Clif Notes: Ever Feel Like Just a Cog In The System?

A while back, our Content Editor, Shannon Stoltz, introduced me to a book by Rajesh Setty titled Beyond Code: Learn To Distinguish Yourself In 9 Simple Steps. It is targeted at the IT professional who wants to break out of the rut of constantly rushing to acquire another skill (programming in Python, for example) only to find out they have become what he calls a "commodity"— just another Python programmer easily replaced with any other Python programmer (at least in the perception of upper management).

It addresses the beyond-code skills needed to stand out from the crowd. Straight forward, concrete exercises to help in developing those skills are also provided. As frequent readers of this column will recognize, this is something I firmly believe MultiValue professionals need to take a close look at. I'll have more to say about this book in another column. For now, I would just like to pass along the recommendation. You can buy the print version for around $19.95 — less from your favorite online bookseller — or you can download the free PDF version from his web site (

While I was browsing Rajesh Setty's site and resources, I signed up for his newsletter, which brings us to the topic of this issue's column. He mentioned a blog post he wrote about "Why some people work hard but don't get enough credit for their work."

In it he presents his analysis based on his research. (I don't think his mini-research projects would pass a sociologist's strict definition of the word, but they are informative, nonetheless.) We all know it's common to hear this lament. "I work so hard, but it's not appreciated or rewarded." I've written about the same topic. So I was interested to see what someone else found out and had to say about it. And I got surprised.

Yes, he did find some cases where people were being victimized and taken advantage of. We all know that happens. But the surprise for me was that the majority of those who felt "victimized" had something in common — it was their interpretation of exactly what "hard work" meant. They felt victimized but failed to realize it was of their own making. He broke it down into ten items, but four of them jumped out at me. (You can read his entire article at Life Beyond Code (

Sometimes people work hard because they don't have the skills to do the job smoothly, correctly, using best practices, or get it done on time. It's easy to see this in some of the MultiValue user lists. They post questions about basic things like "how do I find out what columns this table has?" How can you work easily with MultiValue data if you don't know what a dictionary is or how to list it?

In some cases lacking the skills to do the job is the fault of the company who hired them for not providing any training. Sometimes it's the fault of the outsourcers they work for. But a lot of times, even with IT folks who have been doing this for years, it's their own fault for not opening a manual, not reading the last ten years of release notes, or not even asking "How does this work?" when they run across a statement or function they haven't seen. In this case, the solution is to find out what they need to do to get those skills, and do it. Or they might want to move to a job they are qualified to handle.

The next one wasn't really a surprise for me. As a self-employed consultant, I deal with this one on an on-going basis. But it was interesting to see someone else affirm that this is a blind spot among a lot of "hard working" employees. That is to fail to recognize that value created does not equal hours worked.

Too many times we hear comments like, "I usually work 60 hours a week. Joe is out of here at 5 PM every night. Why did he get to go to Spectrum and I didn't?" It could be because in his 40 hours, Joe creates more value to the company. It could be because of skills the other doesn't have, on his own he developed better, faster ways of getting applications done, or always comes back from conferences with a list of suggestions of products or techniques that will have an impact on the company's struggle to stay competitive. It's a case-by-case judgment, but it's rarely about how many hours someone is clocked in.

And finally, there is the problem of thinking that by working hard, the company owes them career growth. Nooo. The company pays the salary for the value they are currently receiving. Unless the company has a need, such as having bought a new business intelligence tool, why would they pay for classes to help someone become .NET certified when the company doesn't do its development on that platform. If someone wants to change their career path, it is not up to the company to do that for them. It is up to the individual to take the steps necessary. And yes, if they are an application programmer and want to learn the latest techniques in Agile Development that might mean taking a couple vacation days and paying out of pocket to go to that conference.

In summary, it seems like a lot of people's feelings of victimization can be traced back to a misunderstanding about why they are working hard, what working hard means to the company instead of them, or a disconnect in expectations as to what the reward and recognition should be. So rather than taking responsibility to make a change, they get trapped doing more and more of the same old same old until they become just another "commodity" and management finds a cheaper source for the commodity.

Please don't let it happen to you. That's why International Spectrum has placed such an emphasis on professional development and skill building for the MultiValue professional.

As my uncle used to say, "When you're green, you're growing. When you're ripe, you're rotten."

Clif Oliver

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Mar/Apr 2011