Thursday, May 10, 2007

Culture Shock: Transparency

In every game company I've worked at, management was pretty transparent. It's not like you could always walk into the CEO's office and ask to see the financials, but in general any company-wide decision was justified to the employees and there was room for discussion. Often there was discussion before any decision was made.

Universities aren't like that. For one thing, they're much larger than your typical game dev studio, so there's a lot more things going on at once; if you were informed every little detail crossing the desk of your boss (and your boss's boss, and boss's boss's boss) you'd have so much information to sort through that you wouldn't have time to get any work done. Also, I think there's more of an overall attitude that people should be separated; professors should teach and do research, administrators should administrate, and no one needs to be aware of anyone else's job. Information is distributed on a just-in-time, need-to-know basis.

I understand that there are very practical reasons for this, but at the same time it's still unsettling to not really be aware of what's going on around me. I hear the results, but not the reasoning... so when I hear "such-and-such department now has a new vision" I have no way to place that information in the proper context. I also worry that such opaqueness at the management level, whether at a university, company or government, opens the door to abuse of power since there's less accountability. Not that this will absolutely happen, mind you, but the door is open.

I suspect this isn't an "industry vs. academia" thing, so much as a "small vs. large organization" thing. All of the game studios I've worked for have been small: dozens of people, not thousands. And it's not like I can find a 30-person university to compare.


Anonymous said...

Some of it may be size, but much of it is culture. I have worked for many a small business which actively works to remove transparency where ever possible.

In fact, I was even fired from one job where I approached a branch manager about the financial position of the company. They were very worried that their contractors would abandon them should the word get out.

Lewis Pulsipher said...

It is, at least in part, an "academic" thing, not a matter of size.

I worked at a major army medical center, and had three supervisors above me at a point when we had 1,500 employees. At my former school, with about 350 employees, I had five supervisors above me. Yet I suppose in the end I received less supervision.

Even a small school like Duke (5,000 undergrad, 5,000 grad when I was there) ACTS as though it was a huge school (30-40,000 students). It seems to be "in the blood".