Software Development and the Rise of the Alpha Techie

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Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Nigel Stanley

For a number of years I was technical director of a software development company.We also did training, consultancy and development but the hardest part of the business to get right was software development. No matter what ‘ology we employed, what development tools we chose or the types of developers we deployed it was a tough job to get the right software developed on time and with a happy customer.

Did we get it right? Mostly, but we also made some horrible mistakes. I guess overall we were successful, so something must have been right.

On this basis I like to think I know a little about successful software development, and on that basis I am often asked by various CEOs/CTOs for my view on certain projects or developments.

One area that always gets me concerned is the choice to employ full time developers as opposed to outsource the work to a development shop. I have lost count of the number of organisations that I have met that have built-up their internal development team more as an accident of history than a strategic decision to develop in-house.

Yes it could be argued that an in-house team can develop business smarts as they learn how the various operations function. This in turn should lead to improved development turn around and end user satisfaction. For those organisations with the ability to nurture and build such teams I take my hat off to you.

My biggest concern is for the thousands of small and medium sized businesses that have ended up beholden to a cabal of technicians intent on furthering their own CVs with no regard for the business or those within it. Weakly led and managed they are able to run amok in the firm dictating to the business what can and will happen. The business is too meek and, frankly, too scared to challenge these “alpha techies” for fear of them downing tools or running off with the corporate data centre.

This craziness often manifests itself when a new strategy is discussed. The alpha techies look for every way possible to protect their own interests and consequently hold back the business as any change can be seen as a threat to their power base. I have seen situations where alpha techies insist on developing a solution where an “off the shelf” solution is available for a fraction of the cost and with a far more robust code base and associated support and enhancements.

Unfortunately weak, ill informed managers fail to ask the right questions and end up getting fobbed off with techno babble. And so the cycle continues.

IT security is an area prone to alpha techies that play on the ignorance and (in some cases justifiable) fear of the CxO community. This vicious cycle needs to be stopped now. Next time you meet your technical team, step back and see if you have an alpha techie problem. Hopefully you won’t but if you do deal with it today before it is too late.