There's a shit ton of programming work. A demand that isn't matched by the talent pool. That creates a much larger gap in tech than in any other industry. And yet, software developers looking to do meaningful work have a hard time cutting through the clutter.
How can developers find interesting work to do, fair and competitive compensation, working conditions that accommodate their personal lives and interests, and contractual relationships based on mutual respect?
It sounds like a White Whale endeavor. But it doesn't have to be.
Understanding the nature of our White Whale
The problem is somewhat complex. It involves a very particular configuration of supply, demand and lack of empathy.
First, there is a component of culturally institutionalized conceptions of work relationships: we are taught to believe the employer has all the power, and candidates more or less beg for an opportunity to be employed. This begets intrinsically uneven relationships.
Second, there is a component of market trends. As software and information technologies permeate our everyday lives, the mandate is that everything has to be made of software. Thus a hunt for developers is unleashed, as businesses strive to find ways to survive. The thing is, when businesses feel they are fighting for survival, developers end up being thought of, and used, as survival prey.
Third, there is a component of depersonalization. In what can be described as a very blunt military analogy, an army of recruiters is deployed to recruit as many candidates as humanly possible, in order to fulfill their target quota and beat the competition. Recruiters become automatons that send out messages, click on links and check a variety of boxes in order to fill spreadsheets and accommodate metrics. They don’t bother to empathize with developers or try to understand how both parties can help each other, because their work isn’t measured that way. It becomes increasingly blurry if, in this analogy, software engineers are the target, the ammunition, the territory, the civilian population or something else entirely.
Short on imagination
In short, we could sum this up as a lack of imagination problem. Recruiters have a hard time thinking of better ways to reach out to their target audience of programmers, and fall back on a brute force approach, blasting emails and direct messages to no avail. Developers, on their end, have a hard time figuring out how to find work that they are actually excited about, without showing themselves and becoming prey for the zombie army of email blasting recruiters.
We can -and should- do better.
Re:imagining work relationships
Our vision at Manas is that the most legitimate and powerful way of adding value to society through technology is making sure that everyone involved in the process enjoys as much freedom as possible and is able to let their creativity flow in a collaborative, relaxed and dynamic environment. If this doesn't work, what we're doing lacks any meaning. And we take this very seriously.
In our 18 years crafting software, we have learned a good deal about engineering, but also about creating optimal conditions for teams to do their best work. And we have made a point of implementing those lessons learned.
It's not likely that organizations will hurry to implement most of this, because to a certain extent, it implies a redefinition of the power relationships that are implicit in their inner workings. But you can take a stand and begin righting some of those wrongs, and this is a call to do so:
- Demand transparency: Ask to know salaries beforehand. There is no good reason a company can't share their compensation structure with their employees. This also applies to most of the mechanisms the organization has in place to go about its daily routine: salary actualizations, promotions, hiring, business development, etc.
- Demand autonomy: Ask to have a say in how your role and responsibilities are articulated. Nobody knows better than you what your skills and experience are. Don't settle for fitting into a job description. This also applies to using your best judgment when choosing the tools with which you work, as long as that doesn't compromise the success or progress of the project.
- Demand openness: Ask to meet some of your future colleagues, to hold a candid conversation and see who they truly are, and what they really feel about their work and the organization, outside the setting of an interview. If anything, you should be interviewing them.
- Demand reasonable accommodations: Explain how you like to work, what's your most productive schedule, what are your commitments outside of work. You know best how to perform at the top of your capabilities, and there is no reason why your employer shouldn’t take that into account. Accommodation isn't merely about hardware, a comfy chair, snacks and games at the office: it's about creating the best possible work experience. Companies constantly go on about striving to create the best experience for users and customers; there is no reason why that shouldn’t apply to their employees.
- Demand participation: Ask to have a say about which projects, industries and technologies you want to work on, or not. It is not ethical for a company to force you to contribute to things that go against your beliefs. Taking participation one step further, ask to have a say on how the company distributes compensation, bonuses and decision making power. If you're asked to take ownership of responsibilities, you should also be granted ownership of management decisions.
- Demand agility: Ask for the capacity to periodically review the agreements you have contracted with the organization. People and contexts change, and the relationships that hold them together should accompany that movement. Swiftly and without hassle or unnecessary bureaucracy. This should also apply to training, opportunities to experiment and changing roles.
This is not an exhaustive list of everything you should demand for yourself when looking for a new project to work on. But it is a good start.
Job markets are getting more and more dynamic. Especially in high-tech. Some of its salient spokespeople are predicting a near-future with much more work, but much less employment. It is a new wave of industrial revolution, with its characteristic increase in individual freedom, both in the sense of being autonomous, but also being less protected by corporate responsibility.
That makes it difficult to understand how to design your career, mainly because the narrative is always told from the other side: every bookstore has a section for management books; none has a section for employee literature. The dream job doesn't exist. If there is a dream job, it is your dream job. We each dream of a different one. And even then, it still doesn't exist; you have to create it. This manifesto is our contribution to your decision-making process in that regard. Take these ideas, add your own. Stop being recruited. Enroll in your dream job, whatever you make it be.