In 1996 I started programming Character Mode UI ERP applications at my last job. We referred to them has “ChUI” apps (pronounced “Chewy”). This was in the 90s when desktop apps were all the rage, and the web wasn’t really a thing yet.
By the time I finished working on that platform in 2002, the first dot-com bubble had popped, Y2K hadn’t destroyed us, and… we were still programming ChUI apps. ChUI apps weren’t considered sexy, but our software was important and valuable.
The entire $2,000,000,000 business ran on our software, and an hour of downtime cost tens of thousands of dollars. If the system was down for four hours, the manufacturing plant had to send home hundreds of employees, and then the costs skyrocketed.
In addition, we knew the impact of our work. We knew the users personally and traveled on-site to meet with them regularly. You never heard “A user has a problem with order-entry”, you heard “Judy couldn’t take an order for 250 doors this morning.”
Big, big difference.
Lastly, we weren’t afraid of falling behind with technology, because we never considered looking for another job. We all felt like “lifers”, and had all assurance that we had a job for as long as we wanted. We also believed that as the company software modernized, we’d have opportunities to learn and grow.
Three keys to this environment:
- We knew the value we delivered, and the impact of failure
- We felt a personal connection with, and empathy for, our users
- We felt secure in our jobs and environment
This experience leads me to believe that motivation and loyalty aren’t about using new tech, getting paid more, or most of the reasons that developers give in exit interviews.
Value, empathy, security: three factors which are missing from many software jobs.
But I think we could bring them back.
And I think we should.
Let’s try an exercise.
Write out one concrete idea for how you could improve each of these factors for your team.
Send them to me and I’ll share them with everyone later this week (anonymously, of course) so we can all learn together.
I’ll also share exactly how we made sure every developer was connected to their work from day one.
Looking forward to your ideas!
P.S. You can also come over my free community, Tech Lead Talk, and join the discussion about this.