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Should you bite the hand that feeds you? | Data Architecture
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Should you bite the hand that feeds you?

Jamie Thompson is an MVP, but more to the point he is a very experienced SSIS developer and a prolific contributor to the SQL Server community. Surely this is why he was awarded an MVP by Microsoft.

His recent blog post on GeoFlow (an add-in for Excel that delivers 3D visualisation and story telling) has raised the issue of whether MVP’s should criticise Microsoft.

I think its fair to say that the consensus from respondents in the blog comments, is yes criticise if its warranted, but don’t get into the habit of always moaning. Positive feedback is as crucial as negative feedback. You could also argue negative feedback can have a positive effect if handled appropriately (both the giving and receiving).

I should also point out that the suggestion that MVP’s should not criticise Microsoft  (that I saw) came from another MVP (not an employee of MS, I assume). Please read the blog post and comments if you want to be sure as there are many and I skimmed some of the entries.

Many of the comments were from IT professionals trying to deliver mobile BI solutions to their organisation or clients and were expressing their frustration at the lack of Microsoft mobile BI support. Jamie’s blog discusses the lack of integration of the GeoFlow project offerings into the core MS BI delivery platform.

I expect every MVP at times, will question if the role is good for them. I guess it is very beneficial, for mostly intangible reasons. I imagine being a good MVP takes a huge amount of time and personal cost to attend conferences, user groups etc. and reasons to accept or decline the role would take into account many more things than the freedom to criticise Microsoft.

What about biting the hand of your employer or line manager, which brings me to the other side of the coin, perhaps kissing the hand that feeds you?

Within an IT team or department, the trouble with always moaning is you can become a miserable git, stop enjoying your work and more importantly, be too busy whinging and miss opportunities to deal with the initial cause of the moaning. This is crudely referred to as ‘having your head up your …”. No-one will want to talk to you, work with you and you can forget anyone listening to you. Even when you are right. Think Peter and the Wolf.

But the opposite can be just as unproductive.

Beginning of the week – “Any issues with meeting the deadline for your [insert project deliverable] ?” asked the project manager.

“No its all good” answered the programmer.

End of the month “why is your [project deliverable] not ready?” asked the project manager.

“Because [insert excuse]” said the programmer.

The excuses are mostly irrelevant at this stage for the project manager. Project managers [should] want to intervene and resolve issues before deadlines are missed. Firefighting when its too late is okay every now and then but it becomes soul destroying when its endemic. I bet it’s often at the heart of good IT professionals moving onto to greener pastures.

Never speaking out could be considered cruising along on Prozac or sailing with the “it’s all good” and “have a great day” crowd. Or maybe its a stubborn streak, preventing you from admitting that something is defeating you. Perhaps you are in danger of being labelled “doesn’t play well with others”?  Maybe you are not at your best at the moment and need a break?

Or maybe you dont think its your place to question the decisions made by your boss?

I strongly believe that if you think a directive handed down by your team lead, project manager or IT boss is wrong (good luck if all three of these lines can directly request you to do tasks!!!), or misses something, you should challenge it in a respectful way at the right time. Its also the best way to learn. If you happen to be wrong or perhaps didn’t fully understand the requirement etc. a good team lead or architect will take the time to explain and get you up to speed. If you aren’t brave enough to speak up and admit you don’t understand or question a proposal or task, you wont learn.

Maybe you aren’t wrong. Often there is no black or white answer and every idea should get consideration (maybe 30 seconds perhaps 30 minutes). Managers and design leads / architects aren’t perfect. They (should) make considered use of the team they are working with to collaborate and produce robust solutions. The end result of the combined thinking of everybody who can contribute will generally be better than the work of an individual.

However, it is their job to lead and propose solutions. But as I said they aren’t perfect. So by sitting on your hands and never challenging those above you in hierarchy, experience, competence or pecking order, you are doing yourself, them and your employer a dis-service.

Sadly, some managers lack the experience or humility to permit “underlings” to contribute to the overall decision making process of a department. These types can be identified by the habits of not conducting meetings with more than 1 person (maybe 2 if pushed), having favourites amongst their line managers (who often turn out to be ‘yes’ people or are playing the long game and dont rock the boat). They usually don’t respect lines of authority (ie. go around your team leader with requests) and they are often micro-managers and cant delegate.

It is generally very difficult to find opportunties to offer constructive criticism in these types of environments. Maybe you will be lucky to  be working within a tight team and your team lead or line manager shields you from these issues.

So if you have a supportive workplace, where top down, bottom up collaboration is encouraged, then work with it and find solutions to vendor shortcomings. Get hold of the GeoFlow add-in and innovate. I am sure thats what many will get on and do.

However, if the traits I described ring bells for you and you are feeling frustrated or stifled then you need to weigh up your options. Maybe you are considering going around your direct report to offer constructive criticism up the line. If so, its probably already too late and you should be planning your next career move. Your job might offer security and stability, but being a down trodden miserable or stressed IT professional isn’t going to make you happy and wont produce good code in the long run.

Above all, don’t sit on your hands and moan in the tea room (or even worse, to your significant other).

Get involved and contribute.

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