Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Blue Angels for Corporate America?

A documentary on the Blue Angels, the Navy's ace demo flight team, got me to thinking about how dismally most corporations manage technical talent and imagine how things might be different if the average company ran a team modeled after the Blue Angels.

  1. Anyone can apply to become a Blue Angel, but the existing team has complete say in who joins.  It's clear that they pick the best of the best and require not only ace skills but also the ability to represent the team and the Navy in the best light.
  2. You serve only three years as a member of the team.  One year to learn your stuff.  One year to do it best.  The last year is dedicated to training your replacement.
  3. After your stint, you return to real life.  This opens spots for the next crop of team members and ensures that everything you've learned about being the best is carried back out to the Navy at large to help the whole organization improve.
I can only imagine the effects of running such a team might have on the average corporate IT organization.

First, companies might finally be able to maintain highly motivated and skilled people.  Too often it's the case that  your best and brightest get bored and go looking for a new job just at the point where they're ready to become truly useful to the company.   Imagine instead this energy and talent earning a place on the Blue Angel team and getting assigned tasks that will really stretch and challenge them to take it up another level.  Imagine too, having a real alternative besides promotion to management to reward your technical stars.

Usually Managers let go their star employees only grudgingly knowing there's a good chance that it will be a long while before they find somebody to replace their ace.   But imagine instead, that as you let go of your favorite talent, you get in return an Ace.  Better yet, and ace who's now a trained expert on the latest and greatest trends approved for use in the business.  You get a direct liaison to the powers that be, someone who's got the training and knowledge to actually improve all your team members' productivity.  Someone who's ready to help ensure your team understands and adheres to the proven best practices...

Imagine being a CIO knowing that there is an effective and constant flow of ideas among all your disparate teams.  That best practices are more than just empty bits on a sharepoint site that nobody reads and most teams have no way of understanding let alone adopting.   Instead, you have evangelists of excellence cycling throughout your company,  leaders with the hands on knowledge and skills ready to rapidly deploy key changes to any team in need.  And don't forget you also the Blue Angels team itself, full of great minds ready to tackle any thorny problem that may arise.

And lastly, imagine just being a cog in the wheels at such a company.  Maybe you don't feel up to putting in the extra effort to become a Blue Angel.  Maybe you have kids you want to watch grow up or you're writing your novel.  But imagine how much better to be a cog in a company where the hotshots really do get their time to shine and so don't just sit around kvetching about how backwards and stupid everybody else is.  Imagine that you had actual working code examples to follow when asked to adopt a new standard or better yet real automation tools and robust frameworks to make the job easier.

Seems like a win-win all around,  does any place like this exist in the IT world?  What would it really take to run a shop like this?


  1. That's just like a Jedi school for programmers!

  2. I have tried to make my team like that. When I came into the company 2+ years ago, 'data integration' was seen as a crummy job that no one wanted to do. Just writing batch processes, no UI, no 'sexiness'. Now people are seeing it for the challenge that it is, and I have the sharpest developers in the company on my team. I occasionally lend them out to other teams, and we have had several other developers spend time in our team room, learning more about what we do.

  3. I just shared this link with my internal software development group. Interesting perspective on their training style and how it would work in the corporate world.