until you have an answer to your questions.


Repetition, Repetition, Repetition.

It sounds obstructionist, I know. But unless you’re living under a bridge (how’s the wifi access?), you’re hurting yourself by not doing this. When you send this to every recruiter you come in contact with, and your friends do the same, they start to become immersed in our culture. They see it repeatedly, and it becomes a part of their contact with their client.  Their clients then realize that we mean business, and they’ll start to institute change.  It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

Expand. Once you get employed, bring it up to your manager. Be that instrument for change. Institute those items that your team is missing on this list. When you leave your company, point out specific reasons why you left — be sure to include some bullet points from above.

Why the Joel Test?

Well, the “George Test” isn’t written yet. But I do have some questions that I pose. I don’t just pose these questions for their direct answers, but because of what those answers tell me about the company.

1. How’s the Internet Access?

Companies that blocking software rank low on my list of companies to call “Home”. I surf the internet looking for answers, and when a programming site gets blocked, I have to spend time to find a way around that. That’s time I’m not being productive.

2. How much overtime do you expect?

Deathmarches suck. I left a company because of a continual death march.  It wasn’t one or two, it was endemic in the company — and it came from the top down. The company was ‘sales driven’ and that included selling items that weren’t actually in the product yet. Since we were ‘contractually obligated’ to provide those features, the deathmarches were to implement those features before the client walked. If they waffle when they answer that question, beware. There are studies that prove that working more than 40 hours a week is harmful. Any software team that doesn’t know that isn’t worth working for.

3. What’s the dress code?

This gives me an idea of what type of company it is. If it’s a software company, generally it should be quite relaxed (Dress pants and a button down together are a stretch). There’s no need for it not to be. The more time developers have to spend on dry-cleaning, the more work turns into a chore.

4. Do you conduct Code Reviews? Brown Bag Lunches?

5. How many meetings do you have?

When programmers are in meetings, they aren’t productive. Normally, they’re bored and wondering why they’re in the meeting in the first place. Meetings should be kept to a minimum. As in a number less than 2 per week. 0 is good. I like 0.

6. Do you pay for me to attend professional conferences?

If you want the best, you’d better pay for the best. If you want to be cheaper and pay for the good or mediocore, you better be willing to pay to make them better. If you want a warm body, talk to someone else. I spend my free time coding, talking to others about code, or reading about code. Conferences are the ‘next level’. They are the thing that re-energizes the masses (In fact, every Microsoft Conference invariably reinvigerates the masses for about 6 months until everyone realizes it’s bullshit. See: “Cloud” computing).

7. Why should I work for you?

This is a way to see what businesses are passionate about what they do. The ones that aren’t don’t need your dedication and time.


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