Thursday, March 10, 2005

The interested individual contributor's dilemma

We had a product-wide meeting today, and our product's manager, a past CEO of a large company, was talking about the fine line between doing one's job and participating in the success of the product or company. Usually the stuff he talks about is walking the fine line between BS and management-fad drivel, in my humble opinion (I have extremely low regard of most theories about people management), but this one point was pretty interesting. He said that, in the end, Microsoft has to trust its employees' judgment to spend their time wisely. If you spend too much time just focused on your job, especially if you're "just a developer," you will rarely come up with any interesting new ideas or products, and you won't often solve problems in a breakthrough way. If you spend too much time in meetings and discussing what the product "could" do, or think about new directions we could take the product, or things like that, then you're not doing the job you're paid to do, and you're putting the product's schedule or feature set at risk. It's up to me to decide how much of my time I spend actually coding my features, and how much of my time I spend on things that aren't technically in my job description, like helping to hammer out the UI for a new dialog, or coming up with an interesting way to divide the current product into new SKUs; my duty is simply to try to find the balance that is best for the product and the company. It's rather cool being entrusted with this much discretion over how I spend my time at work.

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