[thelist] Career model for developers at a non-IS company?

David Kaufman david at gigawatt.com
Fri Oct 12 14:47:12 CDT 2012

Hi Sean,

[top posting since we're deeply in corporate Information Services 
culture, here]

First, a note on jargon: I'm amused that you call it IS (Information 
Services) at your company.  That name implies (to me) that upper 
management at this company considers computers, technology and software 
development to be a "service".  Like the electricity or the water 
supply.  Turn it on, consume it, turn it off when you're done with it. 
Source it from the cheapest commodity supplier you can find.

Most medium to large (say, a couple hundred employees or more) companies 
-- OUTSIDE of the software development business itself -- categorize 
software developers as a sub-unit of their "IT" "IS" or "MIS" 
department, which really consists largely of just hardware services 
(office-networking, workstation, printers and Windows support).  At one 
company I worked for they called us the pixel-pushers -- and we called 
them the mouse repairmen :-)

Point being, if I'm a software developer and that's the career path I 
want to continue on, I need to find a company where their custom 
software is critical to their success, where I will be valued, and as I 
advance, rewarded.  If I find myself in an IS, IT or MIS dept I know I'm 
just a cog in their wheel and I need to find a company where the 
software, the user experience, the performance and quality of it -- is 
*critical* to their success.  If the manufacturer I work for buys most 
of its software off the shelf, and thinks outsourcing offshore is a 
great way to save money, how important can the relatively much more 
expensive local developers like me that they have on staff -- who 
develop only a fraction of their software -- actually be to them?

Also I ask myself: who are the users of my software?  If it's the 
company's internal staff, I know I am doomed -- if it's their 
*customers* on the other hand, then I may have a *chance* to make an 
actual difference to their bottom line there.

I have to say though, it sounds you may be teetering at or near the top 
of your ladder at that place already!


On 10/11/2012 11:19 PM, S.M.German wrote:
> Hello,
> I know many theListers are independent, but I hope there is some corporate
> experience out there to help me out.
> I am a developer for a large manufacturer.  85% of our software is
> off-the-shelf, and primary support is either through the vendor or an
> off-shore consultant, with the remaining systems home-grown.  Most of the
> folks in IS are business analysts and management-types.  I would like to
> stick with this employer for a bit longer, but the lack of a clear career
> path for technical IS workers is an issue.
> (This is not just an issue for me, but a recognized need.  There is
> management support for major revision of the technical career model.)
> For the few technical folks within IS, there isn't a clear career ladder or
> path for moving to positions of larger scope and higher responsibility.
> There is a career management document which is good for junior developers.
> It describes the progression from performing specific assigned tasks to
> leading small projects and working without immediate oversight.
> But the career ladder--as documented and in reality--breaks down past that
> mid-career point.  Past the 'expert with 5 to 10 years experience' there
> isn't any where to go other than in to non-technical management or out of
> the company.
> Most of my career has been at smaller companies without a formal career
> ladder and promotion process.  This was never an issue for me--I was
> changing companies every few years and was able to move in to positions of
> increasing responsibility (and compensation) without ever getting a
> promotion.
> Now that I am looking to settle down, I would like to have an active role in
> shaping the career model.  But I do not have any first hand experience of a
> functioning technical career ladder or promotion process.
> What should the IS career model for developers in a non-technical company
> look like?  What steps should be in the career ladder?  Can there be a
> technical career path for developers at such a company?
> Thanks,
> Sean

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