Do Nice Engineers Finish Last in Tough Times?

A tale of two IT professionals, one nice, one ruthless. Which one survived the wave of pink slips?


You Can't Detect What You Can't See: Illuminating the Entire Kill Chain

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Posted January 19, 2009

Eric Spiegel

Eric Spiegel

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We all know this is a tough job market with unemployment on the rise. Just because you have technical skills does not make you immune.

The global economy, along with cost cutting, is pushing CIO’s to look offshore again, just when the tide was turning in favor of the convenience of local resources. Or they are simply cutting staff and putting more burdens on those left to steer the ship.

The fact is that people in software development and IT in general will be getting pink slips. What I’m wondering is, if you were a manager that was tasked with determining who stays and who is shown the door, how would you make this decision? There are many managers right at this very instant who are struggling with this dilemma.

Of course some of these decisions are easier, such as cutting the underperformers who are paid more than they are worth on the open market. Some like to call that trimming the fat, which frankly should be done regardless of the economic conditions. Then you have the Welch (former CEO of GE) theory of cutting the lowest 10% performers based on whatever ingenious rating scale the HR department came up with. Again, just another version of trimming fat.

But what if times are so tough and budgets are so tight that trimming the fat is not going to cut it? (pun intended).

What about those who perform above average, who are getting paid what they are worth? How would you decide who stays and who goes? Allow me to relay a story to you so that you can think about what decisions you would have made.

An acquaintance of mine who manages a server farm for a large retail corporation recently went through an interesting and, to me, a disheartening experience. He managed a few engineers that make sure all servers and applications are running smoothly. We’ll call him Stuart.

Stuart is a good guy. Very nice and well liked by his coworkers. And to my knowledge he is very competent as well, having worked his way up from a support engineer into management in a just few years at the company.

Well, Stuart has a peer manager who took care of networks and security. We’ll call him Doug. According to Stuart, Doug was not so nice. He was rather conniving and was constantly taking credit for his team’s accomplishments and sometimes other teams -- especially Stuart’s team. Stuart on the other hand always gave his team credit for their work and praised his peer’s accomplishments. He basically ignored Doug, only dealing with him professionally as necessary.

Even worse, Doug consistently called out his team members in front of upper management when things went wrong. If a virus made its way from someone’s thumb drive onto the network, Doug could be heard screaming at employees down the hall. When one of Stuart’s team members made a mistake, he would take that opportunity to teach them and would take full responsibility for the error with management.

Ok, you get the picture. Stuart – nice guy. Doug – not so nice guy. Both delivered results and both were paid the same. Their years of experience were identical and both had college degrees.

Their manager was the Director of IT. We’ll call her Kelly. Kelly’s boss was the CIO, who had told all of the upper management team to reduce their staff by 50%. The retail business for the holiday season was a disaster, much worse than anticipated. Drastic cuts had to be made – and fast.

Next Page: Who got laid off?

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Tags: security, software, management, IT Jobs/Salary, layoffs

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