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Read. Suffer. Try to Enjoy.

Hellish Glare And Inference

Was recently speaking to a friend who’s working in the States. Discussions drifted on to work, and I updated him on my working conditions here. One thing which really stood out from our convo was the fact that there are 45-year old programmers in his team out there. I couldn’t believe my ears…did you say 45 years?! Compare that with the IT industry in India. Spend 5 years in here, and if you are lucky (more on the lucky part later) enough to be still coding, invariably you are met with an incredulous
“Kya? Abhi bhi coding kar raha hai kya?! After 5 years?!”
on meeting up with someone slightly senior. His American friends could not believe that people became Technical (or otherwise) leads in as few as 3-4 years here. They were of the opinion that they actually started producing good code after 3 years, and were able to appreciate design nuances and other finer stuff after 5.

Strange isn’t it? The ‘TL’ brand… our fixation with the "I SHOULD be a Team Lead in 5 years" thing. That’s what drives most people, and they call it ‘growth’.

A busload of bull if you ask me.

If there was no coding, there would be nothing for one to ‘lead’. Why the emphasis on ‘leading’ people? Does anyone pause to ask whether a person really is cut out for ‘leading’ before asking him/her to head a team? Not everybody has the ‘it’ factor in them, to be good leaders. It’s this ‘majboori’ promotion thing that causes problems for the newer guys and the industry as a whole. Meritocracies do have a tendency to give due respect to the older hands sometimes.

Technical brilliance does not equal good leader. Period. Leading a team requires a slightly different bent of mind, the ability to be political as well as filial, often at the same time. Bringing people up the curve, especially the freshers, is not an easy task. A fine example of what a Team Lead should NOT be doing is as follows.

Team Lead (to impressionable fresher): Code padho, debug lagao, seekho… we don't have time… we have to do fastly.

Fresher : Err… debug?

Team Lead : Kya?! Tumhe debug nahi aata?

Fresher : No…

Team Lead : You have to learn all this very fast… kuch bhi doubt rahega to mereko poocho… ask me hundred times, I will tell hundred times.

Fresher suitably motivated, struggles for a while, goes to ask a doubt.

Fresher : I can't seem to understand, could you please tell me how to...

Team Lead(snapping) : Arre sab kuch main bataoon, to tumne kya kiya hai? You should be independent, and learn everything on your own. Code padho, seekho.

Fresher suitably stung, struggles for a while again, doesn’t go to ask the Omniscient TL this time.

Team Lead waits for an hour, before dialing the fresher’s number with such ferocity that the Liquid Crystal in the phone’s LCD display shatters the polycarbonate, jumps out and gives the fresher a third-degree burn on his answering arm.

Team Lead (letting it all out…) : Kya hua?! Who debug karke dekhne bola tha na maine?!! Kya hua uska?!!!

Fresher (defensively…first job) : Dekh raha hoon

Team Lead : Arre tumhe kuch samajh mein nahi aa raha hai to poocho na?!!! Haven’t I told you to ask me a hundred times?!!!! You know we don’t have time!

See what I mean? Not everybody’s cup of chai.

Most projects which I’ve seen do not involve rocket science. A little glib talk and (let’s put it very politely) ‘image building’ is all that is required to get ‘noticed’, and climb up the so-called ladder. Even if you don't do the above, if you stay sufficiently long enough thanks to a 'dependency' that you have artfully created, you will be offered at least one rung. The really brilliant technical guys are few and far between; say one or two per project. The rest are 'there' for the ride, side stars in the great big dope show. With quantity over quality being the name of the game as far as software workers (and projects) go…there’s very little emphasis on ACTUALLY ensuring that people learn and get to do something worthwile at work. Headcounts reached? People will figure it out and do it. Deadlines will ensure that. All that matters is that we should be in a position to make the ‘release’ on the day the client has decided. Someone will take care of blurring the lines between justifiable bugs and downright crapola amongst other Dilbertian manoeuvres.

Really can’t blame people for aspiring to be Team Leads though, because it’s the only way usually to better salaries. And of course, “Growth”. With more money, comes more unwieldy power. Here's how.

A classic definition of growth is - attending conference calls which often last well into the witching hours, getting an earful from the client, as well as the people who report to you (cause surprise surprise…they know how much you know), haggling over ‘billing’ and other niceties, acting as an unwilling sounding board to your happy subordinates and your happy superiors - which translates into growing insecurity as you spend more and more time doing the above.

Guess why?

Because your anaemic ‘skill set’ (which you have cultivated in your coding heydays) is positively on its death bed now. Spending some time doing thookpatti fixes does not give you any kind of insight into WHY things have been written the way they are. Why was this component designed this way? Chuck it, have to deliver this fix by day after. Who cares? Another set of if-then-elses later, you go home deluding yourself that you’ve coded today. And then one day you find, 5 years have passed you by, and you are a ‘mukaadam’ now leading a team of equally deluded ‘kadiyas’. And so it goes on, till you either reach the top, or are content to just watch the time go by (you can wait out your career here in IT, because the sheer number of duds that you find here, outnumber all other industries combined. Somebody ought to do a dissertation on this. Sure shot PhD material).

Thus, you have no option but to keep the show going. Or have you?
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3:27 PM, November 23, 2005
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey thats a nice piece of writing... i could relate to it so well!!!
bringing out each and every cornered facts of the IT world.. keep going buddy!    

10:37 PM, November 23, 2005
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude u capture the IT scene perfect.... Keep it going... Love reading the blogs!!!!    

10:56 PM, November 23, 2005
Blogger Tapan said...

@both you guys..thanx for the feedback. Was apprehensive that this post was a bit too cynical. But since this has struck a chord, am not anymore. Will definitely post more about IT.    

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