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I was hired recently into an old company from the 80s that sells some niche BASIC software, servers, and support for warehousing and fulfillment.

My position is the lone programmer in the "new" web department formed about 6 years ago. The business model is hosted websites created in our own home-grown CMS. They have done fairly well over the years but the business model suffers from obsolescence and I'd like to be able to inspire change.

There are many pros and cons to working here, but I'm comfortable with the devil I know, and some perks include a decent salary, relatively short commute, job security (no internal competition), my own office, etc.

The list of "cons" include outdated office space and systems, web forms (my main discipline but I'd rather move on!), too many projects at once, low salaries for much of the other staff, poor disposition for some of the management I have to work with.

I don't really see any obstacles to change of business plan except that the lead project manager has been here for over 20 years and just wants to get his work done each day and go home. But he's stressing out, we're seeing turn-over, and people are generally unhappy. The owner is a really nice guy.

Sorry if I'm skipping around a bit, but I'm looking for discussion - so I can vent - and some advice on how to propel change. It seems that no one wants to listen to new ideas that aren't theirs. Maybe they are afraid of being shown up by the new guy, I don't know.

For example, my docket is currently empty, but when I asked to upgrade our TFS server from 2012 to 2015 (we have an EA), I was told not to do any non-essential work. I want to be able to use project item tagging in TFS to make publishing and tracking easier, and save me time. I have nothing else to do today so there's no reason I shouldn't be doing something productive.

It often seems to me that I have the type of personality that causes managers to want to deny my requests. At my last job my peers and I would joke that the best way to get something changed was for me to advocate for the opposite. lol.

Any thoughts on this topic are welcome. I'd love to hear your experiences or questions, I'd love to talk about code or the current state of programming for the new age(tm) and I'd love some advice about how I can change this place around because otherwise I'm afraid I'll have to walk away and for some reason I'm reluctant to do that right now. I haven't given up hope for this place.

Sorry for the wall of text. TIA for your comments. : )

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    " I have the type of personality that causes managers to want to deny my requests" - hmm. Maybe that's something to work on? – WorkerDrone May 23 '16 at 15:56
  • "Maybe that's something to work on?" Lol, yes. Not sure what causes it, except perhaps over-enthusiasm and poor salesmanship. I just expect people to trust me and listen, and qualifying my thoughts seems to be perceived as over-sell. – Seventh Son May 23 '16 at 16:01
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    You really should have put more effort and thought into the interview process. You should have known going in what the job and the culture was like, including the fact that they're resistant to change and that the job was to keep things running, not to greenfield new solutions. The fact that you're considering leaving if they won't innovate means that you accepted the wrong job. If you wanted to revitalize their systems or procedures then that's something you should have raised before the offer stage. It's going to be difficult if not impossible to get meaningful buy-in now. – Lilienthal May 23 '16 at 16:04
  • "You should have known going in what the job and the culture was like" I'll be sure to ask at my next interview; "Are you resistant to change and stubborn?" "and that the job was to keep things running, not to greenfield new solutions." The position was presented as one that would involve maintenance as well as new development. I'm afraid the "new" talk was a carrot. I have high hopes. I have very little to lose in terms of attempting to forge meaningful change. I have a good relationship with my management, and in the end they are only human. I'm fairly optimistic. – Seventh Son May 23 '16 at 16:11
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    You're in a programming role, not a change agent role It's difficult enough to inspire change while in a change agent role. – Raystafarian May 23 '16 at 16:38
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When things are functioning change is not always easy. I have a client with a Windows 3.1 machine doing a core job and another running Windows Server 2000 on a relic of a server.

I could get these changed in spite of the expense in terms of time and learning curve (I see no need to though) because I have one thing that you don't have. Trust.

You need to work on getting trusted, that means working with what is available, knowing it and the tasks inside out, and making recommendations, not to suit yourself but to suit the companies needs. These needs include people who are familiar with certain ways of doing things, certain software, expense etc,. You make solid judgements taking all factors into account. Don't expect a big outlay of $$ just because it's actually the best, most up to date way to do things.

Move slowly and thoroughly until you have the level of trust where you can action what you want. By the time you get there you will find that your own attitude to the work has changed. My clients will outlay huge amounts of money on my recommendations and training, largely because they know I would not spend a cent of their money that will not repay itself in productivity and additional business. But if they hired a different highly qualified experienced guy tomorrow and he made the same recommendations, they would probably ask me if the new guy was insane first and get me to look it over.

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In my opinion, it all boils down to the age of management, especially the top management of the company. If they are close to retirement, they just want to retire with a good record behind, and probably a good salary and bonus.

As you may already know, major software overhaul is a big undertaking, draining, financial and emotional resources, equally fast with a big-big chance of failure. Obsolescence is a slow process and by the time the upper management retire, they will not care what is happening behind them.

You mentioned an owner. Is this is a single proprietor shop ? Unless he/she is trying to offload the company, he/she must have seen the signs of obsolescence by now. And if the continuation of the company is his objective, he will be your biggest advocate for the change. If he is also one of the change resisting crowd, then the writing is on the wall and you are just on a slow countdown to oblivion and your best bet is to bail, despite how many line items you can count as pro's of working for this company. You don't want to be the last "defender of the faith"

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    Sometimes you can't change due to the environment and how things are. I know some cities have systems still written in FORTRAN because they don't have the budget/approval to do otherwise. It wasn't until all the senior staff retired that they realize nobody knew how to write the code so they final got approval by way of being unable to do anything. – Dan May 23 '16 at 16:30
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You mention "job security" as a PRO for staying with the company...and yet you suggest they are doomed to obsolescence. That's a big disconnect! Your job can't be secure if the company's going the way of the dodo.

You mention that the owner is a good guy which implies you're on good terms with him...and you also say you have "nothing to do" (he MUST be a good guy :-)

Instead of spending time worrying about how you can fill your day doing the things "you know" are needed, why not take an hour or two each day (if you have that luxury) or even work at home on your OWN time and build a business case for changing the company's existing systems and procedures.

If you're so sure they're going belly up if they DON'T change, you should be able to easily research and substantiate your position. Put together a proposal and ask your boss if he minds if you make a presentation to him and the owner. Be creative and constructive. Make a short, snappy Power Point show that has a good balance of text, graphics, numbers, projections, competitive analysis, market disruptors, trends, etc. All the things that MUST be "rearing their ugly heads" if what you say about obsolescence is correct.

Once you've made your presentation, assuming it's well-received, maybe you can volunteer to head up a "conversion committee" or whatever your proposal requires to get the company on track with the new millennium.....and beyond!

Save your job AND the company.

  • Thanks for your response. It was well thought-out, well intentioned, and specific. I don't have enough Rep here yet to up-vote your response, but I appreciate it. – Seventh Son May 24 '16 at 15:13

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