Can you fire a team?

Yesterday, I finished my dinner in a French restaurant with traditional cremme brulee. This time I’ve also ordered a small glass of sauterne wine. Then we went to our friend’s house to polish it with some good old port.

But no matter what software developers drink or eat in February 2010, one way or the other the conversation will slide into a No-Flash-Player-on-iPad discussion. Apple pretends that they will never allow Flash Player on Steve’s OS (SOS), because it’s buggy. Adobe’s CTO, Kevin Lynch, states that Apple doesn’t cooperate.

After the third round, I made a statement that when the dust settles, everyone will thank Steve Jobs for forcing Adobe to make Flash Player better and faster, which is a win-win situation for all application developers.

My drinking buddy responded that Adobe has a tiny group of hard core developers who work on Flash Player, have deep understanding of its internals, have the status of sacred cows, and Kevin Lynch can’t put pressure on them regardless of what Steve says or wants.

When I hear about any prima donnas in IT, I’m getting easily excited. I believe that if any developer in any IT team starts exhibiting the prima donna symptoms, there’s only one solution to this disease: s/he has to be fired.

My opponent was not so sure and replied, “You can’t fire the entire team”.

Don’t get me wrong, I not saying that the Flash Player team has prima donnas nor that Adobe’s management can’t control them… Why bug fix that cause Flash Player crashes were not deployed in production for more than a year? Does it take Steve Job to have a product manager openly admin that they didn’t pay enough attention to Flash Player bugs? Will it be different from now on? Anyway, after a couple of old ports it was interesting to dig into this direction a bit deeper.

I told my friends a story that happened with my friend Gregory ten years ago. Back than he had several gas stations in our state of New Jersey.Gregory had about 20 gas attendants working for him. All of them were relatives from some Asian country. They were self-managed, low maintenance, and hard working people. One day, the leader of the clan came to Greg and demanded raising salaries to all of them. Greg refused. Then the envoy said, “If you won’t raise our pay, we’ll all quit”.

Greg quietly responded, “Go back and tell everyone that all of you are fired as of this very moment.” Greg had to temporarily close his gas stations – he went to South Jersey, where the pays were lower, hired and relocated 20 new gas attendants. Greg has balls. Yes, he lost money, but didn’t bend to blackmailers who believed that they were irreplaceable.

The situation in the job market of gas attendants is very similar to what I see in IT. It’s a pretty small world, all local recruiters know you, and employers require references from the previous place of work.
Two weeks later, the blackmailer came back to Greg begging to hire them back, but it was a little too late.

No, I don’t think that developing Flash Player is as easy as pumping gas. But the source code of the latest build Flash Player is safely stored in a central repository, and if, for any hypothetical reason, Adobe executives will need to replace the entire team, they can do it within a month or so. There are so many brilliant programmers in this country!

Sorry Flash Player folks, for using your team for illustrating my attitude to prima donnas in IT. I believe that you did a great job with this VM and it ‘s gonna get better (trust me, I have something to compare with). But our conversation about your team did take place yesterday, and I ‘ve openly shared it with my readers. Yes, there is always room for improvement, but I’m sure there are plenty of non-technical reasons for the current situation in Mac OS and SOS.

I simply don’t like prima donnas. Plus sauterne. Plus the old port …

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