Friday, 6 May 2011

The apprentice- master model

Jon Reed made the following statement on Twitter:

Marin accused Deloitte of using project as "a trial-and-error training ground" for junior consultants. Panelists: please react

My answer: very common

Growth. How do you grow people from skill A to skill B? The eternal question. For we are struggling with that question in our personal lives as well: how do I grow myself from this stage onto the next? How do I become a superstar?
I'll leave the obvious pointers to those answers for now, if you're a regular visitor to this blog then you know where it's at

In any company, people are hired. Some of them because they're a perfect fit for a current vacancy, others because they could fit that vacancy in a while, and yet others that "fit the general company profile".
The latter get the paint job: follow the mandatory company courses for content and / or social skills, make sure they are perceived as "of those company" people by outsiders once they're set loose

Rewind 20-30 years. IT. Linear Application Development. High thresholds. If you wanted to learn the trade, a few months of courses were mandatory, and getting the diplomas for that an achievement. A project would start off with administrative design, which would basically chart the company (client) processes. After that, functional design would take place, to be followed up by technical design, after which the programming would take place. Testing was done by the programmers, and by the time they delivered their stuff there would be few surprises

Juniors would aboard projects, and learn form the mediors and seniors present. Projects would take years, as buying a mainframe (for you youngsters: server) was a 20-year investment, and getting it right worth the effort

Fast forward to now. COBOL, FORTRAN, assembly, these only seem to exist in the imagination, notwithstanding the fact that at least 80% of the world still runs on them - amazingly sturdy, reliable, fast, and capable of high volume high frequency transactions. Meanwhile, the attention has shifted.
Shifted from server to client-server.
Shifted from expensive hardware (mainframe /VAX / UNIX) to ridiculously cheap hardware (Windows or Linux server).
Shifted from unattainable software (COBOL) to freely attainable software (Java, VB(.net))

And shifted from a high threshold to none. Any amateur can now enter the IT-scene and bluff his way in, scribble some illegible, non-maintainable, fallible code and get away with it.
Next to that, hardware lifecycle, and software lifecycle, have gone from 20-30 years to 2-3 years, well let's be generous and double that, 4-6 years

IT has undergone a massive change during the last 2-3 decades.
Begs the question: has the apprentice model changed? No. On the contrary

Nowadays, it's even worse. As outsourcing seems to be the default these days, off-shoring is the goal. 10 years ago, no one in India could code on a significant level. Now, all their companies are CMM level 5 - meaning they run everything according to the highest standards. Does that mean they have qualified and capable personnel? Not necessarily. And unless they're pure Indian players like Wipro, Tata and others, they don't

Still, there are juniors who have to learn the tricks of the trade. That takes time. That time equals lost revenue. What better than put them on a project or assignment where the customer pays for them, and have them learn the trade meanwhile?

A lot. If you're short-sighted, and a lot of vendors and system integrators can be labeled as such these days, you'll chase only your annual goals and throw around with resources like they're not even human - and treat them like that on a sidenote

You'll win a bid from your competitors by undercutting the price, and then populate the project with under-qualified yet very cheap resources - and leave the issue of delivery and customer satisfaction to the other parts of your company

Even worse, you'll win a bid and after that leave almost everything up to your Indian colleagues, literally off-shoring it all out of sight out of heart - this is a "strategy" being followed by traditional system integrators as we speak, with disastrous results for themselves as well as their clients. But as long as these projects take longer than a year, who is going to be punished for bad results where the usual enterprise calendar runs from March till October?

It is time to revise the apprentice model. Or go belly-up. In particular, I'm looking at one certain company - you know who you are

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