Could We Promote Software Developers Like Nurses?

by Damon Payne 10. January 2013 14:45

The difficulties of finding, hiring, and retaining great software developers does not end with filtering out the non programming programmers during your interview process. Any career minded individual must also be constantly thinking about the future. Am I learning enough here? Am I being recognized for what I'm contributing? Is this organization actually incenting the kind of behavior it claims to value? Do I need to try to get a different title that represents my contributions in order to sell myself to my next employer?

Does your organization have a universal and transparent system for evaluating title changes? Is it clear to you what you'd need to do in order to Level Up ? Unfortunately, it's likely not the case where you work. In fact, many people may find themselves with titles (and therefore salary ranges, recognition, and opportunities) that are unhinged from their contribution relative to other employees. Why is that slacker over there a Senior Software Engineer III while I languish as a mere Entry Level Software Grunt II. Your may not have titles, as many titles, or such boring titles, but keep reading.

My wife is a Registered Nurse. The hospital system where she works uses the odd title of 'Staging' as a rough descriptor of skill and therefore salary bands. A nurse can be from Stage 1 through Stage 5. Leveling up is done through the process appropriately called "Staging". The organization has guidelines around staging. When you are a student nurse in training you should be a Stage 1. A nurse who's recently graduated and passed the state Boards (examinations) should be a Stage 1 or 2. Once you have some work experience you will be invited to Stage again, and after a year you ought to be about a Stage 3.

The requirements for successfully Staging at each level are published and transparent. While there is some subjective evaluation: talking to people who have observed your work, etc. there are also various objective requirements, written work, and an oral interview with a small panel that evaluates your fitness for whatever Staging level you are seeking. If you successfully Stage Up, you get a merit increase outside the annual cycle and are more or less considered more of a Senior nurse (in terms of ability, not age) than people of a lesser Staging level.

This carries appeal for a lot of reasons. For one, the process seeks to be evidence based rather than purely due to putting in your time, hanging out with the right people, or job hopping to get a new title. The fact that Staging to a new level requires a significant amount of effort on the part of the nurse also resonates with me: I'm not going to promote you just because it was time. Rather than wondering how your co-worker got to Stage 4, it should be very clear to you what you'd need to do in order to get to Stage 4. If you want to.

I'm not sure what the hospital would do if a nurse tried to stage three times in the same year, but presumably a failure would be accompanied by strong evidence of what was lacking.

In software development, one sought-after title by some is "Software Architect"; to some this is distinct from and superior to being a mere Developer. I happen to agree quite a bit with Joe Duffy on the role of the Software Architect, but in my own way I try to also provide an objective path to anyone who approaches me and says "I'd like to become more of an Architect..." There are things I think you should understand. There are seminal works I think you probably ought to have read. Ultimately, though, in our field, you become a Software Architect by hanging a sign outside your door that says "Damon Payne: Software Architect". (You may want to consider replacing my name with yours) You may succeed, you may fail, but if you're paying attention and you're open to thinking about why you've failed you will learn a lot. You'll keep those things in mind and ask better questions next time. One day you'll leave work and think to yourself "Hey, I really am a Software Architect".  Does "fake it till you make it" work sometimes?

In our world of fakers, pretenders, non-programming programmers, and job-hopping, could we promote software developers more like nurses?



Personal | Technical Community | Career

Comments (2) -

Merton United States
1/14/2013 12:19:43 AM #

Perhaps employers should pay software developers based on performance? - I.E. if the software product fails then you must repay the last 1-3 years of development efforts. Software developers are paid to write the code and to fix the code they wrote... How about profitability?


Damon Payne
Damon Payne United States
1/22/2013 3:33:03 PM #

Merton: I wonder how seriously to take your comment. Software projects can fail for any number of reasons and squabbling over the source of the failure is already very common. Concerns over profitability and so forth generally fall under the domain of the business. If a developer is to not be paid if a project fails, then that sounds like more of a Partner arrangement than an employee/employer arrangement.


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Damon Payne is a Microsoft MVP specializing in Smart Client solution architecture. 

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