In the coming paragraphs I will primarily discuss what I didn’t like and didn’t go so well at FRISS, but I want to be clear about the good things. I appreciated the interaction with my colleagues very much, especially those from the group who participated in the lunch break walks and who I got to know quite well. I liked the (international) diversity and how I could discuss the intricacies of Indian food for hours with my Indian colleague, as well as other subjects with co-workers from many other cultures. My manager was a nice guy. The management team held monthly meetings with all employees near the end of a workday to discuss the progress and direction of the company. This was combined with a free dinner after the meeting. This was very transparent way to keep employees informed and involved in the company.
But there were several factors which diminished the enjoyment my job gave me. Most importantly, the salary. Since I joined my current employer ID Ware, I make € 1.000 more before taxes. I did benefit from the experience I gained with FRISS and an ITIL Practitioner certification to get to my current salary, as well as some good negotiation moves. However, I’m still mostly doing essentially the same work as with FRISS. If you consider that, the gap is quite large.
Another very significant detractor was the IT Service Management software I had to use for the job. I felt like a chef who was compelled to work with a blunt chef’s knife all day long. This software, called GAIA and made by a Dutch company called AllSolutions, was a downright nasty piece of software from the Stone Age. It could apparently do everything but did nothing well. The difference with modern IT Service Management software was like night and day. It couldn’t even send e-mails to report the closure of an ticket or automatically record the name of the person writing a comment on a ticket. The finance department used it as well for financial administration. Everyone I spoke to hated it, except for the guy who administered the application because that skill had made him irreplaceble.
I addressed the inadequacies of GAIA in the first weeks after I joined FRISS. I didn’t have the time and persuasion skills to get things moving quickly. Eventually a new CFO did have a sense of urgency and took the lead because GAIA was so unsuitable for the finance department. Shortly before I left I participated in the effort to migrate to a modern ERP system, but I felt FRISS should and could have been looking for something else years earlier. I think I have to partially blame myself for not pushing harder and not being able to convince people of the need to change.
Apart from tools the processes were not optimal either. Even though I had a very good understanding with the Product Owner (Scrum terminology) of the development team, it was my experience that our feedback and suggestions almost had no influence on the work of development. I think this is because the Product Owner’s hands were tied and he had to listen to the CTO and the Product Managers. Of course prioritization is needed, but when it takes ages to address issues which harmed the productivity of Support and even the occasional bug which is harmful to customers, another extreme is reached. I felt that the CTO and Product Managers were pushing development too hard for all kinds of new hyped features while the basics weren’t receiving enough attention.
An example of insufficient basics was the implementation of watchlists for adresses of known fraudsters. This functionality was a filthy hack at best. The feature was so user unfriendly that the customer generally couldn’t upload these watchlists, so they would sent them to us. We would then use some SQL queries to insert the watchlists in the database. Because the customers who used these watchlist were using a deprecated (but still supported) version of our software, development didn’t work on improving the functionality. The idea was that the improved functionality would be implemented in the version which did see active development, but it was never prioritized. That’s why this situation could continue for the full two and half years I worked at FRISS. The customers must not have been pleased, because we would charge them a small fee for the time it took us to process those watchlists for them. I was downright frustrated because nothing was undertaken to improve the situation (I did bring this up more than once) and I was essentially doing something which the customer should have been able to do themselves.
Apart from features not working properly, I became pessimistic due to the lack of progress in making our product scalable. With our product it was possible to have the same functionality implemented differently for every customer. This made it more difficult to diagnose issues and increased the workload for the Support team.
Because I wrote and sent the communication about new software releases to our customers I was well informed of the work done by our development team. This gave me the impression that the development of our software in general progressed slowly compared to the fte’s in the development team. Every new release contained a rather small amount of new features, and most of these were rather trivial. I was not alone in this sentiment, but I can’t explain why it happened. I certainly don’t think our developers were lazy, but it might have to do with the process. New releases came every four weeks at the completion of the sprint (Scrum terminology). Obviously the major new features can’t land every release in such a short time span, but even so I felt that they landed exceptionally sporadic.
Talent management was lacking. I didn’t expect to climb up the ladder quickly because I signed up as a Support Engineer and my aid was essential to manage the workload for the Support team. However, half a year after I started two new people were posted from an external company. They had acedemic master’s degrees unrelated to IT just like me, but respectively no and equal experience in IT compared to me. I was surprised when they soon started working in the Consultancy team while I remained in Support. Ironically, one of them asked me for help on several issues after getting promoted. I also noticed that it was possible for management to offer someone else who was not satisfied with her job another position, even though nothing was done to address my dissatisfaction. I considered all three of these people pleasant colleges, but as you can imagine I felt treated unfairly. Shortly before I announced that I would leave FRISS I was told to expect a transfer to Project Management. While I appreciated this very much, the offer was not as attractive as the one ID Ware had made me.
Finally, the grim environment of the Papendorp business park was another motivator to leave. Especially because I liked to take a walk with colleagues during the break. Papendorp is a desolate collection of grass and pavement, with an asphalt factory and a large highway close by. If FRISS needs to consider a new office due to growth in the future, I sincerely hope it is situated in a more attractive environment which stimulates the senses more positively.
I’ll summarize the morale of this story on how to keep employees motivated, management literature style. Pay your employees a competitive salary to make them feel appreciated and prevent other companies from hyjacking them. Give them good tools to execute their daily work. Support them in their search for better tools if they need them. Take care to listen to the wishes of your Support team next to your Product Management team. Support gets different insights from the users of your software, which Product Management won’t have. Balance development of new features with polishing existing features. Employ sound talent management to make sure there is no misalignment between the skills of your employees and their actual work, in a way no one feels left behind. Provide an attractive working environment, both indoors and outdoors.