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

S.M.German smgerman at comcast.net
Mon Oct 15 23:13:58 CDT 2012

Matt Warden wrote:
> There's no secret. The goal from the company's side is to increase
> your role and compensation such that the gap between your compensation
> and your market valuation does not increase materially beyond the
> point where it was when you decided to accept the position.

David Kaufman wrote:
> 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.

Martin Burns wrote:
> Or, to put it another way, they have what they consider a working business
> model, and anything more senior than that is just cost that doesn't add
> value, so would simply make them less competitive in the market.
> This doesn't make them Bad People, just that their goals are different
> yours.
> It depends on your balance of priorities between:
> 1) further & ongoing career progression
> 2) staying with your employer
> 3) staying technical (compared to whatever line of business your employer
> in)

First, thank you for the interesting and insightful comments.

Second, thank you for your (assumed) patience.  When I sent out the
question, I didn't consider I would be traveling over the weekend so it was
a few days before I could read and respond.

Third, I am not surprised the responses focused more on my path forward with
this employer (or elsewhere) and less on the employer changing its policies.
I got involved with the issue of a technical career ladder because of
concern for my own career.  I am actively looking alternative sources of
income, but I think this is a worth-while endeavor for my current employer
as well for my own experience. 

Fourth, reading my own question I see I am guilty of the thing I always
accuse my users of doing: jumping right to a supposed solution without
stating the problem I'm trying to solve.

Until about a year ago, the typical application team in my group was 4 or 5
business analysts and 2 developers loosely divided into support and project
sides but working together to keep the wheels turning and the users happy.
We'd all report to a manager well versed in the business processes the
software needed to model but with zero software development experience.

This arrangement generally worked well.  Yes, there were occasional issues
with developers reporting to managers who had no idea what they were doing
(I've had multiple managers tell me they had no idea what I did but trusted
me to do it and to let them know if I needed help) but the group as able to
attract a lot of very smart and hard-working people who keep systems

What follows is a tale we've all heard before.  The folks holding the purse
strings decided to outsource most software support and maintenance and some
development and get rid of/make redundant much of IS.  So where before we
had a team of 6 working closely with each other and the users, we now have 2
BAs working with 2 dedicated folks at the outsourcing company and some
fraction of a developer shared with 1 or 2 other applications.

This arrangement has worked pretty well so far, but success has depended on
2 factors.  First, most of the outsource folks went through 6 months of
knowledge transfer with the folks they replaced, and second, all the
applications have folks in-house from the original teams.  This second
factor is vital. Even if we're not doing the work, we need to know the work
to provide guidance to the outside folks and, yes sometimes to keep them

Both those situations will not last.  Part of the cost savings from
out-sourcing depends on contracting folks fresh out of school at a low rate.
As those folks gain experience, they will leave for better prospects.  And
as the folks in-house turn over--through promotion, attrition, or
transfer--there is no mechanism for replacement.  We can document til the
cows come home, but we won't be able to replace the experience of the folks
who did what is now being done outside, because we don't do those things in
house any more. 

So the assumption is a technical career ladder will help retain those folks
with first-hand application experience and promoting technical folks in to
positions of higher influence will prevent the company from being at the
mercy of consultants and vendors.  

Yeah, now that I type it out like that, it does seem like a good time to
leave would have been last year =)

Thanks.  That clears things up.

- Sean

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