I Am Not a Resource!

I love strategy board games. In many of them, gameplay revolves around resources (tokens representing wood, clay, stone, etc.) that players gather and then use to build things. Individual resource tokens of a given type are interchangeable; they’re a kind of currency that can be spent in pursuit of a player’s goals.

Unfortunately, some people think about software designers, developers, and testers as resources they can gather and deploy to build a product. Is this accurate? I’d argue, emphatically not!

Interchangeable Employees

Why People Aren’t Like Things

Resources in board games have some very nice properties. They carry the same value regardless of what other resources they’re grouped with. They are equally valuable whether they feel that they’re being used appropriately or not. Perhaps most importantly — they do not get up and move to another player’s board if they’re unhappy with their circumstances.

We know that creating software is an inherently social process. It requires that information flow freely through a team and that team members be eager to help each other learn, share responsibility for success and failure, and tackle challenging problems together. Team cohesion has an enormous effect on how productive each member will be. Building software is also an intrinsically creative process. A developer who does not feel valued and respected will find it difficult to give her best and won’t be nearly as effective as when she feels fairly treated.

When development organizations openly refer to their employees as “resources,” that’s generally a sign that these realities aren’t being fully appreciated.

Helping Developers Be Social

I’ve been very impressed in my short time here at Atomic Object. It’s clear that the company’s approach was framed with a strong appreciation for the social nature of software development. It’s also clear that our leadership put together a set of policies that they wanted to be governed by, rather than the set of policies that they wanted to govern others by.

I’ll mention just a few things I’ve really appreciated so far:

  • The level of transparency within Atomic Object is amazing. Everyone is invited to listen in to board meetings. We’re encouraged to study the company finances and understand its economic model. I’m thrilled to work at a company where the leadership is willing to do their business in the sunlight — it’s a culture of inclusion that encourages individuals to feel valued and trusted.
  • AO has this wonderful thing called “pair lunch.” You can go out to lunch with anybody in the company, and AO will pick up the tab. It’s a great way to encourage people to get to know each other, and it shows how much the company values this interaction.
  • AO is constantly hosting social events. I was invited to one even before my first day! I’ve really enjoyed these events. Being new to the company, the opportunity to have conversations outside of a work context has been really helpful. They’re also, like pair lunches, a great way to get to know folks who aren’t part of my immediate team.
  • I’ve worked almost exclusively with a pair at AO. I could write an entire post about how great this has been. It’s certainly been a wonderful way to get to know my team members, learn my project’s technical details, and feel like a valued part of the team early on.
  • Your social skills are an important part of the interviewing process at AO. Do you share our values? Do you communicate well? Are we going to enjoy working together? These questions are equally important as technical ones.
  • AO invests heavily in their employees’ technical growth. This spans the range from sponsoring presentations at the office to sending folks to conferences. Make the case that you’ll learn something useful at StrangeLoop, and AO will send you.

Treating People Like People

My goal is to write the most useful software I can. Given how important social interaction is to the success of a development team, I’m very excited to be at a company that values and fosters it. If you’re a “resource” at your company, I encourage you to consider a change! Your work environment is arguably the largest factor determining how much you’ll accomplish and how much you’ll enjoy the process.

If you manage “resources,” I encourage you to rethink your approach. Your team will be dramatically more productive when you focus on your employees as useful, creative individuals rather than inputs to a production process. Let’s leave the term “resources” for hardware, furniture, and games!