Houston, we have a work ethics problem

(Update – January 3, 2013: Adam Schepis’ blog is now online again, so please disregard my notes that his blog is offline.)

Don’t bother trying to visit the following two links; Adam Schepis’ blog is no longer online. Perhaps this is temporary, perhaps it is permanent; I cannot know. This is rather unfortunate, since I made some comments in one of his blog posts that I think should have been preserved. I believe that it would be best if I would repeat these comments here, for posterity.

On September 15, 2011 Adam Schepis made a post in his blog titled “Why I Go Home: A Developer Dad’s Manifesto” that began as follows: “TL;DR I love my job, I love my career, I love solving hard problems, and I love crafting great software. Just not as much as a I love my daughter. When I was younger, i was one of the developers who would get …”

It is unfortunate that at this moment, his blog and its blog posts are nowhere online, so no one can read them. On the other hand, when I read the blog post I mentioned, I felt deeply offended. Deeply offended. Nonetheless, all opinions should be heard, and one of the reasons is that if it may happen that their opposition is correct, this opposition may shine only in contrast with the original thesis.

Let me try to reconstruct, as best as I can with the (unfortunately) limited information I kept, the debate that unfolded.

So, in the beginning, I read Adam Schepis blog post and, as I said, felt deeply offended. I had to respond. So, I posted the following comment:

I felt very sad when I read your post. And you are team leader, as you say. The honest thing for you to do is to resign. You write: “I spend 9+ hours working each day, and only 3 with my daughter. If that’s unfair to anyone, its unfair to my daughter.” Good fathers say such things. Good team leaders do not say such things. In your situation, it is incompatible to be both a good father and a good team leader. Actually, at this point you are neither, although you might erroneously think you are both. Let me put this another way, with all due respect: Speaking as a team member, you are a team leader I can do without.

Well, that did not play well with the readers of the blog post. Two gentlemen were kind enough to respond to my comment, but they were very opposed to what I wrote. And their comments got a lot of likes, too. At the moment, it seemed that it was me against the world.

One gentleman that responded to my comment was Peter, and he was rather furious with me. Unfortunately I kept no comments expect most of mine, so I cannot reproduce what he wrote. I remember him writing that my macho attitude was exactly what we should get rid of from this business (software development) and that he would not want me as a member of his team. I responded to him (and partly to the second gentleman, more on that coming later on) as follows:

Thank you for your comments and constructive criticism. I also want to thank you for your tone, which is way more lenient and civilized than mine.

Perhaps you realize that the small length of your comments do not let them contain all the necessary arguments for me to change my opinion. But from them and their ‘likes’, I do realize that there is quite an opposition to my point of view, and I certainly take that into consideration.

Having said that, there is one thing that I want to point out: Never hire me, condemn me to a life of poverty, but leaving your employees, co-workers, subordinates hanging (for whatever reason) is something I can never accept.

And another thing. I learned many things in the army (as a Greek, I had to go to the army; army service was mandatory for me, it was not something that I chose or liked) and one of them was something that I think should also apply to management: you must never give orders, unless you are standing in attention.

Peter, being a real gentleman as he certainly is, reads my comment and responds by saying that he does not think we should not do things according to army behaviors and closes by asking me a (perhaps rhetoric) question: “Do you work to facilitate life, or do you live to enable you to work?

So, this was Peter’s second comment addressed to me and here is my response to it:

Peter, thank you for your input and for your point of view. Your arguments are very reasonable and I certainly agree with what you are writing, so I will just concentrate here on your question: “do you work to facilitate life, or do you live to enable you to work?”

Indeed, this is the right question to ask. Why do you work? While the answers may vary, I will have to say that you work to create a world that is better than the one that has been “handed” to you. So, you work to facilitate life. But this is not the end of the story. When you work, you accept responsibilities and obligations. As an employee, you have to face the fact that your employer trusted you by hiring you and you should not let him down. And as a manager, you are also responsible for the souls that you manage.

A manager should work to facilitate the life (not only the work life, but the full life) of the people that she manages. By accepting a managerial position, a manager has this obligation.

Thus, a manager works to facilitate the life of her subordinates. And a parent “works” to facilitate the life of the members of her family. And these two roles do not have to be incompatible.

Now, in the case you are describing, everything is fine. You do not feel a lapse of management and things progress nicely. But in the case Adam Schepis describes, nothing is nice. Not only his subordinates feel a lapse of management, he also feels that his work arrangement is unfair to his family. Both as a manager and as a parent, Adam finds himself unwillingly letting people down.

While I view his situation as a sign to him that he should drastically change his life, he views his situation as something that can be fixed with a little compromise here and there. And he thinks that he fixed everything and now everything is fine and so on. It is not. Nothing is fine.

As a manager or as a parent, you should make no compromises. You cannot make any compromises, because you are dealing with people’s souls. There is a great phrase that goes like “It is not over, till the fat lady sings”. I will say: it is not over till every subordinate and every member of the family sings (I mean, is totally covered and content). When you are dealing with human souls, accept no compromises.

What stroke me as odd (to say the least), was this post’s upbeat tone. I found nothing upbeat or nice about Adam’s situation. I have seen situations like this where there is lapse of management and things turn out ugly. Since you did not like my army analogy, I will just say that situations like this end in subordinates having to resign or being fired. Either way, subordinates’ lives end up being destroyed.

I hope that it is clear that what I am discussing has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of hours one has to work or having to be present in the office. All my life I have been saying that a person should work for two hours every day. I consider two working hours a day to be a lot, but we have to work hard to make a better world. Hard for me is two hours a day. I do not know who came up with 8 (or more) hour work days. Some invention they made! And being present in the office is irrelevant. A manager has to be able to support her subordinates. If she can do so without being present, that’s perfectly fine.

Now, if a manager finds that to support her subordinates, she needs to be working 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, then that is what she should do. No compromises. Either you are up to the task and you do not leave anyone down, or find a job that you are able to meet its corresponding responsibilities and obligations.

Having answered Peter’s second (and last) comment, I turn my attention to the other gentleman’s response to my initial comment. Unfortunately, I have not kept his response, but I do remember some things. I cannot specifically remember what this gentleman wrote, but I remember that I agreed with everything he wrote and I did not find anything in his comment that was opposite to my point of view. I responded to him by writing the following:

Amir, I agree with you 100%. You are absolutely right. Of course the root of the problem is bad management and bad leaders and their unrealistic expectations. They are the ones that put people’s souls above deadlines and, thus, create family dramas.

Now what should Adam Schepis have done in this situation? In my opinion, he should have stood up for his team members and subordinates and fought in order for them to be able to “go home” as he says in the title of the post. Instead, he did that for himself and himself only.

Doesn’t Adam have a right to have a happy family life? Since he is a team leader, he has a right to a happy life only after he creates the conditions for all members of his team to able to “go home”. Solving the problem only for himself and not for his subordinates is what made me feel sad.

Another gentleman, AlexK, responded on my last comment. He wrote “Now that makes sense” and then continued giving great advice against long working hours. I have to clarify that I never held a different opinion. Everyone misunderstood me and by responding to AlexK, I tried to explain my position:

AlexK, thank you for your input. I read your blog posts and I agree with your point of view. In your blog posts you raise some very important points about the dangers of long working hours. In my opinion, a person should work for two hours each day at the most. Of course, a surgeon may not leave the operation in the middle! During a major computer virus outbreak, security response teams work around the clock. And so on. So, I would say that a person should work for two hours each day at the most on average.

I would also want to clarify a few points about my comments. While other readers judged Adam Schepis as a working person, I judged him as a team leader. A team leader leads her team. That is what the term “leader” means. A team leader leads her team, but where to? That depends. It depends on the members and the composition of the team, on the particular circumstances, on the job at hand and so on. To keep things simple, I will just say that a team leader leads her team depending on her vision. You see, she has to have a vision, a purpose for the team.

Hopefully, this purpose may be to provide every team member with a perfect work-life balance. But, unfortunately, sometimes, this purpose could be to help the company out of a difficult spot, where every team member has to make sacrifices.

No matter what vision the team leader has, she has to try to make the team succeed. Now, what was Adam Schepis vision? Nothing that had to do with his team. What did Adam Schepis do? He just “went home”, as the title of this blog post states. Adam Schepis went home. He went home and wrote a manifesto. An apologetic blog post would have been more appropriate, because he certainly did not function as a team leader. I am sure that, by creating a great family, Adam will benefit society. It is just that his manifesto, coming from a team leader as it does (and this is where I want to put emphasis on), does not benefit any of us.

Now, your blog posts, AlexK, benefit all of us by explaining the wrong notions about work ethics and the dangers of long working hours. My comments have nothing to do with these subjects. My comments to this blog post have to do with team leadership and its corresponding ethics. The point I am trying to make is that there is no “I” in team, especially for the team leader.

AlexK agrees with my point of view with yet another comment, so I respond to him again. Unfortunately, I have not kept my response, but I remember it roughly. I told him that I have a lot of imput to give him on such matters (concerning work ethics). I also wrote that I would want to give another example from the army, but I would not want to upset Peter doing so. I went ahead and gave an example from Alexander the Great’s history:

Alexander the Great was in the desert with his soldiers and there was no water anywhere. At some point, somehow, a cup of water was found and was given to Alexander the Great. He spilled it intentionally, saying that he would not drink water himself if his soldiers were unable to do so. Now this was a team leader, if there ever was one.

Another gentleman, KN, responds to this comment I made, expressing his thoughts. He finds Alexander the Great’s behavior unintelligent and also asks what this example has to do with software development team leadership. My response to KN follows:

KN, this story shows that Alexander the Great was not selfish, that he cared for his subordinates and that he did not put himself above his subordinates (all traits of a good leader). A software development team leader correspondingly should say: “I am not going home to see my children, until everyone in my team is able to do so”.

And that was the final comment of this debate. Now, the correct thing for me is to finish this blog post here. I wrote what happened as best as I remember it and with the few notes I kept. I should leave the critique to each reader of this blog post. Anything I write from here on may be considered a hit below the belt, although I certainly do not intend it as such. I would just want to add that I felt that everyone misunderstood me and rushed to crucify me. Although I am an atheist, I cannot help but be reminded of Jesus Christ’s words: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”.

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About Dimitrios Kalemis

I am a systems engineer specializing in Microsoft products and technologies. I am also an author. Please visit my blog to see the blog posts I have written, the books I have written and the applications I have created. I definitely recommend my blog posts under the category "Management", all my books and all my applications. I believe that you will find them interesting and useful. I am in the process of writing more blog posts and books, so please visit my blog from time to time to see what I come up with next. I am also active on other sites; links to those you can find in the "About me" page of my blog.
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