Joel just released a new book which is a collection of articles about software development. The list of articles is on the same page so you can just go read the articles on the web if you don't mind reading on the screen.

One I read today is called Compensation which is about how compensating people for their performance individually (bonuses, merit pay, etc) will kill your company. Joel has talked about this as well.

While I agree with all their logic it just doesn't ring 100% true for me. It could be a matter of being in a different industry. Game development is NOT the software development industry, it is the Entertainment industry and so things are different. We don't have customers that are paying us for a particular solution. We are making our own creative products that are expressions of us and hoping people enjoy them and there are a host of differences in what we do because of that.

I'm not going to go into those differences but as I was reading the Compensation article the following issues popped in my head.

The author mentions that when her team finished they all felt they all contributed equally to getting the product done well and on time. I would love to work on a team where that was true but I've personally never seen one. Do her recommendations only work on that kind of team?

To give you some examples. In Junior High School, 9th grade I took the Yearbook class. There were about 25 students, most of them slackers. Over the course of the semester I'd say 3 students, Andy Brown, Judy Kuramoto and myself made at least 75% of that yearbook. The other 22 students made the other 25%. If this was a job should we have been compensated equally?

I've been on a team where one member took 2 months to fail to write an I/O library, one that upon receiving and realizing didn't work I re−wrote in 1 week. I would have been pretty pissed off if that programmer had be compensated equally.

On another team there was one artist who's work was so bad that 100% of their artwork had to be redone but other artists on the team. Should she have been compensated equally?

I've been on teams where one person works 9 to 5 and everyone else works 10 to 10. Should that person get compenstated equally?

Another issue that popped in my head is that as much as I was nodding in agreement with some of the ideas there was this nagging feeling that the author was ignoring reality. She talks of not having a ranking system but in the real world there is and has to be a ranking system. Maybe in a 10000 person company there is always a way to give everyone a raise and everyone a promotion but in most real world companies there are only so many positions and so someone has to be picked to move up the ladder while others are left behind. There is no egalitarian way to do this. Someone will get picked to go up, someone will get left behind. Someone gets to be the next manager or leader with a higher salary, more freedom, larger expense account, more responsibility, travel and the rest don't. You can't fix that problem and yet her whole arguement appears to ignore that fact.

Finally she didn't talk much about actual compensation. She mentioned the steel company example but again she's talking about giant corporations with thousands of employees. In my industry, most development houses are much much smaller. If I worked for steel company, I doubt it would ever cross my mind that I could quit and make my own steel company. Making a steel company requires serious money for the factory to make the steel in. But, I don't work in that industry, I'm in the entertainment industry, specifically games, and while people will argue that top games are expensive to make there is still both history and current hits that argue otherwise. In other words, it's very easy to imagine starting my own game development company.

What that means is, when a team makes a hit game and the boss is driving a new ferrari 6 months later it's very easy to take that personally in the same way her article mentions imbalanced compensation effectng the team. In fact, the owner is often just another member of the team except he gets 10x to 100x the compensation. I can only guess that that doesn't effect her because she's in such a big company that the rich board members at the top are not in her view and that she's not so close to doing it herself that she can see there is no big difference between them and her.

I don't expect that to change. The owner had to balls to start the company and the employees didn't. The owner took the risk therefore he gets the reward. But, from a small company employee perspective, at least at a game development company or probably a web development company that distinction is mostly irrelavent. It still feels like he's just part of the team. It still feels like he puts in roughly the same amount of work. In some cases 10% more, in others 90% less. But, it's the real world and no amount of wishing we could apply some egalitarian system on top of it will change that.

She doesn't take that into account and so I'm not sure how to apply her ideas to my experience.

Metroid Prime: Echoes