Jeremy Bellows - The Code Monkey Development Culture Problem

The Code Monkey Development Culture Problem

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I love learning about people. Every company I’ve visited I take time out to learn about the individuals around me. It’s incredibly frustrating to discover underutilized strengths that individuals on the team possess but are unable to express due to reasons. This post will explore those reasons and model the copy-paste culture that is rampant in the software industry.

A code monkey is a position that demands the individual who fills it not to express, participate, or contemplate the design, strategy, or implementation of software. The ‘demand’ for code monkeys is to “find heads-down coders who can move quickly to implement MY vision.”

Blocks Designed to Suppress Individuality (aka the self)

Strict Tradition

Specifically, hierarchy. I believe it is important to have order in an organization. That order is not purposed to restrict and stabilize structure rather than enable swift movement that is necessary to change and innovate. As the saying goes: “Innovate or die.”

I’ve witnessed strict tradition instantly kill great ideas that deserve recognition and experimentation.

  • “This is the way we’ve always done it.”
  • “x is the boss and his word is unquestionable.”
  • “Your opinion is invalid because you are [insert ethos reasoning here. too young, inexperienced, not tenured, not credentialed, etc…].”

All statements that fall into this category suffer from the same fallacy. They ignore the big picture and the current moment that includes the individuals speaking.

The excuses usually range from “we have to move quickly” to “maybe later (which never comes)”

Misalignment

Organizations always have a purpose. Money, growth, impact, survival, etc..

Individuals also have a purpose. Money, growth, impact, survival, etc..

When individuals align with an organization, then there’s usually no problem. Money aligned with money will keep an individual fulfilled (example: Wolf on wall street).

But people and organizations change. It’s rarely a pretty change that considers all of the stakeholders including the employees.

Kitchen Nightmares documents this quite well with their many episodes depicting a restaurant that was sold to owners who had no experience with the food industry and saw the opportunity as an investment. The employees would hang on for years sometimes a decade as they loved their coworkers and job. Unfortunately, they are hanging on to an idea that died a long time ago. The new owners usually change vendors, operation practices, customer service, and more. There is a misalignment between the owners prioritizing money and the employees prioritizing experience.

Ego

Everything we say, do, perceive, think, judge, or want is a projection of our mind. This messes with us all of the time. Have you ever experienced something that you felt irrationally afraid of? That’s a projection of past experiences through association.

Organizations are the same. Groupthink is intoxicating. Cliques form and suddenly everyone thinks similarly. It becomes exceptionally problematic when individuals experience a situation that causes them cognitive dissonance. They want to do what they feel is right but also don’t want to defy the group because it may lead to their outcasting.

There is almost always a leader of a clique that drives the group think. It becomes problematic when the ego takes over and creates an attack or defend a statute. Often fueled by insecurity.

The Rampant Copy Paste Culture

sigh

The copy-paste culture depends on the rigid structure, labels, and history of what has ‘worked.’ As with any duplication in a new environment, the duplicate is degraded in quality and results based on the generation of the dupe (n from original) and adaptability in the new environment.

The Model

A copy-paste culture has phases that all look the same.

  • Visionary
  • Builder (often the same person as the visionary)
  • Support

When a copy-paste culture reaches maximum capacity and needs to grow, they add layers or modules.

Head

  • Visionary
  • Board
  • Strategy

Body

  • Support
  • Managers
  • Marketing

Feet/Hands

  • Sales
  • Builders
  • Workers

Here’s the catch with this model:
It will only work for so long. Individuals have different expectations, needs, wants, desires, motives, goals, etc..

While this structure is logical, it fails to account for the individuals entering into the structure during the formation of the structure.

Many structures similar to this have added processes on top of their structures to attempt to address the individuals. However, process is inflexible to the ever-changing environment introducing individuals.

Startup World

The startup world loves this model. It’s risk-averse due to historical context and is really easy to fit on a slideshow.

Since we live in an age of software, code monkeys find themselves at the hands or feet of an organization. They are expected to do as their told and not question it. Ironically, when a security vulnerability is discovered the scapegoat of the structure is the finger.

Last words

The environemnt is changing at an exponential rate. Organizations can no longer survive the long-term when process stagnation decays their innovation capability. Automation will eliminate the need for repetitive labor and increase demand for creative, social, and problem-solving skills which stem from individuality.

Organizations cannot afford to hamper innovation by not utilizing their greatest asset: people.

My next post will be about what I see as the future organizational model.