Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Why Codurance?

What Kind of Role Would you Like?

As I've said many times before, we are very lucky to work in the industry that we do. Even if we occasionally moan about what we get paid (and I certainly have done) it is very much a relative moan and not an absolute moan. My point is that most of us working in the technology sector who are any good at what we do can generally command a salary that is way above average and therefore generally "enough", whatever that means. So when I was looking for a new role this Spring and early summer I was doing so knowing that I could afford to select not only on the basis of pay. As I touched on in this post a couple of weeks ago, the fact that you can Google me and find interesting stuff made it even easier for me to get interviews for interesting things.

To be or not to be a Consultant

Very early on in my search I realised that I had a decision to make. Should I continue to be a consultant (and if so, what type of consultancy) or should I think about putting a stake in the ground as some kind of in house development leadership type person. The pros and cons, as I saw them after 4 years of consultancy, of the job were pretty clear:

In Favour of Consultancy:

  • The variety of work is interesting and leads to learning stuff about far more different technologies.
  • If you hate the gig you are on (i.e. your job) you can change to a different gig relatively easy. The ease with which you can change will be determined by the specific consultancy you are in I guess. Effectively though, you can get a new job without the pain and uncertainty of having to look for a new job.
  • There is a certain freedom of consultancy in knowing that you can't be sacked or "managed out" for being too daring or asking searching questions. I certainly played on that a few times where the conversation with a worried client might go "don't worry, if anybody asks, send them to me, I'll take responsibility, they can't sack me".
  • You get to do some travel to some places you may not have been to before.
  • You get to look at really interesting problems and when you solve them (or at least relieve some of the pains) you can move on to another equally interesting problem.
  • It never gets comfortable and therefore boring, and if it does, you can ask to move on.

Against Consultancy

  • You learn a little about a lot of things but don't always get the chance to learn a lot about any specific thing.
  • You start a lot of things and you may finish the odd thing but it is very rare to both start and finish the same thing.
  • The constant change of scenery can be unsettling and there are many periods of onboarding which can be wearing.
  • Sometimes you get sent away from home and don't get to spend time with your family.
  • Travelling on aeroplanes definitely stops being exciting.
  • Positions of influence are common but positions of true responsibility are rare.
I could go on, but the point I'm making is that it was a tough decision for me. I really enjoyed working as a consultant and I learnt loads in four years.

What was on the Table?

I interviewed for 4 or 5 roles outside consultancy. These were all either "head of", "VP of", "director of" Engineering, Development, Software type things or, in one case, a CTO role. I told the recruiters that I wasn't interested in anything that had a scope of less than several teams. So basically, in any small to medium sized organisation this means "head of" or CTO, in a larger organisation it could mean "architect" or "head of" or whatever they use internally. Based on what I enjoyed doing back in my Viagogo days and what I enjoyed doing during my 4 years at ThoughtWorks I think I had a reasonable idea of the type of company that I would like to work for (if I was to go to an in-house role) and, more importantly, the type of organisation I didn't want to work for.

Things I'd Like to work for

  • Somewhere with significant organisational problems that recognises it has such problems and has a good appetite to fix them.
  • An place that has been around for a while as a bricks and mortar, has loads of legacy systems but realises the need to move on and has the courage to appoint the right people to do that.

Things I wouldn't like to work for

  • Brilliantly run startups or scale-ups that have great technology, great engineering capability and practice and no significant organisational problems.
  • Companies that need to improve but either don't realise that they need to change or don't have the courage to do what needs to be done.
So what I really wanted was something with issues but a mandate to fix them. This is the kind of profile of the organisations that I consulted in to for ThoughtWorks, for the most part. I did have experience of one place where the CEO was blissfully unaware that they were heading (still are as far as I can tell) for a massive car crash at some point in the next few years and thus was unwilling to change what he thought was a successful course. That was an example of a company that was doing well on its bottom line despite its practices and capabilities, not because of them and was certainly a lesson for me.

Well funded Startup

One company I interviewed with up to the final interview state was an extremely well funded start up. Its parent is a well known multi national group. This new company was created to implement a brand loyalty scheme across the whole of the group. So it is a greenfield thing but there would be lots of potential pain in integrating the new systems with all the legacy of the companies within the group. The role here was "VP Engineering", reporting to the CTO. The initial responsibility would be building a team and working on the MVP of the new solution.

Well Run Tech Company

The other company I went quite deep with was a fairly well known company with a well known web presence. This company is renowned for good engineering practice and is often cited as a "centre of excellence" (I've never quite understood exactly what this means and it seems to be a bit of a self nominated, self selecting thing). In any case, I started to lose a bit of interest in this company somewhere between the third and fourth stage as I wondered exactly what type of deep problems they may have that would keep me interested.

Consultancies and Organisational Takeover

I spoke to a few consultancies. Some bigger (and uglier) than others. The more I spoke to, the more I realised that I had been lucky in working for ThoughtWorks. It seemed that once a consultancy gets beyond a certain size, whatever principles they started out with seem to get thrown away and replaced with a simple goal to rinse as much money from the clients as possible. I had heard this of really big players in the past ("organisational takeover" is apparently a real business model for some) but I, somewhat naively, assumed this was the preserve of only the biggest few.

Fake Agile

The most disappointing thing about consultancies in general is the promise of being an "Agile Consultant". There are many of these around, a lot of the smaller variety. I can't speak for all of them but I spoke to people in one or two and specifically asked them how they go about selling Agile to their customers. Sadly, I didn't get any kind of good answer. I was left, in every case, with the overwhelming impression that these consultancies were not only selling snake oil to unsuspecting clients but that they really didn't even get it themselves.

Worrying Conclusion

So after speaking to a few consultancies and going quite deeply into some interview processes for non consultancy work, I was left with the worrying conclusion that I would find it hard to find a company to work for that was sufficiently broken to need me (or keep me interested) but that also had the sufficient level of executive support for the work that I would know would need to be done. On the other hand, I was struggling to find a consultancy company that I could feel comfortable working with.

Meeting Codurance

I spoke to a recruitment consultant some time in May about a company called Codurance. I was starting to get disillusioned with my search and was resigned to a long summer of frustration. The consultant made all the right noises about this fairly small company and their ethos, largely based around software craftsmanship. He also spoke about how Codurance has no internal hierarchy, an interesting approach to innovation and a progressive set of policies on salaries. So I agreed to find out more.

Software Craftsmanship

The <Title> tag of the Codurance website includes the phrase "Software craftsmanship and Agile Delivery". It is clear that Sandro feels quite strongly about the importance of software craftsmanship. Indeed, in the early chapters of his book, the Software Craftsman, he argues that software craftsmanship should be a core part of Agile delivery but that this is often overlooked in the belief that if you follow the right process everything will work out. I can't argue with this assertion at all. For years I worked under the assumption that code quality was essential to the long term health of a system. I love the emphasis on craftsmanship (although I wonder if we can invent a term that is a bit more gender agnostic) and I do agree that it can be a forgotten element of effective delivery.

London Software Craftsmanship Community

I was even more encouraged when I discovered that Sandro founded the London Software Craftsmanship Community, a meetup group. After my experiences of the previous few years I realise how important it is for a company not just to make the right noises about culture and community but to actually do the right things, and believe in the right things, as well. In addition to the meetup group, Codurance also runs the Software Craftsmanship London conference every year at Skillsmatter in the autumn. So it was immediately apparent to me that Codurance does not just talk the talk but quite clearly it walks the walk too.

Agile Delivery

The other part of the title tag is Agile Delivery. In 2019 I would expect anybody doing software delivery to at least claim that they are Agile (or agile). I know from my travels that fake agile is everywhere and I was keen to understand what Agile means to Codurance. So when I spoke to Steve Lydford, head of PS, before being invited in for a face to face interview, it was very pleasing when he told me that he had watched a video of my Agile is a Dirty Word talk in which I vent (and despair a bit) about the prevalence of fake Agile practitioners, fake Agile methodologies and fake Agile consultants. That formed the basis of a good discussion between us which convinced me that Codurance as an organisation properly understands what Agile (and agile) means and that my experience of Agile delivery would be appreciated

The Opportunity

Codurance is a much smaller company than ThoughtWorks, which is itself pretty small compared to the global players that most people will have heard of. We are starting to grow organically and the current challenge, or opportunity as I like to call it, is to win more work that we would consider to be partnership type work rather than "pair of hands" staff augmentation work. We haven't got much experience of creating fully cross functional teams and this is our current challenge. How do we win and retain this type of work? This is the challenge we are facing now and my experience before Codurance seems to have been the most interesting thing for them looking at me.

Self Managing "Teal" Organisations

Steve recommended me a book to read, Reinventing Organisations, which describes a relatively new type of organisation that has evolved in recent decades. The author calls these organisations "Teal Organisations", which are essentially post hierarchical organisations based on management through self organisation. As I remember it, he used colours to categorise different types of organisation merely to avoid the name implying any kind of meaning. Having worked at ThoughtWorks, I know all about what it means to work in an organisation without hierarchy and I would absolutely not be able to work in an organisation that had anything other than a flat structure so this was all encouraging.

But there is flat structure and there is self organisation and true buying in to self organisation. Certainly I have encountered organisations that claim to have a flat structure but really they have a hidden hierarchy and command and control is everywhere. My early conversations with Steve suggested that Codurance was more genuinely bought in to self organising entities.

Innovation Circles

Through reading Reinventing Organisations and talking to people who have been involved in organisations that are trying to be self organising to a greater or lesser extent, the problem of how to change policy and ways of working comes up again and again. There are many different solutions and I would recommend anybody to read the book to find out how some organisations deal with this. In Codurance if you have an idea to change something you start an innovation circle. This has to be open to anybody that is interested and the discussions must be public. There is a rule on what constitutes a quorate group but the innovation circle is empowered to make changes and to implement them provided that the proposal passes the culture and financial tests. There is no need for approval from any "higher" power.

Open Salary Policy

Codurance has an open salary policy. I was told this by the recruiter when I first spoke to him and this was mentioned in every conversation before I started. Essentially this means that we have a spreadsheet that we can all look at that lists everybody in the company and what their salary is. At first this seemed a little alien and maybe scary but the more I considered it, the more I thought it was a great idea. I ended up reasoning to myself about what the difference could be between a company with open salaries and a company (i.e. every one I've ever worked for previously) that does not have an open salary policy.

Why Not have an Open Salary Policy?

In almost every place I have ever worked there is suspicion and rumours around salaries. Why would you not just publish everybody's salary so that everybody knows? In almost every company it is perceived that the barriers to promotions and pay rises are lower for people coming in from outside than they are for internal people. I don't know why this is but it leads to people changing jobs frequently in many cases as this is perceived to be the only way to get a decent pay rise or a promotion. If this is true, then I can see why you wouldn't publish. If somebody comes from outside with the same job as you but with no domain knowledge and they were getting paid more than you, you will likely be very upset, and rightly so.

I think perhaps the bigger point is that to move to an open salaries policy would mean that fairness in salaries across the organisation would inevitably have to follow and that fairness would cost a lot of money to implement properly. Either lots of people would have to be given pay rises to bring them in line or many people would leave as they perceived that their pay was still unfair even after some adjustments. Certainly nobody would be volunteering to take a pay cut. The cost of these adjustments would just be too great for most organisations to contemplate.

How This Worked Immediately

At my final interview I was told that I would be offered a role, the only question was how much the offer would be. I asked for a number and was told that this was quite a bit more than the only other person at the proposed grade. I pointed out that they had already told me that I would bring additional expectations because of my previous experience. This was accepted and they then told me that any offer had to be agreed by all the people that had interviewed me. As one of those was the person in question, who might be upset by my proposed salary, this seemed perfect to me. Not only would this other person know the outcome of any offer but would actually be involved in that decision.

Conclusion

I took the offer at Codurance because I was excited by the challenge of helping us to grow and mature our offerings, I was enthused by what I see as a genuinely flat, self organising structure and I love the culture of genuine openness that is obviously real and not just a veneer. I'm so far very happy with my decision and very happy to be a Principal at Codurance.

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