Software, software everywhere

Software is different from other technical stuff.  It’s abstract, invisible, and runs at extremely high speed.  So the people who are good at working with software tend to be different from “ordinary” engineers.  They have to be good at visualizing the abstract processes and the mathematical algorithms that make up the procedures implemented in software.

Software people are different, so their managers need to be able to deal with the difference.  Effective software managers know what’s critical to a well-functioning software team and those managers get good at providing it, even in the face of obstacles.

Obstacles come from upper management that doesn’t understand how software, and software people, is unique.  As a result, they assume that a manager who has skills in Operations can just as well manage software.

I’ve seen IT shops where the best software people left the company quickly after being treated as if they were call-center operators.  For example, the management assumed that the software people could be located anywhere in the building, that they didn’t need any special whiteboards to keep track of their project information.

Why should you care? After all, can’t you just hire the brains you need for software?  Well, not so fast.  You’re competing with every company in the world for the same kind of brains. Unless you’re in an entrepreneurial, fast growing, innovative company, software people will not prefer working for you over going to work in a more exciting environment.

IT is undergoing rapid change, primarily driven by the availability of cloud services.  But the cloud just moves the data centers to somewhere else. If you look closely at internal IT activities, you will realize that IT is itself a software-intensive activity.

This sounds self-evident, but it’s not a joke.  It’s a reality that many financial and operations executives fail to understand.  Everyone, from the business analysts to the website deployment people are not just software users – they have to understand software principles to do their work.

Business competition will come from new players, and from old players who master software tools and the business possibilities opened up by software.

As software becomes an integral part of business, there is a subtle shift in what management has to do and to know.  You now need staff – or consultants – who are knowledgeable about software and its workings.  And from them you need to learn what software means for the future of your business.

Is there something you’ve learned recently about software?  I welcome your comments.

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    About John Levy

    John Levy works with senior managers in mid-sized organizations who are responsible for development and delivery of major software or hardware/software products. He helps them gain confidence that their projects will succeed.

    Development projects can fail in many ways. You need a guide who speaks the language of business and is knowledgeable about technology. John aligns Development with the organization's strategy so it will contribute efficiently to the success of the enterprise.

    John has been consulting for over 20 years. His book on managing high-tech teams, Get Out of the Way, was published in 2010.

    For more information, email him at johnlevyconsulting.com, or call 415 663-1818.
    And check out John's profiles on LinkedIn and Twitter!