When I was first starting college, my grandmother told me that I should “Get in someplace with just a few people, and do computers.”
At the time, my siblings and I laughed this off as useless, out-of-touch advice from an elderly person who didn’t understand technology. Another one of her pseudo southern-fried (by way of southern Illinois) colloquialisms, like “Warsh yins hands before supper.”
However, just the other day I was having a conversation with my brother, a sheriff’s deputy, and we were talking about how we’d both observed that communication tends to break down when one organization needs to communicate with another. There’s always miscommunication and crossed wires.
I think it can also happen internally in a single organization, when there are too many separate teams that have complicated structural heirarchies and chains of command. I began my career in the world of higher education, where decision making was often distributed among a bunch of different people, deans and chancellors and department heads and division heads and the like.
On certain projects, something as simple as increasing a column in a database table from 50 to 100 characters required submitting a change request form, which then had to be routed to multiple people for approval, and could take months due to inter-department jockeying and miscommunication.
After our conversation, I realized that I had always focused on the “do computers” part of my grandmother’s advice, which sounds funny in the same way it sounds funny today when characters in 90s movies talk about “surfing the cybernet,” but I think I had allowed that syntactical error to distract me from the real wisdom in her advice, which was “get in someplace with just a few people.”
Just a few people. Small enough that there’s no arguing about who reports to who, and if you need something from someone you can just turn around and ask them, because they sit ten feet away from you. Without knowing that that’s what I was looking for, I wound up working somewhere like that: Comply365 in Beloit, Wisconsin. We have a pretty flat org chart, and basically no inter-departmental politics. And we’re doing computers.
Oh, by the way – we’re hiring!