At my last job, Bob was the DBA, SysAdmin and SAN Manager. Bob had been there forever, mostly kept to himself, and knew how most everything worked. He’d worked for many different bosses, outlasting them all.
One day about 14 years ago, I asked Bob, “What would we do if you ever quit, Bob?”
“It will take at least four people to replace me,” he said with a grin. We both laughed.
Friday I learned that Bob was still at the company, doing the same job, all alone. It’s not unreasonable to think that it could take six people to replace him now, or more. He hasn’t been promoted, doesn’t have a team to train, and isn’t paid particularly well.
Bob will probably never quit, but he will retire at some point. Or, have a stroke.
When he does, twenty years of tech debt will come due. There won’t be a payment plan, it will all be due right-now.
Tech debt like this is a failing of management, not technical teams.
For twenty years Bob’s managers and the VP of IS, the CTO, and the entire board of directors have turned a blind eye to the debt they were racking up.
Most everyone in IS knows about it, but just shrugs. After all, if Bob’s not complaining, why should they?
When Bob leaves, voluntarily or not, the company will be screwed. Managers who think they can hire someone to come in and “figure out how it works” are going to have a hard time.
DevOps is not the answer
Please don’t write me back that DevOps is the answer, it’s not. That’s missing the point.
Some of you have people on your team who singlehandedly carry decades of knowledge, but I want you to understand it’s not an asset. It’s a liability.
It’s a debt that you can start paying off today, or you can wait until your Bob leaves, and pay it off at a much higher interest rate. But make no mistake, the debt will be paid.
Does this sound familiar, or am I crazy? Do you see any Bob’s where you work?