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What's Behind the Curtain
May 13, 1996 :: Michael Sippey

There's this great book from Microsoft Press called The Dynamics of Software Development. It was written by Jim McCarthy, the leader of the C++ development team, and is full of "obvious" advice to software development teams.

One of the main points of the book is that software is first and foremost intellectual property (which must explain all the high priced intellectual property lawyers that dot Silicon Valley). And, when you come right down to it, intellectual property is just property created by intellectuals (duh). A team of intellectuals with ideas, creativity, hopes and dreams for the product they work on.

Oh, and lives outside of the office.

There has been plenty of press lately about companies that are changing the workplace to make it more user-friendly. About integrating the professional and personal life. About "empowerment." About "fostering creativity." And about putting the employee in closer touch with their customers.

Then why is it that on all those corporate web sites out there you rarely read about the employees behind the corporation? When is the last time you surfed to learn about a new software product, and was greeted with the face of the product manager, or bios of the core development team? Or went for some support and was able to learn about the lives of the folks who moderate the support forum? Or, God forbid, link from an online bio to a personal web site?

Why aren't they letting us see behind the curtain?

Software (and other intellectual property) is created by intellectuals. So why aren't corporations showing them off to the world? Why not a message of "meet the brains behind the brawn?" Is it fear of showing cracks in the corporate facade? Or, worse yet, providing too much ammunition for the competition's recruiters? (Hmmm...If that's the case, then maybe they have more pressing things to worry about.)

Or is it a fear that an employee might link to something objectionable?

Well, forget for a minute what senior management may think about allowing personal home pages on corporate sites. Forget about what the public persona of the corporation may need to be. What would the customers think? How would customers react to a support rep with a web site devoted to Douglas Coupland? Or an MIS staffer with a thing for Pez? Or a business development manager posing as an industry pundit once a week?

How would you react?

There are plenty of companies out there that consistently state in public "our people are our greatest asset." Well, the web seems to be a perfect place to show 'em off. What are most of them so afraid of?

P.S. Not surprisingly, one company that has enabled their employees to develop their own personal sites is Hotwired, complete with Hotwired bandwidth, SGI servers and RealAudio (ahhh, the perks of the digerati). I've been convinced for a while now that the real action on Hotwired is not happening in Pop, or Surf, or Flux, but rather in the pages buried behind the "Staff" section. Like editor Sarah Borruso's cabinet. Or the things that make Susanna Camp think. Or serious funk via RealAudio from Jonathan Golub.



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