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Getting Apps Done

Accountability Has Layers - Like Ogres

June 27, 2019

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A lot of companies are trying to change things up, mostly for the better, but sometimes the changes don’t work out as planned. Joshua and Kel discuss some of the issues they’ve seen with some of these changes.
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  • 00:01 Joshua

    Welcome to getting apps done. A mostly non technical podcast with the goal of helping you deliver software. With your host, Joshua Graham and Kel Piffner.

  • 00:13 Joshua

    There are a lot of different things going on with a lot of different companies where they seem like they're trying to do the right thing and I think they really are trying to do the right thing. But what actually comes out is not necessarily healthy for everybody. It might actually be great for one group of people or one person in particular, WeWork as gotten some flack for this and I completely agree with the reasoning behind it. They really promote the whole concept of hustle and while I hustle is great and we really should promote ourselves to be our best selves, the branding all over their buildings and even their lemonade jugs and things like that, are basically saying, why are you getting lemonade? Go back to work. And I kind of get the idea and it is good to be involved in what you do and love your job and do the best you can, but at the same time, that's not work/life balance. You can go grind a little bit and then get some lemonade without feeling guilty about it. Why do I need to feel guilty about getting some lemonade?

  • 01:19 Kel

    I see that a lot around the startups where the folks are really into whatever they're building and then get confused when someone they have hired to pay money and have given a job to, aren't as enthusiastic about it for the same reasons. And of course that gets even stranger when they're, you know, comparing salaries from owner and you know, the person who has invested their time and their money and also is hoping for a big return on it versus you know, the person they just hired that was hired to make it pretty or something like they have like a much more set role and the expectations of those positions are totally different in the amount of like self investment into those roles is totally different. And so expecting that same amount of hustle as you put it is kind of not great.

  • 02:04 Joshua

    No and it's very common. It's not unique to the software industry in any way whatsoever, but we do have a lot of it because at the moment a lot of startups are tech startups and you see that all over the place and it's exactly that, because one person is really excited about this idea and really... They get it in their head that everybody needs to be that excited about the idea to do a good job and that's just not true. You can have a good solid work/life balance, right? You should have a good solid work/life balance in order to do a good job because otherwise you're either going to burn out, you're going to hate what you do and that's going to lead to burnout or you know something's gonna break. You are going to be broken. That's not good for anybody.

  • 02:48 Kel

    I talk a lot about like a different ways of organizing companies lately for whatever reason, but like describing a place that is filled with folks who want to be there because is their dream is more or less like a utopia scenario. Like that's not the day to day life of anyone, of getting a job to pay your bills and to eat and to have shelter like that. That's like a utopian situation where all of those things are already taken care of and you can choose to work because you think that is an exciting thing to do. And even in that scenario, like not everybody could build a rocket ship to go to the moon. We only have so much, you know, so many rocket fuel parts. So it's, it's not a reasonable expectation whatsoever, basically is where I'm going with that.

  • 03:31 Joshua

    No, and it also limits you into a certain group of people. There are certainly people who are excitable, people who love the idea of everything, but actually you're then stuck with a bunch of yes men who are all saying, yes, this is great. Let's get on board. Let's go, go, go, go, go. And, you kind of need a mix. You need some people who are saying, oh, hold on, I, I'm not certain about this. It could be a good idea. But actually let's take a look at this and step back a little bit and make sure that we're doing the right thing. Because, we were talking about this today, that move fast and break things. It just, in theory it's great, except that's not taking any accountability in there at all. You're not taking responsibility for what you're doing, how you're affecting other people, including your workers, including your clients, their customers. And while I get the idea behind it, actually, the whole concept is kind of goofy. It's dangerous.

  • 04:30 Kel

    it's one of those that, um, it definitely is coming from like a software industry. You can kind of see, it's like move fast and break things. That's how I code. And then I have unit tests that catch all of my failures and I have a compiler that checks all of my failures. And the faster I move, the more it'll, you know, the faster feedback I get and the faster you can check me. But when you apply that to a business, if you don't have a similar like layer of accountability for people checking your work and verifying that this isn't going to harm somebody, then you're just, you know, you're doing, going back to cowboy coding, right? Like I hacked things out and things are on fire and you can kind of tell when you talk to a startup and none of the folks have ever worked in an industry where that's not a, an acceptable risk. Like there's never been consequences for their screw ups where you can't have... you know, I come from a healthcare environment, I can't print out the wrong forms that could result in people getting denied coverage or the wrong leg amputated, even. Like even simple things have real consequences that have to be accounted for. So somebody has to do that even if it's not necessarily everybody.

  • 05:31 Joshua

    Yeah, because I'd like to keep my legs. Thanks.

  • 05:35 Kel

    It's like, Oh yeah, I came in here to get an appendix removed and Oh no, why am I a Cyborg?

  • 05:41 Joshua

    It's not always that drastic, but the reality is the things we do as software developers do affect lots of people. Even if you're not building healthcare software or financial software where people's lives or livelihood are at risk, you could be wasting their time. I don't know about you but I think my time is pretty valuable. I would like to hope that the people who are writing software that I use, think the same, but the reality is the evidence actually backs up the fact that they don't because they're all promoting this concept. So the ones who are actually taking the time to build really high quality and to encourage their employees to have a good work/life balance, to think about things, to question things, to look at things from different angles and decide is this the right thing for us? Is that the right thing for our customers? Is that the right thing for the people using the software? Those are the ones who are really the model that we should be following.

  • 06:35 Kel

    And those folks had been creating great software. Do you see a lot of that like with Asana and Basecamp. Both, have like that type of environment and they both create great software that loads of people like, they're very efficient at it. They make money. People usually like that part. Um, like those are great models to follow and you can definitely have like a balance of like, your team can help balance that out too. Like you gonna have one person who moving fast and breaking things and another person who's cleaning it up, like that's generally are building new products. Exactly. It's like you can totally have somebody who likes to hack at the things. And another person - I love refactoring, which might just be a me thing, but like that's a common thing. You can totally have folks that check each other.

  • 07:17 Kel

    You can hire for that. As we have mentioned many, many times in the past, you can hire folks that are good at checking for those things, though it might be a little, uh, a little much to, to assume that that's like a role that somebody else should have and not you. I mean, you should have some accountability for your own actions. Um, but you can, you know, you can negotiate that with your coworkers of hey, these are the things I am great at. Is there a way we can balance the things you're good at together to create, you know, fast and accountable?

  • 07:46 Joshua

    Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean the reality is when we are working together. I do assume that you're probably going to pick up stuff that I didn't catch because I move quickly. I get things done really fast, but there's still some accountability there. I'm not doing anything really stupid that or anything that I think you wouldn't catch if I'm going to go through an area in general, I will decide. Okay. I'm going to skip some steps here because I know Kel, we'll catch that later and it will be fine. We're not going to cause any major catastrophes here. So I do have some accountability there to decide, okay, how much can I get away with and it's going to be caught before it goes out the door. Because if I'm not doing that at all, then it's who knows what's going to happen.

  • 08:29 Kel

    I'm actually been a big fan of that just because, you know, we've been working together for so long that I've gotten used to having somebody who is the move fast and break things person on the team. So like I, I really appreciate having somebody like that. Cause I'll tend to get, I'll fall down a rabbit hole of best practices for a day if you'll let me and I'll get like two lines of code written, there'll be beautiful lines of code that don't do anything. Uh, but I won't actually get anything fun done or interesting or useful. So there's definitely like, you know, the opposite argument is definitely there. Like, you do need to build something like hacking, hacking through a project is a great way, but there's gotta be accountability. There's got to be the other half of that. There's gotta be the feedback method method and the more consequences that are part of the software you're building, the more important that is. And we see a lot of that today with, you know, the discussions around Facebook and privacy and all of these problems that, you know, Facebook was a place where you posted the things you were eating and your family could like it. And even simple things like that can turn into huge accountability problems. Like there's always stuff you need to be paying attention to.

  • 09:33 Joshua

    Absolutely. And actually a part of that accountability starts when you're looking for a job. When you were at an interview, one of those questions that you can ask, it's really good question. You can say, you know, flat out, I'm really good at hacking things really quickly, but I'm not that great at the cleanup. I'm not great at testing. Do you have people who could help me with that? Who can balance that out, who are able to do that. Is my skillset and my natural ability to or desire to just hack through things and get a lot of stuff done going to fit well with your team because that's where the accountability starts is deciding whether or not the team you're going to work with is a good fit for you and whether you're a good fit for them. That's part of it. If I know that part of what I'm going to do is just go blitz a bunch of stuff, get a ton of stuff done and it's going to kind of work, but it's not going to be elegant and it's not going to be, it's not going to be beautiful code, I promise you.

  • 10:24 Joshua

    Then surrounding myself with people who will go back through and refactor and make it beautiful and do testing and documented all thoroughly, that is me being accountable. I don't necessarily need to do those things myself. I just need to make sure that there's a balance there. That's not to say that I don't practice those things. And I do try to make beautiful code and I do document things and I do test things, but at the same time I know I'm not great at those things. So I don't spend a huge amount of effort on those things because I surround myself with people who do do those things better than I do.

  • 10:56 Kel

    My preferred method is to actually do these in multiple teams, you know, kind of going away from the abstract of this concept, but actually like trying to implement this in a company is having a couple like kind of ad hoc teams of all right, let's do the spike, let's hack these things for awhile and then let's have another team take that. You know, that is an input and what can we do to make it better and clean it up and refactor it. And that might even include the people who wrote it originally, but like shifting those as two totally separate mindsets can help folks kind of get into the right, the right headspace to create better code. Yeah, exactly. And so that's like one way of approaching that too. So you can have folks who are like, Oh yeah, I'd like to do like 75% of time. I always want to be on that team versus, Oh, I love the clean up. Just keep sending me clean up code and you know, find out those kinds of balances and people will shift over time. Like you know, your employees do change over time. We should probably mention that occasionally, but they probably will not want to do the exact same thing from day one to day 1000, there will be changes throughout the periods.

  • 12:02 Joshua

    And again, this goes back to what companies are and aren't doing. Basecamp was a really good example of this. They have taken this extreme of, we don't actually want to do what everybody's been doing for the past 50 years. We want to do something different. And they've done a really good job of changing things around. But I see a lot of companies changing a lot of stuff around and not necessarily for the better. They're removing this accountability. They are not putting people in teams or they are making everybody responsible for everything, which doesn't always make sense either. There's no way you can make everybody responsible for everything because some people are going to suck at certain things. That's not good or bad. It is what it is. They're going to be much better at other things. That's cool. That's why we work as a society in general because some of us suck at other things than...

  • 12:51 Kel

    Exactly. Yeah. And that's, it is totally important to have accountability and to have people who understand the consequences of these risks and why you don't do these things or why you do do these things. Or just putting in layers can help. Like whatever it is that can, you know, not created this cyberpunk dystopia in the software industry. And you do see a lot of companies doing this, where they're trying to like figure out what's important. They're looking at old companies and going, this is a garbage, you know, this is a garbage fire, like this isn't sustainable from anything. And they're trying different things, but they're also not understanding why a lot of these things came into being. You know, the spawner of this conversation: A company running without HR. You know, HR and most larger companies are totally there to protect the corporation.

  • 13:38 Kel

    But if you remove them entirely, you kind of remove the point of what they were originally there for, which is to protect your employees from the company. So like the, you still got to have them, you can, you can call them something different if you want, but you still need a place where complaints can go, where harassment problems go, where people can talk about their healthcare. As an employer, you are responsible for more than just the job. As we've mentioned many, many times before. You're responsible for their livelihood, their, you know, food, shelter, that kind of thing. So you can't just throw it all away. You got to understand the reasons behind it before you just start , you know, trashing it.

  • 14:18 Joshua

    Well, again, it's about accountability there. Somebody's gotta be accountable for making sure that you are human rights and all the things that you need to have a good work/life balance, to feel safe and secure are there and accounted for. And if nobody's there doing that, yeah it's great in theory to say everybody's accountable for those sorts of things and we should all be doing that. But the reality is it's your boss who's your problem.

  • 14:43 Kel

    Yeah. Who Do you go and complain to. Yeah, exactly. That was, and we've seen this played out so it's not like we haven't seen companies have this problem. Like this is something you should be paying attention to as an employer. You have a lot of responsibility there. A lot of consequence for these risks and so you need to take those into account.

  • 15:04 Joshua

    Even in a small company. I mean, if you've got two to three employees, you should still have somebody who's designated to making sure that those employees are taken care of, that they have everything they need to be happy, healthy and productive. It's good for you as well. I mean, the reality is if somebody stressing about money or stressing about their healthcare or anything else, they're not working as hard for you as they would be if they were happy and safe. And content.

  • 15:32 Kel

    Yeah, we just thought we've talked about that before. Like you know, your motivation and fear of being, if you're afraid of things, you're not going to be motivated to do the, like you're not going to be motivated to go past that point. Like, and that's very much like part of like evaluating risk and moving fast and such. But if risk is, if I lose this job, I don't get to eat, I lose my healthcare and my family life will collapse. Like that's a pretty big risk. That's going to be a problem. So yeah, there's gotta be some kind of layers in there.

  • 16:02 Joshua

    Layers, like ogres.

  • 16:05 Kel

    And onions. Yes.

  • 16:07 Joshua

    Cakes have layers. Layers and accountability.

  • 16:12 Kel

    Yeah, this all came about because we of course we're looking at modern modern companies that are small and moving fast and breaking things and it's problematic. It's dangerous. It's especially dangerous if like your products directly at people. But even when they don't directly hit people, you can totally see examples of like Twitter and Facebook, which seem almost harmless, but have had huge impacts on just human society as a whole for what is essentially a little mini blogging apps. That's important. You got to hire people who understand those risks and who have experienced them, who have, can talk to them and you know, listen, you can listen to them.

  • 16:51 Joshua

    Yeah. You do have to listen to them though.

  • 16:53 Kel

    Yeah. That's been, that's its own problem, unfortunately.

  • 16:57 Joshua

    Certainly. And that is actually an important piece because there are a lot of companies that do have these people and nobody's listening to them until it's too late.

  • 17:04 Kel

    Yeah, exactly. Or they have them in place of, you know, Facebook has been really, really bad about this lately. They hire someone and just kind of lock them in the room and they look, we have an accountability person for x ethics problem. We don't do anything.

  • 17:20 Joshua

    Sign up for our cryptocurrency!

  • 17:21 Kel

    We got an ethics person aback in that locked office that's screaming, you can trust us. Really? Yeah. Everything's gonna be fine.

  • 17:30 Joshua

    Ignore that banging.

  • 17:32 Kel

    Yeah, exactly. We should mentioned though that the other half of this is you. You do have to have like personal accountability there. There is always a level of, you are responsible for the things that you do. Um, and you should, you shouldn't assume somebody else is going to take on those things for you. You know, we talk about being on a team that can help prop up your weaknesses, but you're still responsible for your own actions and that is also important. And I think that's where a lot of these companies are starting from is, okay, well you should be responsible for this, but not accounting for, okay, but what happens when that, that part doesn't happen?

  • 18:05 Joshua

    Yeah. Well, the reality is, even with the best intentions, people screw up sometimes and somebody has got to make sure that that's taken care of and accounted for, and you have checks and balances and layers in there to make sure that, you know, if Josh had a bad day today, it doesn't fall through the cracks.

  • 18:22 Joshua

    All right. So I will put some transcripts up on Please be sure to check out my website at and Kel's website at If you have seen one of these fancy new companies with a really awesome sounding page, that sounds too ideal to be true, we'd love to check it out because we were actually really interested in looking at these at the moment because some of them do have really great ideas, but it's all about the implementation of that and the accountability behind all these ideas. So send those over to us. We'd love to hear about them. In the meantime, thanks for listening.

  • 18:57 Kel