Response to “A Call for Change In HP NonStop”

This is in response to: “A Call for Change in HP NonStop” – Randall Becker 


The following are my own opinions, and not a blanket statement. Also note, I am not affiliated with Hewlett Packard Company.

I worked at Tandem/Compaq/HP for about 30 years. The acquisition by Compaq and management switching to DEC was probably the start of the slide. Tandem was open. Compaq/DEC was more the IBM model in terms of management. There was a distinct shift in morale after the Compaq acquisition. Not because Tandem was acquired, but because employees were unable to do and work the way they had. I’m not saying HP should go back to the Tandem model.

The pool of intelligent, industrious, and creative people involved in HP NonStop is great (although shrinking due to age, downsizing, and morale). A lot of times their ability to perform at their best is limited by various issues. I won’t go into details, since I don’t want this to be a rant.

Employees (of all sorts, not just devs), need the ability to contribute. In most cases this amounts to doing what you have been asked to do at HP. The ability perform and contribute beyond what is asked of you is limited and at times discouraged (actively or passively). The justification amounts to one of a handful of arguments. The main ones are:

  • “We don’t do it that way/we have always done it that way.” [But no one can or will say why.]
  • “There is no demand, and we can’t work without funding/budgets.” [This even applies to volunteering.]
  • “Upper management decided we should…” [But when you ask who specifically, names can’t/won’t be named.]

The problem comes down to inertia and the inability or unwillingness to break from it. Jobs are at stake after all–mostly the lower management that fears the next “downsizing”.

Here are some suggestions: [yes I’ve told this to various managers at Compaq/HP through the years]

  • Allow, encourage, review, and reward suggestions for improvements in process and product. Review should not be done by the single manager you report to.
  • Allow for volunteer projects on employees’ free/down-time. Yes this does exist, and there are people who would love this. Only review when complete, don’t try to manage these or treat them as official.
  • Improve/upgrade tools, or allow employess to use their own as long as they are compatible and secure. Some of the in-house tools are archaic, but they are “approved”. There is nothing as frustrating to a developer who can’t use their favorite [therefore, most productive] code editor.
  • Decisions which have no impact on the end result, but affect the employee should be left to the employee, not become a management decision.
  • Improve morale.
  • Remote teams need to meet physically at the same location at least once a year.
  • Allow employees to take outside training (not just HP cross-chargeable training) and go to conferences. Pay for it.

Going back to the early days of Tandem and all the way through HP NonStop, the company has always been 3-5 years behind the development technology curve. Some at HP disagree with this statement.

Tech companies should lead, and not always wait for adoption rates to drive demand. Java and web are still considered as “new tech” in sections of HP NonStop.  When you’re behind the curve, it is difficult to motivate developers in COBOL, TAL, and Java when everyone they know working elsewhere is doing  Ruby, Scala and Clojure.

This is a chicken and egg problem at HP NonStop.  No demand, no funding, no change or advancement of the developers and products.  The customers don’t see new tech and so are happy with what they get from HP and don’t demand. No demand, no funding, no pushing the boundaries.  This also applies to in-house training and conferences. No demand, no funding, you can’t take outside classes or go to conferences unless you pay for them out-of-pocket.

Management needs to set the vision, and direction. Employees need to have the freedom and ability to implement them and in some situations maybe improve or steer.  Management is the navigator. The employees are the drivers.  Each needs the other.