Friday, October 22, 2010

The Business Value of Taco Bell Programmers...

Ted Dziuba has said something fundamental that I've been executing for years without thinking about it. Thinking about what he's said in this one blog posting has made me realize that the Zen of Linux is often missed for its incredible business value.

It's often widely misunderstood and even more often devalued (to the tune of thousands to millions of dollars) by management. These managers are frequently (in my experience) people who unfortunately don't know the difference between someone who can create elegant (Taco Bell Infrastructure) solutions and someone who can only click on mindless dialog-box-driven (and quite often, costly) "solutions". I, for the record, can somewhat understand this confusion, but I have a hard time overlooking the cost to the business.

Believe me the difference is stark. Complicating matters, there are technical blowhards that want to be a Linux geek, talk like one (over-communicating, so to speak, their abilities) but given something important, simply can't deliver. Too bad managers can't tell the difference in this case as well.

If you're a mid-level manager trying to tell the difference, I have advise here -- I recommend looking at the track record of the technical person -- are they able to solve problems? That's a good sign. Or, as an alternative, do their actions end up causing expensive outages? Do they frequently pipe up in meetings with value-less "me too" comments that infer that they too can execute some solution that another admin or engineer is explaining? That's a bad sign if their track record is slim. Do their actions result in excessive, unexpected license fees? In general do their actions result in pissing off the rest of your enterprise while they should be improving or delivering service?

Yeah, I know what you're thinking "That's obvious!", but my experience over the years has shown that there are a lot of simple-minded folk out there who can't tell the difference. They're focused upon spin, and not on objective delivery statistics. While it's hard to gather objective stats around this kind of performance, managing this kind of team was never supposed to be simple or easy. Your job, in other words, as a manager of an infrastructure team that's delivering Linux solutions, is going to be hard in this context.

Your infrastructure is at risk: There are only so many (percentage-wise) people who are going to think like Ted in your organization. You're probably missing their power as these people tend to lay low, get things done and under-communicate when they've saved you cash.

Similar to Ted's technical advice, my commentary is directed at those in charge of infrastructure management: "Man up" and reward the positive, creative "taco bell" people in your enterprise (or they will be gone). After all, businesses are implementing Linux at an increasing rate. At a rate like never before, for that matter, and these people are invaluable these days.

Man Up! Recognize the Business Value of these people -- before someone else does.

3 comments:

Dean said...

One problem is that infrastructure is hard, and spending money on solutions used by others is both tangible and comfortable.

Not creative and competitive advantage creating, but tangible and comfortable.

I still remember a job interview ( a job I didn't get, btw) in which I solved a problem (amazing what you can do with head and sort) that others wrote java programs for.

Better yet, as the guy went through a series of questions designed to elicit modifications to the original -- "Now how would you do it if you had t0,000 of these",

-my simple script solution needed nearly no changes.

Much harder to make programming errors if you simply pipeline pre-existing tools and add minimal scripting.

FeriCyde said...

Yep! Your story illustrates the value of open and honest communication as well. You didn't get the job, and working there would probably been the bane of your existence for a time ;)

ackmac said...

Read the Taco Bell link last, after the article and Dean's comment. You have dealt with this through your career. Thanks, I enjoy and find value reading your work.
- Kirk