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Scott Miller Appsguild - Software craftsmanship, project management, and the biz of software
I haven't blogged since March. Busy with school. Busy with work. Busy having a mini midlife crisis.

For the last six months I have worked as a Senior Developer for a large company in Wichita. Although I've been doing some development and R&D, my main job responsibility has been to oversee a group of Indian outsourcers. Analysis of a problem, assigning code, and then doing code reviews. Plus meetings (mostly on why the outsourcers are behind schedule).

There was an excellent article in CIO magazine a couple of weeks ago The Three or Four Year Itch about the pitfalls of outsourcing. The article states that many offshore outsourcing companies have huge turnover. The best and brightest are often assigned to the outsourcing team at the beginning of the project or when the outsourcing company is trying to get or maintain the contract. If you stay with the them for two or more years on one project (or a multi-version project), by the third year you will often see a turnover with a shift of less-than-experienced personnel to your team. That is certainly the case with the project teams that I oversee.

I interact with the outsourced teams for three projects, my main one and two that my application has to interface with. The teams are in India are about 12 hours ahead of us. That means that they are working on Sunday night as Monday morning. Communication is via e-mail and IM (when we have overlapping time in the early morning). The Indians work hard and I certainly have nothing against the Indian people. But communication is difficult. I have noticed at least one of the teams uses a very interesting method of dealing with crunch time. If the team is behind schedule, they will act like they don't understand the e-mail communication. This requires a question, a response, followed by another question. In e-mail, with a delay until they get the e-mail and respond, this buys an extra two days! Or they claim that e-mail or FTP is down. Being responsible for a team that is far away really is no fun. The biggest speed bump in the project schedule was when Indian actor and "living legend" Rajkumar died in April, resulting in civil unrest in Bangalore, and our staff not coming to work, apparently because they feared for their lives. We lost three days in the final week of crunch time when that happened. And, of course, the boss was mad at me. Remember what they taught in business class - "don't take responsibility for something or someone that you have no real authority over".

So what about the midlife crisis I mentioned? As said, overseeing someone else really is no fun. It is nearly impossible to learn new technologies or keep up with the existing ones unless you do them every day. Can a developer really maintain a competitive advantage as being an "expert" in this case? Plus, I believe that just about anyone can do management - God knows most people don't do it well, but it doesn't require anything special, in my book. And I have always reasonably enjoyed work and I personally value the challenge of solving problems. But this job is just plain boring. And then the self questioning. Am I a developer or a manager? Come on now. Can you see yourself being Gary Cole's Lumbergh character in Office Space? I can't.

So, May 31st I go to work at a new job. More agile company, more technological, more developer-centric. I think it is important for developers to know business, but not necessarily be eaten up by the business.

Posted on Saturday, May 20, 2006 10:47 AM | Back to top

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