At the moment, you may have no perceived competitors threatening -your status in the IT department. But at any moment, your manager may hire a Tom Terrific who will force an agonizing reappraisal of you and the other programmers at your company.
I ve seen the Tom Terrific factor in action. Years ago, I was asked by my systems engineering manager at IBM to find out why a particular installation (in which an IBM System/34 was replacing a Honeywell System H200 computer) was way behind schedule.
I didn t have time to work on the project myself , but I agreed to have a weekly luncheon meeting with the CFO and the IT manager at the installation. They had already spent several months on it, they said, but the conversion would require six person-years to complete.
I suggested to the CFO that the programmers probably had lots of slush (extra) time built into their application estimates for the conversion. I vowed to get a detailed (and real) estimate of the conversion effort required the next week.
At our second weekly meeting, I brought in a homemade benchmark ”my Master Program List program. (I had developed this project management productivity tool many years before to document the programs of each company that was installing an IBM computer.) This gave us a gauge by which we could track every programmer s performance and the overall progress of the project, and therefore the project s possible end date.
I loaded my trusty program on the System/34, and the next week the programmers keyed each application and each and every program to which they were assigned into the system for management review.
To my surprise and disappointment, the results showed that there were indeed six years of programming person-work left on the project, and that each of the six programmers had about one person-year of conversion work left.
I received similar doleful news at the fourth weekly meeting: The updated Master Program List still showed six years of programming person-work left on the project. Indeed, so little progress had been made that one of the programmers had left in disgust and frustration. His replacement programmer, named Tom, was starting that afternoon.
Little change at the fifth meeting: The Master Program List still showed almost six person-years of work left. The good news was that the new programmer, Tom, had miraculously done six weeks of his assigned Master Program List programs on his very first week on the job.
The CFO and I were flabbergasted. We went to meet this virtuoso programmer, only to find a roly-poly guy in baggy pants who was at least fifteen years older than the rest of us. We had to interrupt him, because he was working so intently.
At my sixth and last weekly luncheon meeting, the IT manager showed the CFO and me of the results of the latest update of the Master Program List. Somehow, there were only five and a half years of programming person-work left. Incredibly, virtually all of the programmers were racing through their conversion programs, perhaps trying to keep up with Tom Terrific. Tom had been able to demonstrate not only much-needed programming skill and focus, but leadership in helping the other programmers bypass their problems and succeed. Tom set and raised the standard by working up to his personal programming standard.
The CFO reported this fantastic turn of events back to my SE manager, and I got an IBM night-on-the-town award for dinner with my wife at the best French restaurant in Philadelphia. And I got it because of the pace set by the front-runner, Tom Terrific.
Even if your job is easy, you ve got to keep pushing ”to work faster, to learn new techniques. That s hard to do: It s human nature to relax into a comfortable pace. To stay motivated, you may want to set particular benchmarks by which you measure your performance. To keep yourself striving, it may help to understand that you are, in fact, in competition with your colleagues inside and outside the company, not only to win promotions but just to stay on the job. Right now, downsizing may lurk in the heart of your CFO. If that s the case, attention will be paid to your speed and sophistication relative to that of your programming peers. Whether you sense it or not, you are always in a long-distance race.