Rekindling the flame

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Someone commented on one of my earlier posts that keeping the work fun and engaging is possible only with exceptional people. I don’t agree.

There are millions of people who come to work every day not because they like what they do, but because they need to earn money to keep themselves afloat in the society. However, I think our industry is different. Most people working in it have been drawn to it by a fascination with computers. It usually started at a pretty young age, when some kids went beyond just plying games and surfing the web. Those actually got interested in how these machines work – and how to get them to do what they wanted. This interest pulled them to make choices in their lives that result now in them working in as software developers (or system admins — or in many other specialized roles our industry has created). 

Very few teenagers have enough life smarts to spend hours learning fairly complex things just because it may lead to a career in a field that pays well has little or no unemployment. Most people at 15 don’t think in those terms. And even if they did there are easier ways to earn a living. You have to be pretty intelligent and work quite hard to get to a level that would make you employable in our field. This is unlike many other professions that don’t require this amount of work or where family connections are enough to get you through (like lawyers). 

In other words I believe that most people in the IT industry had this spark of fascination at some point in time. Unfortunately, many had sadly lost it. Let me share a story here.

Once I was working with a team at a client – a medium-sized company trying to pull itself from a ditch poor management practices have put it in. During a lunch break I sat with developers and one of them told me this: “When I was younger, up until I ended my studies, I thought developing software is fun. I now know it is not true.”. 

Image by Marisa Ficorella

Image by Marisa Ficorella

Those words stuck into my mind ever since as the worst thing I ever heard from a developer. Clearly, the environment he worked for (this was his first and only job after university) has killed the passion he had for software! This short statement, made dispassionately in the passing, told me more about the company, its culture and the caliber of its managers than weeks of interviews and workshops.

But I believe that his passion is not extinguished completely, that somewhere there under all the disappointment and boredom a spark remains. And it could be again turned into a flame if only the management at that unfortunate company did make an effort to create a true, attractive vision for their product and inspire their teams with it. 

I actually think this is one of the duties of leaders starting with executive managers. If they can’t get their own staff excited about the product or service they provide how can they hope to deliver excellence? If they don’t want to deliver the best product or service how can they hope to get their clients to love it? If they don’t pursue excellence why are they in their jobs, wasting everyone’s time including their own? 

It never ceases to amaze me, actually. I have seen so many teams apathetic and alienated from their work, yet each and every time the product could have been so easily “sold” to them as exciting,  interesting and important. Heck, I’ve been to a game development company where this was identified as a problem – and this is probably the easiest product to get geeks excited about. The problem is always that no one cares and no one tries to inspire anyone.

  Image by Dave Hogg

  Image by Dave Hogg

So, if you are in any kind of management position make sure you care what motivates people you work with and keep on providing it. Rekindle that spark they have inside, turn it into a flame.

Just beware that their motivations might be different – and they most likely will be different than yours. However, one thing is common: money is not enough to rekindle the flame and without it there is no  excellence. 

A good leader is not someone who works only with exceptional people but who helps those working with him to grow and become exceptional. At the very least he or she shouldn’t turn exceptional people into burnt out shells. 


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