Arrogance and Thoughtworks – in the same sentence? Surely not…

arrogant
adj.

  1. Having or displaying a sense of overbearing self-worth or self-importance.
  2. Marked by or arising from a feeling or assumption of one’s superiority toward others: an arrogant contempt for the weak.

Thank you, dictionary.com.

“Do you know,” said Roy, “that eighty percent of people who’ve come into contact with Thoughtworkers think that we’re arrogant?”

“Really?” I asked. “How many Thoughtworkers think Thoughtworkers are arrogant?”

“About ninety percent,” he conceded.

We both agreed that this was odd, since TWers are amongst the least arrogant people I know. We are, in general, always interested in learning new things; ready to be told that there’s a better way than our own; never fooled into thinking that we know everything; open to critisism. So why do Thoughtworkers so often come across as arrogant?

As someone who gets mistakenly labelled as arrogant all the time, I’m obviously the best person to answer this question. So I have.

A sense of self-worth

There’s a difference between self-worth and self-importance. Self-importance is delusional; it suggests that the team, the project, the company or the world will fall apart without you. Perhaps that happens in an environment where knowledge is closely guarded, but most TWers love new things and hate to be stuck on the same project for months. I think we’re more likely to give away our knowledge; to ensure that someone else can take over our role, and to make ourselves as redundant as possible. I don’t think that we regard ourselves as important, or even want to be.

We do, however, have a sense of self-worth which is greater than that of your average IT bod. We know that our opinions matter, that we can make a difference, and that we all have responsibility for everything (thank you, Collective Code Ownership, management transparency and a flat hierarchical structure). We also know that this is true of everyone else in the company. That kind of mutual respect makes for a great place to work. The problem is that the enthusiasm generated by our environment often translates into “Look! Our world is so great! You should do this too!” (This is also the traditional TW greeting given to newcomers to the company, along with a garland of books and articles detailing the exact architecture required to build the better world.)

One of the problems with suggesting a better way is that it casts a reflection of something worse; something wrong. In most of the world, doing something wrong equates to a certain level of punishment, be it in lower salaries, stressful emails and memos from on high, rehabilitative courses or plain sacking. So until the world gets rid of the blame culture, there will always be people who aren’t prepared to be told that they’re wrong – especially if no one is interested in the stuff they’re doing right.

A feeling of superiority

Is our way really better? Which companies, exactly, are we superior to? Which projects?

There’s still a debate out there as to whether Agile is useful on, say, large-scale projects involving > 20 people or mission critical applications like aeroplane flight controls, and I have my own gut feelings about its practical application to legacy code.

How do you know, before you’ve listened, that a company might not be doing some things right already?

I’m pairing up to run the Agile induction course tomorrow and I’m very nervous about it. One of my colleagues here told me, “Don’t worry. Everyone started Agile somewhere; they worked out that there was a better way and played it by ear until they got it right.” And there are people playing around out there. Agile-like practices which I’ve seen outside of Agile projects include:

  • test-first design (less disciplined than test-driven, but it still works)
  • self-documenting code
  • collaborative code ownership (a natural practice for any team disinclined to blame ?)
  • feature-driven design (similar to story-driven design)
  • a zero-overtime policy (at 37.5 hours, even better than the 40 hour week)
  • pairing
  • stand-up meetings
  • frequent code integration

I don’t think any of the companies I’ve seen doing these things are familiar with the concepts of Agile or Extreme Programming. They were just doing these things because they worked; because there were a few bright sparks running things who worked out how to prevent the problems they’d encountered on previous projects. The founders of the Agile movement went a little further, but they all started somewhere too.

I’d swear that one company I worked with has a secret Agile practitioner converting the way they work. “Wouldn’t it be better, instead of writing a method this way, to break it up into reusable chunks? Wouldn’t it be great if this variable was renamed so we knew what it meant? How about we inject this via an interface so we can put that functionality into a new class? What if we have low-level tests for our code, so we know if it fails before we send it off to our poor beleaguered test team? What happens if we integrate more regularly so that the merges become easier and don’t break everything quite so often?”

Thinking back on his approach, I am once again filled with real respect for this cunning rebel. He knew he was right – of course he was! – but he asked questions to make other people do the hard work of realising it; by which time, of course, they were right too. I never once heard him say, “Listen! Look!”, but I bet he sits back at his desk every day with the smuggest smile on his face.

Guess what? He doesn’t work for Thoughtworks. I really, really want to meet the people like this who do. Stop being the quiet voice, whoever you are.

Contempt for the weak

Ah. See, this is the problem; I don’t think it’s weakness we’re contemptuous of. I suspect it’s pragmatism.

Pragmatists are prepared to compromise their ideals in order to get a job done. Most Thoughtworkers are idealists, and worse; some of us are evangelists who are convinced that we can change the world. Here are three idealist thoughts on why people might practice pragmatism, particularly with respect to Agile evangelism:

  • Not wanting to upset people by telling them that there’s a better way than theirs
  • Pandering to a team’s inability to absorb a number of changes at once
  • Denial of responsibility for the problems caused by poor procedure.

Or, as the pragmatist might phrase them:

  • Tact
  • Consideration, and respect for the learning curve
  • Recognition that not everyone shares the same ideals, and that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

From an extreme idealist’s point of view, failure to follow ideals is a weakness. If there’s some reason why an ideal can’t be met, then that needs changing too. What – too many changes at once? Courage! Courage! It’ll all work out in the end. Why can’t you trust us? Why can’t you see how right we are? Why won’t you bet your time, your career and your company’s money on us being so very, very right?

I’m a self-confessed idealist, so I find it hard to see things from a pragmatist’s point of view; but I’ve tried, and will probably write again about it in the future. One day I may even practice a little pragmatism myself. The point I’m trying to make is that pragmatism isn’t a weakness; it’s just a different way of approaching the problem. Idealists have a destination. We plot a crows-flight path and try to follow it as closely as possible (and the evangelist will try to drive everyone else that way too). Pragmatists just want to get there quickly. If there’s a traffic jam on the motorway then they’ll take the back roads; otherwise, the most proven route with the least effort wins out.

Idealists build new roads, and will one day invent the Personal Flying Vehicle to eliminate the necessity for new roads at all. Pragmatists widen the existing roads, and will one day comprise the majority of Personal Flying Vehicle customers.

Clay Shirky’s article on whether Wikipedia is a good thing (or the part which Carlos summarised nicely) gave me another of those beautiful moments of epiphany. There’s nothing wrong with radial or cartesian people; with pragmatists or idealists. The world needs both. Maybe it’s time for us idealists to start listening to the pragmatist’s point of view.

Humility

humbleness
n

  1. the state of being humble and unimportant
  2. a humble feeling; “he was filled with humility at the sight of the Pope”
  3. a disposition to be humble; a lack of false pride

A common Thoughtworker expression, albeit paraphrased, is that each of us looks back on our work six months ago with astonishment for how poorly it was done – and correspondingly, though fewer mention it, a sense of accomplishment when we think of how far we’ve come.

Perhaps that’s the problem with my humility and that of other Thoughtworkers too. It always comes with a sense of glory. Every realisation that we’ve done something wrong comes as a result of learning a better way, and we love that feeling; not the humility, but the epiphany that accompanies it; the ‘Papal visit’ of Agile evangelism. Humbleness is there, I promise. If you ever want to see humility on a Thoughtworker’s face, just ask him, “What’s the most stupid thing you’ve ever done?” and watch his expression change as he mentally runs down the list.

We have no egos; at least, not ones that care about their appearance. Our sense of self-worth is collective, not individual. Our idealism comes out of a desire to do right, not to be right. Sometimes it gets mistaken for arrogance, but it isn’t. Really. Why anyone would think that, I have no idea.

Disclaimer

I’ve never named Thoughtworks in my blog before, mostly because I’ve only been here for six months, and partly because I wasn’t sure they’d want to be associated with my ramblings. I’m not an expert on Thoughtworkers, but I am one. I’ve spoken to a lot of them. I am not a psychologist, a psychiatrist or in any way associated with the dissection of character, except as a writer. I have my fair share of both arrogance and humility. One is louder than the other. This piece is not intended as an apology or an excuse for anything I may have written previously.

I was asked to write on arrogance at Thoughtworks, and have tried to do so thoughtfully. It’s not an instruction manual. It’s not perfect. I have generalised horribly about various categories of people, especially my colleagues, ex-colleagues and client staff. Some of you are less arrogant than others. I love working with you all.

This post represents my personal views, etc., and hasn’t even been read by the TW management at the time of posting, let alone authorised.

Now you’ve read the disclaimer, if you’re still offended by this post, please let me know. I’m keeping score.

Liz.

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33 Responses to Arrogance and Thoughtworks – in the same sentence? Surely not…

  1. entropyjim says:

    I have ideals. I’m also a pragmatist. I don’t believe in trying to force people to believe my ideals. I’ll compromise when I have to to get the job done.

    Compromise is very necessary in business. A failure to compromise between features and cost, time and quality, etc can be fatal for any project.

    I believe that most people are somewhere in the middle. If you’re too far either way you’ll never get anything done because you’ll either be too busy trying to get things done ‘your’ way, or pandering to other people’s ideas and suggestions.

  2. anonymous says:

    Yawn

  3. sirenian says:

    I am currently nurturing my inner pragmatist.

    Agile manages the compromise between features, cost and time well. Who wants to compromise on quality? I haven’t heard of a failed Agile project yet, though I’m sure they’re out there. The compromise that most of TW are struggling with is that lots of people don’t ‘get’ Agile, and it’s frustrating when you know that there really is a better way.

    I was talking to a friend in another company whose management are unhappy with any time spent on a project that doesn’t involve typing on keyboards. They’re pragmatists – they want work to be done, and they don’t care how – but they aren’t actually getting anywhere, because they’ve lost their vision. Most people would be frustrated working for them, because most people’s ideals include things like good design, communication etc; stuff that cuts down on lines of code rather than generating more.

    I think I’d find it frustrating now if I wasn’t allowed to pair, to do test-driven design, to refactor code, to clarify things with the customer; because I’ve now seen how well those things contribute to the success of a project. There are others here who are frustrated that it’s not being done with Ruby on Rails; that they’re forced to use a particular architecture; that they have to document everything. It’s all perspective. I think there’s a line between the right way and the wrong way, but it’s very blurred.

  4. sirenian says:

    Thank you; I love the consistently constructive nature of your criticism.

    Who are you anyway?

  5. boryon says:

    It’s a sign you’ve “arrived” in the blogosphere, Liz. It’s your very own troll πŸ˜›

    Chris

  6. anonymous says:

    But… do all Thoughtworkers suffer from pomposity?

  7. sirenian says:

    Wow, I always wanted a pet.

    What do you feed a troll on, anyway? There doesn’t seem to be a great deal for him to eat in this post.

  8. sirenian says:

    No, but lots of them are grandiloquent, orotund, rhapsodic, vainglorious, supercilious, autocratic and sesquipedalian.

  9. anonymous says:

    Re: “Pragmatists are prepared to compromise their ideals in order to get a job done”

    I think that compromise has value but you need to refresh your values on a regular basis lest you lose those values. Are there values you won’t compromise and if so what distinguishes those values from the ones you’re willing to abandon to succeed?

    One of the dangers of consultancy is that you spend a lot of time with organisations that believe they need to be positively influenced. Unfortunately these organisations also influence those they bring in to help them and over time the consultant can compromise so much that he or she loses their distinctiveness/integrity. One adaptation involves developing a level of arrogant self-belief that can sustain the consultant through whatever compromises are needed to succeed. The downside is that one’s beliefs and actions are now incongruent–we can easily end up letting Machiavelli guide our actions whilst Gibran guides our motivations.

    I personally don’t worry too much about lacking humility (false humility is far worse than true arrogance) but I do worry about incongruence between actions and beliefs. Over time this incongruence can end up cutting us off from feedback about our own effectiveness and we can end up walking around with an over-inflated sense of our own worth with no mechanism for correcting it. That’s the real danger.

    –ade

  10. anonymous says:

    Liz, I’m not sure I agree with the “Most Thoughtworkers are idealists” statement as I would classify the vast majority of my collegues “down south” as being predominantly in the pragmatist camp, although perhaps our convict background has triggered a genetic leaning in this direction. Furthermore, I see an enormous mismatch between the very nature of consulting and pure idealism – a mismatch around the need to compromise which was far better phrased by another poster.

    I think any successful consultancy needs to carefully balance the mix of idealism and pragmatism to work effectively within the constraints of its clients. The idealists are absolutely necessary as they are typically the visionaries and often highly inspirational to their fellow workers, however given the often precarious relationship between a consultant and their clients, a strong sense of pragmatism is an essential element to allowing a consultant to pick which battles they’re willing to lose and which ones are critical to winning the overall war.

    As another commenter mentioned, there is also the risk of pragmatic consultants “going native” after having spent too long operating within a client, at which time they probably need to “drink deeply of the well of idealism” from their less impressionable collegues. Likewise, those strong hardy idealist types need a healthy dose of pragmatism every now and again, lest their ideals completely blind them to the practical realities of life. The relationship between the two elements is symbiotic – each needs and is, in turn, needed by the other.

    At the very least, I want to have one strong idealist TWer on every project, keeping me motivated and inspired to continue the fight, but I also want to be surrounded by pragmatic TWers helping me arrive at a practical, deliverable solution within the current set of constraints.

    My hope is that all TWers are capable of playing for both sides when needed – our value as consultants is greatly dimished if we cannot.

  11. boryon says:

    Liz – what have I told you about eating dictionaries? πŸ˜›

    Chris

  12. sirenian says:

    It was a thesaurus.

  13. sirenian says:

    One of the reasons I want to be an Agile Coach is to provide that idealism in the face of pragmatic compromise; so that the ‘going native’ effect is moderated. I’d love to be able to play for both sides – and I’m working on it! – but I’m very impassioned about the possibilities which Agile offers, and it frustrates me when other people don’t ‘get it’ or just don’t care.

    I like “Extreme Programming Applied – playing to win”; the purple book by Ken Auer and Roy Miller. It helps explain how to apply Agile ideals pragmatically.

  14. sirenian says:

    I want to cut and paste that into a post all of its own.

  15. anonymous says:

    Well, that’s a healthy diet – maybe you can feed your troll on it as well, he seems to be lacking in words…

  16. sirenian says:

    I’d much prefer to make him eat his own.

  17. anonymous says:

    I think you missed a fundamental point of arrogance. It is not so much an internal characteristic as it is within the eye of the beholder. From your dictionary definition “displaying a sense of overbearing self-worth or self-importance” the key portion of the phrase is “overbearing”.

    If you look at arrogance from this viewpoint, then according to your blog ThoughtWorkers are arrogant. Because apparently 80% of those you come into contact with think you’re arrogant, and 90% of the employees think they’re arrogant as well.

    You may not see it, but from an outside perspective this entire blog post reeks of arrogance. Think about it for a moment in the terms of this phrase: “People are telling me I’m arrogant, so I’m going to write a very detailed blog telling such individuals in no uncertain terms just how unarrogant I am!”.

    As an example – you talk about “blame cultures”. This phrase is loaded with arrogance and emotional connotations. Organizations that you tag as having a blame culture may indeed behave that way. But I’m willing to bet that many of them are not a blame culture but would call themselves a culture of responsibilty. Not collective responsibility but individual responsibility.

    On another topic entirely….some people define an idealist as someone who is always unhappy and, by definition, never succeed. And define pragmatists as people who succeed regularly. Indeed, you should have gone to the dictionary for a definition there: “Pragmatic: Dealing or concerned with facts or actual occurrences; practical”. By definition pragmatists deal with reality. Reality doesn’t imply morals or ideals, it simply is. Pragmatists succeed because they are ultimately concerned with facts and reality. Idealists fail because they always strive to ignore reality. The only times they are happy are in the very, very rare cases where their idealism manages to change reality. And even in those cases you could claim that a pragmatist would have changed the reality a whole lot faster.

  18. anonymous says:

    Hmmm, you’re being pretty unfair there. Surely it is healthy that TW recognises that it has a problem with the perception that TWers are arrogant.

    We don’t seem to have tackled the fundamental issue though. TW does have a significant problems with being perceived as arrogant; whether it is deserved or not. This has a significant impact on our ability to grow as a company. We rely heavily on word-of-mouth for business development; clients talking to other prospective clients or other departments about the work TW is doing for them; being remarkable (see Purple Cow by Seth Godin).

    So what can we do about it? Obviously we need to tackle our lack of consulting skills. But what else?

    John H

  19. sirenian says:

    I’m glad you think the words “blame culture” are emotive; from my perspective they should be. If an organisation has “individual responsibility” but still values fixing the problem over assigning blame, then they don’t have a blame culture. Otherwise, if the slipper fits…

    I disagree with your comment that pragmatists necessarily change reality a whole lot faster. Necessity is the mother of invention; if there’s no need for something, it doesn’t get invented. Pragmatists are great at invention, but idealists provide the need in the absence of any other pressure (war, market forces, etc.) . When I think of pure research projects, I tend to see idealists behind them.

    I’m interested that you thought my post defended an “I’m not arrogant” position. I was trying to show exactly what you’re saying – that arrogance is about perception, that perception is important, and that it’s not the perceptor who’s in the wrong. There are a number of really good reasons why TWers who come across as arrogant have to think more carefully about the effect of words, misdirected enthusiasm, etc. I’ve included myself as wholly and fully in this as I can, because I’m pretty close to the top of the list of “people who are seen as arrogant”, and it helps me to stop too.

    But… you’re not the only person who’s said this, and Darren and I here have had a long conversation about why that might be. Little post on emotive associations with certain words and phrases coming up soon. Thank you for your criticism; it’s very constructive and useful to see how other people read the stuff I write; which bits I thought about, but accidentally elided, etc. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to write emotive posts perfectly. I refuse to write about emotive issues unemotively, because then I sound like a professor of psychology instead of an interested and highly fallible human being. At least this kind of thing sparks important discussion!

  20. anonymous says:

    You write exceptionally well, and that is a rare thing in the technical world. I would say you shouldn’t worry about your style, it appears to fit you and it communicates your thoughts very well. But no matter how well you right some people might disagree with the ideas πŸ™‚

    On arrogance, I honestly think TWers are considered arrogant largely for the reasons you cite, but I’ll try to be even more specific. First of all, ThoughtWorkers go out of their way with the humble bit. All the journeyman stuff, “everything I did 6 months ago was crap!”, “I’m always learning so much here”, blah blah. Combine this overbearing projection of humility with the “we are the best!”, “we hire the top 0.5% people”, etc and it massively turns people off. To draw a gestalt from the interaction of the two, you could come up with the phrase “We are TWers, we are the best and we’re complete idiots!”. I don’t don’t mean this in a hurtful way – it’s simply the conflicting image that you guys project.

    It also makes people wonder about value received. When a TWer says “Wow, I look back at what I did 6 months ago and it was such dreck”, how do you think your client from 6 months back will feel? How will your current client feel? “Gee, 6 months from now Bobby Joe ThoughtWorker will be telling the world about the crap he did – working for me!”.

    You see, you’re supposed to be consultants. Once upon a time, a long time ago, consultants were supposed to be experts. Largely today they are not, but TW appears to still strive to project that image. But in fact you guys seem to confuse “smart” with “expertise”. Being smart is not enough, not enough by a long shot. TW goes out of its way to say that they are the best, and that they are in a position to show other companies how to develop software. The whole “agile coach” idea, and similar ideas around transforming software development, is all about experts telling others how to do their jobs better.

    If you truly are better, then more power to you. But in many cases, you guys really aren’t. And you’re smart enough to admit that to yourselves, to say that you don’t know very much about this topic or that topic and that you still need to learn. That’s a positive attitude to have – but it also conflicts wildly with the core image of ThoughtWorks. This is where the arrogance card gets played over and over again. The image is “Here’s a punk kid, very smart but also very wet behind the ears, and he’s telling me how to work and wants to charge me through the nose for the privilege!”. They go to various TW blogs and 75% seem to be all about drinking themselves into a stupor – and in this heightened state of inebriation then going off to write some open source code! But when you’re not drinking and partying and having the time of your lives, you’re telling the world that you’re Professionals and despite the childish image you really do know better than the multibillion dollar corporations that pay your fees.

  21. sirenian says:

    I think the conflicting expert / journeyman image may come because we’re each experts in some fields, and not in others.

    As for ‘poorly done’ work – we’re not just talking about the end results which the client sees, but the process which it took to get those end results. For instance, I now write tests about 10 times faster than I used to, and I focus them more on the responsibilities of each class, which enables my colleagues to understand my code and tests better and work faster themselves. My old code was fine – it did the job – but it took me longer to write, required more edits because I got things wrong and sometimes struggled with design aspects, and wasn’t necessarily in a ubiquitous domain language because I didn’t spend enough time learning it up-front.

    I’d suggest internalising the conversations about improvement, but from an external point of view we’d just be going on about how great we are; and then we really would appear arrogant. I think maybe we just need to have a little more respect for the people we were six months ago, as well as everyone else who has that particular six months of learning to do.

    We do party a lot, but it’s in our own time, and we’re rarely writing code in the latter stages. Most of the conversations I blogged above, though, were after about five pints in the Porterhouse. You’re allowed to have inebriated conversations, especially if you can stay quiet some of the time, listen to the slurred advice of your betters and remember it afterwards.

    The one thing I try never, ever to do is blog after coming back from the pub. Or on a Friday afternoon, when I’m thinking about the weekend and wanting to go home. No more posts for me today!

  22. sirenian says:

    Sorry – for “blogged above”, read “blogged in my latest post”.

  23. sirenian says:

    You write exceptionally well

    and thank you. πŸ™‚

  24. anonymous says:

    As for ‘poorly done’ work – we’re not just talking about the end results which the client sees, but the process which it took to get those end results. For instance, I now write tests about 10 times faster than I used to, and I focus them more on the responsibilities of each class, which enables my colleagues to understand my code and tests better and work faster themselves.

    Hmmm…first I would say that if you’re writing tests 10 timees faster and focus them better, then it’s almost guaranteed that the end results are indeed different. Second, you work for a consulting company that generally charges by the person, and usually based on the time spent (no fixed work contracts!). This means that 10x slower translates into either 10x more money for the client or 1/10th the amount of final results. Yes, this is exaggerated, but I hope you understand what I mean – in your business time is literally money.

    Now translate this back into what I saying previously about arrogance, expertise, and humility. And try to think from a client’s perspective, not as a ThoughtWorker. Many people would say that if you write tests 10x faster now, then when you were writing them at 1/10th the pace you kinda, uh, sucked (no, I personally don’t believe this, but try to put yourself in other people’s logical shoes).

    Likewise – let’s put this into dollar terms. Let’s say 6 months ago you were hired out at the nice round number of $100/hr. Today you’re still hired out at $100/hr. Today you are saying that you write tests faster, with better focus, better quality, etc.

    There’s a big problem here if you’re a client. Depending on when a client gets you, your productivity will be different. If they get someone else earlier in the cycle they’ll get less productivity, if they get someone who’s been with TW longer they’ll presumably get someone more productive. Do you see the problem? TW is charging out a constant rate but the output of individuals, even the same individuals, is not constant.

    All of these observations are, of course, grossly unfair, highly exagerrated, and not unique to ThoughtWorks. But your company’s problem is that you bill yourselves as the top 0.5%, the best of the best, and worth every penny. When you’re sold in that manner no one wants to hear about learning and growth. They want you to live up to the billing.

    This is why ThoughtWorkers are perceived as arrogant. It’s clear that you’re human. That you’re not expert in everything. That you’re not quite the top 0.5% of all computer programmers in the world. Yet despite this evidence you still seem to insist you’re the best, you’re worth the rates, and are qualified to tell others how to write software.

    ThoughtWorkers are considered arrogant because they portray themselves as white knights making great philosophical strides in computer science – when the reality is that you’re nothing more than very overpriced consultants, who for the most part do very boring and repetitive work, and who are slightly better than the average consulting firm.

    Think about it – seriously. If you don’t know what rate you’re billed out at, find out. When you find out, take a wild guess what people make at your client’s with similar jobs to yours.

    Now note the tremendous difference between your billable rate and what people working at the client make.

    Now justify your rate to yourself. Whatever the difference is between your rate and what an employee at the client makes, honestly ask yourself if you’re so good, so utterly fantastic at what you do, that you really are worth the extra money. Do the same exercise for all the other ThoughtWorkers you know. Are they really worth all that extra money, and does all that money really translate into results?

    Don’t consider the above idly for 5 minutes. Do the leg work, do the math, find out the amount of money involved. Find out how truly mind-numbingly expensive you are compared to most other options.

    When you complete this exericse you will no longer wonder why people call ThoughtWorkers arrogant.

  25. anonymous says:

    I don’t compare my rate to the what an employee at the client makes, no more than I compare it to my own salary.

    A company brings in consultants for any number of reasons, including that the short-term cost of a consultant is less than recruiting in the skills.

    I do compare my rate to the rate charged by other constultancies. I have worked for one, and know enough collegues who have worked for others, so I have a good idea of the quality of the people and the kind of practices they use to win business. I think ThoughtWorks honestly in dealing with clients is exceptional. As for the rates, though on the higher end of the scale, are competative; otherwise we wouldn’t be in business. I can’t remember ever hearing a TWer say our rates are too high, but I’ve heard a number suggesting increasing them.

    John H

  26. sirenian says:

    The 10x test rate is only one aspect of my job – I still don’t type any faster than I used to, nor do I code much more quickly, nor do I take any less time to read my email or fetch a cup of coffee. But the tests! Gods, I’m so much better at testing than I was six months ago. Is it really that arrogant to say so? Some people round here have opened my mind and given me a lot to think about. I’ve read so many books now, joined so many discussions, developed some real opinions about testing – what they’re for, what to call them, how to change them.

    Why am I 10x better at doing tests? Because the places in which I used to work didn’t test every single piece of code they wrote. So not only am I better at writing them, but I understand now why they’re necessary. That kind of improvement doesn’t make me a better tester, but it makes me a better coach. Which one day I hope to be. As far as I can tell, every project opens us up to some new idea or technology – be it grid computing, Scrum, finance, etc., and everything we learn makes us better. There’s a really wide variety of projects at TW. I’ll get back to this in another six months and see what I’ve learnt that’s new.

    Thoughtworks doesn’t necessarily pay as well as, say, being a contractor. I know; I was one. Here, the work is its own reward; maybe it’s just my love of it that’s gone up tenfold, and the care and attention to detail has followed. It’s certainly true that I know more than I used to, and that I’m finding out new things every day. I don’t need all those new things for any given project, but it does make me a better developer (and ramps down the learning time for any new things I come across as a result of a project).

    As for boring and repetitive work… I’m pretty sure, having spoken to a lot of other people, that I’m currently on the worst job, in the worst project, in the worst place that Thoughtworks UK has. And I’m loving it. Though it doesn’t stop me from getting excited about the next one I’m going to…

    Now note the tremendous difference between your billable rate and what people working at the client make.

    Do you mean the billable rate and what people working at the client cost the client? Because that’s not the same as what gets taken home. TW pays for all the overheads – tax, IT support (we use our own laptops most of the time), time between projects, sickness, holiday, training, recruitment, resource management, and most of all risk. I know how much I used to take home at the end of the day when contracting. Averaged out over the year, it was nothing like the rate I took home on a daily basis.

    Again, what John said. You have to compare TW to other consultancies, and while we may be at the high end (is that even true?) we’re certainly not at the top. Consider that AFAIK we come in on time and on budget (thank you, Agile) and you might understand why TW wins the jobs it does. Long may it continue, because for the forseeable future, I don’t want to work anywhere else.

  27. anonymous says:

    “I’ve never named Thoughtworks in my blog before, mostly because I’ve only been here for six months, and partly because I wasn’t sure they’d want to be associated with my ramblings.”

    Hopefully you’re aware that your blog’s aggregated on Planet Thoughtworks, so they’ve always been associated with your ramblings as far as I’m concerned. That said, I think you’re a great advert for them. πŸ™‚

  28. sirenian says:

    Thank you. πŸ™‚

    Sure, they’ve always been associated. But it wasn’t my fault, so they couldn’t have sacked me (a little paranoia goes a long way).

    Fortunately my experiences here have convinced me that I really can be honest, do good work without sacrificing my integrity and push their boundaries along with my own, and not only will they not fire me, they’ll introduce me to interesting people with interesting things for me to do. Sweet.

  29. anonymous says:

    John and yourself completely missed the point. A mean person would say that that’s a sign of arrogance πŸ™‚

    The point was not to compare yourself to other consultancies. The point was to look at ThoughtWorks itself and see if the boasts are justified.

    Having been both an independent consultant and working for a large consultancy, I do understand the basics. And I understand that what you take home isn’t what you bill, or even very close to it.

    But you erred in thinking that this was about you, or about consultancies. It’s not! The viewpoint isn’t about what you personally take home, or how much you know now or are learning. The point is a) how much TW charges for you b) the delta between that rate and employees at the client, and c) the added value of ThoughtWorkers.

    ThoughtWorks is at the upper end of consulting billable rates. What this means is that it’s completely outrageous compared to internal employee costs at the client. Given the cost of a ThoughtWorker, how many full-time employees could a client employ themselves?

    The argument against this line of reasoning is that ThoughtWorks employees are so good that you are worth this very high cost. Indeed, the high cost is not in dispute. You acknowledge it, John acknolwedges it, Martin Fowler in his blog acknowledges it.

    The only question then is breathtakingly simple: are you worth it?

    Well, let me put it this way. Many people read the blogs of ThoughtWorkers. They read them saying things exactly like you’re saying: “wow, 6 months ago everything I did was crap!”. You claim are worth the extremely high rates and then continually reinforce that you know very little.

    I have been on all sides of the consulting equation: been an independent, been part of a consulting team, been a full timer who has consultants working with him. And the viewpoint on consultants all around is simple: you hire consultants, particular TW-style consultants, because they’re supposed to be experts. The high rates of your style of company only work if you can say that you are experts and thereby worth the rates.

    You do not, not ever, go out and hire a consultant to learn on your dime. It makes no sense. Why should I pay a premium to hire a ThoughtWorks person at a very high hourly rate to learn? Let’s say I’m a boss at XYZ Corp looking to do an IT project. Why should I, Joe Boss at XYZ, pay a premium to teach Elizabeth Keogh how to code better? By definition you pay a premium to get value, and yet you claim that you hope one day to be worth the value.

    You say:

    You have to compare TW to other consultancies, and while we may be at the high end (is that even true?) we’re certainly not at the top.

    Why must we compare TW to other consultancies? I think that’s an erroneous argument. The true comparison should be: compare TW employees to other IT workers in general. Are TW employees worth the cost differential?

    Going back to the original questin: you ask why ThoughtWorkers are perceived as arrogance. Well…you claim proudly that you are at the high end of consultant billing. Which everyone knows is the high end of the industry over all. Then you claim that you don’t know all that much, that 6 months ago you were not very good and 6 months from now you’ll be even better.

    That is the very definition of arrogance – you are not all that special, don’t know all that much, you’ve already done billable work that you admit was not very good. But people must pay a premium to get you.

    Why I should I pay the ThoughtWorks premium to get you? What special skills do you have that justify the differential?

  30. sirenian says:

    wow, 6 months ago everything I did was crap!

    Maybe that’s at the heart of this misperception; the TWers I know don’t think that everything they did was worse, and rarely crap. It’s just that they’ve got better. I don’t think there’s an upper limit on perfection, or that our attempts to attain it, however flawed, should be viewed as arrogance.

    Well…you claim proudly that you are at the high end of consultant billing.

    We do? I’ve questioned that. I also don’t think it’s relevant. This is:

    are you worth it?

    If we weren’t, we wouldn’t get hired.

    Why I should I pay the ThoughtWorks premium to get you? What special skills do you have that justify the differential?

    We have the disclipline to carry out a methodology, the intelligence to do it well, the perceptiveness to spot failure quickly and the imagination to come up with another solution when the methodology fails us. I don’t think these skills are particularly special in the IT world, though.

    What is special, and different, about Thoughworks is the culture; the network that allows any one of us to turn to any other for help, criticism and ideas, and the courage and confidence that that gives us. When hiring a Thoughtworker you’re not just paying for a body to sit at a desk and code, you’re paying for the company behind them. Lots of people think it’s worth the money.

    Maybe that’s why we come across as arrogant. Because it’s not just about me, it’s about us, and people aren’t used to that. Maybe they find it threatening; I don’t know. If this is the real reason why, long live arrogance, and may we all catch it some day.

  31. anonymous says:

    are you worth it?

    If we weren’t, we wouldn’t get hired.

    A simple yes would be convincing. As it is you found a fancy way of dodging the question with a fallacy.

    We have the disclipline to carry out a methodology, the intelligence to do it well, the perceptiveness to spot failure quickly and the imagination to come up with another solution when the methodology fails us. I don’t think these skills are particularly special in the IT world, though.

    What is special, and different, about Thoughworks is the culture; the network that allows any one of us to turn to any other for help, criticism and ideas, and the courage and confidence that that gives us. When hiring a Thoughtworker you’re not just paying for a body to sit at a desk and code, you’re paying for the company behind them. Lots of people think it’s worth the money.

    Rather than talking about courage and culture and arrogance and confidence and methodology you should talk more about results. A consulting company is not about the consultants, it’s about the difference they make to their clients. You are focused here on the internals of ThoughtWorks and giving the customer second class status.

    Read carefully and most of what is said here is inward facing, not outward facing. The impact on you and the company, but not the impact and value to the client.

    If you are asked to build an equity options trading system an intelligent person would not ask you about your confidence and courage and the buddies you work with. They’d want to know that you had the experience and intelligence (both!) to create an options trading system. If a consultant is needed to work on a realtime monitoring system for an oil facility they don’t want to hear about your methodology and culture. They probably want someone who knows realtime command, control, and monitoring systems in an industrial environment.

    People who actually code such systems certainly do not find ThoughtWorkers threatening πŸ™‚ But they can and do find them arrogant, largely in the sense that an 8 year old can be.

  32. anonymous says:

    You have it backwards. It starts at the top and it also comes with project and account managers who sell what the consultants want to do, rather than forcing talented, opinionated people to work on projects and in situations they know are counter to everything they hold dear as profesionals.

    It doesn’t help that you have a culture that rewards people who are being told they are the greatest when it many cases they are bright sparks, but make up the ground between themselves and the truly innovative by being loud about their own cleverness.

    YMMV

  33. anonymous says:

    Lol… it was 10x slower… but probably still 5x faster than the incumbents. And you can be pretty certain that TW is _not_ now billing 50x πŸ˜‰

    Oh, and the incumbent… is still just as good as they were 6 months ago… hmmm…

    bite my arrogance πŸ˜‰

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