Middleware: Does Management Act as a Necessary Barrier for Engineering Services?
By Henry Lyons, CIO, Marine Parts Express
Some of our recent dealings with phone companies, consultants, and software engineers have given me pause to reconsider the layered communication and challenge of squeezing the right amount of juice from the fruit known as “tech.” Our mistake, if you can call it that, is a lack of patience for the middleware to exist and do what it needs to do in order to create a safe zone for work. Their mistake, again if you can call it that, is not taking time to seriously consider as valid any difference in understanding.
Tech companies have, mostly to maximize profit, undertaken a change in how they offer services to the public. Instead of the engineer dealing with any billing issues, they have a billing team, manager, rep or even broker. I think this is similar to what happened to medicine—we originally had doctors billing directly for their time, then they started separating out their specialties and found that they were able to bill more with less bedside manner if they created a level of management.
For the engineers, this becomes yet another level of virtualization. Indirectly, and from a psychological perspective, they distance themselves from the issue of whether they are appropriately valued. In the past, engineers would be itinerant and lead lives of instability and insecurity. This had the added advantage of avoiding the appropriate value question, while pretending that they were in complete control of their “genius,” which ultimately morphed into arrogance masking the insecurity.
For the customers, this created confusion and distrust. Company loyalty (do you stay with the company or the engineer who now works for company x instead of company y) became a tricky concept. The result, however, is an uncomfortable distance between the new “sales” force that tries to understand the engineering just enough to sell it and keep the customer happy, and the engineers, who value the buffer zone, but who privately refer to the sales people as “idiots” who don’t have the chops to become professionals.
I refer to this layer as middleware: more than a function, less than a complete entity. This moniker echoes an engineer’s depersonalization of many life concepts and, of course, of any staff member who is not deemed a peer by the “talent.” Middleware is a hard job to have, and ultimately is akin to being an agent: always trying to sing the virtues of those who belittle you to please your boss and earn a paycheck. Not very satisfying in many ways.
In any event, I find that the way of the old days of hiring an engineer who will work with you to fix your stuff is a very rare bird. Now you have to get approvals, time tables, and contracts to avoid corporate liability. Not only because of greater complexity in engineering, but also because of the need to protect and shield the emotions behind the men who run the machines.
On the upside, I think it leads to engineers who are staying longer (3 to 5 years) and to a more homogeneous level of support. In the end, the consumer’s costs rise, not only because of the need to fund the middleware layer, but also in trying to deliver on the promises made by middleware.
Many engineering jokes center on the concept that the only problem in tech is the HKI (human keyboard interface). The fact that what one person says can be interpreted differently by another is the basis of the word understanding. Yet, most problems that arise in performance of a contract come down to unforeseen differences in understanding. What the middleware does in this case is a key element to their survival as a company.
In fact, the one advantage here is that this more layered approach to technical services is an opportunity for the engineer to have a check and balance in the customer retention process. What can’t be solved by prowess is sometimes solved by compensation of time or money, without losing one’s dignity in the process.
We at Marine Parts Express pride ourselves at being responsive to our customers’ requests, so if you have a marine question, give us a call at our toll free number, 887.621.2628, and we will help.
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Marine Parts Express is a division of Water Resources, Inc., a privately held Maine Corporation.
For all your marine engine parts needs, call us toll free at 877.621.2628, or outside the U.S. at 207.882.6165.
June 8, 2011 / JD Neeson / 0
Tags: Middle Management
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Margaret Graham Neeeson
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