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Old 24-10-2014, 09:01 PM
Posts: n/a

Project management sucks too

In order to escape a job where the future is bleak for older programmers due to the rapid depreciation of computer programming knowledge capital, computer programmers face the need to move up to management or likely wind up as underemployed fifty-year-olds, only suitable for lower paying IT jobs like “QA” because they no longer know how to use the latest and supposedly greatest programming tools.

It is often suggested that the most natural next move “up” is into project management. But the first problem with this situation is that project management sucks too. It doesn’t even deserve to have the word “management” in the title, because project management is akin to management as Naugahyde leather is to leather. Project planner and status reporter is the more correct title for this job. Once you take the word “manager” out of title, it loses a lot of its luster, doesn’t it? Everyone wants to be a manager, but few would want to be a project planner and I daresay no one would want to be a status reporter. Status reporting is generally the most hated activity of anyone who endeavors to do real work.

One can’t write about project management without mentioning the worst piece of software every written, Microsoft Project. Somehow, an entire project management industry has developed around this crappy program which no one can figure out how to use. (See my previous post about Microsoft Project Server and Battlestar Galactica.)

Formal project management is more of a pseudo-science than a real profession, because despite the increasing use of formal project management methods approved by the Project Management Institute (yes they have their own institute), there is no evidence that software is getting better or that fewer software projects fail today than did ten years ago when formal project management was in its infancy.

The growing popularity of project management has nothing to do with better software. It’s really more designed to please senior management (the real managers who control the purse strings). Real managers, who usually don’t understand anything about computer programming but who don’t like the idea that they have to pay high salaries to a bunch of people from foreign countries, love the reports presented by project managers, because the reports create the illusion that progress is happening and that the money being spent on the IT project is not being wasted.

Even if the computer programmer wishes to sell his soul and enter the pseudo-scientific field of project planning and status reporting, the transition is becoming more difficult. The trend is that project management is branching off into its own discipline with its own educational requirements and certification process. Thus the experienced computer programmer will usually find that employers aren’t interested in having an ex-computer programmer “manage” a project, but rather they seek someone with PMI certification and years of experience in project management.

This trend, in which people without computer programming experience manage computer programming projects, is a result of the low prestige of computer programming. People with high prestige jobs, like surgeons, would never allow themselves to be managed by non-surgeons. In a complicated medical procedure there will be a head surgeon overseeing the surgery, and not a project manager without any medical training. Lawyers have Model Rule 5.4 which makes it unethical for non-lawyers to manage lawyers.

Obviously, the problem with the computer programming industry is that it lacks a central organization to create barriers to entry and to lobby state and local legislatures.

The working conditions suck

This relates to the prestige thing again. When a company I worked for wanted to save money on rent, guess what department they decided to move to the low rent satellite office? You guessed it, the IT department.

If you look forward to one day having your own private office, then computer programming sure isn’t the way to go. At a law firm, each lawyer has his own private office. Computer programmers are cubicle employees, not considered important enough to be given nice workspaces.

Employers are even too cheap to invest in proper tools for the computer programmers. Take monitors, for example. Every computer programmer knows that modern development tools are easiest to use if you have a really big monitor, because you can see more lines of code at the same time, and because there are a bunch of ancillary windows which steal screen space from the main code window. My home monitor is a 21” 1600 x 1200 Samsung SyncMaster 214T, and it sure was worth the $900 or so that I paid for it. An employer interested in getting the most productivity out of its software developers would supply them with proper high quality monitors, but they don’t. In every job I ever worked, the computer programmers never had the best monitors.

If you walk over to the graphic arts department, you will see really big monitors. The graphics people could surely make do with smaller monitors, but even though they make less money than computer programmers, they have been able to convince higher level management that their work requires better hardware. When computer programmers request better hardware, they are often seen as whining geeks who just want to waste the company’s money on unnecessary high-tech toys.

Other professionals get proper tools to do their job. For example, lawyers are given access to Westlaw or Lexis, and a library of books. The amount of money per year per lawyer spent on research materials most surely exceeds the money per computer programmer per year spent on computer hardware. If lawyers were treated with the same disrespect as computer programmers, they would be told to stop whining about the lack of research materials and to go use the public law library.

So what's a good profession?

After spending so much effort explaning why computer programming sucks, I think it's only fair to suggest some better professions for any young people who might be reading this. Unfortunately, that's hard to do. The best professions, because they are so good to work in, have more people trying to enter than there is room for them. Thus you can graduate with a law degree and find that no one wants to admit you to any of the good legal career tracks.

I think that, if you can't get into a Top 14 law school or a top graduate business schol, then public accounting probably provides a better career path than computer programming. You need to start out as an auditor at a Big Four accounting firm, and the salary in the early part of your career won't be as high as in computer programming, but at least older accountants are valued for their experience and knowledge. It's a career where you can still be employed at forty or fifty.

If you are technically oriented, then you should consider a career in patent law. This requires you to get an engineering degree and then go to law school. Because such a tiny percentage of law school graduates are qualified to take the patent bar, you will be able to get jobs in intellectual property law which the other law school graduates are unqualified for.
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