Fungible skills

On a training course today we were talking about how different people deal with change. The consensus seemed to be that salespeople were the best when confronted with a change in company strategy – “Ah, we’re not making TVs we’re making phones? Sure, no problem, I can sell those.”  The premise being that a good salesperson can sell anything. Makes you think of east-end barrow boys – whatever has fallen off a lorry this week is on the stall.

used-car-salesmanThis is really about the fact that salespeople are goals orientated. They’re competitive, they want to win, and winning involves taking the most money. As long as the product sells they have the people skills (or more importantly, the closing skills) to make it happen. So what about software engineers, architects, product managers? Is it the fact that sales skills are fungible and software skills are not? This can’t be true. A good software engineer should be able to turn his hand to any project – it’s more a question of what the goal is. For an engineer, it’s usually about how interesting a problem is – not about actually shipping a product. This is why it’s often difficult to manage software projects at all – you ask an engineer to work on task A only to find out he actually spent the last two days working on task B, which was less important but more interesting..

So the conclusion? I think software engineering is just as fungible as sales when is comes to the core skills – it’s the goals which are not as easily substituted. If we can convince the teams that it’s the results (the winning, the shipping, etc.) that’s the goal then we’ll deliver.

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