Software Engineering State of the Practice: An Interview with Jerry Weinberg

[interview]

other disciplines have come to understand this. I have a number of friends whose sons and daughters are in wonderful engineering co-op programs, where they spend a little more time in school in elapsed time, but every six months or so, they go off and work in an engineering firm. They have something real to tie things to. For example, over the years, we’ve done our problemsolving leadership classes a few times with university students and it doesn't go well with them. Yet, it's outstanding with people who’ve worked in the field. It's because they have no real experience to tie stuff to whether they're social concepts or technical concepts. These students just come out of school with way too much theory of one thing and another and not enough sense of how these would really work and what it would take.

Those experiential programs are very, very helpful, in my opinion. But, there is such a hurry to get ahead. Nobody wants to go back to school. And, companies don’t want to invest in that, even for a week's worth of training. I get people telling me, "Oh well, there's no point in paying for training our people, because they just leave." Well, of course, they leave because they don't get training.

I would also say to a young person—and this is real for me because one of my sons has had a career in this business and I've always advised him this way—only work for good organizations. If they're not well managed, then get out and go to a better place and be around the best people you can. One time he was working for a company that did government contracts and they asked him to falsify the hours he worked so they could bill against a certain contract. He called me up because he'd never heard of anything like this and I said "just leave" and he did. You spend too much time in a place like that and it just spoils you from ever doing really good work. That kind of lack of integrity isn't necessarily widespread, but there is enough of it around that you don't want to get yourself caught in that.

Similarly, with incompetence, in management or in technical things, my advice is always work with people who are better than you and then you'll grow. And, if you find yourself not growing, you should move on to something else, go back to school, or go work for somebody else. This is how you develop and this is how the field develops.

SQP: That's such good advice. I feel lucky that I've been able to do that in my own career.
JW: Yeah. Me too. Me too. And I have violated it enough times, not so many but enough times, that I know it's practical advice and dangerous advice to ignore.

SQP: How about advice for growing new technical leaders or advice on becoming a technical leader?
JW: OK. The first thing I would advise, is, if you don't want to do that, don't do it. One of the problems we have is that people are not even very far along in their technical careers and then their managers say, "Well, we need a manager so we are appointing you; really want to do that. As you get older, you might develop a sense of "Well, I'd like to be more involved in leadership.” Some people might have this sense when they are young, but it typically goes in more traditional fields that there are older people around to you don't really want

About the author

Beth Layman's picture Beth Layman

A successful process improvement consultant, facilitator, teacher, and coach with more than twenty-five years of experience in the high tech sector, Beth Layman is an authority on measurement and process improvement. Her wide-ranging experience includes commercial, government, aerospace, and product software organizations. Beth provides training and interactive workshops, assessments, management consulting, and coaching in areas such as process definition, improvement, software measurement, project management, portfolio management, and software quality assurance. Beth is an SEI Authorized CMMI® Lead Appraiser and is co-author of Practical Software Measurement: Objective Information for Decision Makers.

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