We Are Not a Meritocracy

I’ve heard a few times over the last month that the technology business ought to be a meritocracy, where people are hired, promoted, and fired based on their skills and talents. It’s usually accompanied by a mandate that everyone should  “hire the best person for the job.”

Information Technology may be the closest we get to a meritocracy, but it certainly isn’t one. Your skills matter, your talent matters, but it’s still a who you know and who-you-get-along-with that overrides everything else. More often than not, skills alone will not carry you far. You need to have a bond with the people that hire you.

If we were a meritocracy, we could just give everyone a test that applied for a job and hire the person with the highest score. Or just use a lottery to pick everyone that achieved a certain score. That doesn’t sound like the kind of place that I’d like to work since I place a lot of value on the interpersonal relationships with other people.

It seems that most people really want their employees, or co-workers, to meet some minimum level of competency, continue to improve their skills, and do their share of the work. That’s reasonable and I can appreciate those qualities in people, but the thing that’s most important to me is that we get along.

I can work with you to improve your technical skills, but I can’t usually do anything about your personality.

Steve Jones

About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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2 Responses to We Are Not a Meritocracy

  1. Michael Petty says:

    Based on your differing statement on the skills and the value you have to deliver, I gather that you’re unintentionally saying that this all depends on the company and projects you’re working on.

    I’ve been at the IT grind as a developer for almost 14 years now. I think that it depends on the company and the projects under consideration whether the statement “It’s still a who you know and and who-you-get-along-with that overrides everything else.” I think that in projects that have high importance and are complex (high chance of failure and we know that IT has a 60-75% failure rate or some other really high percentage), your skills matter more than who you know. I think that if you’re friendly and professional and are a rock star developer (or IT professional), you will be noticed. To give you a contrasting situation, what if you’re great friends with your supervisor but since you only meet a minimum level of ability, you aren’t able to get that challenging project done. As a result, your great friend and supervisor has to beg for foregiveness (more time and money) and look bad in front of vice presidents. I think that in situations like this, as long as your inter-personal skills are good enough (friendly and professional), having rock star IT skills would cause your supervisor to love you for keeping him/her looking good in front of the vice presidents and delivering the value that IT has to offer your company. On the other hand, if you’re working in some kind of kicked-back, easy maintenance position, I think your skills matter less and the “who-you-know and get along with” takes on more importance.

    Thanks again for putting together such a valuable and thought-inspiring show.

    • way0utwest says:

      Those are good points. It’s not an either or. You can’t be a great personality with friends and be a horrible developer, or vice versa. It’s a balance of both. However even if you shine at a project, I find that you might not get promoted still. You’ll get noticed, but when bonuses are handed out, or promotions up there, someone with better networking and contacts still gets similar consideration.

      You want to balance both sides, building skills, and networking contacts.

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