DOP 93: Creating a Healthy Working Environment

Posted on Wednesday, Feb 3, 2021

Show Notes

#93: Many times, probably most, people don’t leave your company only for more money. There’s usually more to it than that. Today we discuss different things that a company can do to keep people from leaving that normally would.

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Hosts

Darin Pope

Darin Pope

Darin Pope is a developer advocate for CloudBees.

Viktor Farcic

Viktor Farcic

Viktor Farcic is a member of the Google Developer Experts and Docker Captains groups, and published author.

His big passions are DevOps, Containers, Kubernetes, Microservices, Continuous Integration, Delivery and Deployment (CI/CD) and Test-Driven Development (TDD).

He often speaks at community gatherings and conferences (latest can be found here).

He has published The DevOps Toolkit Series, DevOps Paradox and Test-Driven Java Development.

His random thoughts and tutorials can be found in his blog TechnologyConversations.com.

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Transcript

Viktor: [00:00:00]
Assuming that that person is happy with the current company and the only reason he would be leaving is that higher offer in terms of salary, then the answer is always simple. Give him the same or more

Darin:
This is DevOps Paradox episode number 93. Creating a Healthy Working Environment.

Darin:
Welcome to DevOps Paradox. This is a podcast about random stuff in which we, Darin and Viktor, pretend we know what we're talking about. Most of the time, we mask our ignorance by putting the word DevOps everywhere we can, and mix it with random buzzwords like Kubernetes, serverless, CI/CD, team productivity, islands of happiness, and other fancy expressions that make it sound like we know what we're doing. Occasionally, we invite guests who do know something, but we do not do that often, since they might make us look incompetent. The truth is out there, and there is no way we are going to find it. PS: it's Darin reading this text and feeling embarrassed that Viktor made me do it. Here are your hosts, Darin Pope and Viktor Farcic.

Darin: [00:01:13]
With it being the beginning of the year, many people tend to look for greener pastures, the other side of the fence. In other words, you're tired of your job and you're going to go look for something else.

Viktor: [00:01:27]
It could be bored as well. Sometimes it's not greener pasture. Sometimes it's just different pasture.

Darin: [00:01:34]
Or in your current company, you've hit the ceiling and there's nowhere else for you to grow, if growth is important to you. We've talked about this before, is if you're three years from retirement, more than likely you're not looking for growth opportunities. You're looking for a dark cold corner to sit in until your time is done.

Viktor: [00:01:56]
If you're three years from retirement, you're looking for good deals on cruises around the world and hoping that COVID will pass by then.

Darin: [00:02:07]
We figured in this episode, we would talk a little bit about how do you create an environment in which people who would normally leave, end up sticking around. This is going to be one of those touchy feely type episodes I have a feeling. So there is a little bit of that. Don't worry. There will be much more tech coming in the future weeks that hopefully you will find very enlightening.

Viktor: [00:02:33]
So if I would define people who leave as people potentially good at their jobs and getting offers from other companies, for the sake of argument, then I would change your statement in how do you create a company where people who can leave or want to leave, do not leave and those who cannot leave or do not want to leave, do leave. Was that confusing?

Darin: [00:03:02]
Yes. Say it one more time.

Viktor: [00:03:04]
So you potentially want to create a company or to have a company where people with opportunities to leave your company do not leave and people without opportunities to leave do not stay. Because that means if for somebody, it is easy to leave, he's likely to leave, but that also means that that somebody is potentially good because he's getting offers from different companies. They're chasing him down. He's rejecting one. He's rejecting second, third, and he accepts the fourth offer. Those are the people you want to retain as much as possible, assuming that there is no incompatibility. Sometimes people are not compatible with the company. Now, when you have a person without being disrespectful, says, Hey, nobody ever offered me a job outside of this company, you probably don't want that person to stay.

Darin: [00:03:59]
That's probably true.

Viktor: [00:04:01]
There are all shades of gray. I know it's not that black and white.

Darin: [00:04:04]
Anything where it involves people is typically not black and white when it comes to career decisions.

Viktor: [00:04:11]
I don't know whether it's a joke or a saying or what is it that goes something and I'm paraphrasing now, we might not want to train people because if we train people, then they might be better and leave. So what happens if they leave? Then the answer is what happens if they don't, meaning, if they don't get trained.

Darin: [00:04:31]
That's always one of those interesting points to look at in companies is ones that invest and treat it as an investment in their current employees. I'm using those two words very carefully. Invest and employee. I have seen places that will spend lots of money giving training to contractors and do nothing for their employees.

Viktor: [00:05:01]
That's just silly. If I would have to choose one or the other, it would be the other way around. I would always rather invest in training than a salary increase for the same job. Very often people ascend within a company and after five years you get 20% more. I'm inventing figures now. After 10 years, you get 50% more, whatever. That shouldn't be the goal. That's how you retaining people. That's how you're making sure that person with 10 years of experience of working in this company stays. You give him more money. One thing is experience in this company and the other thing is the person with a lot of experience, a lot of accumulated experience before, during, after, working in this company.

Darin: [00:05:49]
The variation of what you just said, a person that has 10 years of experience. Do they actually have 10 years of experience or do they have one year of experience that they've done 10 times?

Viktor: [00:06:01]
Yeah, that's hands down the quote that I repeated the more than any other, and probably the only quote I remember who made it, which is Dan North saying I don't know whether that was public, at least in one of the conversations. What's the point of me having this person with 10 years of repeated experience? Why do I want that person? The only thing that I get with 10 years of repeated experience is higher expectations that that person has from me.

Darin: [00:06:33]
I've not heard it talked about this way and I know we haven't talked about it, but if that person is one of those 10 times one and not just a 10, then wouldn't they be the first candidate to automate out of their job?

Viktor: [00:06:50]
Exactly, that's the best candidate to automate, because that means that we know exactly what we're doing in this area. We've been doing it for 10 years exactly in the same way. There are no unknowns. It's very difficult actually to automate something that is happening now for the first time. That's the hard part. That's almost impossible. It's close to impossible to automate something that was repeated a couple of times. Something that was repeated over and over and over and over again for many years, that should have automated itself already without us doing anything. That command that you were executing for 10 years, the same command, I'm surprised that it didn't grow consciousness and became intelligent and started running itself.

Darin: [00:07:37]
But because you had a physical human there, it was automated. Let's go back to a point where you just were. You said you'd almost rather have training and be invested by the company with training into you versus a salary increase or whatever the phrasing was. Did I get that right?

Viktor: [00:07:58]
Yes, both me as employee and both me as employer. Now, of course, I don't mean that one excludes the other. Everybody should get higher paychecks after doing better job. But in general, as employee, I want to increase my value on the market more than get higher salary. You want your children to go to university rather than give them money to spend, because you know that if they go to university, they will actually repay that amount of money tenfold.

Darin: [00:08:31]
You really hope so. Yes, you do.

Viktor: [00:08:34]
Okay. At least that's a plan. There is no plan that is bulletproof and always works, but that's the idea at least let's say.

Darin: [00:08:40]
Yes, that is the dream that the universities tell the parents. We actually had a conversation recently with someone that he had dropped out of college. He had been in for a couple of years and dropped out because he was now working and my response to him was that's probably the smartest thing that you could have done right now.

Viktor: [00:09:02]
Oh, yeah, but this is slightly different. The better analogy would be, he dropped out of college, where he was paying I don't know 50K a year, whatever the fee is or he used 50K to spend on something to waste, then college is definitely a better idea. Now the question is whether to invest in college or not to invest, that's a separate conversation. But if my child comes and says, Hey daddy, can you give me 10K to invest in vintage comics? Uh, no, no.

Darin: [00:09:34]
Well, it depends on which ones they are.

Viktor: [00:09:36]
Of course. Okay. Now that wasn't the best example. I got such short notice, but you get what I'm trying to say. Waste money or invest in college. College is better option.

Darin: [00:09:47]
Most of the time. If the degree program you're going in for doesn't have job potential to pay more than what it costs to get within the first four, let's call it four years. Let's say you're in a four year program. If you're not going to make back that money in four years and my math is wrong, but something like that versus if you're getting an engineering degree, a computer science degree, that is probably going to pay off. The guy that we spoke with, he went to a startup and now he's running into the other side of it, to where people are coming out of college and they took the courses, but they never actually did anything. They don't have a GitHub profile. Look, if you're in college right now and you don't have a GitHub profile, start doing something. That leads me to say, if you are working in a company and you don't have a GitHub profile and you're wanting to go somewhere else, you need to be as much as you can as you're allowed to by whatever contracts you've signed with your current employment, contributing to open source, creating new projects, doing whatever it is. Remember that paperwork when you started your new job that you signed and you just signed it? You need to read that. You need to understand what that says because you could get in a whole lot of trouble because sometimes your personal time is not your personal time.

Viktor: [00:11:10]
To me, that's still somehow similar because if I go back to company, I don't think that anybody's goal should be to get a better title within a company. You're now junior engineer, and then you become principal engineer. Everything else equals just getting a title, that's not the point. The point is to become principal engineer. Similar thing with university. Hey, if you go to university and you're going to be better at your profession, that's a good thing and then on top of that, getting that paper is useful. Now, when you go, like in the example you were mentioning, when you go to university and you end up after university on a same level or worse, than somebody who just played around at his home, then that's a complete waste of time. Same thing with titles in companies. People get random titles and then they have no idea what they're doing and they cannot justify that title in an interview with a company. That happened to quite, not quite a few, but the few of my acquaintances let's say that they had real trouble that after 20 years in some company, they became like senior QA manager/something. Some fancy title. What I said wasn't fancy, but you mentioned something fancy and then they at that company goes down or this or that, then they go to an interview and they get response, not in my books. What I feel that you do and you know, and that title does not correspond. Same thing with university. Hey, you finished MIT and then we speak for 15 minutes and then I said, well done, congratulations for finishing MIT or whatever you're finished, but your knowledge, your experience does not match what I expect it to match.

Darin: [00:12:54]
So we started in a company. We went back to university. Let's get back in the company. How do we create that environment to where that person keeps on getting chased after and now they have an offer on the table that is too good to pass up.

Viktor: [00:13:11]
Assuming that that person is happy with the current company and the only reason he would be leaving is that higher offer in terms of salary, then the answer is always simple. Give him the same or more because when a person is happy in a company, they get bumped 20%. They would probably stay in the existing company if they would get the bump. If they're happy. The real problem is when they're not happy. When it's not only salary and I see that very often that somebody gets an offer. The existing company comes with a counter offer and that person still leaves. That's a sign of something very, very bad going on because yes, everybody wants more money, but if you're happy, you're staying where you are, unless you're really very adventurous type and then there is nothing to do about that.

Darin: [00:13:59]
It goes back to one of the things also, if you've hit the top of the ladder in what you do at that company, and there's nowhere else to grow, but company two extends that ladder for you.

Viktor: [00:14:12]
Yeah and then there is that case also. Ladders are very often, and I have a feeling that this is more common in US and I actually that's the part I like it's easier to climb the ladder by changing a company than within a company because company where you are, let's say that all the positions up the ladder from you are already filled. You need to wait until somebody messes up things and gets fired or something like that or a company expands and we need more people. Then you get approached by some other company says, Hey, I am looking right now for principal something something. You're senior something something. Would you like to be principal something something and you you say yes. Why not?

Darin: [00:14:53]
Ladder usually has a very negative connotation to lots of people and a very positive connotation to other people. The way I like to think about it, it's opportunity for me to grow. That's the way I think ladder. Other people think of ladder as power, prestige, the new BMW, whatever it is. I don't think of it that way. I like being able to take the next step, whatever that next step may be.

Viktor: [00:15:19]
I would say that if you're interpreting it as the latter case, then maybe software engineering was not a good choice in the first place. We earn good money compared to most of the other industries, but Hey, if you want to get closer to the top of a software company, you better start the business or to be in a small company.

Darin: [00:15:39]
or be in a small company or studied business or studied sales

Viktor: [00:15:44]
Yeah, exactly. Something related with money.

Darin: [00:15:46]
with money because if you're wanting to make the money, then you need to be working in the team primarily that is generating the money and in reality engineering, Infrastructure is not generating the money. We may be writing the code, but until you have a buyer and most engineers that I know, including myself, you don't want to be making the cold pitch to a company. Let's call it that way. I've gotten better over time, but I think a lot of it has to do with age.

Viktor: [00:16:14]
But that's also a problem for many startups. Your engineer has a clever idea, something silly that nobody thought of before. You create an app. You get some initial traction. You get 10 people to work for you because you'll get some small initial funding. You grow to, let's say 10 million ARR, or 50 people, something like that and then suddenly you realize that, Hey, my investors are telling me that I shouldn't be CEO anymore. Me. Engineering genius. The guy that created all this, that made all this happen, should step down and the answer very often is yes. You still keep your shares. You're not stepping down as if becoming poor, but it comes the moment when somebody needs to come above you that is not engineer anymore. To me, that was very hard to accept, to be honest for most of my life. I always thought it unfair, but makes certain sense. Simply this is a company that now needs to create business, not anymore to be a silly application that is liked by few.

Darin: [00:17:16]
Because if you only have a few, unless you're, well, even if you have a few, you'd have to be charging such outrageous numbers, you would still need business leadership, but probably not in the normal way, but you're going to be more from an accounting perspective, because if you only have a few clients, they're probably paying you in the seven, eight, nine figures a year for whatever it is that you do and then you have a different set of business issues.

Viktor: [00:17:41]
And it's not only that, but also you're a small startup that has 20 engineers, literally 20 engineers and that's all and maybe some cleaning services that are paid externally. Then suddenly you're you wake up one day and say, Hey, now me as a big boss or whatever of this company, now I need something called HR. Now I need some guys called sales. I don't know what they do. How do I manage all that? Because realistically CEOs of tiny companies are technical leads more than anything else. They're leading a number of engineers. It's not really even CEO. It's just a title Everybody's CEO now. Every small company has a CEO, but that's not really CEO.

Darin: [00:18:22]
and it's still back to the point of you don't want to do that. You'd rather be hacking away at code and not dealing with people problems. You'd rather be dealing with why is this editor not working?

Viktor: [00:18:35]
Yeah, but it's hard to accept. I doubt that I would be able to accept that, to be honest. I was luckily never in that position, but to say, Hey, I made this with my 10 hands. Hands? Fingers. Two hands and now somebody should be above me. Isn't that the point why I started this company so that there is no boss above me?

Darin: [00:18:59]
The dynamics of humans within companies is very interesting. So how do you create an environment where people who would normally leave don't? The answer isn't always money, but it's part of it. The answer isn't always investing in your people, but it should be. The answer isn't free food on Fridays, but it's nice when it is. The answer, this is going to be very salient, the answer is remote first and you never have to go to an office, but it sure makes things easier when you're trying to figure out something. Not all the time, but maybe once a quarter, twice a year when we can travel again. There's probably a fifth one, but I can't think of it right now. How do you create environment where people don't want to leave or where people who would normally leave don't? I'm not going to use the word family, because there's enough dysfunction in my family that I wouldn't want that within a company. Yes, I said that out loud. Treat people how you want to be treated. If you want to be treated like a jerk, act like a jerk, but more than likely you don't want to be. How do you want to be treated? I'd like to be able to leave at five so I can go see my kid's ball game tonight. Then don't tell people they have to stay and work till nine, or they have to work all weekend. This is the easy part of things. Don't be a jerk. Maybe that's it. Maybe it all boils down to if we kept asking the why's until we got down to the point of it, don't be a jerk and treat people the way you want to be treated.

Viktor: [00:20:18]
Exactly. Treat people the way you would like to be treated combined with giving a fair market share as a salary because when somebody is hunting your employees, that somebody, most of the time is not giving them hundred percent over market share. It's usually means that you're paying lower than you should, not that they're offering too much.

Darin: [00:20:41]
It is market value. The danger in that, and I'm not an economist and I do not play one on TV, but if you weren't paying, let's say you were paying reasonable market value. Let's say you're paying a software engineer a hundred thousand dollars a year, and they get an offer for total comp a hundred thousand dollars year and I'm not saying just salary, but total compensation. I like total compensation better and they're able to go somewhere else and get total compensation of 200,000 a year and you're not underpaying. Is the other person overpaying or do they see something in that now potentially new employee that you don't see that you could harness and it'd be like, Oh yeah, I could pay you 200, but it's a different thing now. Your role is going to be different. You're not going to keep doing the same thing you've been doing, but that also probably means that the product that you're selling the prices are going to be going up to offset the compensation that you're having to pay to your staff. How do you create an environment where people don't want to leave? Don't be a jerk. Treat them like you want to be treated. More than likely you don't want to be treated like a jerk. This is stuff we learned in kindergarten, I think, right?

Viktor: [00:21:55]
But it's also not going to extreme. It would be silly to try to create environment in which nobody leaves, especially in our industry. It's how it works. People leave. I would rather rephrase it, how to create a company where people do not leave more often than from other companies.

Darin: [00:22:13]
Because sometimes it is not a right fit. Maybe it was, and it turned out to no longer be a right fit. That's okay.

Viktor: [00:22:20]
Or there is offer saying, Hey, I would be excited to work on this project. That is not the type of the project happening in my company. So it's almost inevitable. It's just the problem when that leaving percentage skyrockets. That's the problem. Now another issue, and this is a big one. I've seen it quite a few times. When you're organized in a way that a person leaving is a disaster for your company and that's a bad situation. That's a situation that actually, you cannot blame that person for leaving. That means that you organized business stuff in a way that it really depends on individuals, not on teams, not on company.

Darin: [00:23:04]
That person was a single point of failure.

Viktor: [00:23:07]
Yeah. You know, when you have one person that manages all of your infrastructure and that person happens to do everything manually and there is nothing on paper. There is no code to be executed and stuff like that. That is not happening that much today, I guess, but it was at least happening in the past. Smaller company, one person managing absolutely everything infrastructure-related. That person leaves. A hundred percent of the knowledge leaves with him. That's a problem.

Darin: [00:23:35]
That's beyond a problem. That's the end of your company as it stands. Maybe not completely over, but it's over for at least a few months.

Viktor: [00:23:46]
And you're almost lucky that that person that left did not understand the position he or she is in because if that person understood the position, it could blackmail you in a very serious way and then leave.

Darin: [00:24:05]
Okay. So that's our thoughts on it? What do you think? If you have some comments on that, go over to the Slack workspace, go to the podcast channel and chat about it. You'll see a post for this episode and you can just down in the thread, talk about what you see in this episode. See, I guess they can't see anything in this episode, this wasn't video, this is audio and let's chat about it.

Darin:
We hope this episode was helpful to you. If you want to discuss it or ask a question, please reach out to us. Our contact information and the link to the Slack workspace are at https://www.devopsparadox.com/contact. If you subscribe through Apple Podcasts, be sure to leave us a review there. That helps other people discover this podcast. Go sign up right now at https://www.devopsparadox.com/ to receive an email whenever we drop the latest episode. Thank you for listening to DevOps Paradox.