About a week ago a former employee of mine called out that I’m unemployed. “I’m not unemployed,” I started saying mischievously, “I’m between jobs. But even when I’m in a job, I’m between jobs. Between the previous one and the next one. Would always be between jobs till the day I retire”. It’s funny because it’s true.
Applications outlive their developers. Let’s talk about this fact, on how personal issues and personnel should affect our decision making and designs. As people are a delicate matter and should not be either disregarded or blamed, let’s try to see it through Eventualism.
What would eventually happen to each and every one of our colleagues?
- Eventually be sick one day, maybe even for a few days
- Eventually take a day off
- Eventually get away for a long vacation
- Eventually would leave the company or retire
By any colleague, we should refer both to ourselves and everyone who surrounds us. Our CTO, Our architects, our product manager, our engineers, our managers, our employees. Everyone would eventually be gone, it’s only a question of for how long (days, weeks, forever) and when (next week, next month, next year, next decade).
Unfortunately, I have no one else but myself as an example. I love to travel. A lot. And far away, sometimes even for weeks. I could easily find myself on a 12 hours flight almost unannounced. I could easily switch my phone off for a week’s vacation. We have to balance work and life, and it is our responsibility to make sure that applications and people continue to work without us. Same for work travel. When I was in Silo, it happened several times a year that I was in China for 10 days visiting Silo’s factories. No calls and no internet. If I were to be completely ‘isolated’ from the world, my work should be ‘isolated’ from me.
Earlier in my career I used to be somewhat of a job hopper, not always by my own choice. I’ve worked for companies who downsized half the people on a single day, myself included. By choice or not I found myself gone after a little bit more than a year. Sometimes that is how our careers entangle. It is our responsibility to make sure that applications and people continue to work without us.
Wiser was one of these downsized companies. Even as a team leader, I was fired and gone within a day. And it was like nothing happened. Those who were left behind me knew how to extend and maintain the systems I created by my own hands. In my book, it’s a huge success. But I’m not the only one with a book. Years later I told this story in a job interview. The interviewers’ reaction was different. “You want to tell us that they have willingly chosen to fire you and keep your employees instead of you? You, the one who created it in the first place?”. That did not even sound problematic to me. I even emphasized how proud I am of it turning out this way, that I created this flexibility for the company that fired me. “It sounds very suspicious” is what it was to them, hinting there was something wrong with me.
I haven’t done anything others don’t do. I’ve shared my thoughts, my designs and delegated work to others. I made sure I was never the only one working on the applications I owned. I’ve shared the responsibility. Sometimes unknowingly and unintentionally. And I’ve always documented everything. Every little bit. We need to remember that our careers are also measured by what we leave behind us.
At first it was with the intention that people would leave me alone to go on a vacation. Later it was with intention that me, my colleagues and my employees could have a good rest. Either because they are sick or just want to spend time with their families. Lastly it was with the intention that everyone would eventually leave the company.
On the contrary, let’s talk about failures. When I was at RapidAPI I had to let one of my employees go and he was transferred to another team. He was the one that held in his mind the entire Monetization’s database schemas. I was under the assumption that he would remain with the company for at least a few months so that valuable information won’t be gone and we’d have enough time to document it. I went on my summer vacation and when I was back – he was gone. And another colleague who knew some of it was gone too. No one remained with the ability to correctly query the Monetization’s database. Not even mentioning changing or maintaining it. Work on Monetization at RapidAPI came to a full and complete stop. As a manager that is my failure. Not because he was gone but because the inevitable of him leaving had happened and we were not prepared enough for that. And I’ve also failed as a manager to teach him that level of responsibility.
We need to make sure our applications outlive us because that is the plain truth. To make sure we eventually won’t be missed at all. In order to make sure we are not missed the day after, first let’s make sure we are not missed tomorrow. That’s a more practical thing to make sure of.
Let’s do something similar to the failure mapping we’ve done in the previous chapter. Go one component at a time and ask ourselves or our colleagues “what will happen if we want to take a day off tomorrow?” or “if this fails on our day off, what would happen then?”. An answer somewhat of “we’ll have to be available for a call” is a clear indication that something needs to be done. It may be a design change. It may be teaching, documentation, knowledge sharing, delegation, a process change or even hiring. Do whatever needs to be done so when in a time of trouble, there would be enough time for a colleague to learn it all and get the trouble sorted out.
Make sure that you can miss a call, so you won’t miss a calling.
Eventualism & Others
I have seen managers and leaders not letting people learn and grow on a company’s dime. They considered it a waste of time and resources because “people come and go”. Or even worse because “they would leave us” like we own them or expect them to pay us back for our effort.
It is true that people will eventually leave the company, but that is another thing to give in to, not give up on. Not investing in people because “any how they will leave in a few months” is non-beneficial. Thinking that way and acting with it would only speed up their departure. With Eventualism in mind, postpone the inevitable instead of doing nothing. Do whatever you can to postpone your people’s departure as further into the future as possible. Invest in your people. Every day.
And one day, their departure will come. With Eventualism in mind, be prepared for it. Don’t be surprised when the inevitable happens. Out of being calm, see if there is anything else you can do. If not, help your people with their departure. Help them find a job, let them part with a good recommendation.
Kindly let them go.
Thank you for reading this series.