game of thrones


game of thrones

The tech scene is full of bullshit and fakery, plain and simple. We all need to understand our role in a team and be aware of the real intentions behind every piece of work we do if we want to survive.

In tech, we often mix up the concepts of product understanding and business understanding, thinking they're the same thing. But they're not. Business is just politics, and it's important to recognize that. Don't get fooled by thinking that understanding the product is the same as understanding the business - it's not.

Product understanding

How my work makes ‘the company’ make more money.

Politics/Business understanding

How my work makes ‘me’ make more money.

Here are two examples of how politics work in a tech company from both a managerial and individual contributor perspective:

  • A manager wants a promotion or a raise, so they start a new initiative to improve a metric. They create a new product, which requires an increase in headcount. The team grows, delivers the product, and moves the metric. Now the manager has a success story to justify their promotion or raise. More headcount means more money for the manager.
  • A software engineer wants a promotion or a raise, so they start a new initiative to improve a metric. They create a new product, which requires a development process, architecture design, and involves more people. The team develops the product, which moves the metric. Now the software engineer has a success story to justify their promotion or raise. More architecture means more money for the engineer.

Here's a fact no one talks about: after a year or two, someone else will come along and do the same thing. They'll move your metric, redo your work, or replace it with something newer and cooler. In the end, the impact of your original work will be zero. But politically, it's good. More products mean more headcount, more metrics, and more opportunities for growth and compensation for everyone.

Here are some typical ways to improve your politics skills and move metrics to justify promotions or salary increases:

  • Adding complexity to products: this could be done by introducing new features, products, use cases, experimentation, or promoting collaboration between teams.
  • From a technical perspective: introducing new technology, refactoring, complex architecture, complex design patterns, talks, and workshops.

It's important to focus on metrics that are easy to move and have short delivery times. The manager who approves the initiative also has metrics that they want to move quickly, and the C-Level also has quick metrics they want to move. Over time, the manager who initiated the initiative may leave the company, and the original developer team that delivered the product may have jumped to another company for a big salary increase, thanks to their metric-driven resume. If we focus on political metrics, we attract political talent.

Responsibility doesn’t exist

When it comes to responsibility in the tech industry, it's important to understand that it doesn't really exist. This may be a hard truth to swallow, particularly for managers who aren't involved in the actual building of software.

Consider the scenarios we previously discussed: a team builds a product under a manager's supervision, and they deliver a success. But what happens when that product requires ongoing maintenance? The cost of maintaining a product can quickly become greater than the profit it generates. So, was the metric that was moved worth the increased salary expenses of the team?

And what about when a rushed project results in faulty code that causes the product to break down? Who is accountable for that? It's rare for a manager to be fired for a project they led years ago that's now failing. In fact, responsibility in the tech industry is often difficult to pinpoint.

Individual contributors can be put on performance improvement plans (PIPs) when they are deemed to be "underperforming." But how many people will get laid off if a recession hits, like the one experienced in 2022? And how many C-level executives will resign or reduce their pay when things go wrong?

In the end, responsibility is often something that's easier to talk about than it is to actually enforce. Those who are in positions of power may call the shots, but they are rarely held accountable when things don't go as planned.

Top-down vs bottom-up decision making

When it comes to decision-making in the workplace, the terms "top-down" and "bottom-up" are often used, but let's be honest, a job is all about social hierarchy, and not everyone has the same power in the chain. Managers hold the power to make decisions, and their subordinates must follow them, or there will be consequences. However, managers want to project an image that they care about their employees, and they will listen to their proposals. They will even force their employees to make proposals to show that they are proactive.

But, in reality, most proposals from the bottom rarely get approved, and it's the harmful initiatives that usually end up being approved to maintain the image that the company cares. For instance, it's easy to approve an internal initiative where the teams want to do monthly tech talks, but it's harder to approve a renewal of the laptops and smartphones that people use. The easy proposal is approved to maintain the image that they care, while a massive layoff takes place the next month.

In a mature tech company, a new CTO may propose a big change in the architecture and process of the company, which is a top-down decision where the metric to move has been cherry-picked by management. A manager then decides to re-do the architecture, and multiple teams spend a year migrating and working to it. At the end of the day, the metric that has been moved was the one that the manager decided on, and they will move on to a new company to share their success story on how they led this innovation and it was a success.

On the other hand, startups operate differently. A product decision is a bottom-up decision, where the team focuses on making money and justifying their initiative to their manager for approval. After approval, the team is responsible for achieving the metric that will generate more money for the company.

In summary, mature tech companies are environments where managers and senior roles want to maximize their profits, while startups focus on making money so they can obtain big returns. However, as time passes, every startup that becomes profitable will eventually become a mature company, and the political race begins. Let the game of thrones begin.