Replacing People Is Expensive

Dave Larribee has a great post, The High Cost of Losing a Developer. (Discovered via an ericlandes tweet)

Dave suggested it might take a couple of years investment in terms of salary to make a developer productive. My experience is that it takes about 6 months of that developer and some number of months of other people. You can short-cut some of that cost by:

  • Creating a buddy system when you hire or move a new person into a team
  • Providing training about the code, the product, the process
  • Go to conferences so you can see what’s going on in the industry
  • Creating learning opportunities as a group each week or so, such as a lunch-and-learn
  • Starting a reading group and read a chapter in a book and discuss it once a week

Informal training is great and has little cash cost. The person explaining what’s going on will take time away from his or her work to prepare, and the other people benefit tremendously. Reading groups have a small cost.

I’m always surprised when people tell me that they want to keep their per-head cost of training under some number. That number is generally less than a person-day of loaded labor.

I’m also surprised when people tell me they can’t buy books because they are “too expensive.” Publishers have sales all the time (see the current Prag sale), and sometimes Amazon sells my books so cheaply I don’t understand how they make money. If a company thinks books are too expensive, they haven’t thought about the cost of ignorance.

Good recruiters cost more out-of-pocket money, but are worth their cost if they bring you candidates that fit the role.

2 Replies to “Replacing People Is Expensive”

  1. “Good recruiters cost more out-of-pocket money, but are worth their cost if they bring you candidates that fit the role”

    There is an important qualifier missing.

    “Good recruiters cost more out-of-pocket money, but are worth their cost if they bring you candidates that fit the role better than you would have been able to yourself”

    1) I’ve worked with some hiring managers that can run a hiring program better than most recruiters.

    2) I’ve met others who, frankly, suck.

    3) I’ve met recruiters who are quite extraordinary. One place I worked brought their cost per hire down from 12K to 2.5K and increased customer satisfaction at the same time.

    4) I’ve met recruiters who went into the field because they couldn’t find work anywhere else.

    Manager 1 can tell who recruiter 4 is. But may not need recruiter 3. He’ll hire him only if the opportunity cost of doing the recruiting himself is higher than the fee recruiter 3 is charging. For technical people that’s going to be 8-15K so Manager 1 has to save a heck of a lot of time before that makes sense.

    Manager 2 can’t tell the different between recruiters 3 and 4 (which is why recruiter 4 can pay his mortgage). So it’s going to be a crap shoot as to whether he gets value out of the arrangement.

    There is a real problem in recruiting. It’s an industry of used car salesmen that doesn’t do very much meaningful to clean itself up. So even when I turn to recruiters it takes a while to find a good one. Last time I had to interview 8 before other managers got bored, hired one against my wishes and she didn’t work out. Since then I’ve run my own searches (thanks to experience I gained working around the folks mentioned in (3) and done way better, for way less money with no material impact on my time.

    Not everyone has the background to do that. But, to finally bring this rant back around, the closing sentence of the post is still a bit simplistic.

  2. I think that anyone who says books are “too expensive” is making the mistake of viewing them as an expense instead of an investment.

    If that $40 book saves you one hour of work, just once, it has paid for itself.

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