Zed goes on a rant

While I am not a Ruby developer, I have to admit I got a kick out of Zed Shaw’s diss on the Ruby on Rails community and consulting companies (Not appropriate for work warning – Zed adds a bit of color to his posting). My first thought was "this is some pretty funny stuff". My second was "this guy had better be an absolute guitar god to get away with this." Ed Van Halen has the right to give someone crap, the lead guitarist of the Bangles is another story.

I personally do not know Zed, so I cannot comment on whether or not he is enough of a rock star to back up his post or if we are observing career suicide in motion. I wish him the best of luck, although I think it would be better for this one to blow over. Whistleblowers, if that is what he is doing, rarely come out as heroes in the long run.

I also know absolutely little about Thoughtworks, the company Zed barbeques in his post, except that Martin Fowler, a pioneer in Agile programming and refactoring (one of my favorite topics), is their "Chief Scientist".

I do agree with Zed that some consulting companies act like pimps. But, if the company is completely screwing their clients, they generally will not last too long (have seen quite a few tank in the past five years). You can only sell a streetwalker as a high class escort for so long before the johns stop calling your escort service. And, I agree with his list of suggestions:

  1. Make sure you have the right to see every resume and interview each consultant they place. Treat them like new hires and don’t let anyone who’s not worth the rate you’re paying on the team.
    Agree with this, but consulting companies worth their salt will allow you to cull through resumes of people who will work on your project before you begin and will allow you to pick a replacement from people on the bench or coming off other assignments.
  2. Demand a variable rate based on the position of the person and their experience.
    I have not seen a company that charges one rate. I believe they are out there. I have only worked for one full time consulting company (Quilogy) and they would even send lower level devs out on assignment for free when they were benched to get "real world" mentoring. The client would benefit with an extra set of hands for the small price of the more experience dev helping him improve.
  3. Demand that no employees can leave the project to work on another project. These placements have to be for the life of the project or until the employee quits.
    I agree you should not have a revolving door and should have stability. On the other hand, only if the employee quits is a bit heavy handed and states your company can boot, but the employee can’t, even if he decides he hates your project. That is unwise and just asking for a saboteur on the project.
  4. Require that you have the right to have someone replaced if they are not immediately capable. Part of what you’re paying is that a ThoughtWorker should be able to drop in commando style and just start working. The reality is they are usually totally lost anyway.
    Once again, this is a bit unrealistic. I agree with capable (meaning capable of coding at the level you need), but there is a suggestion of immediately productive, as well. Until you understand the business, productive can actually be detrimental.
  5. Seriously consider recruiting one full time employee as a team lead, another as a project manager, and then staff the rest of your team with independent consultants. You’ll find that you get more control and better quality at a lower price.
    I agree that you need someone with a stake in the company in a high level position. In some companies, this could be a team lead, but in others a PM or even business owner is sufficient. It really depends on culture.

Overall, I have found that consulting companies, as a whole, are like any other companies. They have good apples and bad. And, like any other company, most have different levels of proggies, from code monkeys to code gods. And, there are both ethical and unethical companies, just like there are ethical and unethical people.

Perhaps Zed is letting the cat out of the bag and perhaps he is just being a windbag. Only time will tell. I have to admire his cajones to speak out like this, but I also think it comes across as whiny and unprofessional and would make me, if I were a prospective employer, think twice about hiring him.

Peace and Grace,

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