In my opinion, too many programmers lack that old-fashioned virtue, the work ethic; that, I believe, may be one reason companies outsource their work to off-shore programmers or to domestic software support companies that take over the in-house IT department s function and prune out the slackers.
In IT departments today, the nine-to-five programmers are becoming like the clerks of thirty to forty years ago, says Gene Bonett, founder and president of Xperia, a software development company in Allentown, Pennsylvania. They ve lost the desire to make the extra effort that s required to advance in this field.
Unfortunately, the work ethic that was prevalent thirty years ago is prevalent today ”but not with Americans, he says. It s prevalent with programmers from India, China, and Russia. They re driving to become good. They want to be better than the Americans are, and they re eating our lunch .
I feel strongly about this. When you stumble across Americans who have that old-fashioned work ethic, they shine . Our job at Xperia is to find as many of them as we can.
The work ethic is more important to me than a guy who has a doctorate in computer science. I ll take a guy with the right attitude and a willingness to learn any day of the week ”someone who wants to learn and who asks, ˜Why do we do it this way? Those kinds of employees are golden. You just don t find many of them.
Many of the kids coming out of school today are coming out with unrealistic expectations. They seem to think, ˜If I can write a batch program in school, then I should come out of school and move to the top of any organization I m in. But once you come out of school, your learning curve is just beginning. If you go in with the attitude that you re the lowest one on the list and you have a lot of ground to cover, you will do significantly better.
The right attitude is vital . When I started, thirty years ago, there was camaraderie in this business, and a zealous attitude. There was a lot to learn, and people were dying to learn it; they put forth a major effort to master the job.
Thirty years ago you could have walked into any IT department that I ve been associated with on a Saturday or a Sunday, and 90 percent of the time you would have found a programmer there. Today, people have a tendency to run out the door at five o clock.
At Xperia, our normal hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. But on a monthly basis we hold evening classes that start at 4:30 and run till 7. We do this to give people an understanding of the underlying technical structure of our system, of how the files relate, of the business itself. All of our programmers and trainees sit in on the in-house demos, and they re a part of the demonstration; they need to understand the questions people ask, because that s going to have an effect on their job.
We do this to see who is interested in understanding and learning and who really doesn t care about it ”just wants that job, wants to come in at 8 and leave at 5. That s okay, as long as the productivity levels within those hours are what we expect them to be. But we know that this programmer isn t going to advance. He isn t willing to put the extra effort into understanding his applications. He s not going to be able to service a customer at a customer site; he won t stay at the site till seven or eight o clock, if that s what the job requires. If he won t do it in the office when he s on a training curve, then he ll never do it. And that attitude does affect his advancement and his pay.
To me, the attitude and the approach that people take toward their job are the most important factors. I would rather take a marginal programmer with a tremendous attitude and a desire and willingness to learn than I would a super programmer who wants to sit there and do what he wants to do and come and go as he pleases.
What can we all learn from Gene s take on attitude? Attitude counts. Make sure you know the attitude of the shop you re going into. Ask about schedules and project time lines. Dig during the interview to find out if the team you are joining runs out the door at 5 p.m. or stays until the job is finished. You ll want to be on the latter team, because the latter team has the work ethic that leads to success. And then make sure you share that ethic.
Every programmer (and his manager) should pay attention to the career-crippling potential of a noisy environment and a slow computer. Indeed, I believe that a distracting environment or a slow computer will inevitably become so productivity-sapping that a job candidate should recognize this on his walk-through and turn the offer down. And make no mistake: Even in the twenty-first century ”even in the forward-looking field of programming ”an old-fashioned virtue, the work ethic, is still a prerequisite for success.