Developers, stop reading this now. This post isn’t for you. This post is for the sysadmins and database admins, the people who have to keep the digital pipes unclogged.
WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg had a brilliant interview at the Lean Startup Conference. It’s chock full of good stuff and you should totally watch the whole thing, but this one-minute exchange is one of my favorites:
Interviewer: “So you mentioned accountability and I was curious about that… Almost all the metrics [you monitor] were about how customers use the site, but not how employees are working, and I wondered if there are other metrics that you look at, or how you think about accountability. Is accountability that someone has unplugged for two hours in the day and that we assume that they’re working during that time?”
Matt: “What does it mean to be working? We have sort of this factory model where we think someone’s working if they show up in the morning and they’re not drunk or they don’t sleep at their desk and they leave at the right time and they’re dressed nicely or whatever that is, but that has so little to do with what you create. I’m sure we all know people who create a lot without fitting in those norms.”
The key word is create.
I have a client in a gritty big-city downtown mid-rise with a lot of other software shops. At around 10AM, some of the sysadmins go down to the coffee shop across the street, have a seat with a good view of the street leading up to the building, and play “Hobo Or Developer?” As people walk up to the building – well, you can guess the rest of it.
It’s easy to think that the sloppy, late, and seemingly lazy people in your company don’t know what they’re doing. For some of them, it’s probably even true. But the rules really are different for true creators, and you can’t judge a book by its shabby cover – just as you know that some of the sharp-dressed and early-riser executives are probably wildly incompetent too.
Even if you think you’re creating something, that’s not what the company is really paying you for. They’re paying you to keep the pipes clean for the artists and to safeguard their work. The more you get to know them and appreciate their talents, the more you can help them build amazing stuff, and everybody wins.