On Github's Recent Changes
Github has started a mild internet uproar by replacing remote FTE’s with on-site employees and putting in a management structure where there originally was none. Like with so many decisions, I am torn about this. I can easily see both sides of this argument.
For one, Github has been the technical beauty at the ball for several years now. For the tech-saavy, working remotely with no management overhead is the dream job. These are people who typically reject the social strata. Of course, this is understandable because these nerds – and I mean that affectionately, recognizing myself as one of them – probably do not fit into the social strata.
Further, the geeks are quite the cynical group. Managers are managers because they don’t have the skill to be developers, right? Why on earth would I want to report to someone about what I do, especially when that manager knows less that I do? Not true, of course, but that’s what the cynical developer class thinks.
However, this vision is short-sighted. Github is a $2 billion company that has grown from 300 to 500 employees in the last year. That means organization and communication. Good managers can help with this communication. They can quickly discern priority, clear obstacles, and analyze performance. For these managers to be successful, Github has decided that they need to be in the office. I can certainly understand this. There are things that are just easier with face-to-face communication. Again, the heads-down developer may not want to acknowledge this, but it is true. This is the human side of software development. There are conversations that can be completed in 10 minutes face-to-face that take hours (or days!) via email and chat.
Next, let’s talk about meritocracy. Meritocracy is a privilege-based system. Privilege – this word has gained so much connotation in the last couple of years.
Privilege: a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most.
Privilege means, quite simply, that you do not have to worry about things that other people do have to worry about. I am an employed, white male, living in the United States. I don’t have to worry about making my next car payment, being raped when I go for a late-night walk, or what a cop is going to say to me if I get pulled over. That does not mean that privilege is bad, and it does not mean that privilege is a dirty word. But, it is its own form of social-injustice to not recognize the privileges you have been afforded, especially when so many others do not share them.
The meritocracy, at first, rewards those with the greatest privilege. After that, it continues to reward those who have been previously rewarded. The meritocracy rewards the developers who have been the most successful on the greatest number of projects. Success and quantity is a function of exposure. Exposure is a function of position. In short, the meritocracy becomes self-fulfilling.
The meritocracy has been very good to me. In fact, I have thrived in it. If I am being completely honest, it is my favorite part about consulting. And, even as I thrive, I can tell that it is an unfair system. I am where I am because I have had excellent mentors and education. I had professors and internships. I got to work on side projects, I have had the money and resources to build computers, to install different operating systems, to compare different databases, and to benchmark different types of processes.
So why is this a problem? Unlimited meritocracy is damaging. Just like unrestricted capitalism, too much of a good thing isn’t so good any longer. It preys on the less experienced and less educated. This trickles down to preying on the poor and underserved. Merit must be balanced with opportunity and mentorship.
I have felt, writing this article, that I am shooting myself in the foot. I have typically had a distaste for management, and I have had some very excellent managers in my career. I have been very well rewarded by the meritocracy, and I can see where meritocracy, when taken too far, hurts the company more than it helps it.
Internet, give Github time to prove it out. They are still a young company.
- http://dictionary.reference.com/cite.html?qh=privilege&ia=luna, accessed 10 Feb 2016.