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Software Exorcism 314

Posted by timothy
from the holy-somethin' dept.
Mark Burroughs writes "Leave it to a SubGenius preacher to take normally mundane subjects, like software maintenance, and expose the unholy conspiracy behind them. I think the following quote from the introduction sums up the tone of the book nicely: 'Rather than shield your eyes from the sordid realities of the software industry, I am going to dust off my old 8mm films and let you take a good look at the uncensored truth for yourself. You may want to keep a paper bag handy in case you get sick.'" You know you want to read on for the rest of Burrough's review.
Software Exorcism
author Right Reverend Bill Blunden
pages 351
publisher Apress
rating two thumbs up
reviewer Mark Burroughs
ISBN 1590592344
summary Tactics for Maintaining Legacy Code


Reverend Blunden's sermons focus on things that the college professors, in their tweedy jackets, will never talk about. As such, this book should be required reading by computer science majors, who often have a number of misconceptions concerning the industry that they are about to enter.

I doubt very highly that your instructors will tell you how to handle all the nasty little things that can occur when humans work in groups: backstabbing, stonewalling, sabotage, etc. The sad truth is that the people who do actually learn about these tactics (under the guise of "organizational behavior") are MBAs, the people who end up being managers. Folks, the deck has been stacked: The MBAs have been given whips, and the CS majors have all been given saddles. It's called animal husbandry; ... now go look up the word "cull."

Glancing at the back cover of the book, Reverend Blunden looks like the type of subversive individual that the ATF would like to have a chat with. As such, he is not one to let the reader leave without a few useful weapons (some of which may be questionable from a legal standpoint ... but hey, business is war). For example, the book tells you construct a paper trail so that even the shiftiest weasel cannot switch sides if it's suddenly convenient. Reverend Blunden even goes so far to refer the reader to a vault purveyor in New York so that evidence can be stored securely at home (hint: it's sure as hell not safe at the office). Don't kid yourself; a solid paper trail can save you during a witch-hunt.

The book also looks at how to deal with legacy code in situations where internal competition has encouraged people to hoard information, or to escape responsibility via promotion (i.e. VPs have been known to develop amnesia about the code they worked on). It explains the forces that cause these shenanigans to occur and then describes how to flush the guilty party out into the open, where their slimy tactics won't work. As before, generating a trail of evidence and possessing a degree of intellectual humility go a long way.

Then there is privacy, an issue that employers will definitely try to skirt. Management types tend to be keen on metrics to measure productivity. In addition, software engineers typically have access to code, or algorithms, that may be considered proprietary secrets. This has led many companies to monitor their engineers in some way or another (i.e. key loggers, remote desktops, sniffers, TEMPEST, etc.). Reverend Blunden provides a couple of easy, but extremely effective, counter tactics that the reader can use to foil this kind of Big Brother antics.

At the end of the day, Reverend Blunden tells it like it is. He hasn't been bought off and he doesn't have an agenda. His only goal is to warn new hires about the various landmines that exist, buried under the polite exterior of the corporate landscape. You may not like what he has to say, but no one ever said that software engineering was a pretty job. If they did, they were telling you a lie. Praise Bob.


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Software Exorcism

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:02PM (#7292064)
    I doubt very highly that your instructors will tell you how to handle all the nasty little things that can occur when humans work in groups: backstabbing, stonewalling, sabotage, etc.

    Self-employment worked for me. The boss is still a jerk, but he's my kind of jerk.
  • The man (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BWJones (18351) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:05PM (#7292100) Homepage Journal
    He hasn't been bought off and he doesn't have an agenda. His only goal is to warn new hires about the various landmines that exist, buried under the polite exterior of the corporate landscape. You may not like what he has to say, but no one ever said that software engineering was a pretty job. If they did, they were telling you a lie.

    Ahhh, yes. Another treatise on how The Man is tapdancing on our heads.

    Alternatively, we could read books on how to help create environments that are mutually advantageous, supportive positive experiences rather than focusing on heading off to another dreary color washed existence where we hate our bosses and hate our jobs.

    • Re:The man (Score:2, Funny)

      by ichimunki (194887)
      Got any suggestions? I agree that the best way to avoid all this negative stuff is to focus on positive stuff, but that's easier said than done, in many instances. It's not like corporate employers and the bosses one might encounter in those environments are going to be easily bribed by a box of donuts and a pamphlet on Pair Programming and the wonders of CVS.

      So what are some good books about positive habits we need to have as programmers, first, and then how to be a successful programmer without signing
    • Re:The man (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Up until this job, I agreed.

      Now I realize that in order for "mutually advantageous" environments to work, it has to be mutually supported. The guy above me in the food chain doesn't want to play that way -- so now I'm his worst enemy. :(

      • Bingo! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by King_TJ (85913)
        You're exactly right - and that's the crux of the problem. You can't expect to get a business environment to change unless the change is bought into from the top level, down.

        I used to work for a place that had a very dysfunctional corporate environment. (Basically, their various locations around the country were structured in such a way where it promoted competition between them. This meant that if one plant figured out a more efficient and money-saving process - they'd keep it to themselves and activel
    • Re:The man (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ReTay (164994) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:17PM (#7292272)
      "Ahhh, yes. Another treatise on how The Man is tapdancing on our heads."

      I don't know about that. The only 'boogie man' I saw put up here is a MBA. And after dealing with two or three I happen to agree. If you are trying to "create environments that are mutually advantageous, supportive positive experiences "
      You can't worry about getting a blade between the shoulder blades first. And office politics being what they are. And the general clueless ness of most geeks it is a really good idea to generate a good solid paper trail. That alone would make the book a good idea.
      • And the general clueless ness of most geeks it is a really good idea to generate a good solid paper trail.

        What if the geeks you are forced to work with don't take notes, don't read e-mail, and reply to e-mail they do read using a telephone?
        • You do what I do...if they don't put it in writing, you were never told to do it. I have sent out e-mails that say "If I don't get written documentation that this is supposed to be XXX way, it's going to ship YYY way" and make sure that YYY is awful enough that they sure don't want that to happen.

          Anyone who would reply to an e-mail with a telephone call sure isn't a geek anyway - geeks generally prefer things in black and white.
        • Re:The man (Score:3, Insightful)

          by BrynM (217883) *

          What if the geeks you are forced to work with don't take notes, don't read e-mail, and reply to e-mail they do read using a telephone?

          Then rely on caller ID or your office phone system. If you see them call, let it go to voicemail and save the voicemail. Alternately, tell them that you communicate mostly via e-mail and that they should try to get ahold of you that way. In addition to this, you may be able to talk your manager into making them reply via e-mail. Explain that conducting a conversation i

          • Or, after a phone conversation, write a quick email to the person 'summing up' what you just discussed, and makeing sure that everything was 'understood.'

          • In my experience, when I tell people I still want an email confirmation (at the end of the phone talk) to "have our decisions recorded" (or "your request" or "whatever" recorded), they usually comply meekly. And it makes clear I am willing to play fair (even insisting on it). When people know that you will not backsttab them and that you can counter any attempt of someone backsttabing you, they usually leave you out of their dark political plots.
            • That's where the social engineering comes in. Just demanding something will never get true compliance. Let their voicemail sit there a couple of days and when they ask if you got it, tell them you didn't. Then tell them that, if they want any kind of reaction, they should e-mail it to you. The response [slashdot.org] from SuiteSisterMary about summing up and sending an e-mail yourself will also work. Don't be afraid to be shifty with shifty people. They may even respect you more for it. The shiftiest I've done voicem
    • Re:The man (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kfg (145172)
      But then you'll have to read "Up the Orginization" which describes and explains why building such is impossible, even for the company President, in existing orginizations.

      Few, unfortunately, have the desire, let alone the fortitude, to simply take of themselves, let alone others.

      KFG
    • The Man will still be using your taint for a ball rest.
    • Alternatively, we could read books on how to help create environments that are mutually advantageous, supportive positive experiences rather than focusing on heading off to another dreary color washed existence where we hate our bosses and hate our jobs.

      The best response I heard to this statement, came when a manager was saying approximately that sentiment to a sub-ordinate who was pissed off for exactly the reasons described by the reviewer. The response is:

      "Oh blow me!"

      He can get away with that res

    • Alternatively, we could read books on how to help create environments that are mutually advantageous, supportive positive experiences rather than focusing on heading off to another dreary color washed existence where we hate our bosses and hate our jobs.

      I'm confused. If that statement is sarcasm, I really don't get how you can make fun of utopia colored glasses if you seem to be attacking perceived leftist viewpoints wrt to the modern workplace. If it's not sarcasm, then you are attacking an expository
    • Dude, everyone hates there job and if they claim they don't there lying so drop the boardroom bullshit.
      • Dude, everyone hates there job and if they claim they don't there lying so drop the boardroom bullshit.

        Sorry dude. I actually enjoy my job, and it has nothing to do with boardroom bullshit. Get this.....I get paid to learn. Not bad eh? I get paid to learn new things and discover other things nobody knew before. I think its pretty darned cool.

  • So ... the book deals with the "seedier" side of computer science (things like privacy ... gasp!), and is required reading for people entering the field ...

    Hell, just have them read /. !!! Same stuff, only it's free, has stories that are continuously duplic^H^H^H^H^H^Hupdated, and a lively and informative userbase ... why go for a book instead?
  • Seriously, why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by YanceyAI (192279) * <yanceyai@yahoo.com> on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:06PM (#7292109)
    I'm glad someone is pointing this stuff out to people new to the tech industry. When I was first starting out, I remember having to sign all sorts so draconian contracts--and we were just servicing the tech industry.

    I thought the owner was insane, so I just ignored it. It would never surprise me now if I learned that she had spied on me. Of course, maybe that was brought on by the paranoia of reading something that, like this book, promotes paranoia.

  • by da3dAlus (20553) <dustin.grau@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:09PM (#7292157) Homepage Journal
    I need an old programmer and a young programmer.
    The power of Christ compels you...to compile!
    • Damn, the compiler's spitting chunks on this code. Starting to make my head spin...
    • That's actually not too bad of an idea, from a teaching / apprenticeship viewpoint. Many older programmers know the ins and outs of code and languages, and are also familiar with the work environment and its hazards. The young ones typically come in four flavors, all ignorant of the environment:

      • Talented, but arrogant.
      • Talented, amiable
      • Dumb as rocks, but arrogant
      • Dumb as rocks, amiable.

      Usually, it's the third one on the list that gets promoted to the PHB position, the fourth one will be let go.

      Anyway

  • by kneecarrot (646291) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:13PM (#7292207)
    There are some things that you can control in the workplace and among these are your own attitude and approach. If you choose to get involved in backstabbing and power struggles and the like then that's your choice. You can also take a no-BS stance and do the following:

    1. Tell the truth. 2. Stay out of other people's business. 3. Do the right thing.

    Yes, there are some things that can't be avoided. If you are under attack by someone trying to get ahead or find a scapegoat, you have to defend yourself. But, even in these situations, there are choices.

    • by UID30 (176734) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @02:01PM (#7292771)
      You can also take a no-BS stance and do the following:


      1. Tell the truth. 2. Stay out of other people's business. 3. Do the right thing.
      While this is a noble endevour, it by no means precludes you from the type of environment discussed in the review & book.

      I, for example, worked for years at a large telecom company (i'll not name them, but will tell you they are as infamous as enron and are now in chpt 11 bankruptcy). During my stint there as a programmer, I tried very hard to work by a set of rules very similar to what kneecarrot described above. The reality of the situation, however, was that despite my good intentions, my senior manager was a scheming political beast who, when the situation was politically advantageous, would point me like a gun and pull the trigger, thus releasing my "truthful and honest intentions" on his target.

      Because of that environment, I left the company as soon as I found a suitable replacement job. I'm not recommending the book under review, however ... merely pointing out that every work environment consists of more than 1 worker's ethics.

    • 1. Tell the truth. 2. Stay out of other people's business. 3. Do the right thing.

      In an environment with backstabbing and power struggles, the above recipie leads to burnout and delusion. It really is better to quit and find a better work environment.
    • You can also take a no-BS stance and do the following:
      1. Tell the truth. 2. Stay out of other people's business. 3. Do the right thing.

      4. Keep your resume tight, because in many "business" settings there are two types: victims and victimizers. Guess which one you're setting up to be.

      At some point uncompromizing integrity will be completely incompatible with your management/leadership/PHB, and at that point you'll be invidually surplus and right-sized out the door with a craptacular "recommendation" and a

      1. Tell the truth.
      2. Stay out of other people's business.
      3. Do the right thing.

      Good principles and we should strive to meet them.

      Be warned, though, that your life will still not be stress-free utopian bliss.

      There are inherent conflicts between 1 and 2.

      Boss: "What's your opinion of Joe Weasel in Marketing?"
      You: (after you attend yet another Joe Weasel presentation where he inflates himself and deftly scrapes the gum off the bottom of his shoe onto a defenseless adversary) "He certainly gives flashy present


    • The only problem I see with that (and I agree with every point) is telling the truth to a clueless manager doesn't always help. You have to be able to back up any claims with hard documentation and numbers. To the MBA, it's all about pennies, and every conversation you have with them has to end with "and this will save the company money" or it will go in one ear and out the other.
    • Not saying optimism is a bad thing, but sometimes when you don't play "the game", you end up as either a footstool or nailed to a giant t.

      I think you're right on all 3 points, but I also think you have to find the right environment to practice those 3 points in. I'll outline the result of what I think the worst cases are below;

      1. If you always tell the truth in an environment where people make you an enemy just because that's all they know how to do, you'll end up in an inquisition sooner rather than l

  • by batlock (116547) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:16PM (#7292258)
    Is it something like this [gnu.org]?
  • by beacher (82033) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:16PM (#7292263) Homepage
    This review makes it sound like "Tin Foil Hats for Dummies". Yes, I am a conspiracy theorist. Yes, HR has to reply to me via email, perticularly how they can justify working salaried employees past 40 hours a week while paying them less than $27/hour in direct violation of the FSLA. Yes I move all of my personal/HR emails offsite. Yes, I encrypt when necessary... but TEMPEST?
    Cmon, TEMPEST shielding is like putting up a grounded copper cage around my cube. I don't necessarily trust my management to make sound IS/IT decisions, but some common sense will go a long way in covering your ass. No, I'm not new here, but I must have missed the memo that said Tues/Thurs is Feed The Trolls day ( TIFTD ?)
    -B
    • This review makes it sound like "Tin Foil Hats for Dummies". Yes, I am a conspiracy theorist. Yes, HR has to reply to me via email, perticularly how they can justify working salaried employees past 40 hours a week while paying them less than $27/hour in direct violation of the FSLA. Yes I move all of my personal/HR emails offsite. Yes, I encrypt when necessary... but TEMPEST?

      Don't you get it? this is SubGenius prose, so of course it's going to be a bit purple. It's just fun and games.

      • Don't you get it? this is SubGenius prose, so of course it's going to be a bit purple. It's just fun and games.

        Of course all the pinkboys don't get it. I wonder what smidgen of a percent of Slashdot readers understand the book and where it's coming from.

        My SO and I were going through Revelation X the other day, and we were talking about how textbooks and papers (she's doing chem grad work), would benefit from the SubGenius vantage point. As in serious works with overblown language and points. There's

    • ... how they can justify working salaried employees past 40 hours a week while paying them less than $27/hour in direct violation of the FSLA...
      What did you find out? I'm in a similar situation here (making the equivalent of about 22.50 an hour and working unpaid overtime [they give us comp time but i'd rather have the money, TYVM])
  • by Kaimelar (121741) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:17PM (#7292266) Homepage
    His only goal is to warn new hires about the various landmines that exist, buried under the polite exterior of the corporate landscape. You may not like what he has to say, but no one ever said that software engineering was a pretty job. If they did, they were telling you a lie.

    Is this really the "corporate landscape" for many software engineers? A job so bad where you feel compelled to check for keyloggers, keep paper trails locked in a home safe, etc.?

    Granted, I've not been out of school that long, but every job I've had was in a friendly, cooperative environment w/ good people who wanted to write good software. We don't assign blame, we don't sabotage people's code -- we fix problems we find and give each other help when its needed. But then, I've always worked in scientific computing, so maybe I'm not in the "corporate landscape" as such.

    So am I wearing rose-colored glasses and blinding myself to the cut-throat world of commercial software development, or is the author of this book simply over-reacting?

    Also, if I were to find myself in a job where I felt a need to take the precautions suggested in this book, I'd be looking for a new job. I can't believe that any company could maintain such a draconian work environment and keep employees.

    I now sit back and await all the posts telling me how naive I am. :-)

    • You are living in a dreamworld, Neo. Most companies have politics. Politics for programmers are no different than politics for other types of careers. There are liars, backstabbers, lazy people that take credit for your work, lazy people that blame you for their failures, and just all around jerks.

      Always cover your butt. Document everything. Save emails. This applies to any job, not just programming.

      Oh, and HR is NOT there to help you. They work for the company, and their job is to protect the comp
    • Maybe just lucky (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Migraineman (632203) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:35PM (#7292480)
      I used to work in the backstabbing corporate machine. The place was real hell. I had a program pulled out from under me on the day before our populated circuit boards arrived. The Principal Engineer called a meeting with the CEO, the COO, head of sales, etc. and said "I don't know what they're doing, but I'd do it this other way." To call it a hatchet-job would be overly polite.

      We produced meeting logs and design review documentation that was signed by the backstabbing PE, etc. It didn't help much, as the PE was the CEO's butt-boy.

      Folks used to think we were overly paranoid because we made the managers physically sign all of our documentation. After "Black Thursday," folks had a different attitide.

      I'm sure there are places to work where the office politics are pretty benign. Unfortunately, there are a lot of weasels out there, and they thrive on "improving" situations that already run well. Enjoy it while it lasts.
    • So am I wearing rose-colored glasses and blinding myself to the cut-throat world of commercial software development, or is the author of this book simply over-reacting?

      Call it both, or a little of each. I've often felt that people will find conspiricies where they look for them. I've worked with people in the past that seemed to have issues with all sorts of co-workers - sometimes the same ones that I cam work just fine with. In a few of those cases, they were the ones making everyone else edgy, so it
    • Is this really the "corporate landscape" for many software engineers? ... Granted, I've not been out of school that long

      I have been out of school a long time, and I can tell you that this does not happen in large software development organizations at any level likely to affect a new-hire. When there's a billion dollar contract on the line, the customers look for organizational maturity and established processes which protect the mission.

      I haven't read the book or worked in small organizations, but perha

    • Just to reassure you, I have NEVER experienced problems of the magnitude that this book talks about. I have been in the industry for 16 years, and in my experience, office life is just like outside life. A few mean and sneaky people exist, but the vast majority are friendly and helpful.

      I would guess that your experiences depend somewhat on the type of person YOU are.

    • by OmniGeek (72743)
      I've worked for good managers and bad, and for the most part (aside from having one's department deliberately nuked by an idiot top-management team I eventually outlasted - true joy!) I've never had to put up with much in the way of dirty politics. Most of my colleagues have been and are good folks, the rest don't last. That said, I think the following rules will serve you well:
      * Document your work and accomplishments and keep hard copies.
      * Act so you need not fear your chickens coming home to roost (great
    • by Tangurena (576827) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @04:30PM (#7294627)
      I have had several different types of positions in the not too distant past. Some were as machiavellian as described in this book.

      Example 1: A bank. Phone conversations were recorded (but it was denied if you asked). Email and web access was monitored. If you were overheard talking about leaving your job, you were escorted to the door. If you browsed monster.com, you were escorted to the door. I was hired to make web pages with Visual Interdev, but that was not on the approved software list. So when it was time to renew my contract, I was dismissed because a software audit showed that I had unapproved software on my computer: Visual Studio.

      Example 2: A software development company in the health care industry. There was a rather complicated workflow process and one of the managers did not like doing one step because it was inconvenient. During a very nasty meeting (the sort you walk into knowing that someone is getting fired), I demonstrated on the blackboard how the data moved thru the system and where it stopped. I was able to show via the data and paper trails where the data went and who dropped the ball. Until that point, all the eyes were on me and my department was about to get tossed out the door. When I showed the part she dropped the ball on, and several other samples of the same failure, those eyes shifted to her. Because of her relationship with the CEO (not that kind you dirty pervert, they were long time close friends), she was unfireable. When the CEO was later booted by the board of directors, she was given 2 weeks pay instead of notice and walked out the door. Because of her (illegal) immigration status, anyone with an axe to grind could have called up INS and gotten her deported.

      Example 3: a small business. Because the person running the business was the vindictive sort (some ex-employees were seached by the police theft of property), as I started to look for alternate employment, I built up a "cya" file at home of things that would get the owner arrested for some serious federal time if they fell into the police's hands (they would only find it if they busted into my house, although a second copy of the file was kept in my parent's garage). I kept that file for about 2 years afterwards, then discarded it.

      Example 4: a large corporation. It was known that several hundred people were getting laid off towards the end of the year (about 10% reduction in staff). Some not-so-competant people who were afraid of losing their positions yielded to temptation to sabotage other's software. Your project is constantly buggy, late and over budget? Pack your things. When the sabotage was uncovered, they were laid off too, but the victims were not rehired.

      You see, part of the problem is that in the USA we are brought up to believe that we live in a meritocracy. That the better mouse trap will get the market share. That if that mousetrap fails to survive in the market, it was the fault of the makers, not the fault of the others' producers who buy off congress to make the better one illegal. That the better person will get the job. And when we don't get that job, and the person who did get it was not qualified, then we must have done something wrong. Not until we start realizing that the other person got the job because of reasons that had nothing to do with how smart or qualified or better looking or educated, that you will understand that the publically stated things are not the real things. What is said has very little to do with what is going on. Instead, it has become a place where luck is more important than skill, and watching your back and covering your butt is how you make your own luck. Blaming the victim is our national pasttime.

      Your naivite is a result of luck and innocence. There will come a day when you are burned badly, and if you are honest with yourself, will dig into and analyse the root causes of that incident. Honestly, I hope you can live your whole life in innocence. The job market is tight enought that people can get away with treating skilled, technical wor

  • by metroid composite (710698) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:17PM (#7292275) Homepage Journal
    Reverend Blunden's sermons focus on things that the college professors, in their tweedy jackets, will never talk about. As such, this book should be required reading by computer science majors, who often have a number of misconceptions concerning the industry that they are about to enter.

    Maybe not, but having taken a couple of grad courses in Comp-Sci, I can say that the day we all switch from PCs to 5-tuple one-tape Turing Machines I will so be set.

    Joking asside, Universities aren't about practical education (barring Medicine and Law...and to some extent Engineering). You don't go to university to learn how to be Bill Gates (god forbid). You go there to learn how things really ought to be. Then again, despite how ideal Universities try to be, research ends up having its fair share of backstabbing and intellectual thievery.

    • Then again, despite how ideal Universities try to be, research ends up having its fair share of backstabbing and intellectual thievery.

      Hehehe. This is the understatement of the year. University Politics are, in my experience, _worse_ than the corporate version - Corporate politics are least tempered to some degree by the fact that the corporation needs to make a profit, while Universities generally have no such restrictions. Add the demands of various funding agencies into research projects and you g

  • Book Prices (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:18PM (#7292286)
    Before the morons start quoting prices from B&N vs. Amazon, let's remember there are more than those two online. Try shopping at AddAll [addall.com]. It's a shopping bot for books. Prices: Overstock: $21.99, BooksAMillion: $27.44, Amazon: $27.93. Switching to BestBookBuys [bestbookbuys.com] we get BookPool at $22.50, along with (click for the results, see Amazon in 5th place!: results [bestwebbuys.com]. And finally, we go to BookPool with a price of $22.50. Now, can we quit using B&N and Amazon ONLY? Jeez. http://www.bestwebbuys.com/books/search?isrc=b-hom e-search&q=1590592344&t=ISBN&x=16&y=13
  • Agreed (Score:5, Informative)

    by nycsubway (79012) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:19PM (#7292300) Homepage
    If the subject of the book is similar to the review, then I agree completely with the author. Computer Science in the corporate world is nothing like it is in the academic world. Something that is accurate and efficient in college is often not something that is done in a company.

    The concept of politics is something that changes the meaning of the work you do at a company. In college, you are given an assignment to do. You do it, you are graded on it and you move on. At a company, you are asked what the customer wants in their software, and are not given specs. You are supposed to guess what they want. You are also never given a realistic timetable in which to do the project.

    Some of those hindrences to doing a project are caused by outside forces, but most are caused by inside forces. Someone is trying to impress someone else in the company by promising something before it can be done. Or they may have their team develop a project and then release it to upper management only to find its not wanted.

    Politics plays a huge role in what happens to the programmers at the bottom as well. Utimately everything that occurs to the programmer can be a result of politics. If someone cancels a project, it may be that they simply didn't like the person doing it.

    At my company, we are in limbo over whether we will continue to develop a program to do something that we currently license software to do. To replace the functionality of the software will take a couple months and is nothing more than a couple of webpages and a database. We pay $250,000/yr for the outside software and can save all of that by doing it in house. The reason we are having trouble is politics. Certain people dont want the software inhouse.

    Is it in the best interest of the company? No. But it's in the best interest of someone at the company. Thats a danger inside such large corporations, but it is how business gets done.
    • Re:Agreed (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheTick (27208)

      The concept of politics is something that changes the meaning of the work you do at a company. In college, you are given an assignment to do. You do it, you are graded on it and you move on. At a company, you are asked what the customer wants in their software, and are not given specs. You are supposed to guess what they want. You are also never given a realistic timetable in which to do the project.

      I think you are confusing "college" with "undergraduate work". In the above paragraph, s/customer/adviso

  • by apoplectic (711437) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:20PM (#7292311)
    Given the sordid aspects of working in an IT department, you'd think that this would make for a great cheesy, soap-opraesque TV show a la Melrose Place. Backstabbing, surreptitious monitoring, random sexual encounters...uh, was that mentioned in the book?
    • I thought this quote from an interview with the author Max Barry [maxbarry.com] (about his book Syrup) was fitting:

      I heard Syrup is a thinly-veiled description of your time at Hewlett-Packard.

      That's a filthy lie. Why, if HP was like Syrup, it would be a seedy den of politics and corporate back-stabbing, brimming with sexual tension. That is absolutely not true. There was very little sexual tension.

  • by bug-eyed monster (89534) <bem03&canada,com> on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:21PM (#7292318)
    "I doubt very highly that your instructors will tell you how to handle all the nasty little things that can occur when humans work in groups..."

    That's the problem right there. Every student getting a degree in computers should take a mandatory class covering office politics, hiring legals, and how to deal with various peers, managers and devil^H^H^H^H^Hmarketing people.

    Sure, we can read /., dilbert and userfriendly to get the same instructions, but usually we start reading these only after we've learned about this stuff the hard way.
    • Sure, we can read /., dilbert and userfriendly to get the same instructions

      You forgot the BOFH [theregister.co.uk]
    • by kfg (145172)
      And you only appreciate them because you have learned them the hard way.

      Never stop learning, but start doing it outside the classroom as soon as possible. We have become a "course" oriented society, much to its detriment. School can only teach knowledge, not wisdom, and it isn't even very good at teaching knowledge. Get outside, find a mentor if you can and learn by experience and transmission, even if the process isn't always pleasant or financially rewarding in the long run.

      Hey, even if you get screwed
  • by BillsPetMonkey (654200) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:21PM (#7292327)
    they pretend to pay us so we pretend to work. In the UK, developers salaries are cheaper than some hourly rates offered in India with outsouring companies ... but moving along ... it comes down to the fact that good programmers are rarely good at getting on with people.

    If you can do your technical stuff well and be a nice person (even better a popular preson), a company will value you and you can rise above office political bullshit.

    The books author sounds embittered by the fact that joining the software industry at the height of the tech boom didn't make them as rich as (Kill) Bill. Get over it and get along with people.
  • by LNO (180595) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:22PM (#7292329)
    Does he address how to surf Slashdot during business hours without being caught?

    So far my best reaction is to begin shrieking like a schoolgirl and I don't think that's going to work out long-term.
  • Defense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by yeoua (86835) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:22PM (#7292335)
    People go out and learn martial arts to protect themselves just incase. (Well... most of them do) They don't just go out and learn it to take down the next person they meet on the street.

    Just because this information is laid out as it is, doesn't mean you should use it just because and cause such a malicious environment.

    Remember, it takes everyone to create that happy environment.. but just one person to create that malicious environment. This is for that time when that one guy (or guys if you are really unlucky) is on you and you need to protect yourself.
  • I would make a joke about Microsoft and how they are pure evil, but I like the size of my genitals just the way they are...

    In reality though, a book like this seems to deal with real situations around the cube farm... If you are new to the CS world and don't wanna be taken for a ride or sent to the goatse guy, this seems like a good read
  • by Valar (167606) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:27PM (#7292388)
    My preferred guide to software development is the corporate environment presented in a fine piece of cinema. You may have seen it. It is called "Office Space." So far the only thing I've found lacking in reality is Milton.
  • by tony clifton (134762) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:40PM (#7292533)
    Here's a short version of what you need to know when you're working for someone.

    Do you know the difference between a cost center and a profit center?

    A cost center's something the business needs to do but doesn't make any money. Think accounting, or maintaining print servers -- the goal is to make its function as cheap as possible. One attractive way is to offshore it, provided things work out as cheaply as possible.

    A profit center makes the business money. Like software development, or whatever it is that the business does: doing a good job will make the company money.

    It's always better to work for the profit center.
    • I would add to this, at the risk of overgeneralizing (but hey, that's what slashdot is for...):

      If you find yourself an expert in something that is doomed to be a cost center (e.g., sysadmin), try to be a self-employed contractor/consultant. Companies will treat your role like one anyway in terms of penny pinching, but you have much more leverage (and tax breaks) if you are your own boss.
    • True, but you can redefine anything to be a profit center if you are creative enough. I worked for one place with a corporate travel office, which basicly was a travel agent. They maximized profits for themselves, and made themselves look great. Travel agents are paid by the airlines (and others) based on a kickback type arrangement, which depends on the price of the ticket. So if you went someplace they would normally put you on the most expensive ticket they could, which maximized their profits. That

    • in sales--better
    • A profit center makes the business money. Like software development, or whatever it is that the business does: doing a good job will make the company money.

      Oh, grasshopper, you mistake a point -- {software,product} development is a cost center, it does not make money, and is a cost center make cheaper.

      Sales make money. This explains a lot, when you look around at places that do development.

      -dB

  • Entertaining... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by apoplectic (711437) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @01:41PM (#7292540)
    I'm sure it is an entertaining read with perhaps some salient points with regards to the IT industry. But, does this describe anything truly different or more dystopian that what an average non-IT worker puts up with in his own non-IT world with non-IT managers? I think we tend to make more of our own situations than is justified; work environments are similarly screwed up regardless of the industry.
  • Yes, I do ask that people always repeat verbal requests through email (it forces the writer to really think about what they are asking for).

    But other than that-- if I have to work with someone who wants to screw me that bad I will move on.
  • Learn to NEGOTIATE! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ridgelift (228977) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @02:20PM (#7293015)
    Having mentioned this many times and been modded down into the netherworld, I'll mention it again in hopes that someone will catch on.

    This book is all about one thing: negotiating. It's a skill that is seldom taught formally, and yet is used every day of your life. Even when you were a wee babe trying to figure out how to get a cookie from mommy, you were learning to negotiate.

    Unfortunately techs are usually poorly equipped to negotiate skillfully, a fact I learned personally when my scum-of-a-boss-who-I-thought-was-a-friend ripped me off for thousands because I didn't know how to negotiate properly. For years I was bitter, until I started checking out books and audio tapes on how to negotiate effectively. Bottom line: it was my fault I got ripped off.

    You've only got three resources: time, energy and money. When you work for an employer, it's a give and take of how much of those three resources you're willing to exchange. The best teacher of negotiating I've heard so far is a guy named Roger Dawson (I won't post the link, just Google his name or go to your local library).

    So now you MBA's out there who know what I'm talking about can mod me down now.
    • Okay, seriously, on his main page, this is what you see in BIG BOLD LETTERS:
      NEWSFLASH!

      THE POWER NEGOTIATING INSTITUTE OF NIGERIA IS NOW OPEN!
      Great. Just great. All we need is MORE of those e-mails. :P
    • Well, I don't about you, Ridgelift, but when I was a wee babe I wasn't negotiating for Mommy's cookie.

      BUT ... you are absolutely correct. After having been an independent developer for a decade and a half (and having gotten screwed royally a couple of times) I have to agree with you. Anyone with mod points please beam this guy up from the nether regions.

      Negotiation is actually not the first step. Often it just takes having an awareness of the other guy's agenda to make all the difference. I mean,
  • ... was in watching Michael Crichton's Disclosure.

    Either I'm exceedingly lucky, or these types of hostile environs aren't nearly as widespread as this guy would have you believe.

    Or maybe i'm so inept that I can't see the game being played around me... where's that foil carton?
    • My only experience with poverty is those Christian Children's Fund commercials on TV.

      Either I'm exceedingly lucky, or those types of poor environs aren't as widespread as the guy in the commercial would have you believe.

      Or maybe I'm so inept that I think that my personal experiences can be generalized to a world of tens - nay, hundreds of millions of people.
      • i was making light of the issue of implied frequency of hostile environments, and the suggestions that such recommended attitudes and behaviors are productive applications of an engineers time and energy.

        something altogether different than how you seem to have interpreted it, given your fairly extreme analogy.

        suffice to say i don't believe my personal experience is indicative of world-wide norms.
        by the same token though, i don't take frantic arm-waving reporting for social norms either.

        i don't believe -m
  • by AshtangiMan (684031) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @02:35PM (#7293214)
    I doubt very highly that your instructors will tell you how to handle all the nasty little things that can occur when humans work in groups: backstabbing, stonewalling, sabotage, etc. The sad truth is that the people who do actually learn about these tactics (under the guise of "organizational behavior") are MBAs, the people who end up being managers. Folks, the deck has been stacked: The MBAs have been given whips, and the CS majors have all been given saddles. It's called animal husbandry; ... now go look up the word "cull."

    This is a little bit on the extremist side. I took a few org behavior classes on my way to dropping out of an MBA program. The classes I took were exactly 180 out from how the above characterizes them. As future company members (employees) we were encouraged to think about how to listen to your teammates, to think about how the heirarchical models of employee, manager, and worker were not optimal for good business, rather teams where job title have nothing to do with role could vastly improve the nature of the working environment and the bottom line. This is regarded as "hooey" by the status quo, but embraced by techies everywhere (sorry for the sweeping generalization of my own). I agree that the software industry needs to change, but B-Schools (at least some of them) also recognize this about many industries, and are actively teaching MBAs to be less egotistical and heirarchy minded, and better listeners and facilitators (which all of my good bosses were).
    Techies need to be trained in this as well, so that everyone coming in to the working environment understands what collaboration and teamwork mean, and how to contribute effectively in that environment.
    Please ignore any grammar and spelling errors, and let me know what you think.
  • Who's kidding who? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 23, 2003 @02:37PM (#7293239)

    Don't kid yourself; a solid paper trail can save you during a witch-hunt.


    How cute. The naivete boggles the mind. Now, grow up and realize that there is nothing that can save you during a witch hunt. Even if you document your way out of the frontal attack, you will be noted as a troublemaker (for defending yourself) and be eliminated on the next pretext that they come up with.

    When faces with a purge, the best course is to resign yourself to your fate, and take as many others down with you as you can manage.
    • by globalar (669767) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @04:37PM (#7294694) Homepage
      "there is nothing that can save you during a witch hunt."

      You are absolutely right. A witch hunt doesn't have too much to do with who is really the witch, but more to do with who can be pinned as one.

      That said, it is a good habit to always keep track of things involving other people. This applies to all sorts of things aside from your job - Your finances, your other assets, your email correspondence, and even your relatives. When something does come up or somebody is raising hell or a pitchfork, at least you have records. I wouldn't always recommend arguing with the mob of pitchforks, but the mob doesn't last forever and sooner or later, it comes in handy to have good documentation.

      "take as many others down with you as you can manage."

      I think that is where this whole concept goes off the deep end. Play the game by some good rules that a few others can probably respect and break the rules every now and then so they don't get you in bigger trouble.

      But remember that the world is not all a pit of mean dogs and some people may actually support you and help you. Still, those special individuals will only do so if they see you as more human than mean dog.
  • A good way to leave a non paper trail is to screw around with a fortune-mod, then re-make it. I just wonder how many disgruntled coders do this. To bad you really have to know how to code to do it. It doesn't work with Visual Studio!
  • "Those who like sausage and laws and software should not see them being made."

    (Okay, I added the part about software.)
  • Disciplined Minds (Score:3, Interesting)

    by theNeilster (68744) on Thursday October 23, 2003 @07:39PM (#7296162)
    This book reminds me of Disciplined Minds [disciplinedminds.com], a book about the subjugation of personal political and ideological beliefs to the need to 'get on'. In a nutshell, we may all think we're nice people, and we may all believe that it's right to help others, to 'do good' and so on, but when it comes to the modern workplace, particularly the corporate workplace, these ideas are pushed aside. In fact in the modern corporation internal competition is encouraged: i.e. don't see your team mates as your friends, colleagues, etc. See them rather as competitors on the promotion ladder.

    When I step back and think about it, I'm amazed that we put up with it. For example, annual appraisals are the norm. Some people will tell you that these are a necessary part of any modern business, and that they benefit the appraised as well as the company. Fine, but never forget who's in the driving seat and has all the power at these things. Who appraises who, and why should the world be like that? We should look at these power structures and challenge them for their legitimacy: what exactly is it that gives *your manager* - who is, after all, another flawed human being, not unlike yourself or anyone else you might meet - the right to actually pass judgement on you and give you a rating? Why do we as a society let this happen? It's not the way normal 'more voluntary', natural human relationships work.

    What gives managers that power right now, is their ability to climb the greasy pole quicker than you. And it goes right up the chain, to the top few (in relative terms, absolutely minute) people at the very top of the chain - the people with all the wealth/capital (== power).

    The nature of corporations as "systems" is to maximise profit, market share, and so on. That's what they do. If they don't, they cease to exist, because some other bigger corporations either wipes them out or gobbles them up. But this motivation to maximise profit in these huge, powerful corporations does not always, in fact many would argue, does not typically sit well with what we should do as a human society. So we eat up the planet's oil resources and worry about tomorrow tomorrow, we ignore global warming, and occasionally (as was recently shown), we go to war and kill people.

    Corporations, the biggest of which are now larger than many countries, and which hold huge political sway in supposedly democratic countries, are 'tyrannical' in nature. Internally they are extremely hierarchichal, with the power flowing from the top downwards. We wax lyrical about how great democracy is and so on, but the vast majority of people spend a huge amount of their lives in a workplace with zero democracy (ever been asked to vote for your manager?). They're pretty much told what to do, and they do it to get on. Or they're weeded out.

    Anyway, I've kind of strayed from my main point, which is that the modern world requires "professionals" to behave a certain way - in fact when people say 'be professional' they mean control your natural reactions and behave in a way that the surrounding entity dictates. Anyone who doesn't conform to this either (1) doesn't get on, or (2) is weeded out of the system.

    Please excuse the excess verbiage.

The economy depends about as much on economists as the weather does on weather forecasters. -- Jean-Paul Kauffmann

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