The Tech Leaders Who Love the Taste of Boots

Published 03-12-2023 10:46

Every so often I’ll find myself scrolling on LinkedIn. That is already sad enough as it is, but sometimes I’ll come across something that makes it even sadder. I’ll see some CTO or CIO, someone who is meant to be a tech leader, posting something about how engineers should focus more on business value. I usually read the entire post because I really can’t help myself, and without fail I find myself reading the exact same take that I’ve read so many times before. Engineers should focus on business. That’s it. That’s the post. Just with way more words.

In Norway, and I’d guess in other countries as well, there is a particular type of tech leader that has made an entire career out of this. That is because there’s also a particular type of non-tech leader that absolutely hates tech people, and that type of non-tech leader loves nothing more than a tech leader who agrees. “Finally a tech person that gets it”, they think, while they make the worst hiring decision of their life.

You can spot these tech leaders from a mile away. They post the usual noise on LinkedIn about “business value,” they brag about their skill in communicating tech to upper management as if the ability to speak is somehow rare, and most importantly, they never stay at a single company for more than a year or two. Why? Because it turns out that hating developers and their ilk isn’t an operating model, and thinking that business value is important isn’t the same as being good at business.

So why am I writing this rant? Because Norway deserves better tech leadership, and this nonsense won’t stop until someone calls it out. That, and I’m bored.

Everyone Is Bad at Business

Are developers bad at understanding business needs? Absolutely. But I am not saying that because of some insight into the minds of developers. I am saying that because everyone is terrible at business, and ‘developers’ are a subset of ‘everyone’.

Do you have any idea how many times a ‘commercial’ team has asked me for something that is truly idiotic? A marketing department once asked me to automate a process for them. When I pointed out that they only spend one hour on the process per month, but that it would take at least a hundred hours of developer time to automate, they still wanted it. I had an accounting team try to reject a new payment system that would improve online conversions by roughly 20% because it meant they had to prorate the subscription revenue themselves, a task so easy that I did it for them the same day.

The point is, most people just don’t have a good mental model for doing basic math. This isn’t even business. It’s just “which number is bigger”, and all you need to remember is that the arrow is an alligator and it always eats the bigger one.

It’s so bad that sometimes we blame tech people when other departments are bad at business, because “they should have been better at explaining the issue.” I once saw a guy on Twitter explain the worst engineering situation imaginable. Cripple the company forever levels of bad. And you know how I saw that tweet? Because someone else quote-tweeted it to say, “The problem here is that you aren’t doing a good enough job of explaining the importance to upper management in terms they can understand.” Look, if you are a C-level manager and you can’t make good decisions unless someone speaks to you in “words you can understand” then you need to learn more words. This isn’t a tech problem.

It’s Not Self-Serving, It’s Pathetic

If these developer-hating tech leaders were doing it for purely cynical, self-serving purposes I wouldn’t find it quite as repulsive. It would have a certain “don’t hate the player, hate the game” energy to it. But these people aren’t talented enough for that. No, they’ve just fallen into this fortunate position for different, much dumber reasons. I think they fall into two camps.

The first camp consists of tech leaders that just haven’t kept up with the latest tech trends, and get grumpy when they see things they don’t understand. Microservices and React? What ever happened to the good old days of monoliths and vanilla JS? I get it, the new tech trends are hard to keep up with, especially on the frontend. And yes, some of those developments turn out to be bad and dumb, but that’s just how progress works. Don’t tell me that tech was better in the early 2000s when you were FTPing your code into prod.

The second camp is the type that didn’t get enough praise when they were young, and ended up picking the wrong role models. These kids grew up to seek the approval of CEOs, not to serve their careerist ambitions, but because they genuinely love it. They live for it. They’re Pavlov’s dog but for CEO likes on LinkedIn.

Both groups are gross, but the second group is definitely worse than the first purely because they have this feedback loop that they can’t get enough of. Unlike any sycophant you’ve worked with, these folks just love the taste of boots.

So, What Now?

Well, I am less bored now, so this post has already achieved half of its intended purpose. But what about the other half? Well, that’s up to you. Stop hiring these people into tech leadership roles. If they “speak the language of business” and take pride in that, they probably don’t understand business or tech at any level that actually matters. They’ve coasted off of the general vibe of being “business friendly” that they’ve probably learned almost nothing of substance throughout their entire career. Stop getting tricked by the fact that they agree with you at a high level; they’re doing it because they desperately long for your approval, not because they have any real insight to offer.

Or don’t. Keep hiring these people, and keep sucking at everything that doesn’t involve finding oil in the North Sea. Tech is really Sweden’s thing, after all.