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I work in a large company that employs two very disparate sets of people.

This is a tricky dynamic to explain, so allow me to continue: The company employs two very different sets of people. The first one being typical software development type hierarchy (devs, QA, PM's, architects, DBA's, etc). The other is more sales, support, installations, and other hourly jobs where experience is not always needed, nor is a degree (although that rule isn't set in stone for engineering either). For the purposes of the question, I'll label them engineering and non-engineering positions, respectively.

The crux of the issue is that leadership has come to the realization that we can't hire or retain hardly anyone of a younger generation (this is not saying that hiring younger is the root cause, it's just what leadership has identified as it). As a result they have created a committee of their target demographic and put us to work creating company policy to help fix this issue, the problem is that it is lead by non-engineering roles and the committee is overwhelmingly non-engineering personnel. The fixes and suggestions they are making a priority don't align with nearly any of the interests of the engineering group and would hinder hiring in the engineering group if implemented company wide (the opposite of their intended goal).

How can I bring up the disparity between the needs of these two groups?

What personal experiences or case studies do people know of where a company has reinvented its tech culture?

note: I realize this is similar to this question, but I wish to address the conflicting needs between the two groups, address a much larger scale, and investigate real-world instances of success (and/or failure).

  • "Don't you think it would be great to have some engineering folks on the committee for some diversity of thought?" – Daniel Margosian Aug 3 '16 at 15:48
  • I have made this proposal and the result was the addition of 2 engineering folks in a committee of 20. Voting on priority was laughably one-sided. – Adam Aug 3 '16 at 16:18
  • Is the retention problem in Engineering or non-Engineering? If "non" then it would seem logical to have them driving the process. – user45269 Aug 3 '16 at 16:34
  • @Prinz Retention is a problem in both areas. Hiring is a much bigger problem in engineering than non. – Adam Aug 3 '16 at 16:54
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First of all, any company has to be led by business decisions. I've never worked at a company which has an 'engineering plan' for how it's going to make a profit; every well run company has a 'business plan'. A good example is the minimally viable product; Sales want to sell something as soon as possible, while engineering want to spend the next 18 months making it perfect with all possible functionality. There has to be a balance. You do seem, in your question, to have a viewpoint of 'engineers are clever, everyone else is being carried by the engineers' - that isn't going to fly very far.

The problem you're trying to solve is the wrong one; you're considering (lack of) age as a defining quality. Some of the best engineers are those who have worked in business for 30+ years, and have a depth of knowledge that just isn't available straight out of school - and that includes business knowledge as well as engineering ability. Go out and recruit the best people, not necessarily the youngest.

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    There is one very famous company that was eventually led by an engineering plan. Nokia. – Juha Untinen Aug 3 '16 at 16:47
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    To be fair, the OP is not the one judging on age - the OP's leadership has that opinion. – user45269 Aug 3 '16 at 16:52
  • I believe that the culture around engineering is outdated and that effects hiring across the age spectrum. This is not a question about the validity of the leadership's solution to a hiring problem (they are equating age to skill, not me). I am trying to establish and communicate the different needs between the two groups, while the current conversation is dominated by non-engineering. (which if policy is created around these ideas I believe it would hurt the company). – Adam Aug 3 '16 at 16:58
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    While you make good points Pete, you are not answering the question. – asoundmove Aug 3 '16 at 22:23
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You're telling us that the policies that your non-engineering group are trying to implement company-wide are going to affect your engineering group adversely? That's a reasonable concern.

Why is it going to adversely affect your engineering group?

That is the question that your non-engineering team is going to ask, and you need to come up with a solution that will satisfy them and allow them to meet their goals.

I can think of a handful of reasons the policies might not match up, or even sharply adverse your output as an engineering group which would, in turn, affect your sales/profits as a company as a whole - you need to bring those concerns up, in that context, to your non-engineer group, and either figure out an exemption, or an alternate process your group can go through to meet their needs.

This all might be a hard sell, because upper-management types (I.E., bad upper management) loves the idea of company-wide policies they don't have to think about - but you need to make your case to this committee and these non-engineers in terms that they understand, or else they will implement these policies without your input, and your group will suffer because of it.

In short: You need to explain to them, in a way that makes sense from their perspective, why this would be bad for your group, and how you could implement policies that will meet upper management's goals, without adversely affecting their goals to meet the same expectations.

In even Shorter: You have to work together and talk it out with them.

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In my experience this divide comes from multiple problems.

Expectations - In the past it was incredibly rare for skilled employees to work a 40 hour week, 50-60 was the general expectation for professional positions in the private sector. That expectation in traditional companies often still exists, while the millennial generation, as a whole, is unwilling to to put in this type of effort, regardless of the pay rate.

It is also expected that new engineers will do the grunt work while the established and proven engineers get the better projects and assignments. This does not sit well with the current generation, to be fair it didn't sit well with Gen x or Gen y either until they were the ones in the old guard chair. But in the era of the tech startup, high risk, high reward positions where a new engineer starts out the same as one with 20 years experience, the millennials are unwilling to start at the bottom, when they can start much closer to the top.

For the millennial chances are they are not looking at the position as a start of a career with the company, instead this is just their first, or often just another job. They have no intention of being with the company in 20 years, and probably doubt the company will still exist in 20 years. Not because the company is managed poorly but just because in their lifetimes there have been a huge number of companies that have collapsed or been bought out. So the typical millennial's expectation is that the company is not likely to survive in its current form until it is time for me to retire.

Compensation - Many traditional companies are very reluctant to pay new engineers a wage similar to what their established and proven engineers are making. However the market is strong for new engineers to come into companies making significantly more than their peers were just 5 years ago let alone 10-20 years ago.

Part of that is because advances in technologies mean that a single engineer that is highly productive can produce so much more than they could. Part of it is just that there is a greater demand for engineers than there is a supply of them seeking employment in the market. Thus even marginally skilled engineers can command a high salary.

Conversely there is less of a demand for the soft skills employees with the increase in the use of the Internet to handle most of the customer interfacing.
This has lead to weak market for these types of jobs.

Combine that with the millennial expectation that they will not likely remain employed with the company for 20 years, benefits like retirement, high quality insurance benefits, and the ability to eventually get 4 or 5 weeks vacation are completely meaningless to them when comparing offers.

Upward Mobility - Many traditional companies are very limited in the ability to move up. There are usually 2 or 3 ranks (Junior, Engineer, Senior), and going from junior to senior will take an average engineer 25 years, while even the best are going to be lucky to do it in 15. The millenial generation has grown up with the level me up mentality. Large corporations with the ability to grow quickly and a much taller ladder to climb are more attractive to them than a tradition small to mid-sized business. And a start up provides them with the chance to get in on the ground floor and be at the top of the food chain if it succeeds in 5 to 10 years.

Respect - There is an expectation of respect from older and more experienced people that the current generation does not seem understand. This has been true for as long as there have been generation differences. But in the past there were not options to work in companies run by 20 year old wiz kids. So in the end many of the senior employees grew up in a climate where they had to learn to thrive in that environment, which meant showing the old guys the respect they demanded, and shoveling the poop(metaphorically) until there was another new guy to take over that job, and you proved you were able to handle the next position.

That climate is gone in many places. Companies are becoming used to bringing in new people, putting them on important projects, and getting the results they want. Companies that still cling to that old school paradigm are finding it nearly impossible to retain new hires for more than a year or two. However, having paid their dues, your current engineers are unlikely to be willing to abandon that mindset.


The result the company has gotten itself into a problem where there is not a cheap and easy fix. Anything your company can do to fix the paradigm to one that works in today's business is going to cost them money and probably quite a bit of it. And it is going to take a long term effort to fix the problem.

Your committee will have to figure out how to fix the issue. I would start by including on your committee not just from engineering but some veterans from the business side. What ever changes you make you will need to have the buy in not just from your millennial staff but also from those who have been with the company for many years as well. It is not going to be easy, I feel safe to predict.

One solution I commonly have seen in my capacity as a consultant(contractor) is that companies put their old guys on a Legacy team, and leave them to maintain systems in place, while bringing in a new team to take over any new projects. This has the effect of allowing for support of your existing platforms, while fixing the problem of not being able to retain new hires(assuming you have good management on the new team).

However this usually results in losing not only the moral of your legacy team, but those guys have a ton of business experience and understanding that gets lost. They tend to understand the needs of the business from an engineering perspective in ways that can only be done through the years of experience they have. I would urge you committee to try to find a solution that avoids that.

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  • You're making a lot of assumptions about the reasons the OP doesn't agree with the committee, which are not stated. You're not addressing the actual question, which is how to communicate this unspecified disagreement. – Amy Blankenship Aug 3 '16 at 21:14
  • We cant tell them what to do. I simply shared my experience of what the cause is, and how I have seen it addressed. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 3 '16 at 21:50
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1st Item

To address your first item regarding the disparity between the two groups: introverts vs extroverts

The gulf between engineering people and non-engineering can be quite wide.

Most engineering types tend to be introverts whereas non-engineering types tend to be the exact opposite.

I remember sub-contracting for a consulting firm where one of the leaders was a sales type.

She wanted to make the culture better, so she came up with the idea of having a weekly happy hour where everyone would get together after work at a bar, drink, dance, etc.

She was lucky that she had an outspoken introvert on her staff who asked her why in the world that would be fun to do for the developers. When he said that the other developers shook their heads in agreement. She had a deer in the headlights look - she could not comprehend why her idea would not be fun.

We then had a good discussion on introverts vs extroverts, and what motivates one, saps the energy from the other and visa-versa.

Therefore, to address the disparity, you may want to suggest that there be two groups: One for engineering and one for the rest of the company.

The reason for having two groups is because of the introvert vs extrovert issue. They could even compete to see who does better at retention. If they will not go for that, then they should at least have parity between the engineering types and non-engineering types to balance the ideas for the same reason.

2nd Item

To address your second item, here is an example of a complete make over of an IT shop:

http://www.cardinalhealth.com/en/about-us/our-approach/fuse-by-cardinal-health.html

Note that this is not all of Cardinal's IT - it is a subset. The original project that led to this was a very successful agile project and that in turn convinced C-level types that the same thing on a larger scale would be a good idea.

EDIT: I forgot, you can also tour this facility - they'll gladly show you their environment.

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  • You don't state what you think the second issue is in so many words. – Amy Blankenship Aug 3 '16 at 21:17
  • The OP asked for an example or a case study of an IT department reinventing its culture as his second issue to be solved - so I gave an example of a complete make over of an IT shop. – user45269 Aug 3 '16 at 21:28
  • OK, I didn't read that as an "issue", but fair point. – Amy Blankenship Aug 3 '16 at 21:37
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    I see what you mean - I changed "issue" -> "item" to avoid confusion. Thank you. – user45269 Aug 3 '16 at 21:39
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I think you should apply engineering principles to solve your conundrum.

First identify the problem as you see it.

Current situation - identify what is putting off the young engineers they are trying to recruit and retain. It seems like you have a pretty strong idea about what those are.

Proposed solution 1 - identify what additional risks or benefits this strategy would have on the recruitment and retention of young engineers. Again, it seems like you have a pretty strong idea about what those are.

Identify potential solutions to mitigate this risks or improve on the benefits. This is your proposal, the conclusion of your business case, supported by the first two points.

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