I just finished reading "In search of stupidity – Over 20 years of high tech of marketing disasters" by Merrill R. Chapman, a funny weekend read with a rehashed history of the growing pangs of the computing industry. One of the better parts of the book is the afterword aptly titled "Stupid Development Tricks"; an interview with Joel Spolsky, and true to the form, starts with some neat buildup –
"Major failure doesn't just happen: To achieve it, everyone must pull togather as a team"
The interview has some more interesting soundbites than the rest of the book, including this closing gem –
SMS: You paint a picture of the programmer almost as a semi-deity. But in our experience, we've seen powerful technical personalities take down major companies. ….. How do you manage situations like these?
Joel: This is a hard problem. I've seen plenty of companies with prima donna programmers who literally drive their companies into the ground. If the management of the company is technical (think Bill Gates), management isn't afraid to argue with them and win — or fire the programmer and get someone new in. If the management of the company is not technical enough (think John Sculley), they act like scared rabbits, strangely believing that this ONE person is the only person on the planet who can write code, and it's not a long way from there to the failure of the company. If you're a non-technical CEO with programmers who aren't getting with the program, you have to bite the bullet and fire them. This is your only hope. And it means you're going to have to find new technical talent, so your chances aren't great. That's why I don't think technology companies that don't have engineers at the very top have much of a chance.
The online version of this interview is longer and is full of wisdom just as the numerous articles on the Joel On Software site.