Society · Technology

Why Nothing Gets Done Anymore

In my last post, Women and Mass Layoffs in the Tech Industry, I wrote about the problem of companies hiring people they have no actual need for, if it were not for diversity mandates. While it is true that some people do not do a lot of work, another issue is that people not doing any productive work keep others from doing their job well. This reminded me of a video I came across recently, in which one of the dinosaurs in the Western video gaming industry, Timothy Cain, talks about his time working on a recent project. I had to look up who this guy was. He worked on the original Fallout and other RPG classics, and more recently on The Outer Worlds.

In the following video the time-stamped section, which only takes about two to three minutes, is most relevant for illustrating the point I am trying to make:

He retells a story in which a trivial change, something that he could do “before lunch”, was supposed to take two weeks. If you do not work in tech, this may sound absurd, but it is far from the worst example. (On a side note, he made a follow-up video, which may also be worth watching if you found the first one entertaining or enlightening.) A fundamental problem with people collaborating in a modern office environment is that everybody is supposed to be busy. A lot of people get micromanaged via bizarre processes such as “agile project management”, which normally leads to a lot of people who maintain a lot of checklists and spreadsheets.

In a company that is forced to run in a lean manner, you look at what needs to be done, rank projects by priority, and do the work. The work is done when it is done. If you can, you avoid cutting corners, but there is also an expectation that you do not slack off. This works surprisingly well, but only up to a point. The moment someone has the idea that “we need a bit more diversity” or, worse, someone brings in his business school buddies to “improve processes” a lot of friction gets added to the system. New processes are supposedly needed, and perhaps one motivation is also to spread responsibility among many shoulders, but in the end, you get so much bureaucracy added that the more motivated people may even decide to quit because they do not want to put up with such nonsense.

I repeatedly encountered the problem that you are not supposed to just to a quick fix. Your argument may be that something takes just half an hour or so, but then some non-technical busybody will tell you that this will jeopardize all this careful planning and, besides, what if there are a dozen such ad-hoc requests a day? We would not get anything done anymore. Thus, you better add this little fix to your backlog and perhaps look at it next month. The amount of work produced in a supposedly professional team is often mindbogglingly little, and it is not because everything is of a fantastically high quality and has been polished to perfection. Those professional managers want everybody to move at basically the same pace. Progress should be carefully planned and estimated. Of course, if your output is much higher in quantity and quality then you have a problem because you are no longer a team player. Making Shaqueesha feel uncomfortable because it took you one hour to properly do a task she had been struggling to complete for a month is tantamount to career suicide.

Over time, a lot of people simply adjust their productivity downwards. They realize that it is better to fit into a dysfunctional system than to stand out in any way. I think a good argument can be made that if you do much better than your colleagues, you are at greater risk of getting laid off than some underperformer because your presence is a threat to the existing dogma. Sometimes, people even joke about their lack of contributions. I once overheard some guy say that he finished The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, a game that can take over 100 hours, by using the time between meetings. This was supposed to be a joke, presumably. Yet, it did not strike me as implausible and if you work remotely or primarily remotely, you can get away with this.

In the end, the problem is a misalignment of incentives. Motivated employees want to get things done and gain recognition. Middle managers, on the other hand, want to portray that they have everything under control, so they prefer to never overpromise or, more generally, avoid any and all surprises. Be boring and predictable, and you will do well, at least until Elon Musk buys your company and fires 80% of people.

8 thoughts on “Why Nothing Gets Done Anymore

  1. This guy (Michael O Church) has written some good stuff on the problems at BigTech (and this was before the DEI lunacy really got rolling.)

    Compare the culture he describes to Paul Graham’s “Beating the Averages” (which I won’t link since I’m only allowed one.)

    Your average tech company would rather hire ten mediocre Blub programmers at $50K/year each than, say, two good Lisp/Clojure/Scala programmers at $150K/year each, even if the latter would cost less overall and produce more, because “no one uses those languages” (that herding mentality again) and the Blub programmers are much easier to replace. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – the company will be a poor place to work and accordingly you’ll get poor programmers, so you’ll need to replace them, often.

    1. I don’t think they even care about the success of the company. Low wage labor attracts scummy Wall Street investors. When the company fails, they always have their golden parachutes.

  2. I don’t think diversity play a big part in this case. I mean, it “just” makes things worse.

    I think the problem is that there are companies that have access to infinite money freshly printed from central banks. They get it directly or via government contracts, but they get it. These incentives creates a class of managers that have to do nothing but cover their butts with the excuses that sound plausible in their circles. A profit and loss statement is not a thing that will ever have real consequences for them.

    It’s even possible the programmer in the story in the video that asked for 4 weeks was just taking a lesson from the managers and covering his butt. He knows he can’t just code the thing and then improve upon it if needed. He knows the managers will blame him if he makes a mistake in a thing that only took 45mins or a day. But if a thing was hard, he can’t be blamed as much, right?

    I think the business world need less money and less limited liability, so we get less “process improvers” and “managers” and diversity too.

    1. “I think the problem is that there are companies that have access to infinite money freshly printed from central banks.”

      This ties into an observation I saw from someone else on the alt-right, I forget who. It’s pointless to laugh about Disney, CNN, the NFL, etc. losing billions due to wokeness. They don’t care about money. They already have all the money, and if they somehow do run out, they’ll just be bailed out at your expense. They’ve graduated from Mammon to Moloch. Their calling is not to make money, it’s to spread filth, lies and evil.

    2. I’m not a huge fan of MLK, but this line was on point:

      “Socialism for the rich, capitalism for everyone else.”

  3. Nothing gets done anymore because productivity simply isn’t valued. The Fed’s ZIRP policy absolutely destroyed the value of labor and made capital the only thing the investment sector values. This, coupled with DEI and circumstantial paths to success, is enough to demotivate most productive people.

    The worst decision I made in my life was to work 90 hour weeks for Globohomo Big Tech that was never going to promote me but instead promote a DEI-favored woman candidate who agreed with the dimwitted leadership in my organization. All they had to do was put in 30 hours of head nodding and they were going to win the game no matter what. Whereas engineers who pushed the envelope and tried to make the organization better were actively punished.

    Essentially everything masculine is now devalued and feminine parasites are valued and rewarded. No wonder men’s labor force participation rate has fallen like a stone over the past few decades.

    1. The worst decision I made in my life was to work 90 hour weeks for Globohomo Big Tech that was never going to promote me but instead promote a DEI-favored woman candidate who agreed with the dimwitted leadership in my organization.

      What would you recommend to people working in big tech today? I also work in big tech and in my organization merit and promotions have weak correlation at best. On the other hand, big tech still pays way more than healthier companies so most people stay and coast. This way you don’t get promoted but you can’t be fired either due to local laws. So there is no need to work for 90 hours a week, thankfully.

    2. The most common recommendation is to “rest and vest”. For people not in tech or working in public companies, vesting refers to stock grants that you get in certain intervals, often quarterly. You commonly need to make it past a certain “vesting cliff” to become eligible, e.g. one year, and oftentimes your stock grants only reach their maximum payout after a certain number of years, i.e. if you get a new stock grant every year, but grants are spread over four years, you only get your maximum payouts from the fourth year onwards.

      I think the most cynical move at the moment is to coast until the market improves, and then jump ship for a better paycheck. Internal promotions are not easy to get for white men, but if a competitor wants you to work for them, you can get a promotion this way, i.e. they hire at a higher level. If this is not in the cards, they may give you a pay bump that goes way above your typical annual raise of a few percent. I see a lot of people in tech who are not much more motivated than some bureaucrat working in government.

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