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Ask HN: What made your favorite manager/supervisor/CEO so great?
575 points by nightmarenate 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 242 comments

I'll name the best manager I ever had, since she unexpectedly passed away nearly three years ago to our team's (and company's) great sadness. Margaret Thielemann was a QA manager for nearly 10 years at Esri (she previously headed up QA at PeopleSoft before its acquisition by Oracle), and I reported to her for all of those 10 years, during which I learned and mastered web development by scoping, designing, and building several internal web apps. She hired me as a kid with little corporate experience, straight out of college, and took me "under her wing" and patiently taught me the ropes of thriving in a corporate environment.

Margaret had all the hallmarks of an incredibly great manager. She hired for potential (not past achievement) and gave employees every opportunity to grow and pursue our passion as developers. This allowed me to pivot and grow into web development, which was not in my job description or past experience. She never micromanaged, even when a deadline was approaching. She never demoed a project or took credit for something she didn't build herself. Like my teammates, I had to demo every product I built -- which was challenging but forced me to grow in public speaking skills (and she coached me the first few times). This also allowed me and other team members to gain recognition throughout the department.

She very effectively protected us from HR and whoever else wasn't on the team so we could focus on our work. A few times someone tried to ask us for help with someone else's project without asking her first--she was furious. She also fought (very effectively) with HR and management to get us raises that better reflected our increasing market value.

I owe my career and present livelihood largely to Margaret and the opportunities she provided me. I'd be remiss not to acknowledge God's obvious provision to me in her. Thanks so much Margaret, and thank you Lord.

Most of what you say are qualities I like managers to have too, but 'someone tried to ask us for help with someone else's project without asking her first--she was furious.' is a quality I do not value. I mean, protecting your people is one thing (an essential quality), but being furious because someone in need of help asked in the wrong order doesn't foster cooperation beyond the borders of the own team (causing silo mentality).

I don't know the companies culture and the people who asked for help, so maybe it was a good reaction at the time, but in general, I would advise being cooperative towards other departments.

I've seen this go both ways. It depends on how funtional/dysfunctional other parts of the organisation are. If they're as competent as you and just asking for things they genuinely need, cooperation is great. If they're not, they turn into "help vampires" and you have to put up a firewall to prevent them destroying your productivity.

I think my current workplace suffers from too much team defensiveness + not having a CTO or equivalent to integrate across teams.

It also depends on you (and others in similar roles) having a reasonably well-tuned sense of what is reasonable and what is not. I have a fairly broad charter myself but I help out all the time with things that I could argue are "not my job" as narrowly defined. However, they're mostly at least adjacent to my primary responsibilities and are mostly not a big deal to do.

Were someone to come to me with a request that looked to have the potential to be a big time sink--or if I was getting overloaded with too many one-offs--I would definitely have a discussion with my manager at that point.

Yeah, what's the point of having Microsoft Lync or whatever chat thing on every computer if I have to escalate up to our common report? A place I worked at, the investors had bought two different American companies and joined them at the top. So, when I needed a service I was supposed to consume to fix something (pretty obvious if I remember), the person at my level and his manager didn't respond to me or my manager at all. My manager said he had to escalate it like three levels above him and turns out the engineer simply forwarded my messages and emails to his boss, who did the same to his boss, who was on vacation. Took almost a week to resolve something so simple.

It was just outright bizarre that someone would not even write one line back to say "dude, hold on. I can't do anything without my manager's sign off". Like anyone not in their immediate team was an outsider they wouldn't talk to.

I had this at a healthcare job I had. Even within IT, every silo was obstructing the others at almost every step.

I think a lot hinges on whether it's truly asking for help vs. telling you you need to do something, and possibly phrasing it as a question. Depending on how the organization is set up and the seniority of the person asking, it can be very hard for a low-level employee to say "No, I don't have time to do that."

Having multiple people that can give you contradictory orders about how to spend your time makes for a miserable job experience. You either work overtime to meet both sets of demands, or you get negative feedback from one of your "bosses" for not completing their tasks. It's the manager's job to prevent this, and it's important that they do so.

The correct response would be along the lines: 'Sorry, but you have to ask my boss if we can push it to the top of our task list as she has the overview over the priority queue'.

That is different than a 'No, I don't have time for that.', as it teaches how to do it right in the future, and your boss doesn't have to get furious because everything that happened was that the team informed the org about the regular process.

I have worked enough time in the midst of a QA team to know that planning is essential to their job. Nevertheless, a team lead which is going to be furious because you didn't use the correct process isn't someone you want to ask for help. So, in the long run, it might cause more problems than it solves.

That assumes that your manager has a reasonable process for prioritizing these kinds of requests, which is often half the battle. It also requires a manager that will go to bat for you and defend that process, even when the requester says "This is critical and time-sensitive, I don't have time for that, so can you just do it?"

Margaret certainly had both of those things. :)

It’s very context sensitive. QA usually needs someone strong to protect the team, as they’re the ones who most frequently get asked to make up for cost/scope/schedule/quality problems that others caused.

In other casss, being too standoffish causes local optimization (“look how efficient my team is!”) at the expense of the broader org.

> QA usually needs someone strong to protect the team, as they’re the ones who most frequently get asked to make up for cost/scope/schedule/quality problems that others caused

Bingo. That combined with the odd guy from a completely different department coming over and singling me out for help (at the time, we were the team pushing the envelope with what was possible on the web).

That being said, (a) Margaret always offered our team's help to other teams, and we frequently spent large blocks of time assisting with outside projects. But there was so much demand for us that she had to insist they go through her first; and (b) of course we could answer people's questions and assist them for a few minutes here and there. I'm talking about requests like "hey could you do this work for me", where it ends up taking several hours or more.

My point, though, was that she protected us from outside demands so we could stay really productive.

You should toast her tonight. I haven’t met her, but I will!

> protecting your people is one thing (an essential quality), but being furious because someone in need of help asked in the wrong order doesn't foster cooperation

This depends entirely on intent, no? If they simply got it wrong, that's one thing. If they were intentionally subverting the 'chain of command', that's quite another.

Sure, the intention is relevant.

Not software, but I supervised QC inspectors at a medical manufacturer. R&D engineers would constantly try to steal their time to inspect some pre-production part, when we were trying to supply the $250k+ per day manufacturing floor with production parts that were backordered and running out on the floor (we had horrible issues with supply, but that's another story). Sure, your "brand new" part needs some pre-production inspections, but not right now since that part isn't needed for a few weeks. Once I got it into their heads that if they absolutely needed a part NOW they should come to me (so I can work it into the schedule) they always got their parts on-time from us.

I'm sure this is similar to a software workflow with QA, where every developer is vying for limited QA time, so I don't think "getting furious" is too far a step.

I agree. Because of that, I've made it clear to my team that the immediate responsibility for out-of-the-blue requests is triage, not solutioning. There are plenty of tasks for which 15 minutes fixes the problem. There are also requests coming in that represent days of work and need to be prioritized against existing commitments. What I need is for the team to do enough to know which is which, and make me aware of the latter so that I can get that prioritization discussion moving.

I'm wrapping up my first year as a manager and I have to say this is really one of the most context dependent things I have to worry about. I can definitely see a QA manager being fierce about it. I have yet to work at an organization that actually valued the QA function, at least enough to give it resources necessary to do its job properly.

She never demoed a project or took credit for something she didn't build herself. Like my teammates, I had to demo every product I built

That sounds strange. Didn't you ever work on a product with other developers? Who demos in that case?

And what would be wrong with a manager demoing a product that was built by a team he/she manages? It seems to imply that the manager should have no sense of ownership, but a good manager is absolutely crucial to the success of a project. Taken to the extreme, it would imply a CEO of a company could never demo a company product he didn't "build himself".

A good manager will know that s/he will be given credit for good work. Letting the team (especially junior members) lets them take ownership and pride in their work. And some nice words from the senior level present in the room always goes down well, which keeps the team happy.

I don't think it's a fair to compare an internal demo of a team's work to colleagues with an external demo of a company's products to journalists and the public. To take your reasoning: marketing and sales should also be done by engineers, which is not the case.

I think what the grandparent poster meant was that the manager didn’t habitually take credit whereas the developer had to learn to take credit.

Not every demo was done by the developer, but they had to learn how to present their work too. (“Had to demo every product” doesn’t mean “did every demo myself”.)

fairly common. team builds a product that other teams use, so you do a demo.

it's obviously better for the engineer to demo their own product. not only does it feel like you have control over your own product but it also gives a face to the project.

it's obviously better for the engineer to demo their own product

Again.. rarely does an engineer create a product in a vacuum. Usually a few disciplines contribute to the project, and a manager can be absolutely instrumental.

And of the various creators of a product should be candidates to demo a thing. The right person certainly depends on the nature of the product, the team dynamics, the audience of the demo, etc.

I for one wouldn't want to work somewhere with some kind of rigid "engineer X owns product Y, manager Z is just a manager" kind of culture.

> Again.. rarely does an engineer create a product in a vacuum.

That may be rare, but that’s what people on our team did... multiple times. For my own part, for each of several products, I wrote the project charter, interviewed potential users and stakeholders, created UI comps, built the app (database, server side, front-end), managed the server VMs and infrastructure, negotiated and built 3rd party integrations (when necessary), wrote the documentation, gave the demos, supported users, and released updates for years afterwards based on feedback.

It wasn’t a culture thing as much as a necessity. We were a team of 10 with 3-5 projects in development at all times, and nearly 30 in maintenance/support after several years. And that on top of normal QA activities.

In retrospect, I think Margaret intentionally had us handling such breadth individually in order to set us up for success as much as possible (several of us she had hired straight out of college). I didn’t realize it at the time, but the QA team didn’t have to do all that stuff to begin with. The demand for it only began to really increase after we had released several projects that had a significant positive impact on the department.

I see some qualities from past manager:

- push you to your limits (public speaking)

- shield you from management/bigcorp bullshit

- hire better people than themselves

- don’t take credit from you

"shield you from management/bigcorp bullshit"

I've heard that memorably described as managers either being "shit umbrellas" or "shit funnels".

What I ask myself is: why do corps allow to become places where shit is being thrown around, instead of productive work and cooperation.

You have to remember that giant corporations are actually many small teams trying to work on their own problems. So the “shit” to one team may very well be mission critical to another team. Part of the manager’s job is basically deciding when it makes sense for two teams to work together (I.e. let the “shit” through) and when it doesn’t make sense and shield the team so they can focus on their work.

And at smaller organizations “shit” can take on different forms. I’ve seen a lot of “executive indecision” shit. Where the CEO or some big shot leader wakes up every week with a totally different idea and he thinks the engineers should drop everything and start working on it right away. The best managers can talk him off the ledge and let their team focus without even seeing this chaos.

As a manager at a big company, most of the shit I'm protecting my team from is not mission critical for some other team - it's the shit they don't want to deal with themselves and hope to drop in your lap.

For the same reason we end up with shit codebases - a combination of ignorance, incompetence, egos, politics, "just-this-once", laziness, and because sometimes it really is the right thing to do.

90% of these things also applies to my best manager.

Same for me, although the best manager thing applied only to 10% of my jobs ;)

I haven't met any manager in years that hires for potential.

Thanks for tale. Definitely interesting and I suspect similar to the other ‘best managers’.

> She very effectively protected us from HR and whoever else wasn't on the team so we could focus on our work.

on contrary, bad managers use this excuse that they are protecting you from politics to hold on to important pieces of information from the team so only he has the complete picture of what is going on. I am highly suspicious of managers who keep saying this.

This is ridiculous, if you want to be clued in to all the bullshit flying around then you should move into management because as a developer it will kill your productivity trying to keep up with and interpret it.

> all the bullshit flying around

I didn't say that though, I said "important pieces of information" . You made least charitable interpretation of what I said and called it 'ridiculous'.

I am not saying all but i've seen managers use this excuse to justify withholding information to justify their usefulness to the project.

Fair point, but managers shouldn't avoid doing the right thing because it could be done for the wrong reason. Bad managers will use all kinds of nonsensical justifications, so I wouldn't over-index on that.

She fought for us, when there was an issue she cared and sought to understand, she understood that family comes first before work (and lived the example), she protected us from the politics of the large organization, and she did whatever she could to obtain the resources we needed to do the job (a nearly impossible task at that company.) She had a 100-200 people on her staff yet she always made time to meet with whoever wanted to meet with her, and proactively scheduled quarterly skip levels with each person.

When the company's executives forced her to fire 95% of her staff, I can only imagine the turmoil she went through. She fought like hell to keep it from happening and then they overruled her and made her do the dirty work. She was also tasked with making sure we trained our replacements - IBM consultants in India. In doing so she gave us everything we needed (ie time to go on job interviews or take online courses) and was very clear that she was on our side, likely in defiance of company brass.

As a result, before the layoffs, we were good - easily the most advanced, innovative, and best performing group in the company. We really pushed the envelope despite strong forces outside our group pushing the other way. We were strapped for resources but we always made things work. She refused to take credit for it - "It's because of you guys; I'm really lucky to have an amazing team" but we knew better. We were really lucky to have an amazing boss.

I was always appreciative of her but after that experience of being laid off which was in early 2016 I feel such a strong sense of loyalty to her that if she got a job running a trash dump I would not hesitate to quit my current job (which is great) and go work for her picking through shit for minimum wage, just to be on her team again.

“Life is mostly froth and bubble, Two things stand like stone. Kindness in another's trouble, Courage in your own.” - Adam Lindsay Gordon

That’s a beautiful stoic+ thought

That is a beautiful quote. Thank you.

You are most welcome.

> She fought for us

That seems to be the theme with me as well, all of my best managers and supervisors shared this trait even if I disagreed with them in other ways.

A good manager in a large org is like a representative in a legislature; they have a responsibility to represent their teams interests in the wider org.

It's good to see an altruistic manager fight their bosses in order to keep their subordinates happy. That's the kind of representation you want. Other managers could have said "Well, sucks for them", and just let everyone get fired in order to stay in good favor with the company's executives.

Thank you for this. Shows how toxic large organizations can get and how much (but also how little) influence a manager can have.

Corporations are by design inhumane but humans can change this, often resulting in better performance.

So, being inhumane is lazy and bad roi :)

No offense, but I was thinking that does good manger always lead to a better result? I mean, as far as the CEO concerned, good mangers should give better results.

I don't know if it's always the case, but she believed it was. It's probably no coincidence that her team always did whatever it took to produce exceptional results.

At a previous company, I joined a team that had to deliver something a year before I joined. All previous teams assembled to deliver that had failed and had been fired. That the company didn't have that feature was deeply embarrassing, the competition mentioned having it in the first line of their marketing materials. The most influential engineers on the team didn't give a damn about deadlines and thought that being friends with the director would save them, had elaborately set up a plan to blame other engineers they were not friends with, who were on the way to get fired - half the team would never, ever speak to the other half or even be in the same room. I saw a (good) new manager get hired, see the clusterf*ck, and quit because it was hopeless. None of the other managers wanted anything to do with us, we were toxic. Then someone without people management experience got "promoted" to our manager. She told us she didn't care about any of us. Revoked everybody's little privileges, would literally come see if everybody was on their keyboard and typing all the time. Didn't force overtime on anyone but was adamant against people arriving late or leaving early or missing meetings. Started openly taking notes of everybody's failures so she would have ample documentation of who failed what. Told people what to do, didn't want to know the person's opinion about it. A few short months later we shipped.

Best manager I ever had.

> She told us she didn't care about any of us. Revoked everybody's little privileges, would literally come see if everybody was on their keyboard and typing all the time. Didn't force overtime on anyone but was adamant against people arriving late or leaving early or missing meetings. Started openly taking notes of everybody's failures so she would have ample documentation of who failed what.

That sounds pretty horrendous to me, I would wish her all the best and leave.

This is the wartime/peacetime leader conundrum. The tactics she used worked well because the situation was dire. They probably wouldn't have worked well in a company with a good culture.

Winston Churchill is the most famous example of this. He was a great leader during wartime but terrible during peacetime.

Depends on who you ask. Winston Churchill was a racist bigot who starved 4 million people in India to feed his armies.


It's not that Churchill was a different person in wartime than in peacetime, it's just that most people's morals change from wartime to peacetime. So the same atrocity could be viewed as an atrocity or heroic and brave depending on what the public at large feels like their situation was like at the time. That's the point being raised about the manager: every statement the parent made was basically an accusation, but because the team was desperate the success in the end overwrote the other things in everybody's mind.

If the team had failed in the end, all of the qualities that are presently being lauded would be held at fault. True morals may not be relative and situational, but the average person's mental implementation of morals sure can be.

This book A First-Rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi [0] is about that. He looks at various historical leaders and how one half of them make good wartime leaders, but bad peacetime leaders, and the other half -- the opposite. Some of his case studies are, as far as I can remember (couldn't find a summary online): generals in US civil war (Lee and the scortched-earth-guy), Chamberlaine, Churchill, Hitler, JFK, Lincoln, Napoleon, Nixon, Bush. US centric, but still pertaining to anyone.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/First-Rate-Madness-Uncovering-Between...

> the scortched-earth-guy

William Tecumseh Sherman, of "Sherman's march to the sea"

During his first war, he was absolutely terrible in wartime as well.

Churchill was a complex man, but it was his party that got defeated in the 1945 election not Churchill. (Churchill it should be said, was a Liberal, not a Conservative before the war, and joined the party to prevent conflict in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak - he would later describe it (in his diaries) as a mistake.)

We don´t know if he would have been a good or bad leader during peacetime (by the time the conservatives got back into office he was no longer in his prime shall we say), but what he would most certainly have been is a leader with a lot of experience in dealing with Stalin, and a British Imperialist. Which would have been entertaining at least.

For pretty much all teams I'd agree. But if it comes to the point as described, you pretty much have to revert to treat everybody at children and gradually build it up from there. Privileges is something you work to get.

Not within the existing culture. It seems necessary.

Most of that is "blank slate, let's start again" with expectations made clear. Obviously that was lacking in this place.

When you've got people successfully blaming others for their own failures, this manager, with experience on the front lines, did the most effective thing to remedy that. I'm sure nobody got fired for someone else's failings after that.

Exactly. The deal wasn't static: people got their freedom back when they showed they were worthy of it.

The aftermath was that a few people left the company for better jobs after we shipped (unavoidable, some had set their minds even before she joined and actually stayed longer because of her). For the rest, it was promotions. The engineers on a PIP exited the PIP by being promoted(!), were allowed to move to their favorite projects. Even the scheming engineers who turned us into a toxic team got promoted for the work they did under her management (though personally I think they should have been shown the door for their attitude). Manager moved to a more prestigious peacetime team, where I am sure she runs things differently.

Why? It sounds like she was giving direction to her directs and holding them to account. Every manager who gets stuff done does the same thing in their own style.

There arguably are less blunt ways to do it - but for that team, it seems like it was the right approach. Also, OP is presumably overstating the need to be typing all the time since that's not how programming works.

People who are high performers in a group of slackers like these kinds of managers.

She was dealing with bad children so they had to be treated like children.

In context of a toxic enviroment this may be more like a reset. See who has substance and who doesn't. If you do this in a clear and fair way it doesn't seem unreasonable for a non-performing enviroment. The benifits and flexibility can return when earned and the bad eggs are discovered and removed.

To me it seems a lot of people in these teams were more interested in climbing the corporate ladder than working in nice teams. Those kinds of people might perhaps be hesitant to leave the company.


This kind of thing generally works where there is underlying sense of duty, or impetus to win.

The WW2 film 'Twelve O'Clock High' where an Air Force General comes in an sorts out a demoralized and broken unit is used as training in various militaries to depict this kind of leadership on a higher level.

But 'reprimands' etc. tend only to work when there's a higher calling. Like winning a war.

For salaried teams - even if the team is being a little dysfunctional ... just might lead to mutiny, exodus.

From what you described I'm very surprised that the team didn't fall apart, or that the product was shipped.

A few things:

1) If the team was that utterly toxic, and people were openly backstabbing others ... this is not going to be fixed really. Those people are toxic they need to go.

2) Changing culture 'in place' is really hard with regular people. You can't just come in and play hardball with carrots and sticks. An alternative would be basically re-org the whole thing. Even having a different physical presence, maybe different team structure ... even if it's kind of a facade - a new work dynamic might set up people towards thinking of a 'clean start'. So instead of 'penalizing' people for coming in late etc. you have a new team dynamic in a new operating environment where 'everyone agrees' to more specific hours for the betterment of the team. A good idea would be to 'listen' to some of the problems, even if there's no action on it, just the act of listening will help.

I think you're lucky ... your 'no nonsense' manager is very lucky and this approach I think can only really work when there is a specific kind of dysfunction. I think if you have younger developers, all of whom lack self discipline but are otherwise good team members, maybe who need just a little bit of a kick in the pants. But I'm glad you had a good experience.

Really interesting story. Was she a "good" manager, or just the "right" manager for that dysfunctional team?

This is a really great question. The child argues that a good manager adapts to whatever situation is needed. It would be interesting to know if this manager took this "win" and managed all future teams this way as well, even ones that are highly functional or working on more experimental code/projects.

The best manager is the one whose only focus is for each of the team members and the team collectively to be successful. In some companies or teams that may be removing distractions or introducing accountability or getting rid of a bad apple or .... The problem is that we as humans generalize and the first success a new manager has is seen as the best way forever no matter what because it works. That way lays madness.

Part of being a good manager is to adapt to the situation and do what's sensible. This was an example of a good manager. Conscientiousness is always a great trait.

But we got just one sample case. We don't know how she would act in the opposite situation. It could be she is a great manager but it could also be that she was promoted because the situation asked for a tyrant and she was indeed one. When someone gets promoted in the middle of a fire the person to look after to understand the decision is the person that did the promotion. Sometimes the promoted person is promoted to do the dirty work and the person above he/she it's just exploiting their personality traits.

It sounds like she gave the dev team a 'day 1 boot camp' treatment -- if it works for the military, then why not a bunch of petulant developers...

Hopefully she transitioned to a more compassionate and positive management style after whipping the team into shape, instilling discipline and earning their respect as an effective leader.

What little management experience I have (3 years as team lead for 2 different teams) tells me most people are masochists deep down inside and crave a dictator to order them what to do.

> and crave a dictator to order them what to do.

When a manager tells someone what to do, that person is personally assuming the responsibility of deciding how the work must be done and, of course, being accountable for failing to deliver.

Prefering to have the manager be held accountable for managerial decisions is not masochism. In fact the opposite, having to decide what and how work should be done and having to answer for your decisions, suits that definition a whole lot better.

They want two things: someone to take all risk in determining what to do, and to force everyone else to do what they're supposed to do.

The best plot twist I read all day. I had to reread after getting to the last 2 sentences.

It’s true - some people only respond to that type of authority.

Learned that the hard way. :( Unfortunately can't be said enough. Managers have to learn how to deal with bad apples. Tried too hard and long giving benefit of the doubt that the apples were actually good inside in some situations.

It's not just bad apples. Sometimes people just aren't a good fit for a role. It turns out they don't have the right skills mix, need too much direction, etc. I've definitely seen perfectly nice folks who come in but it turns out they can't really do the job and no amount of coaching seems to help. It's better for everyone not to string things out too much.

Being honest, I've had one job I wasn't a good fit for myself. But the dot-com bubble burst took care of that one relatively quickly.

> Best manager I ever had.

Very sorry to hear that.

> A few short months later we shipped.

Yes, but what happened to the product?

And the team?

Here is my story that I need to pass on to the next generation. I was a kid a few years out of college- just joined a top tier investment bank. I was one of many IT guys. After I joined I found out I was in charge of cutting over each month's sales data to accounting. This sales data determined each month's commission traders send over to salespeople- so that feed was a few hundred salespeople's livelihood.

Well, the CFO that month had asked for some changes to the sales feed. And it was my first month on the job. I think I must've tried to put in the change requested- but came month end- I screwed up. At 5pm that day I raised my hand- literally for help. I had screwed up bad. That month's sales feed was un-usable. It had literally been rejected by the mainframe downstream.

My manager came over- and instead of placing blame- took over the situation. She made the calls to the downstream people- and asked that they take the same feed format from the previous month. Then I restored the previous month's program and resent the feed for that month again. She covered my ass to the CFO- and saved my hide.

She earned my respect that day- and my everlasting gratitude. From linked-in, I see today she is the CIO of one of the federal reserve banks in the US.

It's good practice. The important part isn't who screwed up, it's how do you fix what got screwed up and prevent it in the future. When you play the blame and punishment game it just makes people more reluctant to admit they screwed up and you start finding out about problems, or finding their cause, only after even more damage has been done. Your employees should only have to worry about their ass if they keep making the same mistakes over and over.

Not my direct manager but the tech lead.

This was a new team with an early standup which never happened on time because we would always roll in late. The scrum master had the 'great idea' to start a dollar jar. Whoever was late to standup had to put a dollar into the jar. None of us objected because other than the scrum master, tech lead, and manager we were all new to the company and didn't want to rock the boat.

This turned out to a huge problem for one of the engineers. She had to drop her kids off at a daycare that didn't open early enough, so she was late ever day. We mostly fell into line but she didn't have a choice. It wasn't the money, but the public shaming of having to go up and put the dollar in the jar. After a few weeks she was really stressing out about it because she was new no the job and wanted to make a good impression.

Well the tech lead saw this and sauntered into the office at 11 the next day. He flourished a twenty dollar bill and then announced so that the whole office could hear that he was pre-paying for the next month. He could do this because he was one of the most talented and senior engineers in the whole company. And unlike many talented people who toil in obscurity, upper management knew he was talented. The project wouldn't happen without him, or at least thats how management saw it. He was untouchable.

The dollar jar disappeared the next day. The woman who was afraid of losing her new job over a stupid tip jar would up staying and becoming one of the better and most reliable engineers at that company. Even if it took them a few more years to realize it.

Seems like an armwrestle workaround the issue. Good it got solved but it's poor managing if a star engineer needs to extort his authority to handle managerial problem... I wonder how much of it was display and how much a necessity.

First thing to note is that it took me a decade or more to understand what makes (for me) a "good manager". Here's my current list:

1. Removed obstacles for me doing a good job - that could be handling politics, ensuring requirements are readily available, logistics of equipment, working space, whatever it may be. Turns out, a good manager handles a trillion seemingly trivial things that add up to being crucial to smooth team operation, but may never be visible to actual team members; kind of like nobody pays attention to Infra until it breaks :S

2. Made themselves available: I now understand the value, and difficulty, in answering "Yes" to every "Hey, got 2 minutes?".

3. Mentorship: it may be advice particular to current skillset, but typically it's more thoughts and frameworks on things I'm not familiar with or above my paygrade: how to work with clients or management, how to approach one's career, etc.

Somewhere between Time & Mentorship, a personal example: in 2011, we had a major document deliverable; every evening, for weeks running, my lead would spend an hour or more going over the documents I produced, making horribly annoying corrections over and over and over again. It took me a long time to realize a) the kind of time commitment this presented on their part - it would be so much easier for them to fix the document themselves than to patiently guide me, but would not have advanced me; and b) how much it made me pay attention to detail, readability, assumptions and scope ever since.

This is a good list and I'd only distill it with the following: The best manager is the one whose only focus is for each of the team members and the team collectively to be successful.

In some companies or teams that may be removing distractions or introducing accountability or getting rid of a bad apple or providing vision, etc. If the team is not successful (over time), it is your fault. The sad part is that most managers are more worried over self preservation and being "important" than worrying about success. Ironically, being focused on team success would make them even more indispensable.

The best boss I had was the first one. I deliver newspapers early on Sunday mornings. When I arrived at the office in the morning he had always arrived a hour before everyone else and done all preparation (packing and changing subscribers in our books) so only thing left was to drink a coffee and start running with the papers.

When it was cold he often drove around and met us on the route and gave us another cup of coffee and cigarettes. If there was a complaint from a customer he took it serious and often went himself to investigate what could have caused the issue or went together with us. We were the best team in town by far, proud and had few complaints. He had faith in his team, always nice and always thought we did our best, values he showed us by his own actions.

Sadly he got promoted and after a while we were the worst team in town as the new boss had a complete different style and threatened people in the team when we got complaints.

Honestly, my favorite managers were horrible. I got along with them on a very friendly basis, but in hindsight, I had poor job satisfaction.

The best managers aren't my friend. The three qualifications are, in order: 1: They shield me from the whims of upper management and the crisis of the day. 2: They give me autonomy to do my job as I understand the details better than they do. 3: (In their current role) They take pride in people management instead of technical achievement. 4: They are technically competent, and their past technical experience can be relied on from time to time.

Regarding "They take pride in people management instead of technical achievement". That's specific to their current role at their current time as a manager. (IE, a good manager shouldn't take pride in driving refactoring or implementing something like stylecop. Refactoring and things like stylecop need to be driven by the team members, and the manager just needs to guide such tasks as they fit into the schedule.)

Are the qualities you value in managers related to your experience of poor job satisfaction? Are you happier with managers that in hindsight aren't as good?

He tore down barriers and made sure interactions with other parts of the organization or external parties were as frictionless as possible. He would take any non-technical chores off our plate where possible. He would give clear and frequent feedback, good and bad, and really cared about where I wanted to go with my career and what kind of projects I wanted to work on. He trusted me when I said I would do something and would just make sure everything was out of my way until I asked for help or deadlines were being missed.

He was a shield for those of us who worked for him.

Good managers always connect people, by breaking through silo walls and barriers

I've had several good managers in my time, and two horrible ones. But the best I ever had, I like because he did the following:

- managed down, not up. Constantly looked out for us and got us what we needed, even though it was an uphill battle with corporate and the client. He complained about this frequently, but never made it seem like we owed him anything.

- handled a lot of the shit work, administrative, spreadsheet updating kind of stuff himself

- always hustled, but never held it against us if we didn't seem to hustle as hard as he did (in fact, he worked way harder than I did and I felt a little guilty)

- perhaps most importantly, put up with me. I was much less mature and had a lot of sharp edges at the time. He constantly coached me and also tried to cover for me. I am hoping he saw something in me at the time and that he'd be proud of me if he saw what I was doing now (though I'm sure he'd still have some coaching advice as well)

He is by far the best boss I've ever had and I will never forget him. Thanks, Jeff.

I work for someone who I can trust when he says something, he does what he can to get it done. He tells me the goal we need to archive, and asks me how we can do it. Then he does everything he can to make sure I have all my stuff ready to do it. If there is a problem he helps me fix it. If something goes wrong he blames himself. If the project goes right and the customer is happy he tells everyone it's my accomplishment.

We are a team and we trust each other. I feel he knows I am good at what I do and he let's me do it, and I feel he is good at what he does and together we can accomplish great things.

We are friends, and we like each other. We disagree sometimes, but we work it out by making compromises.


> What if your boss is a woman?

Then I would write "she" instead of "he". But Fabio is a man.

Your first sentence is missing a period which made it look like you were describing an imaginary boss. “I work for someone I can trust when...”

Then you would use the pronouns “she/herself”. Obviously their boss is a man.

Jensen Huang, Nvidia’s CEO.

I’ve worked for many companies and no CEO comes close.

Over the past 2 decades, there have been ups and downs, but his belief in his company, his employees, and his product was always there.

Every three months after quarterly results, he stands up for 2 hours+ to explain his vision, long term goals, short term goals, where to improve, celebrate successes.

His vision that GPU computing would lead to something big at some point, investing in in starting in 2004 and never giving up.

The internal culture of the company to not waste time, to be intellectually honest about your work and that of others.

The efficiency of making decisions. Multiple times, I’ve seen him cancel chips that were weeks from taping out: the market had shifted, let’s reasses and do something better.

E.g. one mobile chip was cancelled on January 10, 2007. The day after the iPhone was introduced.

At other companies, we’d waste months knowing that our project was essential dead before the hammer finally came down.

His technological knowledge, which is still top notch.

The way he deals with low level engineers. I suspect that he learns their names before entering a meeting to put them at ease. (The higher up, the more demanding he becomes, or so I’ve heard.)

The benefits that were introduced over the years. Very long maternity and paternity leaves. Better than minimum wages for custodial and kitchen employees. I love how the internal employee survey results are really used to make things better.

A culture of not assigning blame. This is a huge one. He has said multiple times on the (internal) stage that he doesn’t want accountability. Accountability results in conservative decisions. Risks must be taken to survive in this industry.

I could go on forever.

He’s not a perfect human by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s a fantastic CEO.

OT: Any idea why he doesn't seem to like the idea of an Open Source Nvidia driver for Linux?

Does he see it as a risk, distraction or something?

There could be a liability angle, regarding patents.

> he doesn’t want accountability. Accountability results in conservative decisions.

Not just conservative decision-making, but politicisation: it may cause employees to base their decisions on perceptions ('optics', if you prefer) rather than real merit.

3 things he said:

1. "I only worry about 2 things: getting our work done and keeping our people."

2. "Every senior dev I hire must have done one of two things: either ran their own business or was a one-person shop. That's how I know that they know how to do whatever it takes to get software built and deployed."

3. "Our customers can buy this stuff anywhere. They buy it from us because of the value we add. That value includes the ones and zeros that we developers add to every product. The sooner everyone understands that, the sooner they will see I.T. as an indispensable component of our product and not an overhead department."

2. "Every senior dev I hire must have done one of two things: either ran their own business or was a one-person shop. That's how I know that they know how to do whatever it takes to get software built and deployed."

Were you getting a lot of new senior hires? That sounds hard to achieve. I agree those people would probably be great, but also really really hard to find.

Side note: I hate the phrase "do whatever it takes". No, I am not willing to lose an arm to keep factory production running (as an extreme example). I am not willing to lose my time outside what I am paid for, or my sanity. Sure, I'll try my best within the hours I am paid for, but if it takes more, then temper your expectations.

My favourite attitudes in my managers (plural) over the years:

-Intellectually curious / stimulating - This gave the team the time and awareness that science mattered in our jobs, pursue intellectual journeys that actually made our work better and more rewarding. I got to learn R in the aughts, work with academia and create products the company didn't have a real use for at the time, but are their bread and butter nowadays.

-Being totally lean (in the Toyota sense) - There's so much support you can get from a manager that is aware of the hidden cost to rework and not first-time right. He would actually go out on a limb talking to other departments and managers who would make our work less productive. This guy actually bought and brought a pie to another team after they failed us multiple times to try and help them to remember there were others dependant on their work.

-Being appreciative of outsiders trying to suggest changes to the status-quo. This is a big one. You could call this humility. Teams, roles and the surroundings change constantly. Better to change from the inside out, than only when faced with external threats. But it's a hard one since the status-quo and office politics on a day to day basis seem so important.

Whether or not these skills help the manager up the corporate chain depends. For the first one to succeed you need a surrounding that's appreciative for research and new things to come out of the team. The second is a awesome middle manager skill that will be mostly in demand in change roles, but not so much in regular management roles. I am sad about this, but most environments the one who rocks the boat is the one the outside. The third is a more common subset of the second and a true leadership skill, but again managing change in a stagnant environment is hard. People expect your team to do the same thing every day.

What trumps all these great traits is: communication. Each manager should have the skill to communicating what he is doing with his team to his higher ups and surroundings. Only then can what he brings to the team flourish in the corporate environment.

I don't have a single "most favorite" but I worked for someone a couple weeks ago who began by saying "I just want you to get the job done right and I don't care how long it takes you".

I knew right away I was going to love it there. That's the way to my heart.

I would think that’s the worse kind of manager. One of a manager’s job is to manage resources. There are always trade offs between doing things “right” and delivering. If you look at the old Joel quadrant of smart / gets things done (delivers value to the business), someone who “doesn’t care how long it takes” runs the risk of gold plating features instead of delivering. A deadline is a great focusing mechanism.

And no I’m not a manager.

There's a discussion of this in Peopleware. If memory serves me well (I read it over 15 years ago), their data suggested that:

1. If you - the manager - set the deadline yourself, the estimate will often be off (unless you're very experienced and could do it yourself; see 3).

2. If you let your engineer set their own deadline, the estimate will often be off (unless they're very experienced; see 3).

3. If you have a very experienced specialist set the deadline, the estimate will often be about right.

4. If you give no deadlines at all ("wake me up when you're done"), directs will pour their soul into it more often than not, and beat the estimate you'd get from 3.

The main argument against 1 and 2 is that having too tight a deadline is very demotivating. What's the point in working against a benchmark you can't possibly meet? (Having too loose a deadline runs into Parkinson's law, but the problem is usually that the estimate is too optimistic.)

Having tried 4 with various teams over the years, I'd suggest it can work wonderfully - but only sometimes. It requires that your team consists a) entirely of professionally minded engineers who b) can see first hand that what they're doing is useful. You're better off sticking with 3 when not.

I agree - I've worked for a company where there was zero pressure to deliver and an emphasis on quality. This led to endless discussions about minutiae code details and long debates about best practises. We ended up rewriting some parts of the code base because someone suggested it wasn't exemplary even though it was definitely fine.

The thing is, good code rarely looks stellar. It looks like code which you understand without much trouble, and usually there's more than one way to make it that way. If you get caught up into the trap of thinking you have deliver something amazing but don't understand what amazing really looks like, you're in for a lot of wasted resources.

After the aforementioned company I worked for a startup, and man was it a joy to actually ship code that affected lives. Sure, the code wasn't always the most polished, but being trusted to find the right balance between technical debt for speed of execution felt great.

Sometimes saying 'things should be done right no matter how long it takes' just means the management is unable to balance technical debt with other objectives.

Two common themes I'm seeing in all these comments, which are especially clear in this one:

1. Everybody who disagrees with my manager's statement are working in software (I was not).

2. In software, nobody can seem to agree on what exactly "quality" means.

Software is still such a young field that nobody can seem to agree on anything at all. It reminds me of other fields 100 years ago, where you could just try anything and if it seemed to work that was fine.

> Sometimes saying 'things should be done right no matter how long it takes' just means the management is unable to balance technical debt with other objectives.

In this case, I would say they'd done such a good job with managing technical debt that they knew they could say "as long as it takes" on a micro-level, and be confident that nothing would blow up on a macro-level.

This was a physical system that has annual (or semi-annual) inspections by a third party. Can you say the same about your software system?

1. Everybody who disagrees with my manager's statement are working in software (I was not)

I’m often bemoaning the “Silicon Valley Bubble” that people are caught in on HN. I guess I fell into the related “Software Developers Bubble”.....

Point taken.

One big demotivating factor is forcing people to deliver mediocre stuff. That's the way to loose the best. Many folks are motivated by delivering high quality, higher even then the market wants/desires. No need to push or force them - just letting them build the best does a lot of good. There is a book called Peopleware, that discusses that aspect.

It’s even more demotivating to not have a job to come to because you aren’t delivering value to your paying customers or you didn’t have a product that convinced your investors to keep pumping money into your business.

There has to be a balance. The company can’t exist without both customers (either internal or external) and employees.

Speaking purely for myself here, but no, that's not as demotivating. Having to deliver crapware is demotivating, because you know that either the customer or yourself will get burnt by entirely preventable problems. Having to chase a new job is stressful, but not as demotivating since you know (or, have faith that) the stress is temporary.

I don't believe this, but I am curious what your thoughts are (or others) on the questioning of the premise that this job (or any job) needs "the best".

I know that once I motivated two full-stack developers to work a lot more than they were being paid for by saying 'just because the New York Times frontend developers can't do it, doesn't mean we can't do it'.

I still feel a bit ashamed when I think about how much time they invested (~160%), but I wasn't forcing them in any way. They knew the total budget from the beginning, and with that in mind, we were setting the scope together. It was their will to deliver the best possible quality which made them work the extra hours.

In the end, everybody was happy as the project was pretty successful.

If you demand something from someone, often they'll give it grudgingly, and only as much as they're obligated to give. If you let that same person decide how much to give, especially when they also enjoy their work, often they'll gladly give you much more.

It’s called “Work To Rule”.


Did they get a bonus or just a pat on the back?

Probably just a pat on the back :-/ but I don't know since they were employed at a different company.

Nevertheless, my feedback towards their team lead was very positive, and that might have helped them too since they both collected a bunch of negative feedback while working with some of my colleagues.

This was a single repeated task with a high cost of failure. There was zero possibility of "gold plating". I was working at a speed I thought I could maintain without killing someone. Telling me to think about a deadline would have simply added stress. I was plenty focused already.

We finished the week's work more than a day faster than planned.

It depends on the task at hand. The traditional project management knows three resources: Time, Quality and Budget.

So if the job requires a very high level of Quality you might start by telling people you want them to do it right and time doesn't matter (it's not precisely correct but pretty clear). If nothing gets ever done at all, you might need to talk again ;-)

The Tao Of Programming, Book 5, Maintenance (Geoffrey James, 1987):

A manager asked a programmer how long it would take him to finish the program on which he was working. “It will be finished tomorrow,” the programmer promptly replied.

“I think you are being unrealistic,” said the manager, “Truthfully, how long will it take?”

The programmer thought for a moment. “I have some features that I wish to add. This will take at least two weeks,” he finally said.

“Even that is too much to expect,” insisted the manager, “I will be satisfied if you simply tell me when the program is complete.”

The programmer agreed to this.

Several years later, the manager retired. On the way to his retirement luncheon, he discovered the programmer asleep at his terminal. He had been programming all night.

I think you are in a very lucky situation, and that's probably not the manager's impetus, maybe it's something else.

There are very, very few managers who are realistically in a position to be able to say something like that.

There's a good chance you might be working for a nice guy / purist / engineer's manager ... but who might actually not be a very good manager at all.

If 'getting it right no matter the cost' were a good company building philosophy, we'd all be doing it!

'Getting it good enough for the market to accept given a limited budget and timeframe' is basically how 99% of the world must operate. It's just reality. That's why being a manager or starting/owning/running a business is hard. Usually really hard.

There has to be a middle ground somewhere, pursuing technical perfection for eternity will not make you money.

It only seems to work when the person doing the work has good judgement about what things need to be right and the manager trusts them. If there are communication and trust issues, then there will be the constant back and forth between "what makes us money" and "what needs to be fixed."

IMO, good judgement about the things that need to be right enhances the ability to make money. Too often I see manager-type people disregard the technical grievances of a team as ambiguous/unimportant things, while at the same time wondering why nobody can deliver and get things done. There is very often a direct connection!

I think most of us want our code to see the light of day. If given an actual problem to solve, we aren't going to toil away at tiny details forever. We want to see it run!

A good manager knows this and will give you room to find that balance yourself, unless you have demonstrated you need help with that.

I read an interesting twist on perfectionism: try to the "perfect compromise". Quality has multiple dimensions and you can't optimize all of them perfectly. Instead, choose which dimension is actually most important for the current problem and prioritize it.

A few years ago I invented[1] the term 'acceptimal', meaning 'acceptably optimal'. It's not the absolute best solution, but it's a pragmatic compromise between time, cost, performance, and simplicity which performs acceptably close to optimally.

[1] Or at least I've never heard anyone else use it who didn't get it from me.

That sounds like my dream job, but I'd be afraid of the company folding eventually.

He took blame for every bad thing that our team did. He gave credit to the individual team members for every good thing he did.

He understood that the success of his team was his success, and didn't need the praise.

A technician in a factory where the management were all engineers. He rose through the ranks to run my group when nobody else could handle it. Never indecisive. Knew exactly what he wanted from us and trusted us to figure out how to make it happen. Sat through what I later discovered were absolutely hellish weekly managers' meetings where the directors would take turns raking the managers over the coals, individually and collectively. Didn't complain about it or take it out on his subordinates. When it was absolutely necessary to make us fall in line with B.S. from above, he was matter-of-fact about it. We were expected to abide by the policy, he was going to enforce it, but he wasn't going to expect us to like it.

When, in the end, office politics lead to him taking the fall for a large manufacturing incident, he accepted a lateral demotion gracefully. I worked for people with much more formal education both before and after, but he was both smarter and a better leader than any of them.

He actually cared about making money. (I'm amazed at how many bosses care about everything except making money, even at hedge funds.) He gave me total autonomy to build whatever I wanted as long as I made money.

I had a sales job like this for a while at a small VAR. We were an HP, Netapp, cisco, etc Gold partner, but my boss didnt care if I sold any of that, only that I generated enough profit to cover my base salary through literally any means.

Ended up writing my own software to interact with the Amazon Marketplace sellers API and all our distributors nightly inventory data and just drop ship stuff in mass, and send a couple product I had the best pricing on to Amazon for FBA.

I got it down to maybe an hour of real work a week and was crushing my numbers. After a year or so of that I got bored and jumped shipped though because I didnt see any additional personal growth to be had at the company.

What did you do with the rest of your time?

A lot of refactoring my code for the sake of refactoring, adding in more error handling and edge case protection, trying to make it only 30 minutes of work instead of an hour the next week, and a fair bit of HN and reddit and youtube.

The skills I taught myself in doing that largely lead to the position I've got now.

My manager gave me that autonomy too, but he cares less about making money - which is surprisingly common.

That sounds amazing. Did you have an equity stake in the projects, or was it just for an hourly rate/salary?

I loved a manager I had who would listen to all arguments and allow himself to be persuaded. He also said sometimes "you're right, but we have to do it my way this time", and had earned so much trust that, when he said it, I knew the reasons were good.

He actually cared about me. Asked me how I was feeling, how life is besides work. Then from time to time he'd take us for lunch or dinner (we were a total of 6 people in his team). Felt great, everybody was really productive and happy to go to work.

I remember going to an Erlang conference where Basho was a sponsor. One of the engineering managers held a presentation on something new in Riak and had a small error in it. One of the other basho guys in the audience corrects him and his reaction to that was the following:

"That's Ryan Zezeski, he's awesome and if he says that, you should listen to him". My immediate reaction was: "wow, I want to work for this guy" (funny sidenote: because this was in DC, I thought everyone wore suits, so I showed up with a jacket. I felt like an MBA and never so out of place as an engineer in my entire life).

I have another one where I was working in a startup that was doing telco stuff. This is about 10 years ago, so I was a bit younger. I'm sitting there next to the founder, listening to my music with my huge Sennheiser headphone and the founder taps me on the shoulder. He says: "Reza, we need to talk". I look at him and say: "What do you want, you don't have a clue about this stuff anyway." He just says: "That's right, I don't, that's why I hired you". So I just shut up and listen. It's also not entirely true, he follows a lot tech, he just lacks the knowledge when it comes to the implementation.

Over the years the handful of really good leaders I saw all had the same quality. They all knew when to get out of the way and making a decision when it counts. It's what I strive to do these days. Seems to me that the best way to build trust is to let a person that's a specialist in his field take the spotlight when needed.

> I look at him and say: "What do you want, you don't have a clue about this stuff anyway."

I know you specified this was 10 years ago, but I can't think of a single situation where this would not be a douchebag move.

It's great making assumptions when you know nothing about the dynamics between two people, their social interactions, their history and basically anything else isn't it?

I mean, you could have just asked. But insulting random people you know nothing about is much less of a douchebag way to deal with it I guess.

I read it much the same way, as a rather insulting thing to say, especially since you didn't go into what was said afterwards and you didn't preface the kind of relationship you had. It's not on the reader to understand what you meant, it's on the writer to write what they mean in a way that the reader understands the intent.

Your answer is needlessly rude yet again.

The former lead developer at the place I work now was my favorite manager. He was great and a valuable resource for learning from. Since his departure the environment hasn't been the same. He definitely was always able to ensure that when reviews were done that he was critical but also genuinely cared about the other developers.

What qualities make a good CEO/Manager/Supervisor?

1) Passions/genuine caring. If the person in charge doesn't love what they do, or genuinely care about you and the company then you're going to have a bad time.

2) Competency/Consistency - Being able to do you job, and do it well. A person in such a role is the Guidance (tm). Anyone can do a good job if they put in the time, they also must be consistently good (That's what makes them valuable).

3) Critical when it counts. You have to crack the whip every so often and tell people when something can be done better. Criticism is important to deal out when it is needed, but the right amount that is used for making sure that the other developer/designer/delegatee is growing in their skills/experiences.

That's my three C's for what makes a great overlord. My previous supervisor ticked all boxes.

Unambiguous. Approachable. Genuine desire to help. Clear objectives. Holds you accountable and offers stern feedback. Notices when you grow. Places you with people and problems that challenge you personally and technically. Completely capable of understanding complex tech. Insulates you from noise. Interrupts you when shit hits the fan. Demands answers, but gives you appropriate time to get answers. Makes risky, even costly decisions when time is of the essence and tradeoffs aren't clear.

Never blames you for something that isn't your fault.

Edit: by "placing you with people that... challenge you personally", I mean recognizing that your interpersonal skills need to grow. I'm rough around the edges and very direct, and I'm placed with an overly sensitive team member and expected to have a highly functional team, for example. What I definitely don't mean is "come rock climbing bro".

> What I definitely don't mean is "come rock climbing bro".

Ironically, one of my best managers was someone who invited people to go climbing with them. We had some very experienced climbers and some extremely novice ones and yet they were some of the most positive and friendly evenings of my life.

A mix of self effacing attitude ("well of course I found it easy, I've been doing this 20 years more than you and I'm also nearly a foot taller!") tied in with making sure people were only competitive against themselves ("well you've done that in half the time it took last week...") and honest useful advice made it a great experience.

I think there's also something to be said for working with someone who you literally trust your life to once a week... Never used the word "bro" though - that might be where we were going wrong ;)

It's weird how easy it is to be shitty manager. If someone is otherwise excellent, but blames you for stuff you didn't do? Instantly shitty manager there.

Whenever I stepped out of his office, I'd always have fewer problems than I had when I stepped into it. That's a managerial attribute that shouldn't be taken for granted.

I always liked managers with strong technical skills.

I had one manager, when one of his engineers fumbled up a project for month, singlehandedly rewrote the code and had it running in 2 days. A file that had 1000 lines of code was reduced to 20 lines that was clear and worked correctly on first attempt.

Another was the VP of engineering who had years of technical experience plus was gifted in working with customers. When a major customer was yelling at us due to some performance issues with our code, he went over to meet then and soothed things over. They agreed to give use a few months to rework the code and they were willing to pay a NRE for this. And they were happy in the end also.

In a company with a dress code of t-shirts and jeans, he wore a fine tailored 3-piece suit. We were doing interactive art history documentaries, and he was a Belgian music history phd brought in as our producer. He was a classic old world European in a 30 something body, with a careful, articulate vocal style that sounded like an actor reading a book on tape. He always explained why things were they way they were, both in the content of our documentaries and in the production process when dealing with outside agencies, licensing, other departments and so on. He's "deal" was total transparency of operations, to the degree everyone understood how everyone else's roles and duties support and enable other team members. We all became a supportive family. That guy was so good, he went on to be the CEO of Philips NV.

I’ve never had a great manager. I look for a manager to serve a few purposes - remove obstacles, communicate the priorities of the company, get the resources a team needs, and provide a level of technical/career leadership depending on where you are in your career.

But, let me focus on the two most of important purely selfish things for me. I want a manager who provides an environment for me to grow technically and fights for me to make more money. Everything else is secondary.

I’ve had good technical managers that I learned a lot from but had no political abilities to get thier team raises so I had to take the skills I learned and get another job and I’ve had overly political managers that would throw you under the bus to get ahead but if you made them look good, you could enjoy the ride until they stabbed you in the back.

They were my personal combination janitor/talent agent.

They cleaned up the technical and political messes that me and my colleagues would often made and they helped to sell the virtues of our team and our work around the company.

Letting me get on with my job, no micro-managing; trust really.

Knowing they had my back if the shit hit the fan.

I've only experienced this once unfortunately.

I read about 3 metrics that make a good manager 10 years ago in HBR or some similar publication. Since then I have run the list against my good managers, and the bad ones, and it always holds up.

A good manager must:

1) be Competent

She doesn't have to be the best coder, or even able to code, but she needs to be competent in her area of expertise. Nobody can stand working for an incompetent for too long

2) be Consistent

If he is not there next week the team should reasonably be able to continue and predict his decisions. Nothing is worse than having someone constantly flip flop on their decisions, or worse just blowing in the wind to please his superiors.

3) Care about you - genuinely.

You have to believe they care about you, genuinely. This person has your best interest, and your career advancement in mind.

No names to protect privacy. Used to work for a multi-billion dollar datacenter company. Met my gf there who's daughter was diagnosed with lukemia at age 3. CEO heard through her, then boss, and gave my gf 6 months paid leave to spend time with her daughter and paid for 1 year of chemo out of his pocket. Her daughter beat cancer.

My greatest manager hired me for my potential, was always honest and open about everything, he was a great listener and great guy when giving feedback (0 ego). He was lacking empathy, obsessive at times but being open and seeing the goodwill in his every behavior was compensating all of his bad sides. One time he told me "I am not that smart, but at a young age, I have found a way to trick people that I am really smart" (he was Harvard grad with full scholar and worked with best names)

After many years I am still using things I have learned from him and those are saved my ass countless times.

My favorite manager taught me how to navigate the workplace. He managed 20 very different people and always found time for one of us if wee needed it. He would fight other people to say that we (graduates) were valuable to the company and would always feed back to us the responses he was getting.

One thing I am really grateful for is that he expected me to be able to find and point out the policies and procedures for anything I needed him to do. This meant that I could keep him honest, and he could learn from me instead of having to search himself whenever I came up with an unusual problem (like being a graduate and getting called for an incident while not on call). I still do all my own reading before I go to my manager now with things I need them to do, and it helps me to help them help me (for the most part).

He was also always there for me if I was getting beaten around inside or outside work (even after he stopped being my manager). He is the best manager I have had by far, and I would work with him again in an instant.

I am still amazed how he managed to do so well after being thrown into the job managing a large group of people working across the department, while other managers I've had who have only needed to look after a small team (10 people) seem to never have time for us.

We were good friends. He knew every one of my strengths and what I could accomplish if given the freedom. And he gave me it in spades, enough to see a shared vision into a very successful end product.

He helped evangelize my work and got people excited about it, and had as much a part in the success as anything because of the barriers he removed, the air cover he gave me to allow the time to fix the biggest issues of it, all while helping me triage bugs and provide end-user support.

He was highly technical, and understood my code. He didn’t step on my toes or try to force any technical direction in any way, he knew well enough to delegate, and trusted my decisions. But provided amazing advice when I needed it.

Eventually he had too many people on his team and needed help managing, and I ended up getting promoted to a manager (still under him) mostly out of a favor to help him out.

That was the beginning of the end though, because eventually a reorg moved my new team to a different side of the larger org. And everything kinda went to shit after that and I left the company.

Lesson learned: Don’t become a manager as a favor to someone if you’re not ready for it.

Let's be honest: the ones that helped me get the biggest raises. I work to live; not live to work.

Within a few days of taking the reins, the first company-wide email from the new CEO was a reversal on an issue about paychecks and tax donations. It was to be more flexible. (This has been a mildly contentious issue.)

What a great way to say “I’m running the show,” without stirring things up or causing debate. I was immediately impressed by the degree of awareness this person displayed.

No micro-managing

Clear direction


Let me choose my own hours

Blocks meetings I don't need to be in

He tricked a fishing boat captain into letting himself and a film crew follow them out to the north pacific to document the destruction caused by dragnet fishing boats. He wined and dined the captain and told him that he was a big shot hollywood producer making a film about large sea creatures. Then my boss filmed them killing seabirds and dolphins and whales, presented that evidence to the UN along with statistical data predicting a complete and total crash of the northern pacific salmon population and got them to outlaw the practice of dragnet fishing.

What I learnt from the best managers i have worked under - 1) Don't be a condescending ass 2) Give autonomy to your reportees 3) Listen carefully, give your attention to your team 4) Lead not direct 5) Go beyond office in terms of relationship 6) Give them a clear career path 7) Praise in front, give feedback in private, softly

The rest of my WIP list is here


I have no idea what you mean by 'addressing "Track changes" and "comments" in the reports', care to elaborate?

These are features in MS Office which allows a user to track versions of documents with changes.

Oh right, of course. Cheers :)

He was only my manager for a year, when I started my current job. One of the things that made him so great is that he didn't need convincing about my competence and ability to take on responsibility. He knew I wanted to do (more programming heavy tasks) and knew what needed to be done on the project, and gave me the kinds of tasks that formed my attitude and outlook on how we do things even now that he's gone years later. He didn't doubt my ability to do the job and set me up to take on a lot of responsibility.

Specifically he showed me the importance of autotesting and set me up to take on the responsibility for maintaining and improving our autotesting framework and implementing our team-wide autotest policy. Since he was the TD on the project he was also able to give me the backing with the rest of the team to enforce some pretty strict policies, and that continued for the rest of the project even after he was gone. This became my area of special interest and expertise on the project even though it didn't fall into my original job description and helped me grow into the direction I wanted at the company.

I think because this was so long ago and I only had him as a manager for maybe a year there may be things I'm viewing through rose-tinted glasses, but I still remember him as the best manager I've had.

Best manager I had was basically never there. He was out keeping everyone off our backs.

Hi, I work at Mobile Jazz, a 100% remote "devshop" and I think the single most important thing that I can point out from my managers (both the CTO and CEO) that make them and the company so great is their constant focus in empowering others pushing people to be proactive and self-managed.

We enjoy a level of autonomy that I've hardly ever seen anywhere else. Being a 100% remote company, this is super important as it means you have to trust that your employees are doing the right thing and the most important way to make sure they do is to actually empower them to make decisions and being responsible for them while reassuring them them you have their backs.

Besides this specific thing. There are other things that make them stand out like the fact that they reinvest most of the profit of the company back into it while splitting some of that margin amongst all of us in the form of dividends. They also invest a lot in the happiness of the team, organizing gatherings several times per year both for working together (like a "workation" month in Cape Town) but also for pure fun (like skiing in the Alps).

Hope these insights help and light up the debate!

Not my direct manager, but someone i worked with.

He approached problems from different angles than most. He understood what our business is and didnt get lost in details that didnt matter. Thanks to his decisions, efficiency on things he was involved improved significantly.

More importantly, he managed chaos. And he embraced it. From technical pov, he saw experiments as an opportunity, and set a goal to team to run as many as they can fit into cookie mods. This allowed team to learn what works and what doesnt, and gave them immediate feedback. Almost everyone else sees it only as a way to be conservative (slow roll out that is safe), this guy saw it as an opportunity.

I guess tl;dr; sees the bigger picture and doesnt get lost in details, embraces enthropy and sees it as an opportunity.

Almost never lost their cool. Always seemed to know the direction we needed to go.

They fought for me salary wise, allowed me to grow and learn. Did their best to insulate each of us from outside pressures/scrutiny.

I worked remotely at a small company of 10 people. The founder who preferred to keep the team small was one of the most admirable people I’ve ever met. Besides having a best friend type of attitude he did an amazing job of motivating people to do their best without you ever realizing it. He was kind, caring, thoughtful and super detailed. He had a go getter type of attitude and just got shit done without delay or procrastination which motivated the hell out of me. I never knew a person could be so kick ass until I worked there. It makes sense though - his success and success of the company is entirely his doing. It was clear to me that no matter what industry he worked in, he’d make a business out of it and be successful. I left the company for higher paying position but I always think back to the great times I had at this company and how I was constantly challenged, pushed to be my better self without ever feeling direct pressure. I admire this person greatly to this day.

Can you be more specific

I worked for an unlimited design company for my summer internship. This was my first instance of a job interaction with any company.

What amazed me was the founders spent most of their time teaching designing to all interns/designers in the company. Considering interns are temporary, and yet investing time in teaching interns was what made my experience so great.

My favorite manager was a new store manager at a box store I worked at while finishing my degree. I generally haven't had great tech managers. This store manager was great because he was an outstanding team player who knew the rules of the game and who identified and trusted the strengths of his employees. He didn't micromanage. Sometimes he let you fail.

As a team player, he was out on the floor during the busiest retail times. The best floor associates in retail work well with each other as team players and pass tasks around, but you have to know which other members are competent and reliable. This guy was 100% both and let you know he was another team member and available for anything; if you were running to get a forklift, you could send him to an aisle where you saw a customer looking lost, have him haul goods to checkout, grab him to help load a car.

He trusted his employees and identified and rewarded excellence. I was a customer service queen at my store, and he saw that and told me, then gave me an award for it, and a raise based on it. One time when we had an unusual customer mess-up and a cashier called me to fix it (because she knew I would do everything to make it work), I pulled a team together and got it done, but he gave just me, not my team, an award for it, when I really thought it was team work. Later I realized he was right, that the task had first required a team builder (and, yeah, I got my teammates awards, also). The few times I called him as a manager to resolve a customer issue, he just stepped in and took over, never requiring me to explain my side (which didn't matter, the customer wanted something I couldn't provide, so I got them a manager), because he not only let you do your job, he understood what his was. He paid attention. He knew who was contributing and how much.

Mostly though, if you were good at your job, he knew it, he acknowledged it through opportunities, awards, and raises in addition to telling you, and he let you do it, while he did his job.

Oh, eventually some startup snagged him.

There are specific qualities you spot quickly after years reporting to the good, bad and mediocre. Qualities that stand out to me are: empowerment, defense and support.

Empowerment means a lot of things: not getting in your way (removing roadblocks), making sure you're content (tools and otherwise) and the most important - trust. If you don't feel like your manager trusts you, it will never work. But that road is (or should be obviously) bidirectional.

Defense is when you know your leader is on your team. Not making excuses for you but making sure you're not getting steamrolled. Good managers do this with foresight and take them on the chin when and where appropriate for team failures or misses (Extreme Ownership is a great book outlining this).

Finally support is a culmination of the other two. Knowing you can get help without undue recourse or that your leader will take over a problem distracting you from your main task and complete it with totality and not hold it over your head after the fact. Good leaders are unsung heroes and the two best I've had have also been highly charismatic on top of those other things. I don't hand out the charisma badge easily because I think people self-proclaim being charismatic far too often. But if your leader isn't a people person they can turn people away, shame them inappropriately or even worse.

A friend, who's an engineer asked me for advice the other day as he was considering moving up into a management role beyond his individual contributor slot he had been fulfilling for years. I went through these things and also said that his new role was not to be super-engineer now, but to help them get their jobs done more efficiently and take on battles he has little experience with. I think that surprised him slightly so I offered up another great book: Zapp. It's trivial, short and old. But the context is 100% relevant today and a big miss by many "managers" who think their role is something other than supporting and fostering their team.

edit: mobile removed my formatting, fixed

She helped me with my strengths and weaknesses. She told me my career limiting weakness. She talked about my feelings which is rare in backstabbing C-Level executive country of large enterprises. On top of that she was very bright, very demanding and very analytical.

I would always work with or for her again.

My favorite manager was a commander when I was in the military. He was easily the best leader I've ever worked for, hands down.

The man was sharp as hell - he always seemed a step ahead of everyone around him. He'd sit us down and explain his strategies in relatively good detail so we knew what was going on and why we were doing things in a certain way. He welcomed criticism and was generous with the compliments. He ensured everyone got to leave when the day was done, and wasn't afraid to say "No, that's stupid. I'll take the heat until this is fixed." Zero micromanagement, tons of trust, and he was nice, too.

If managers on average were half as loyal to their workers as he is, the world would be a much better place.

They pushed the envelope; made me build things that I didn't think I was capable to build.

Made "constant pressure": kicked asses to move things forward but it was not "exponential". If failed to reach a milestone in time, it was ok, shit happens, no big scolding etc. but it was made clear that the milestone would have to be reached one day, so better keep walking.

They were very smart in detecting early signs of burnout and stress. "Go gome and fuck the deadline, tomorrow is another day." In another instance: "It doesn't make sense for you to quit, take some days off and see a psychiatrist" [Diagnosed with depression, took medicine, improved.]

Fought for their commanded, shielded them from politics.

Personal integrity that transcended the job relation.

Saw we were generally unhappy working with our biggest client. When the client called for a pricing review with us, and other agencies for their "go to" team, my boss decided to not participate and part ways with the client. Thy were shocked to say the least.

My favorite managers are the ones that made me better at what I do. The ones that I was able to learn incredible amounts from. I joined the company to learn from them, I delivered on what I promised (solving the problem their hired me to solve / filling their need), and they delivered on helping me build my skill set and career.

That's the most important thing for me personally. If they can also be friendly and we have a friendly working relationship (can joke around and grab a beer once in a while) that is also great. However that's absolutely secondary to the first point. In theory I'd be fine with having a boss who I don't really click with personally at all but am still able to learn from.

The best manager I ever had was the polar opposite of a micromanager. Very laid-back, offered insightful ideas, but not in pushy way. He gave us a lot of freedom to get the work done and didn't constantly check in every day.

What I really admired about him was his ability to keep his cool and "Don't Panic", even when everyone else was worked up about an emergency. He always just took the bad news in stride and suggested some possible courses of action.

It also helped that although he had some of the stereotypical engineering awkwardness, he liked to make off-hand comments that were often hilarious and Star Wars-related.

I never thought of our standups as the Jedi council.

We were on a business trip. We had a drink one night and the subject of a coworker who had a spouse die. He said "we have to protect him" casually as we were talking about some of the upcoming projects. It was just assumed that we would make sure that this guy got whatever he needed.

Of course, you are probably saying...that's just the right thing to do...it's also the law to some extent...you must not work in America. I've seen people treated very poorly in a variety of situations. So had this guy and he was going to make sure that it didn't happen to my co-worker.

On a side note, how likely is it to encounter a good supervisor in your career?

I was lucky that my first technical role was where I found the best manager I've had. He was my 2nd supervisor in that first role.

After that I got to be pickier than most about where to go next, so my results might be rosier than others. In total I've had 7 "supervisors" in my technical career. 2 of them were amazing and I would take a (small) pay cut right now to work with either. 2 were good, mostly hands off, and easy to work with. The other 3 were nice people with good intentions, but significant managerial shortcomings. None of them were bad or insufferable.

In one case, an extraordinary mentor almost entirely made up for shortcomings of the manager. Working with great people alongside you often makes the incompetency of the people above a little less relevant, or at least more tolerable.

The best manager I ever had was the best because he simply would leave our team alone. We knew what we had to do and he knew we would do it. He would sometimes ask if we needed anything and things worked great.

Yeah, exactly this. Managers make a huge impact when they're needed, but rarely is that in the day to day. My best managers have always set clear objectives, and moved mountains for our team in the larger organization, but when it comes to executing they've always known it's best to get out of the way (obviously barring situations where things go wrong, or they do need to help).

Not sure my favourite manager _was_ great. But at one startup our CTO was so completely devoted to agile and TDD that he somehow completely protected us from deadline pressures and technical debt. It was the least stress I've ever experienced in my career, and the best code I have ever written. That said, I don't really think the business case or costs on the project ended up making a lot of sense and the product never launched (the problem it mitigated against was actually solved by EU litigation in the end).

I think the fact that he has both domain and engineering knowledge.

We work in a university hospital and he has both medical training as well as software engineering. So we can talk to him with software specific terminology and doctors etc can do the same with medical terminology.

That, combined with having passion about what we are doing and actually caring about the team goes a long way. (Our team occasionally does things outside of work together, like going to the movies or something).

The team (and leadership of said team) are one of the best things about my job.

In my first 1:1 with my current manager (who is also my favorite manager, albeit only my 2nd "real" manager in my short career) I expressed my career aspirations and my style of work / learning / contributing. I expressed my ambitions and he was able to guide me to projects that I could contribute to and/or lead to earn promotions.

He does a great job of communicating top level decision making to us and keeping us in the loop, he's also great at shielding us from upper management.

My manager goes out of his way to allow people who have passions for things onto smaller teams that work on those passions. Our company and our products are built because someone wanted to fix a problem and were given the time to do so. Playing to our strengths and helping us work on our weaknesses. No micro-manging involved, just trust and encouragement. Will lay the hammer down if needed in edge case situations but will also defend the team to the death from outside pressures and obstacles.

He embodied the "Leader as Servant" mentality. He wasn't technical but was the manager over 30 devs/qa/PMs. There wasn't a single request that I had that wasn't immediately validated by him (even if he couldn't necessarily "fix it" for me). He was like the penultimate "border guard", he didn't let stupid politics interfere with our work. He let us decide on technical direction AND methodology (tdd, bdd, pair programming, etc).

My first boss ever was someone I could rely on. As a technical CEO and founder, he's both knowledgeable and has great leaderdership skills. He's trustful and gave me a lot of freedom in my work, and was able to put me back into place when I wasn't on point. He even helped me when I got in trouble outside of work!

As a sidenote, I've had stubborn managers since who can't see the big picture and/or can't think critically, which made me appreciate the good ones even more.

I'm at a place now where I'm really happy with my manager, and my manager's boss, the CTO. I can sum this up pretty quickly. They listen. Like, actually listen. They are very easy to talk to about both work related issues and issues outside of work. It's like they can see what everyone is doing and even if your job for the day is to push a small bug fix, credit will be given for that. I'm recognised here as are my co-workers. It's a wonderful place to be.

- He provided high quality input and got quality output in return.

- He removed obstacles.

- He never let shit that was raining on him just fall down on us. He was basically an umbrella.

* Gave me autonomy in execution

* Pushed responsibility on me

* Trusted me to be capable of doing things

Didn’t realize for a long time that I was volunteered for things. Advanced my career super fast.

You’ll know it when you’re best buddies...and you wouldn’t genuinely mind knowing their family and hang out with them...mutual respect to start!

I have found that "best buddies" and "good manager" are not always correlated. That is to say, sometimes having a good personal relationship with a manager is a sign of a good manager and sometimes not; one does not imply the other.

On the one hand, being good friends with a manager may prompt one to go the extra mile because you're helping your dear friend (and perhaps vice versa). On the other hand, a deep friendship may cause you to ignore or downplay flaws or problems (that may seriously impact the customer, etc).

"Boss, I was tasked to do X. Doing that manually is error-prone, tedious, and takes forever. I googled and found tool Y which solves that problem. A license costs $40."

"How many hours do you save by using this?"

"Right now? I'd say about 3-4. Plus the same again if we need to do X again (maybe next year)."

"No-brainer. Send me a link."

Edit: Just as an example. Let's say he was very pragmatic. :)

My last manager made sure that he honored the open door policy. I was allowed to step in whenever and ask him a question or discuss anything work/non-work related. Despite all the stress he had to deal with he made sure all questions went answered. That's a true leader.

Empathy. A drive for understanding technical issues (not part of their domain). Challenging the team to do their best through gamification/incentives. Wholly available to talk, for any and all issues both personal and business.

All in all, just being a good person, first and foremost.

My favorite, probably not the best by many standards, was someone who was not versed in the tech we were working on. He listened when people talked. If there was something bothering us he got us what we needed, sometimes even spending his personal time on it.

(Direct Managers for many years). I’d have to pick between mediocre, bad, dishonest and useless. So I would go with mediocre as my best pick because his intentions weren’t bad. It’s just that he wasn’t performing well.

Never met a great manager, the least harmful were smart/dumb enough not to interfere with the day-to-day work too much and let the people do their job. I'm still skeptical of the value added by m&ms.

Sometimes the most important job a manager can do is make sure you have a full queue of day to day work to go do and stay the F out of your way. :)

I've seen managers talk big talk about fighting for us when otherwise not the case behind closed doors. I wouldn't trust any one person in a highly political organisation, be it Manager or top brass.

My manager in my past company gave me opportunities to try new things. Even if I did some mistakes, he removed the fear of failure from me. Whenever I was down, he had motivated me and helped me to grow

She didn't micro-manage anybody - gave everyone trust to do their job. She were honest with mistakes and worked on solutions to correct in dialoge, not monologue.

They had a very simple relationship with me:

1) Inform me of the strategy.

2) Set expectations on deliverables and timing.

3) Go away.

At the same time, they were there if I needed them, either professionally or personally.

I have been really lucky to have a number of great bosses in my career past and present. All of them have shared common traits (to varying degrees) of being available to listen and talk when needed, having a vision and a plan, empathy for life situations, missed deadlines and goals, and finally a desire to invest in personal growth even when it might not immediately be in the best interests of the organization.

Great technical skills, hardworking/motivated, and low drama. The combination is possible!

- Taught me a lot.

- Treated me like an equal.

- Offered me a ton of new opportunities which resulted in lots of salary bumps.

Great managers are at the service of their team, not the other way around.

Not only did he triumph when we triumphed, he suffered when we suffered.

No bullshit, ever.

Had my corner.

Didn't get in the way.

Anyone who inspires me to be better. Highly subjective.

Gratitude and appreciation, simple as that.

managing situations stead people

My best manager allowed me to be both right and wrong. He'd give honest feedback about what he thought would or wouldn't work and why, but if I disagreed I was free to prove him wrong or right. I can't remember him ever forbidding me from taking an a specific approach, and I can only remember one time going against his advice and being wrong (mostly because I learned from that experience, not because I think I was usually right).

In contrast...

I worked as a computer operator and most of the time was "down time" waiting for jobs to finish. We had little bits of busy work that none of the operators did, so I did cleaned out the backlog and kept us up-to-date. Documentation hadn't been touched since it was originally written years before I started. I rewrote it, updating it and fixing errors.

Then I tackled rewriting the Microsoft Access application we used to schedule jobs. This was only something we used internally so we knew what jobs needed to run on what nights. It wasn't up-to-date, so we had to manually change the schedule every night, and it wasn't user-friendly, so our FNGs always made errors that required programmers or DBAs being called at 3:00 am to clean up mangled data. I rewrote it to model our current processes and even added some color coding and included recommendations to help FNGs.

My boss "caught" me doing this and told me I had better things to do with my time. I was young, so I asked him, un-politically, "Like what?" He told me to rewrite the documentation. I told him I had done that months ago. He opened it up, looked at one random piece of it, and found a flaw that wasn't really a flaw. I probably rolled my eyes, wrote a macro to make the change to all the pieces of documentation, and then started working on the Access application again.

He "caught" me again, and startled me by basically sneaking up behind me while I was working on it. He said, "I thought I told you not to work on that." I was like, "No, you told me to rewrite the documentation, which I did." Then he told me he didn't want me working on that at all because it was a 'security issue'. Two things about that. The first is that I was told when I was hired that this was a great place to move up the ranks, that other operators had moved into programming after showing what they could do.

The second is that I had access to the entire network, compilers, home directories, everyone's email, all company sales data, payroll, server room, you name it. I ran the backups. I was often alone in the building for periods of over 12 hours. There was all kinds of equipment and merchandise I could have easily stolen, etc.

Now that I'm closer to his age and have more experience, I just see that he was grossly incompetent, in way over his depth, and just trying to coast until his retirement and any changes I made felt threatening to him, despite all the actual improvements I made.


The best boss I had is many times better than anyone else with whom I worked before or after working for him. He is someone who is well known in the graphics and chip design industry but I prefer not to name him solely to keep my semi-anonymity.

I'll list a few of the things he did that really kept me (and everyone else in his team(s)) driven. I was about to say 'motivated' but it doesn't seem to express the intensity as well as 'driven' does.

Here are some of them:

- Was involved in hiring for his team and trusted whom he hired

- He set up 'connections' in such a way that the new folks were always being mentored by people of varying levels of tenure and seniority. This wasn't a direct "so and so will mentor you". It was more that he set up the dependencies and interactions in ways that there was a gradient on which you could keep going to gain further and further expertise from people.

- Was politically adept. His teams never encountered any rubbish that was irrelevant or would slow them down. He would say "if that doesn't work, I know which buttons to press" and he'd make things happen.

- Where I work now, I have to justify before _and_ after going to a tech conference. When I was working with him, he was like "there is this conference. XYZ is visiting there and I need your_teammate and you to help him with some logistics - just take the hardware from your team. I realised after a long time that this was his way of connecting us to XYZ (who's a veteran and highly respected person in the industry) and it was a golden opportunity. He strongly believed in having people who work in different countries and offices getting to meet now and then and would find excuses to make them happen.

- If we messed up, we'd go to him and say "We messed up! This is what happened..." and he'd just say that it wasn't something to worry about and would instead ask about things that were more 'big picture' and 'long term'. This only made us even more resolved never to sully his teams' reputation.

- I once asked for access to the codebase of a project I was interested in to see if I could port it to another OS. Instead of doing that, he instead connected me to the team who worked on that project and asked them to see if I could help them. Again, he was connecting people and giving me much more than I had asked for.

- He was a visionary and would always speak about his vision in a very matter of fact manner instead of making it a grand thing. So, it made it easier to believe in it and think about it.

- He always maintained that he didn't believe in managers who "just manage" - i.e someone without a sound technical understanding of what we were working on, could never be a manager in one of his teams.

There are many more things and for the moment I'll end the list there.

I realise now that no amount of 'process' can generate this kind of drive in people. I hope that some day I can grow up to be 1% as good as he is.

People follow leaders who free them from chains - they don't thrive in systems which artificially-constrain them.

He was me

The best CTO I worked with, ran a meritocracy. The freshest low level hire could come up to this guy and disagree with him, and he would listen to their arguments and accept them if they were compelling.

He had all the usual requisite skills, but his passion for technology and willingness to be proven wrong were instrumental to the success of the company. We were able to iterate quickly and find workable solutions to big problems because the CTO created a culture of facts over status and an environment where everyone could safely express their ideas, no matter how stupid, so that the best idea may win.


I’m curious: this reads as if you think there’s a better model. How would that model work?

Directly, democratically provisioning (aka decommodifying) the essentials of life (healthcare, a home, food to eat, education) while letting markets continue to exist for everything else. Then we won't need to have stockholm symdrome and convince ourselves that our boss is the greatest. Instead, we can engage in truly free exchange if we want to, and nobody gets to threaten us with homelessness and destitution. In other words, if your boss sucks, you don't have to take it. If you're a fascist at heart and love worshiping authority anyway, you're free to do so.

What if I want a better home than other people? What if I don't want to eat the food that's provided to me? What if I disagree with the education system? You're trading one system of benefits and downsides for another, in your case you're trading freedom and risk for autocracy and stability. Mind you I'm well aware of the problems with Capitalism, I don't think having a good boss in the same system who can make you a better person, help you learn, etc is antagonistic to your goals of Chinese communism.

If you want a better home than other people, take a job and buy a better one. If you want better food, take a job and buy better food. If your employer at that job pressures you to do something that makes you uncomfortable or is immoral, you then don't need to do the calculus of "Do I compromise my morals, or get kicked out on the street with no health insurance?" because, as a floor, you have the community-provided essentials to tie you over while you find a morally acceptable job that will allow you to continue living in a big house and eating organic lobster.

Ok, that sounds reasonable. But how do you find this model? Do you not suspect that a lot of people would be happy to tell their boss to stick it as the state will take care of them - then who is funding the cost of all the state programs?

In general, I don't think that most people will choose to live "on the dole" forever. As you've identified, we are driven by status, and having to move into state housing will probably be looked down on, and seen as a "failure" similar to how moving back in with one's parents is seen in middle class families. People will want to work because, whatever the floor is, they will want more, and more importantly they will want not to be seen as failures.

In fact the example of moving back in with one's parents is rather instructive in that middle class young people essentially already have a half-assed privatized version of this reality: their social safety net is their parents and other relatives. Decommodifying healthcare, housing, and food would have essentially extend the same kind of safety net to people who aren't lucky enough to have well-off relatives who can help them in such times.

At the very least, we should decommodify healthcare. One can make theoretical arguments that doing so for housing and food would have huge, negative knock-on effects because the last major experiment with this model were the Soviet-modeled socialist states, which obviously were a disaster. That isn't the case with healthcare. Plenty of other countries have decommodified healthcare, and nothing bad happened: nobody is meaningfully disinclined to work, health outcomes are generally better, and overall healthcare costs are generally lower.

Why would any business hire someone that didn't generate a profit, or stand to generate profit in the future?

Yes, that's the point. It's a messed up system and writing hagiographies of the "good ones" doesn't do anything to change the fact that employment is an arrangement where people with capital extort labor out of those without it via the threat of destitution.

Some qualities from past manager: - push you to your limits in targets delivery

- shield you from management

- hire better people than themselves

- don’t take credit from you

- Inspire and always give you opportunity to grow

- Execute stuff with speed

PS: I just launched a productized content-as-a-service http://contentiskey.co which enables businesses to get unlimited content for only $250/mo.

He shot his car into space.

DISCLAIMER: I don't work for Elon Musk or his associates.

Amazing systems knowledge. My previous senior was the chief architect, and a life long C++ developer. His systems knowledge was amazing, unlike all the people i knew previously who were either Java or PHP or Ruby coders. Dynamic language folks have almost no knowledge of the system their software works on which makes them script kiddies at best. Experience isnt enough to be a senior, your knowledge domain should also expand with time. Which for may doesnt and they are still developing in Ruby/Rails or PHP or Java. They havent tried writing or learning any other language. But the C++ guy since had learnt maybe 3-4 new languages. Including elm, js , Haskell etc. I feel that Knowing the latest Ruby/Rails API isnt enough to qualify as an architect because it changes every yr. That isnt an indicative of how good a programmer you are or how you think. I had .NET and Java language colleagues earlier who i had discussions like why are you starting two docker containers when one is enough? And i had a hard time explaining them the purpose of docker or process isolation. I feel a good systems knowledge is crucial to developing software including webapps. The managers with good systems could identify problems quickly while with others i had discussions like lets just deploy 1 docker container to what is docker etc..

you're describing a "tech lead", not a manager

Nope unfortunately i am describing a manager, our techlead was no good Ruby Developer with no idea about anything. We cleared our doubts from our architect/Manager.

You cleared your ideas with the technical lead of the project. That doesn't necessarily include the manager.

I guess your expectation from the manager is the MBA types? Well they can never be good project managers in Tech, atleast what i have seen. Only tech people can lead good tech companies.

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