Make Engineers More than Short-Order Cooks

Susan Hall

Just hire more engineers! That's a common management strategy that tends to not solve problems and just another reason software engineers are grumpy, according to a long piece at

Actually, there's a lot of reasons, including that computer science graduates come out of college thinking they know more than they do, they tend to dramatically underestimate the time required to complete projects and that they're treated like short-order cooks.

Writer Nicholas C. Zakas, a consultant who formerly worked at Yahoo and is now co-founder and chief architect for WellFurnished, says of that kitchen comparison:

It’s the job of the product manager to dream up what to build, the job of the designer to make it aesthetically pleasing, and the job of the engineer to build what they came up with. Basically, engineers are looked at as the short-order cooks of the industry.

He says his first boss gave him this valuable advice:

Nicholas, you’re worth more than your code. Whatever your next gig is, make sure that you’re not a short-order cook. Don’t accept a job where you’re told exactly what to build and how to build it. You need to work somewhere that appreciates your insights into the product as well as your ability to build it.

He says engineers' resentment builds when they aren't given credit for their creativity:

Software engineers don’t get into coding because they want someone to tell them what to do, they get into it because they discovered they could create something useful. Every single software engineer fell in love with coding because she made a small, useful program early on and was hooked. In the triumvirate of software, product managers, designers, and software engineers, only the engineers are expected to turn off their  creative minds and just produce.

Focusing on snazzy digs or company gyms, gourmet food, massages and other perks to retain your top staff seems totally off the mark. Scott Swift, recruiting consultant at California-based HR outsourcing firm TriNet, told me in an interview that the perk that IT pros want most is greater say into the products they're building, ranking right up there with salary. So especially if you're a small company that can't compete with the Googles and Facebooks on salary, there's a gold nugget of opportunity to snag great talent by valuing their input.

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