The problem with numbers

It may look good on paper to fire your most experienced people, but deep down you know it won't really save you money.

IT has a horrible track record for keeping people.  You may remember a while back I wrote a post about mentoring and how companies will just throw you away when it suites them.  This is kind of a follow-up post in that it's on the same general topic of companies showing no loyalty to their people, but it's from the angle of the numbers.

The numbers I'm talking about are the numbers that make companies these bad decisions to get rid of good people.  And those numbers are of course salaries.  See, so many companies have these completely clueless nimrods sitting in positions of power and all they know how to do is count.  They decide that the company needs to save money somewhere so they crunch a few numbers and decide that their senior-most people need to go.  "We'll just hire someone straight out of college" is the common battle cry of this blind sap.  And it's really the really the absolute worst thing he could possibly do.  Let me give you a story from my own personal experience, because I've never won that salary battle.

A couple gigs ago I worked at a place that had a few dozen locations and they were all busy as hell.  One of the first tasks I was given in my first week was to get one of the locations back on track because they were being charged $40K/mo in missed SLA fees from their customers.  They were apparently 5 months behind in their processing and were about to close the location because the database just couldn't keep up.  So to keep the story short I'll just say that within fairly short order I got the database back on its feet and they were quickly back on their way.  So much so that they caught up on all 5 months of work in just over a week of 24-hr processing.  How's that for amazing?  So ok, I kept doing things like that for the next 3yrs and earned a good reputation there.  I had 2 junior DBAs under me and while they were trying, they just weren't capable of running that place and using the processes I'd written on their own.  However, the company wanted to get sold and to seem less top heavy they decided to get rid of some of the staff.  And I was the first one in IT to get the axe.  See, I was the most senior, but I was also the most expensive and the nimrod at the top decided that DBAs are all the same and the other 2 guys could manage just fine.  Whatever, right?

So a few months ago someone from one of the locations called me out of the blue.  I haven't talked to him since I left several years ago but he said he came across my number and decided to call just to see how I was doing.  He said that after I left the other 2 guys couldn't keep up and they ended up closing 4 locations in the first year because they refused to hire any more senior DBAs.  They wanted to cap the position somewhere in the mid-50's and take people just out of college. 

So let's take a look at what this cost them.  They decided to save money on my salary but how much has it cost them in their field and in closing locations?  And they've gone through one DBA after another.  Now, I'm sure that me leaving is the only thing that caused those locations to close, but I'll bet you anything it was a major factor.  So sure, taking people right out of college will save you money in the present, but does it really save you anything in your business?  Experience speaks louder than anything.  College kids have to figure everything out for themselves whereas an experienced guy has already been down that path.  Hiring the absolute cheapest people you can find hurts you in so many ways.  Projects take longer, they don't get done right, and it snowballs doesn't it?  Once just a coupe things don't get done right, you have to compromise other projects too because nothing works the way it should.  So the next thing you know you've got this environment that's just a mess because it was architected and coded by a kid.

And you would never see any of the really big companies pull this kind of crap, would you?  Would Microsoft get rid of the guy who heads the query processor for SQL Server and replace him with a kid straight out of college?  Would they get rid of one of their Windows architects for a new graduate?  The answer is hell no.  There's too much at stake.  But plenty of other companies claim that their products and services are just as important, yet they let nimrods run the place into the ground by hiring juniors where seniors are needed.  Here's a thought that's going to shock the shoes right off of many VPs out there... all DBAs aren't the same.  And if you find one that has the right stuff, take care of him, and don't just throw him away for some perceived savings.  I realize you guys have these imaginary buckets you put your money into and it actually looks better on the books to run the place into the ground as long as you have lower labor costs, but use your heads now and then.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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