Right before I left my old job, I got an award for being an “outstanding contributor” in our engineering group. To be honest it felt good to be given an award, and even better it comes with an iPod, an iTunes gift certificate, and a plaque.
You can tell a non-technical person wrote the award letter though, because it didn’t say what kind of an iPod it was. That is like telling a wine enthusiast they will be getting a bottle of “red wine”.
In any event, I was very surprised, and pleased, and yet it immediately brought to mind the times in the past I had not won similar awards. Not that I expected to, but I can always dream can’t I? Part of the reason I left soon after was that they were putting in a new “incentive” system which requires that the vast majority of workers will be told they are average and be awarded accordingly — how is this an incentive system?
As usual [http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000070.html Joel on Software has a bead on this issue].
Somehow I think that management is caught up in the idea that managing software developers is just like managing a sports team; that the pursuit of excellence is all about “winning the big one”. Maybe there is something about winning it all, but that isn’t how players or teams become great.
Players and teams become great because they love playing the game. They love the feeling of a performing well, or making a great play, or maybe even just tackling someone.
You can read what makes players tick in the old [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1208/is_35_225/ai_77811426 Sporting News article] from 2001.
To me hockey players are the ultimate love of the game group:
“Growing up we always played baseball, football and basketball. One day, the guys said we should try hockey. Wow! What a blast! You had the hand-to-eye coordination of baseball, the hitting of football and the stops-and-starts stamina of basketball. I thought to myself, `Why should I fool around with the other sports when hockey gives me all of the best of the other sports?'”
–Islanders goalle Rick DIPietro
Every year the [http://live82.ihwc.net/english/ IIHF World Championship] is held. Think of it as a mini-Olympics for hockey. The best hockey players play in the IIHF World Championship every year, even during an era when the US Olympic baskball team can’t even attract players who actually are interested in playing.
Even though I stumble around on my recreational league hockey team, I still love it.
And any decent software developer is the same way. They love writing software. Sure, they work at your company because they need the money, but they write great software because they love doing it. Period.
So as far as I am concerned all these corporate incentive plans, plaques, and awards for working weekends and cranking out ugly code can go into the trash can, the recycle bin, or /dev/null.
But I’m not giving back the iPod.