Yourdon speaks out on 'peopleware'

Universities are a good hunting ground for new recruits, says development guru Ed Yourdon, but send out a senior IT professional to pick out the promising graduates -- 'not the buffoons in human resources, who wouldn't know one end of a computer from another'.

Universities are a good hunting ground for new recruits, says development guru Ed Yourdon, but send out a senior IT professional to pick out the promising graduates – “not the buffoons in human resources, who wouldn’t know one end of a computer from another”.

In an address leavened with humour on “peopleware” to last week’s Software Developers’ conference, Yourdon enlarged from the remarks he made to Computerworld (see Online recruiting good starting point: Yourdon) on recruitment to encompass retention and good team organisation.

Offer bonuses to workers for recommending other promising people the company might recruit, he counsels. To combat the “brain drain” of Kiwi developers overseas, an organisation could well explore offshore recruitment – even employing workers online who do not want to move to New Zealand – though he acknowledges this moves against one of his other principles: to ensure physical proximity of a team wherever possible.

Spacious and quiet working conditions have been objectively demonstrated to reduce defect rates in software, he says; according to a US survey, the top 25% of developers by performance have on average 78 square feet (7.4 square metres) of workspace, compared to 46 square feet (4.3 square metres) for the bottom 25%.

Selection of people can perhaps benefit from formal personality testing, such as a Myers-Briggs analysis, Yourdon says. Most good developers fit into well-defined categories in Myers-Briggs – most are “introvert” types. But within the team once formed, those with appropriate personalities can be assigned roles, such as the “chairman, who demonstrates leadership and good decision-making, the “shaper” who sees the big picture, the provocateur who suggests radical new ideas, the “monitor-evaluator” who tries to shoot them down, and the “company worker” who just wants to work hard and please management.

Project managers should be allowed to choose their own teams, he says. Management should never force a random selection of people onto a manager as a “team”.

A sensible amount of overtime is expected, but too much gives diminishing returns in terms of productivity and error rate.

And allow time for fun, says Yourdon; with occasional (perhaps weekly) lunch and dinner breaks together, and pizzas and beer for late nights.

Another suggestion is to retain an outsourcer of “concierge” services to take care of the mundane tasks from emptying wastebaskets to running errands for the workers’ spouses and families – so they are not distracted from the task of development.

“I can detect from the silence that services like that are not widely used here,” he says.

Footnote

“Are you related to that guy from way back who did all that structured development stuff?”

“That was me. I’m the same man.”

“I thought you must be dead.”

A reported conversation between Ed Yourdon and a new acquaintance, highlighting his long and distinguished career.

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