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Sea Walls: haud responsalis sed peccator

Sea wall being hit by waves

Recently I saw a call for more people in enterprise IT to start blogging. Following that call, I’ll offer some reflections.

The foundation of a healthy IT culture in the enterprise starts with IT leadership and, especially, front-line IT management focusing on building a great working environment for developers. If developers are overextended, overworked, are not able to innovate, and are not given the dedicated time needed to solve problems, there is no hope for the transformation of corporate IT.

From their Agile™ ivory towers in the West, IT elites in their conference keynotes, TED talks, and blog posts point the way to establishing and maintaining amazing IT cultures. For any IT organization with the desire and leadership support, the path to a great working environment for developers is clear, defined, and supported by a bulwark of validated best practices.

From the context of organizations built around technical products, developer culture is the corporate culture. This primacy of developer ethos, however, is where corporate IT diverges from the mainstream of IT culture. In corporate culture, IT is a business unit among others. IT, mostly, is not the driver of business or product strategy. IT is a support organization within the enterprise much like human resources or accounting. In corporations, IT serves rather than drives. IT is a necessary expense on the balance sheet, not a profit center.

Because of the realities of corporate culture, corporate IT shops require IT middle management. Management is needed not because of some belief in corporate IT that flat structures are wrong or inefficient. Quite the contrary. Middle management is necessary to ensure a healthy developer culture. Middle management is the sea wall that dampens the harsh waves of corporate culture and protects the fragile ecosystem of the developers’ seashore.

Middle management in corporate IT is to be haud responsalis sed peccator.1 IT middle management has little to no say in the product and business strategy of the enterprise and yet bears the guilt of any missed deadline, production outage or bug. In wave after wave of meetings, e-mails, rumors, chats, spreadsheets, reports, and presentations IT middle management defends the development culture of her team. Business expectations are managed. Forecasts are given. Blame is taken for the most recent bug. Corporate processes are navigated on behalf of and around the team.

For all the stress, my question from a few weeks ago still stands unanswered. Does anyone really enjoy IT middle management?

Though I still support and stand-by efforts to build developer-supporting cultures, I think it’s time corporate IT organizations start looking at other roles in IT. There’s a reason the good middle managers, BAs, scrum masters, project managers, etc. eventually leave corporate for tech companies. It’s the culture. It’s getting to be innovative in leadership and actually getting to own the things one has responsibility for. It’s being respected rather than a failing business person’s whipping boy.

Many corporations have caught on to what it takes to recruit and retain top technical talent. To continue the transformation corporations need to support cultural changes moving up the corporate hierarchy. If agile development practices and remote-first work cultures can thrive in corporate IT, anything is possible. I truly believe there’s a way to make IT management a job people want rather than a salary they find they need. In future posts, I hope to explore concrete ways that can be achieved in corporate IT.


  1. Not responsible and yet the sinner [return]