In 2009, I travelled to Shanghai and Dalian in China and met with nine software development companies. I was looking for Overpass partners I could work with. I speak the language, so it was a lot easier for me than it would have been for a lot of other people.
It’s difficult to describe the feeling of sitting with senior executives (with their surrounding staff visibly afraid of them) and having a conversation with them about how Overpass (my little company) can work with their company of thousands of people. In my mind, I’m still the kid who read too many spy books and spent too much time at the cinema. But, the trip taught me a lot (and I did do some work with some of those companies).
The bigger companies (with over a thousand developers) were keen to show me their big posh offices. My visit started with a tour. I have to admit that they were impressive establishments. One was a huge brand new multi-story glass building with the company logo on top. These offices were huge and growing like the rest of China. One of the business development managers took me outside to show me a second building still in development. Each building was filled with rows and rows of developers sitting at PCs. It was very cool.
The smaller companies had tiny offices. Sometimes, even my taxi driver could not find the address. One of the software companies was a tiny office in a giant corridor opposite a company making something that involved hundreds of sewing machines. They had only a handful of developers. During their meetings, they gave me green tea in a cheap paper cup (as opposed to the proper cup in the bigger companies). It was a real contrast from the larger software vendors.
But, my focus was not on office size or how posh their boardrooms were. My focus was not on the quality of the tea they served me. My focus was not on how well I can be schmoozed (although, I admit I was enjoying it).
I was looking for software developers, not office space. And, with the exception of one company, no one offered to let me talk to a developer. In fact, all I could think of in the large posh offices was “As a client, will I be paying for all this?” I wanted the best, most talented, developers I could work with at the best price. Either I would get more expensive developers (with enough profits going to maintain the huge office) or cheap developers (paid a pittance and unmotivated while the majority of pay goes to maintain the offices). I was not interested in how big the office was.
A year later, I was sitting with some friends discussing a possible business venture. One of them said “We need a decent-sized office. Companies won’t take us seriously unless we have an office.” I used to think like this. I’ve done the whole “Mayfair address virtual office” thing before (with bad consequences– but that’s for another post) and I’ve tried to make Overpass look huge online. But, in the end, it doesn’t help the end product. It contributes to the pageantry of business and does not contribute to the production of business.
Do companies hire based on office premises? Probably. I’m sure there are the executives that look at a company and say “they have a big office . . . they must be successful. They must produce good code.”
But do you know what the biggest indicator of good code is? It’s not the office. It’s not the size of the board room. It’s not the promises on the website. It is the code.
When you don’t know the code, you look for other indicators of proficiency that have nothing to do with the work produced.
Well, I know the code. And the quality of code is all that matters.