How do you treat your superstar developers?

March 12th, 2008 @ 8pm : no comments : Socialize This
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During the downtime at SXSWi 2008 I had the chance to catch up on some RSS feeds. Even though I’m not technically a Ruby or Rails developer I’ve subscribed to the 37signals blog for some time. In a recent article Jason Fried provides a rebuttal to another news item from Jason Calacanis over at calacanis.com.

In his article Jason C. provides points from his experience running startups and saving money. This is actually good to hear since I thought all startups these days functioned much like the ones from the early 1990s and just spent money like it was free with total disregard for budget. “Yeah let’s get everyone new computers, the best available. Also everyone working longer than a week get a brand new Lexus because I want to spread the love!”. Yeah right.

In his 17 points Jason does pretty well. Until he gets to #11. This one item seems to have touched on a nerve with the 37signals guys and many other folks in the blogspere. Here is the original item:

11. Fire people who are not workaholics…. come on folks, this is startup life, it’s not a game. go work at the post office or stabucks if you want balance in your life. For realz

Seems like a pretty simple suggestion. I can see where Jason C. is coming from. He’s thinking dedication from the people involved. Most of the employees are hired for dedication and willingness to go above and beyond the normal 8-5 job. If the workers are not 120% behind the direction of the owner/CEO/person-in-charge then they have no business working there. Even if they are really really talented. I’ve worked with great people who for whatever reasons at the time had other things going in their life and just could not be bothered with ‘the job’. Shame.

What is interesting about this is I also agree with Jason F. in his rebuttal. He of course raises some excellent and well thought out points. And most of these I’m assuming are taken from his experience running things at 37signals.com.

The difference in the two directions may be something as simple as phase of execution. In the initial stages of a startup, similar to the points raised by Jason C.. You are fighting time and competitor trying to build something to meet a launch phase. You ask a lot from your employees. You ask them to skip dinners with the family, miss the son’s weekly soccer game to keep the mind focused on the goal of the company and little else. After things are launched and things sort of balance out I can see maybe how things might evolve into the scene presented by Jason F.

I especially like point #3 raised by Jason F.

3. People who always work late makes the people who don’t feel inadequate for merely working reasonable hours. That’ll lead to guilt, misery, and poor morale. Worse, it’ll lead to ass-in-seat mentality where people will “stay late” out of obligation, but not really be productive.

I’ve been at many companies where one or two smart worker bees will literally fuck around all day just so they have enough work to force them to stay late. They will always find ingenious ways to mention this to the supervisors in some water cooler conversation. Shame is they are actually looked upon as a model employee giving more grease to the wheel than the rest.

In his coverage of the Jason C. article, Robert Scoble mentions employees being fired for being outside smoking will others are working hard during lunches. In my opinion this is well harsh. Sure it’s a few hours of productivity lost but this was lunch. If a few people stay late does that mean everyone should be expected to stay late or fear for their job?

So look around dear reader. Do you feel the staff and co-corkers are all giving 100%. Would you as a supervisor fire or have fired two employees who were outside smoking instead of working during lunches?

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