I am not a resource
Lots of jargon sloshes around the conference rooms at tech firms; plenty of it seeps into other domains as well. Most of it is fairly unobjectionable. We’re all happy to be submariners, forever sending pings at each other. Taking things offline is probably preferable to taking them outside. And I’ll patiently wait for data to page into a brain that knows little to nothing about virtual memory. We all collectively look the other way when people utilize things that could have more simply been used, or leverage things that probably didn’t even bear mentioning.
What I can’t stand is resourcing.
Resources can be mined, drilled, or pumped out of the ground. They can be traded on exchanges. You can find them in libraries. You can have closets filled with resources: paper clips, toilet paper, white board makers (but where are the damned erasers?!). You might earn resources from a lucky roll of the dice. Resources are the basic stuff of planning and budgeting. But why oh why do we insist on referring to engineers as resources?
An engineering manager asked me the other day, “does that project have the right resources?” What resources are those? Pens? Computers? Rare earth magnets? No, of course he meant engineers! And referring to engineers as resources suggests that they’re just as interchangeable and just as undifferentiated. While each engineer is not such a delicate snowflake—unique and beautiful—as to preclude some overlap, no engineer wants to be thought of as interchangeable; no engineer should be thought of as interchangeable as few engineers are interchangeable.
The folks in Human Resources at least deign to acknowledge that the resources that preoccupy their tabulations and ministrations are, after all, humans, and for that reason alone worthy of specialization. They attract a different type of specialist than, say, the resource-minders in the IT department who similarly need to keep their resources happy, cool, and supplied with a high bandwidth Internet connection. Yet we are all rendered resources in the eyes of Finance who more than once have let me trade real estate savings for engineering hires. FTEs (our preferred label) are still a unique type of resource, one that tends to appreciate over time. Which is just as well because otherwise we’d all be given away to underprivileged schools after three years, boxed up with the old laptops and other resources.
Referring to our colleagues as resources is dehumanizing, callous, and offensive. Language influences perception; these aren’t cogs, and they can’t be swapped like for like. Treating them like cogs leads to mistakes in judgement and I’ve seen it: smart engineers and smart managers who move columns around in a spreadsheet forgetting that satisfying formulas is only one goal and not the most primary one. These cogs have their own hopes, dreams, faults, and skills.
Let’s kill this one off. Let’s staff projects for success. When we need help let’s ask for additional people, or, if we’re more discerning than that, let’s ask for developers or program managers or masseurs. Managers, let’s manage teams of engineers; let’s learn what makes them different and celebrate those differences rather than guiding them to sameness. While we’re being magnanimous we can even extend this courtesy to contractors—yes, Finance, I know, we don’t pay for the warranty (health care plan). And when possible try to remember a name or two; the resources tend to like it.