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Agile Careers

"Cope" Coplien

Jim ("Cope") Coplien is an old C++ shark who now integrates the technological and human sides of the software business as an author, coach, trainer, and executive consultant. He is one of the founders of the software pattern discipline, and his organizational patterns work is one of the foundations of both Scrum and XP. He currently works for Gertrud & Cope, is based in Denmark, and is a partner in the Scrum Foundation. He has authored or co-authored many books, including the Wiley title, Lean Architecture for Agile Software Development. When he grows up, he wants to be an anthropologist.

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The Best Way to Predict the Future Is to Create It

Career is about the future. Those musing about career performance peer into a crystal ball, while those reviewing job performance just glance in a rear-view mirror. Most technical professionals surrender to the perspective that they can’t control their future, particularly when the chips are down. Yet we all seem to be soothsayers. The water cooler is the font of prognostications about corporate reorganization, growth, and demise. The ‘blogs, journals, and conferences abound with “insights” about the future of technology.

Engineering industries build on novelty. Emerging technologies almost always enjoy the largest funding and opportunity for long-term growth; it’s rare that a company eagerly pumps money into old ideas. Career-minded engineers can nonetheless be future-minded in several ways. First, there are innovators who pioneer such ideas. Maybe they aren’t even “inventors” but just the “early adapters” who bring ideas into the corporate value stream.

As professionals, engineers are builders and refiners, but — let’s face it — our job often takes place in the background. Nonetheless, visions still have a place there — whether for the betterment of technology, or of the enterprise, or of humanity. Powerful visions need not be grand. Managers may share a vision simply as servant leaders to help their teams' innovations thrive in the long term. That is a career with vision.

Second, there are the solid citizens who wait until the noise dies down and then join the effort as willing contributors. These are rarely the people who think in terms of career; as I mentioned in previous columns, they just have a job.

Third, there are the “career hounds” who seek the limelight, attention, and potential rewards of the next fad. These are the people whom Bran Seli? feared would vindicate their attitude in this column until I assured him otherwise. They abandon their “boring” assignments to jump to the “sexy” ones. These are false careers: the individuals gain in title and stature more than the enterprise gains value.

Each of these strategies relate to predicting the future. The career hounds seek predictions that they can follow to glory. The solid citizens try to predict when things will stop changing so they can sign up. The career-minded predict the future by making it.

While we like to blame circumstances or others when things go wrong, most of the time we can quote Henley’s Invictus: "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul." In the end, each personal mission shapes the corporate mission. Corporations don’t invent: people do. I once worked at a company where I bucked the ISO 9001 trend and showed —empirically — that there was a better way to meet ever-shortening market horizons and to reduce waste. Jeff Sutherland cites that work as one influence on Scrum. My employer didn’t value it at the time and it was one of the factors that resulted in my departure — though they invited me back to give a talk on the subject to a packed auditorium eight years later. It had become a place to have a job, but not a career.

Today, a technical generation of developers in a large Nordic company have fallen far enough behind in the innovation game that they no longer can hold their own. Their careers have also given way to jobs.

Become part of your employer's destiny by taking charge of your own. Take your professional discipline by the horns and shape it. It is hard work, but you'll find that the rewards are worth it. Make the future.

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“Engineers understand the difference between data and information”;

I don’t think this is generally true. Engineers may understand the explicit aspects of data and its transformation into information, but not necessarily the implicit meaning of data and information. Data is a representation of some object real or imagined. Data attempts to represent this” reality”. I don’t think that engineers are any more proficient at understanding these realities than any other professions.

I agree that with the proliferation of “data”, it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate facts from opinions. Add to this the social networks, Wiki’s, blogs etc. and self-publishing that themselves reflect a group of “like” opinions and it becomes even more difficult to differentiate fact from opinion. None of these distribution mediums have a quality control process to help the reader determine the quality of the published materials.

This is where the improvements are needed. A set of guidelines and standards for published materials. We can adopt some of the techniques from other arenas. For example, a newspaper differentiates news from opinion by posting all opinions in a separate section called opinions. Some of these measures are already identifiable. A white paper is opinion and I suggest, reflects commercial bias. A self-published book or blog is opinion. What is required are a set of information quality dimensions included with the document as metadata.

A framework for information quality should include policies and standards:
Information publishing quality policies:
1. Everything published begins as an opinion.
2. White papers are advertisements
3. Works for hire are promotional material.

Information publishing quality standards:
The title of every article must begin with the word: Opinion
If the information is published by a vendor or on behalf of a vendor it must include in the title the word: Commercial

If information is published by someone in an academic institution and the author provides commercial services within or external to the institution, the document should be titled with the word: Commercial.

Information published which does not include references to previous works to substantiate the opinions must be titled with the word: Opinion.

If information is published was subject to an independent and formal peer review process, then the title may include the terms : Peer reviewed.

If all published information included the information quality metadata, searches on line could be restricted to only peer reviewed or white paper or commercial. This would help readers filter out opinions from facts.

Although this list of information quality and standards is not exhaustive, it can provide the catalyst for developing a set of dimensions.

A final standard: any published information containing embellishing words such as: thought leader, guru, oracle, expert, shark should be titled with the term: Aggrandized

Any information published containing terms such as: tremendous, outstanding etc. must be titled with the term: Inflated

The information quality metadata for many articles may appear as follows:
Commercial
Opinion
Aggrandized
Inflated.

Posted on 5/16/11 8:41 AM.

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