Atwood: You're on the road, where are you again ?
Spolsky: Oh, in Miami Beach, and it sounds like it should be lovely right, it should be beautiful and sunny and warm, and...
Atwood: It's not ?
Spolsky: No, I just had a string of bad luck.
Atwood: You sound terrible, you have a cold ?
Spolsky: I'm sorry, you know I had a cold until about 2 o'clock, and just as I got over the cold I got hay fever.
Spolsky: I can tell those of us with have hay fever know the difference between a cold and hay fever.
Spolsky: But they don't... people are too nice. The people that are in power... the people that are really in power are too high... you know, the people that... they're too high above... they're high up there in the org chart. They don't really know what's going on. They have to rely on the people that are the middle-level managers to actually say, “this guy is not really pulling his weight.” And those middle level managers are just nice guys, they don't want to be responsible for somebody losing their job.
Atwood: That's right. No, they're, that's totally true, totally true.
Spolsky: You know, and so they sort of [?] things over and they try to be nice about it.
Atwood: Well, it's almost like this whole recession thing like you keep bringing up. Which I think is true, it's a lot of... it's an excuse for a lot of companies to sort of cut some deadwood without looking like the bad guy.
Spolsky: Yeah, yeah. And that's going to be... there's going to be a lot of that happening.
Atwood: Right. So, in short, it's a really, really tough problem, because you don't want to be a jerk.
Atwood: And, you know, people need to make a living, but on the other hand... I don't know, on some business level it doesn't really make sense, so...
Spolsky: Well, what can you do to help them find a career that they'll enjoy more? I mean, I've known... you sort of have to address the specific issue about why they're not being such a good developer. You know, maybe their skills lie more in the humanities than in the sciences, and maybe that means they should move into sales, or, you know, user experience, or marketing, or...
Atwood: That's a good point. And I think we kind of touched on this in a previous podcast. Whereas there's like a whole, sort of, ecosystem of stuff that goes on around the programming. And maybe—at a large organization which is where I personally saw this—one of the advantages of having a large organization: there's tons of different jobs for everybody to try. So maybe go through a rotation thing, say “hey, you know, instead of, just, you know, sitting down and programming all day, why don't you try one of these other things that we have in our organization that's kind of related in the same group even, or maybe in a different group.”
Spolsky: It is very important...
Atwood: Maybe this would be more of an IT... maybe this guy could be, like, a system administrator. Maybe he'd be really good at that for example, you know, 'cause there's a lot of crossover there.
Spolsky: There's a... it's true. And you really have to look at the person's personality and figure out why they're not good. There's one particular case that, I've known a lot of people like this, they find it hard to be developers because they're a little bit too obsessive-compulsive, they're just too... you know, they need to get everything exactly perfectly right every single time, and they never just give up and turn it in. You know, they're just so... and they become too immersed in the details. And, I've known some... I knew a developer who was like this and eventually they told him, “you know what? You're going to be a tester.” And he was the best tester on the team, and he was much happier. And it just fit his personality a lot better.
Atwood: Yeah. Yeah, and I think maybe that's the best piece of advice here for this question, is just, you know, really encourage people to look strongly at related positions that aren't necessarily coding but, you know, in the same ecosystem, where they can actually help you and not feel like, okay, they're not really contributing, because that's not really helping the business.
Atwood: So that's good leadership basically, is figuring out what works for that person and, you know, what you have available and how to, you know gently sort of nudge them towards it.
Spolsky: You could also probably make a good living as the house drug dealer for one of the clubs in this hotel I'm staying at... an allegedly five-star hotel!
Atwood: Well, hopefully you'll survive this hotel experience.
Atwood: Well, actually...
Spolsky: But to imagine what the ideal puppet would say in this situation and then make the puppet say that thing.
Atwood: Wow, thats very difficult though, cause people get very emotional. I think you almost have to be like Spock. You have to be, like, above emotion and
Atwood: To me it's...You don't have to be really above emotion, but I think having a sense of humor goes like, 90% of the way towards fixing the entire problem. If you're a very passionate person, you'll still say things, and you know to be fair a lot of times when I interact with people, like I got chastised in an email for closing some, er declining some uservoice items in a way that the user felt was not really respectful. I disagreed a little bit, I don't think it was disrespectful, but it was curt because I have a lot of things that I have to look at.
Spolsky: Yeah, it's hard to get the tone to come across right on an email
Atwood: Yeah. Brevity isn't always the right way to do that, and I apologize for that but, you know, I don't always do it perfectly either is what I'm trying to say. And I think you had a blog entry about this deli owner who was arguing with the woman.
Atwood: She had a bad service, and she was telling the owner of the deli, hey I had this really bad service, I come here all the time, and this waiter was really rude to me. And the guy actually argued.
Spolsky: Exactly [Italian accent] Oh, he's my best water. He's not a-rude to you, you must have done something wrong.
Atwood: Right. This is my point. Don't make it worse. I don't think I make it worse. I may not do a perfect job of handling it, but I do not think that I make it worse, um, hopefully. That's my strategy for dealing with some of that stuff.
Spolsky: There's always a question about what should a business do itself, and what should it outsource, like should this business even have an IT person or should they just hire some good IT company to take care of their needs.
Atwood: Well that would cost money, Joel. They don't want to spend money, you understand?
Spolsky: No, but they could lay the guy off. [laughs]
Atwood: [laughs] I don't think that's the solution Wayne M. was looking for.
Spolsky: OK. You know, I kinda do have an answer for that which is sort of a general business strategy thing, which is that if you're doing something in-house and you feel like maybe you should be outsourcing it, you're having this question, you should ask yourself if you can sell this service to other businesses. So, if you're a hotel like this one and you do an enormous amount of laundry every day, you've just got millions and millions of towels and sheets to wash every single day, do you have your own laundry in the basement or do you send it out to a professional laundry service? Well, if the answer is that you could sell a laundry service to the other hotels in the same neighborhood, if you could do that and be competitive, then by all means have your own laundry shop, but if you don't want to be in that business and you couldn't do that on a competitive basis, then your own laundry shop is just sort of a waste of money - you're not going to be doing it as well or as cheaply as the generic provider.