Do You Want a Meritocracy at Work?

The best tend to rise to the top in sports. Do you want that in technology?

The best tend to rise to the top in sports. Do you want that in technology?

Professional sports tend to be a meritocracy in most cases. If your natural athletic talent lets you run faster, jump higher, or perform some other skill better than others, you tend to get more time to play, more money, more recognition, etc. It’s not absolute, and at those high skill levels other factors come into play, but for the most part we find bars of skill that a person must exceed to make money at their sport.

In the technology business, I’m not sure that’s true. However I want to know how you feel about the idea of skills being used to determine your career advancement.

Do you want to work in a meritocracy at your job?

Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean the harder or longer you work, the more money you’ll make, or the more promotions you’ll get. It may mean that the newest, youngest person at your company might rise much faster than you simply because they’re a better DBA or developer.

This doesn’t mean you never get a raise, but if you’ve settled in your job, if you’re a Dead Sea technologist, then you might be limited to cost of living increases and the dreary, less exciting work that no one else wants to do.

I know there are problems with determining “better” in many jobs, and it’s hard to measure the productivity and value of people in relation to each other in an objective way. However, if we could, then I’m asking if that’s what you’d prefer. Would you like to work in a place where the more talented people rise faster than the average worker, regardless of seniority, friendliness with management, or any other non-skill based measure.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcasts

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2 Responses to Do You Want a Meritocracy at Work?

  1. Matt Velic says:

    I would say this is happening already within the tech world at large. The best technologists already get gobbled up by the most important companies that contribute the important work – I’m not even talking Google or Apple specifically, but more along the lines of Mozilla, GitHub, 37signals, etc.

    Even within the SQL Server sphere, the best developers and DBAs are grouping together either in consulting companies or with software companies as evangelists. Which isn’t to say that sometimes these groupings aren’t loose or that there aren’t lone wolves, but it’s happening generally.

    I’ve always believed in meritocratic systems: it’s always worked for me. But I’ve been in jobs where it simply doesn’t work that way: quality of work had nothing to do with earned increases or even general treatment from management, which can be frustrating. I think as I grow older and gain more experience, I’ll probably start falling more towards a balanced medium. Then again, the hardest lesson I’ve learned is that it doesn’t pay to stay in a boring, unchallenging job that makes you unhappy, so if I were cornered (as you described), I’d probably jump ship soon.


  2. Honestly I would be thrilled just to get the cost of living raise. I don’t think I’ve gotten one of those in over 10 years and three jobs.


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