Monday, December 1, 2014

The first task

I could have written this entry in my general blog as well, since unlike regular technical blog posts this one doesn't involve any code. But I am choosing to put it here because I feel it is an important topic which all technical teams need to understand.
Let me get down straight to the point I want to make - how the developer you hired will perform depends a lot on what is the first major task you give him/her. Don't give your dirtiest task which others in the team are 'too important to do'. I have seen this happen to different people 4 times in my 9 year career. Yes, it once happened to me as well, long ago.

So what I am talking about is the following sequence of events:
1. New candidate is joins a technical developer position after tremendous technical interviews
2. A few days after joining, the 'technical' manager asks the candidate to do one of the following as a prime activity for some time:
a. analyse everyone's regression failures every day and/or delegate them to the right engineers
b. manage some infrastructural role for keeping the codebase in sync with components it depends on

I have observed this so far in Indian technical teams only. I don't know if this is a fall-out of our society's caste system where some 'dirty' work is left to be done by a certain group of people only -- that is something for sociologists to comment on! But in effect it is equally devastating to the new candidate's morale and growth.
I guess some 'technical' managers dream of this as the ultimate way to get started with understanding a new product and team. They could not be more wrong. The best way to get someone started is to give him/her good problems to solve. I understand the best work has to be reserved for more experienced candidates, but nothing can justify giving some non-development tasks to a developer at the beginning. I also appreciate the need for developers to be able to do all such stuff, but that should come in time after a developer has started contributing smoothly to a codebase. Only after you have started managing own your work well can you afford to do some housekeeping for others.

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