The CEO, and the people under the CEO know and understand traditional, top-down management. Let the people with context and decision power make the big decisions, and pass this downwards. Works with finance, works with marketing, works with IT support, and should work with engineering as well... right?
But it actually doesn't work with software engineers as well as it could. Or with designers. UX researchers. PMs... all these people would produce a magnitude more output when given proper context and autonomy.
A few leaders read about this, and try giving autonomy. These results end up even worse than the status quo, as you can't just make it a free-for-all and expect it works overnight.
And to prove this point: look at companies where the founder had worked at a high-performing company before. Before founding Twilio, Jeff Lawson spent years at Amazon (he was one of the first AWS PMs), and in his book Ask Your Developer, he writes about just how much this experience shaped him, and all the practices he adopted from Amazon.
There's this really weird divide between "forward-looking tech companies" who "get it", and everyone else. Which heavily benefits this first group.
I have a counter/supplementary theory that it is just as disruptive to assume a good developer will be a good leader or manager, too.
Rant time (aimed at no one in particular, especially not parent comment):
Managing is a very different skillset. There needs to be some significant knowledge of the industry at large, the specific domain that is relevant to your biz, and "generic" (for lack of a better phrase) management skills (i.e., communication and management of the squishy bits of your org that show signs of sentience and sometimes speak)
I've lost count the number of times I've heard colleagues say "They are such a bad (technical) manager, they'd never be able to do what I/we do." and have responded with "They don't need to. That's why they pay you."
I get very tired of this "debate" that it is management _versus_ IC/developer/engineer/worker. I also strongly believe a lot of what is perceived as "top-down" management is harbored by a "bottom-up" resentment - or just plain resisting authority.
You are a team, so work together.
I also hold the opinion that if your organisation has this mindset ("versus") within then you have a much bigger problem than what is presented at face value.
As long as the people calling the shots still make more money than I do and I am the one cleaning up the mess that creates, I feel pretty justified in resenting them.
The first thing that comes to my head when talking about bad management are manager positions with the power of taking decisions they they either don't fully grasp the consequences at-large of, or will not be hold accountable of bad results for.
I'm not going to pretend managers are automatically all massive value-adds. A bad manager is a bad manager. But a bad developer is a bad developer. A bad person is a bad person.
My previous rant is mostly about those who perpetuate this nonsensical adversary between managers and workers everywhere they go, often wearing their repertoire of conflict with management like some kind of accolade.
To assume any given manager is bad because of previous experience, or based upon your own misunderstanding of what a manager does? That is ignorance and prejudice, which is your cross to bear.
"Managers" (the collective/stereotype) don't deserve any resentment. An individual manager that is disruptive and/or a drain on the team's productivity then sure, there is a valid grievance.
When I create messes I get fired.
When I fix messes my boss gets promoted.
This has been the case anywhere I've gone. It is the reality most places I think. Companies that operate differently are the exception.
I have no problems with managers dictating things as long as they take the responsibility of delays, failures, outages
We need people who know where we want to end up, can recognize problems, understand dependencies, can remove hurdles, can provide resources, can communicate, make sound and stable decisions, motivate and plan. Some of these skills are mandatory in a developer but there are quite a number of managers who have a surprising lack of ability to recognize dependencies, mentally juggle dependencies, plan and making stable decisions. And when they are coming from a pure "agile master" factory they may even not be able to communicate and focus on a product goal.
> You are a team, so work together.
I agree but there are cases where managers are such a bad fit that exchanging them is the only option. Two days ago I put out feelers to see whether others thought our project manager was in over his head and we needed to escalate it. Working as a team together was not really an option as we as a team would have to do all the managers work, deal with the overhead he was creating and still had key questions undecided. Yesterday I learned the manager is quitting which is good for everyone, clearly he was not comfortable in his role and had looked for alternatives. And no, there was no animosity from the team and he had a lot of help when he started. A nice guy but not a fit.
Imagine a job advertisement:
Position available for (Software Development, but any industry really) Project Manager.
• Take ownership
• Know where we want to end up
• Recognise problems
• Understand dependencies
• Remove hurdles
• Provide resources by identify bottlenecks and resource constraints and remove them
• Be able to communicate to the team collectively and each member individually to a high level
• Make sound and stable decisions
• Motivate the team
• Do all of these things well above average level
• Not just this project and this team, but also the next project and when the team gets shuffled around from time to time
There are approximately zero people who can do all of this on a consistent basis. Maybe one in a million can do some of it well some of the time, perhaps. Maybe.
If you have a manager who is simply a reasonable sort of person, though they may be lacking everything else, I strongly urge you to do everything you can to keep that person where they are. If you don't mind tolerating them, you're on to good thing, because there's a fair chance ousting them will result in your team finding the next person is much much worse.
except for one or two, all managers are former players. Why? We all know something about that industry at large.
My theory is that when you are competing on equal terms you cannot afford managers that are not part of the game.
You usually hear in such orgs, that they are like family, and in most cases you don't get hired unless someone knows you.
I think your comment explains at least one aspect of what makes him a good manager.
I hate it when I promote a team lead, and they change what they've been doing. I promoted because they were already doing the job.
The only way around this for devs is to say No to solving their problems and letting management deal with the fallout (loss of customers/revenue)
I think that's part of it, but the bigger reason is that the management talent pool is too small to meet the industry need. The same is true of engineers as well.
There's little apprenticeship, little mentorship, and little experience is gained seeing things done well. Capable people are being shoved aggressively and prematurely into decision-making roles (whether in management or engineering) before they've developed the skills and perspective necessary to do the job well. No question, talent scarcity makes for lucrative pay and easy mobility for the average tech professional. But quality suffers, nonetheless.
So, when a sequence of directors each wants to "refresh" how the planning and prioritization process works, or reintroduce OKRs because they believe that what the org was doing up until that point was an incorrect, or champion some new set of Principles that obligates all existing projects to re-justify their existence in new terms, or move all project management into a new tool, they're creating a narrative of leadership. And they can tell a good story well before the non-impacts become visible, and without having to examine or deeply understand the technical aspects of what it is they're managing.
In some cases, this can be a modest productivity tax to the impacted teams. Some number of weeks from every quarter gets dedicated to servicing the most recent process changes etc. But sometimes it's actively harmful (creating separate silos for functions that really need to be in close coordination, etc).
Part of the reason is that relatively small details have organization-wide impacts. A handful of services might be under-resourced and overdue to drop calls to legacy APIs... That causes ongoing effort to maintain those APIs, the outdated technology they depend on, ad infinitum. Entire migrations can grind to a halt. Engineer productivity could be cut in half. Gaping security holes can be unfixed.
Top-down solutions to those problems ("Here's budget. Fix it!") don't necessarily help as solving the systemic problems can require technical analysis to fully map from strategic needs to particular patches to particular projects.
The people that understand systemic technology impact and the people who understand systemic cost and value need healthy and active lines of communication. Passing status messages up, down, and across the chain of command only gets you so far.
If we could just find the right magic tool then all our problems would be solved!
Step 1 is build automation, step 2 is define the process!
What we need to fix this broken process is more people.
These two teams have different goals/OKRs so they have trouble getting along, let's fix it with technology
Technology and money are great accelerators but if you don't have a process that could be performed manually with enough people then technology is just going to make you do the wrong thing faster.
When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Apple takes the approach of essentially forcing their best engineers to become managers.
A lot of stuff I see about what an EM should do, on places like leaddev, in the well known eng. management books, those are all great. They cover most of what I enjoy doing as an engineering manager. But they also means shit for moving up in many (most ?) larger orgs.
Part of the issue is that as the company grows in size, it becomes essentially impossible to correlate company success with certain teams. The complexity becomes such as people above you cannot possibly understand properly what's happening there. At this point, it starts to become all about managing up and lateraly, which takes an awful lot of time. People above you even has less mental space than you on what's happening in your org. So one trick that many senior managers will us, in engineering and otherwise, is to be behind some big salient initiatives. It is kind of a marketing trick. Do something visible that be associated to you.
And then unfortunately the trick often becomes to leave before people can understand the mess that creates. But I think it is important to understand the incentive behind that: it is not because people are evil or stupid. It is just inherent to most large organizations. Very very few large orgs has been able to prevent this behavior.
But most problems aren’t a result of following the correct “science” of management, itself a dubious proposition, but can be traced back to what’s really important. You have to have the right people in the building to start with.
But it's even better than that, as every time communication occurs you are playing a game of telephone with translation errors. The essential complexity might be very easy, but when you need to translate that problem from users to project managers to architect to developer(and I'm sure many teams have many more layers than this) the complexity grows out of control.
I thought about this topic when the StackOverflow blog on Scrum ruining great engineers came out.
Imagine you have a chart where the x-axis is trust, and the y-axis is skill. x-axis at the far left is management focused. x-axis all the way to the right is developer focused. x-axis in the middle is mutual trust. bottom y-axis is no skill, top y-axis is extremely skilled.
Now let's look at some of the spaces this chart provides. If we start at the top right, we have Professors. They have a lot of skill and have tenure to be able to do what they want. On the bottom right, I imagine something like Adam Sandler's character from Billy Madison(1995), a son of a billionaire who wasted his life and had no productivity.
On the bottom left side we have government contractors or outsourced developers. They do the work they are told to do. In this spot Scrum can be a reasonable way to filter between the very least skilled workers and someone who is doing decent work. But by applying Scrum, you are naturally holding the management axis to the left.
The Top Left doesn't exist. The developer leaves for some place better.
So now we can talk about the middle. At the top of the middle we have Skunkworks projects. And as we can see, this balance between management and development can yield incredible results, if the developers have the skill to back it up.
So we can see there is a careful balance, most developers are probably somewhere in the middle "strike zone", and by applying Scrum to a developer who is highly skilled you are handi-capping them, and if you apply to much force they leave for better pastures.
When you have developers in this strike zone, give them advice, allow them to learn, but let them make their own decisions.
A sibling comment talks about trust/skill, and these are factors that are more important than just focusing on autonomy as a stand-alone concept.
Open Source projects show both ends of this spectrum, with absolute autonomy yielding both amazing and mediocre results.
And it’s already biting us. There are at least two issues I’m aware of that are a direct result of this policy which are very bad. When they come to light the company’s reputation (and share price) will very likely be harmed.
Would you let a painter do surgery on you?
False comparison. It should read "Would you let a painter _manage the surgeons_ who will operate on you?"
Having worked in the healthcare industry - the answer to that might surprise you.
I think there is a variation of Gell-Mann's amnesia effect but for management. Everybody sees how their own manager/boss is mostly wrong and useless. However, when we deal with somebody else, for example as customers, we somehow conveniently forget that fact and we continue to believe that managers need to exist.
I agree with the first statement but disagree with the second. Yes, management is often at fault for not involving or engaging developers. That said, I've seen many really solid developers be motivated by solving complex technical challenges instead of work that actually creates business/product value. Of course, it's management's responsibility to harness that energy and align it with creating value... But just saying, a lot of really smart people are driven more by intellectual challenges than product impact.
Complex technical challenges create value for the developer, as it's fun solving problems like that. If management doesn't communicate the end-user's needs/wants and how the product helps them, even valuable work can feel like pushing up Sisyphus's boulder, so working on fun stuff at least creates value for you rather than work that appears to be purely for the leadership's vanity.
If you think the software you are making is useless, you should find a different position. Life is short, and it’s thrilling to be responsible for software that people use and enjoy.
Try this thought experiment: Imagine you have team task list with headlines such as "Add red button to top of home page". Imagine rewriting the headlines such as "Customer wants to contact us" and similar kinds of user stories.
When managers continually see headlines with user emphasis, and do not see headlines with implementation details, then management improves and developer autonomy improves, because both groups are looking toward users.
It turns out focus on user stories can help significantly, even more than some developers might intuit. Look at your task board headlines and the opening paragraphs of your management-visible writing-- can you improve your writing to emphasize user goals?
I feel like managers that can't understand the technical part are the one to ask for this "translation", and because of that the technical people get a significant overhead in work, and because of that more people are needed to do the work, and that in turn creates more need for more managers. It's like a vicious cycle that could be mitigated if everyone knew how to do the technical part, and for this to happen I think companies should start making programmers the managers as much as possible, but I guess that won't be happening anytime soon (but I'm sure it will in the future once programming becomes widespread enough).
How often do we expect the technical writers, marketing, sales, management, etc to also do their share of writing the code?
I too would like to do lots less work and have other professions help out and be available for the scapegoat game when it goes wrong. Documentation not up to par, blame developers. Marketing failed to achieve goals, ...
But that must be a separate activity pruoritised and with time allocated. Lawyers have to do many anciliary activities, but they are given time to update their qualifications, etc by their employer
The best team I've been on didn't have a manager. The lead developer handled communication with the IT Director about project status; and that wasn't very often.
We had no meetings, or KPI goals, and other such nonsense. That is, until the company was bought. Everything changed after that and traditional management took over. Most people left within a year.
Your run of the mile non-technical manager sure is not very good at understanding the intricate complexity of all the moving parts of creating software.
Developers on the other hand appears blind to the fact that they play only a minor role in the bigger picture. While technology is difficult it pales in comparison to orchestrating people across sales, strategy, business transformation, creative, development, QA, operations and infrastructure.
That's just the horizontal alignment. In a single entity. In a single timezone. With a single vendor. A scenario which never happens because in real life you have at least 3 levels of technical management, multiple divisions/departments involved, spread across continents and multiple vendors participating.
You need competent people to align, coordinate, communicate and pick up the stuff which falls through the cracks. Developers are not good at this work.
You need a manager. And of course they must be competent.
EDIT: I don't actually think developers are delusional. I worded the phrase to mirror the absolutism of the statement "I've come to the conclusion that software managers are not needed" which is just plain silly.
> Developers .. appears blind to the fact that they play only a minor role in the bigger picture.
> Developers are not good at this work.
Developers aren't some special creatures with one dimensional fixed mindset. They can do whatever that needs to be done.
This is kind of silly stereotyping precisely why makes developers hate managers. I hate managers who think of their team as mere code monkeys that are "not good at" some mythical management work.
I am a manager myself but I never diminish role of my team members as "minor players", "not good at work" ect. They are my peers and partners who are equally as "major players" as anyone else.
I love this. The best teams I've been a part of are those that had a mutual respect for everyone else's work. I was an engineer on those teams, and thank god for the product manager, tech lead, design work, ux researchers, etc. Things work so much better when there's a real culture of "we're all in this together, and we all have important roles to play".
"Developers aren't some special creatures with one dimensional fixed mindset. They can do whatever that needs to be done."
Yes, but it is ok to generalize in a broad discussion like this one. Otherwise we can have no meaningful conversation. In general managers do not understand developers. And in general developers do not understand management. Those that are good have been exposed to both sides.
I never diminish anyone but it is naive to think that everyone contributes equally.
I think I've observed enough of this sentiment over the years, from some very smart and successful people, to come to the conclusion that, if it is nonsense, it is non-obvious.
> I never diminish anyone
Perhaps you never _intend_ to diminish anyone, but to some, your statements may reasonably appear to be diminishing some cohort.
I think this is bc one practices abstraction while the other practices persuasion.
I see these two forces as equal and opposite. A yin and yang kind of thing.
It appears that the best orgs have these two things in balance.
My cherry picked list:
Building: honesty, introversion, reason
Selling: charisma, extroversion, empathy
but you're also the one who gets the time to see the big picture and hopefully realize that, yes, the development side of a project, while the most fundamental, is also just one of the part. The other being : handling customer expectations, making sure the budget use can be explained, making sure people stay happy even when confronted to "absurd" customer's request, making sure to understand the project ecosystem to make sure you get the right customer contact person in front of your team, making sure the one dev with a broken back gets a proper chair, making sure good project are rewarded, you make sure HR's department craziness don't alienate your devs, you-f*g-name-it (been there, done that, got the tshirt : I've been in dev, business consulting and management :-))
There's an entire world of industries in which software is a 'nice-to-have' enabler of various levels of business logic, not the product itself.
The assumption that development is the fundamental key to all projects is, I'd imagine, the 'delusion' referenced earlier.
But I can admit it's not like that everywhere, sure. But I've yet to see industries where people pay programmers to work on IT project which are not fundamental in a way or another or in the process of becoming fundamental. The point is when programs get deployed, they usually transform (and hopefully improve) a situation. Once the transformation is accomplished, the program becomes fundamental...
Low performance, bare minimum devs, sure need reminding and pro-ding to get anything done... yes, you need managers to babysit.
Companies with heavy management usually have mediocre at best devs and little to no innovation. They have great sales and support - this keeps them alive.
Captain obvious here - there is no one size fits all. Do what makes sense at your org and take home a paycheck or leave and start your own business - there has never been a better time!
The point is two-fold. First, creation and maintenance of a high performance team as the company grows is worth someone focusing on, not just hoping it happens organically (sometimes people, especially new hires, need to know "yes. You are really free to make this decision yourself. I'll back you on it." Likewise, sometimes people doing good work need someone who can spend the time to highlight the value of it to the rest of the business, to effect a promotion). Second, ensuring other needs of the business inform that high performance team, WITHOUT interrupting it, are also worth focusing on.
These are both true regardless of the environment, but become bigger needs the larger the company is.
Managers do this? right, right. I would say managers at best dont mess it up. Creation and maintenance of high performance team comes from within. The surrounding support certainly helps, but to say a manager creates and maintains this is a bit of a stretch.
"ensuring other needs of the business inform that high performance team"
I have found if it needs to be known or communicated it will happen. High performance teams are not just coders (another fail from managers) they are intelligent people who can read and write emails and know how to speak to other humans. This may be the stereotype of some hot pocket eating teenager in a closet from the movies but that is certainly not the case in most professional environments.
For the second, of course they are. You have to take the two statements I made together. There is a spectrum; at one end are devs working on what they feel is important, but not knowing they're not working on what the business feels is important. At the other is the business deciding everything the devs do, oftentimes changing priorities every week. Having one person as a middleman there can be immensely helpful. That may look like a manager saying "Hey Bob. Jane has this need; work with her to understand and implement it", and handling everything off to a dev, but the point is that the manager, A. Gave Jane (and everyone else) one person to reach out to initially when it came to their needs of the team, B. Helped determine that Jane's need was a priority against all the other needs, and C. Gave Bob permission to ignore all other incoming requests and direct them back to the manager, to focus on Jane's need. That is not to say Bob is not reading and writing; it IS to say that Bob can benefit from someone keeping him from being interrupted by every person in the business with a need who thinks he might help.
The challenge I see a lot of managers have is that they look to much at an engineer as a widget and not literal human that is just as capable as the manager (most the time). There are often times no lines between roles and responsibilities and every shop does that slightly different, and not based on some framework they masterly put together, but just something based on how the pieces fell in place with some help from previous experiences.
I just wanted to say also - _most_ engineering managers are not good managers. They were good engineers that are in the unfortunate process of the Peter Principle.
I've yet to meet the kind of superstar dev who is also superstar market and customer oriented.
That can be challenging as a lot of important innovation doesn't come from customer feedback and you need talented people to do those things as well.
I think Spolsky said it best about the dynamic between managers, product and developers
It's also uncharitable to split teams into either high-performance special ops teams vs. mediocre, low skill / low potential teams. Two trends make this distinction meaningless: GROWTH and SCALE. If these don't apply then you can totally let the team self-manage. FANG companies typically have all those rockstars you're looking for and multiple levels of technical management.
Sometimes you can plan for success/heroic actions (in the good way) but often it happens by accident.
The right person digging into a weird problem they encountered, two people sitting together to review a design or someone doing a firmware update that fixes a bug in the RAID controller giving you double the IOps...
I have tons of anecdotes from colleagues who did some unplanned work just because they talked with someone else and that work then turned out to have massive positive impact.
The results are lauded but it wasn't even clear when the "little" project started that it would actually be a massive boon.
At a prior job (some website selling hotels online) I was responsible for the project that ended up giving the whole fleet a 25% capacity boost. Instead of 2000 machines we only bought 1500 next quarter. If we calculate that in perpetuity my project was a massive success. Millions of EUR saved since 2011.
The project initially started out as "tons of people tried building a decent perl RPM but couldn't get it to work, could you have a look?". The guy originally tasked with it was busy fixing a broken LDAP server.
So I built some RPMs, wrote a bit of tooling around it and we ended up with a Perl environment separate from the system perl which was great because the business was nearly exclusively running on Perl 5.8.9. At that point I looked into using that to get us off CentOS4. With the help of two colleagues we got a CentOS5 environment running and could migrate to a x86_64 environment.
That migration than gave us a 25% capacity boost and happiness ensued all around. The OS upgrade wasn't part of the original project scope, we just went with it because it made sense and management understood that it's a good idea.
I think many developers (not just coders, but in general technical people who make the actual product, designers, engineers, ...) feel there is an unfair primacy of managers / business people over developers / technical people. This is even reflected in the job descriptions: I hate the term "individual contributor" for example, it implies replacability and that non-ICs (managers) contribute more than one person.
Not every company has "bullshit" managers and for sure some developers are delusional. But these bullshit managers exist, and I believe this happens when you put people who are far away from making the product in charge. If the managers and executives are not intimately familiar with the product and the customers, then the product becomes some interchangable thing that you hustle. This can be disastrous for the work climate but also for the success of the company.
If you look at a lot of pretty incredible projects that often were finished ahead of schedule or with groundbreaking capability, they often happen to be led by a deeply technical person. e.g. Hoover Dam, the SR-71, etc.
If you look at CEOs of tech companies, I believe a majority of them have an engineering undergrad degree of some form.
But, yes. Bullshit managers invariably choose to take empowerment onto themselves, despite a lack of knowledge, and oftentimes without any real responsibility, either (i.e., they don't bear the consequences of their decisions).
I even worked at one incredibly toxic organization for a year, before I left, where sales people would literally roam the office, grab a dev, and task them with a customer request.
This company was in a very specialized niche market, and was basically the only player. The only thing I couldn't figure out is why someone else hadn't come along and eaten their lunch, because they were suffering from chronic under-funding. Getting them to commit to migrating to AWS was a major eye opener for them; since they suddenly had to actually pay bills or they'd lose the whole operation.
I do not believe in self organizing teams. I have not seem them work. Without direction the team will fumble until someone assumes control. I have also not seen many happy in such an environment.
The opposite is strict top-down control, such as what is often described and lamented on HN, is equally bad. No one wants to work under a dictator.
There's a balance to be struck between authority and autonomy.
Large scale software development without management is proven to be possible by the existence of functioning FLOSS projects like the Linux kernel, various GNU tools, KDE and plenty of other examples.
I have not heard of a single software development company with 0 software developers. Not even Oracle manages that.
Managers are necessary for the parts of the company other than development. You can have a FLOSS project developed organically, and separately a company in the business of support, services, etc. Managers are also necessary in order for the company to exercise control over the development and extract value. And this may be needed for a company to survive. But they are not needed for software development itself.
I'm reading: "You need a manager to coordinate a deeply hierarchical and separated structure with production at the bottom and the clients at the outside."
I mean no disrespect, but from my perspective I see a deeper problem here that is being patched over by exceptional people like yourself. Shouldn't the creators and clients have a major, high impact role and the coordinators a supporting role in terms of decision making?
To make an exaggerated joke it looks a bit like a dictator complaining about all their responsibilities and the hard decisions they have to make. Well maybe they shouldn't even be in that position to begin with.
And yes I've seen the diagrams and the theory behind this. But I've become more and more suspicious of bureaucracy and process that tries to fight the symptoms of lack of trust and human connection.
This resonates but what I have seen is when you engage a company that has this model you have to emulate their model to fit within their needs, then you get infected with it.
"Shouldn't the creators and clients have a major, high impact role and the coordinators a supporting role in terms of decision making?"
No. The creators usually answer "how to do it". The more important question is "what to do". Both groups are important but doing the right thing is more important than how you do it.
Its also a grass is geener issue. Work is generally more enjoyable as an IC, you get to focus and write code. Until you end up having to build something really stupid, and you want more control over product direction. Then you end up as manager, and long for the simplicity of being able to focus and write code. At least that's how I've felt at times.
If you hold the same number of meetings but stop inviting some stakeholders, those stakeholders are going to be upset. If instead you remove some meetings from the process entirely, by e.g. not requiring multiple design reviews for internal products, or by not letting platform teams force everyone else to use their software, or by letting teams spin up their own low capacity services without meeting with ops, or anything else that lowers the complexity of getting work done, then your team will be happy and the previous gatekeepers will be complaining.
I genuinely think that many engineering managers see their most important skill as "getting engineers to do things for reasons they don't understand".
This issue is not limited to developers.
> Developers on the other hand appears blind to the fact that they play only a minor role in the bigger picture.
Y Combinator was largely founded as a rejection of this premise. Paul Graham believed it was much easier to teach great Software Hackers how to business, than it was to teach business folks how to software. I think it turned out pretty well.
> A scenario which never happens because in real life you have at least 3 levels of technical management, multiple divisions/departments involved, spread across continents and multiple vendors participating.
And your organization with 3 levels of technical management and all those divisions and departments will often get their lunch eaten by a very small group of people working in a startup, moving faster and accomplishing more in less time.
"And your organization with 3 levels of technical management and all those divisions and departments will often get their lunch eaten by a very small group of people working in a startup, moving faster and accomplishing more in less time."
You misunderstand. It is not my org - it is the client orgs. And none of those are software companies. The speed with which you can move is irrelevant because you are constrained by the pace of the org you're working for.
> The lead developer handled communication with the IT Director about project status
The fact that the ultimate person being reported to was the head of IT strongly implies to me that it was an in-house development team working on in-house projects.
> orchestrating people across sales, strategy, business transformation, creative, development, QA, operations and infrastructure.
Strongly implies that your experience comes from building consumer products.
Personally, I've spent time working on both successful and unsuccessful projects on both sides of the fence. What I've seen is that the most straightforward way to create a dysfunctional team is to try to take what works from one context, and apply it uncritically to the other. I personally hate working with a dedicated product manager on an in-house project every bit as much as I hate working without a dedicated product manager on consumer-facing stuff.
To make a general statement saying managers are not needed is as silly as saying all developers are delusional
No one ever said this though, I'm not sure what the point of bringing it up is.
I think it's that developers fail to grasp that they are in the enterprise world. Web development and SaaS has blurred the lines, but at its core it's the same: the product you work on is a tool for another business. It's a bit more sexy because it's not mainframes, cubicles and suites anymore, but in the end the job is the same. And in that setting, the role of a developer is indeed minor in the bigger picture. There are exceptions in R&D, cutting edge projects, or in an early stage startup, but for the vast majority of developers the above is true.
I've found that if you throw a bunch of Alpha Geeks together without constraints you may as well be herding cats. They'll want to work on their individual wishlists of strategic research problems (throw in this new tool! new methodologies I saw at this conference!) with less concern for the unromantic tactics, socialization, and alignment that makes a project succeed.
It can be reluctance to understand why you're doing what you're doing. It can also be because no one cares to explain it to you. Most of the time it's probably between those two extremes.
And yes some times it's bloat. But rarely all of it. I don't have a solution to this.
(And before you write a knee-jerk response, double-check your reasoning. Without managers, developers produced the Free Software ecosystem. Without developers, what did managers produce?)
I tend to believe these arguments just curve right into confirmation bias.
I’ve been on teams that worked fine with managers and those that did not. It depends on the commitment of the actors in question.
Anything else is reading what we want to in the tea leaves.
Edit: Been working on distributed systems since the late 90s, from public uni to big corp, to day 1 startups. It’s just computer configuration. Not magic.
I've stopped being skeptical of the general concept of management. I'm no fan of LinkedIn, but Reed Hoffman said something in a talk that instantly changed my entire opinion about the idea of a developer moving up in the hierarchy and no longer writing code. Paraphrased from memory: "You're still programming; just at a higher level of abstraction."
As a 'developer' I thought 'we were doing all the stuff' while everyone else catered to us.
During my roles out of that seat, I view 90% of development as a form of intellectual labour, it's just work, one piece of many things.
The hardest job by far is selling.
The next hardest job overall, as the commenter mentions, is making a 'whole product' and targeting it at customers.
Engineering is hard, but not harder than the above.
I would almost like every Engineer to work for 3 months in PM or Sales just to get their perspective flipped.
Engineering feels more 'worky' because it's more direct.
Basically it seems the average manager in buisness would be a bad fit to manage developers. overall a manager is still needed for sure. I guess its the same everywhere though a bad manager vs a good manager makes a world of difference.
We all forget, at least in a for profit company, that we are all employed by selling things. Like it or not without the good salespeople, some of us don't have jobs.
I understood GP's point as more directed towards "pure Eng. manager" type positions, often when there's also already a PM present. And I've witnessed first hand how his criticism rings true in that case.
A) Get rid of developers
B) Get rid of dev managers
Let me know :)
In small projects, a lack of managers can be pretty effective when there is good team cohesion and lack of conflicts over priorities and expectations.
In larger projects and teams, where your team has to interact with other teams and navigate competing pressures within a larger organization, while still delivering on internal goals and keeping turnover reasonable.. managers are crucial.
The best managers make you feel like there is no manager. They run interference for you. They talk to you, understand your individual priorities as a developer (project priorities as well as career priorities), and coalesce that information across their entire team to quietly craft a path forward that preserves cohesion and effectiveness and productivity and happiness. They also communicate progress to higher ups, and interpret (to the executives) the day-to-day operations with relation to broader organizational goals.
Managers are the interface between larger organizational priorities and a team's individuals. For a company, managers serve the role of both implementing policy top-down, as well as understanding operational dynamics from the bottom up and communicating it to the higher-level positions in the org.
They are fundamentally a structural necessity once you step beyond a certain scale of project or product or company.
My personal thoughts on managers used to be closer to yours, but it has evolved over time. These days, I'm more inclined to think that _everyone should get an opportunity to be a manager_. Maybe even a structure where management roles are cycled between different people on the team with a willingness to take on the role. I think more developers need to understand how difficult good management is, and to get a personal exposure to that problem space. I think it would make developers into better developers.. who, rather than reacting blindly to their local perception of the symptoms of management (poor or good), get a firsthand view of the other side, and learn to better interact with it in the future.
Totally agree. This has been written before, many years ago. I'm sure it's possible to find references from other cultures and traditions as well:
"When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists."
One way to test drive being a manager: read the Ask A Manager column (https://www.askamanager.org/) for a few days or browse the archives. Read the question submitted by the reader, consider how you would deal that problem, then compare your response with Alison's (and the commentors below.)
Yes, most the problems are not technology or software problems. Some are downright silly. But that's largely true of software development, too.
This is the most important thing, and its hard to recognize as its invisible to the developers. "Do I need a person running interference so I can focus and get stuff done?" is also a useful metric to decide if/when you need a manager.
Excellent summation. They're there to help you to do your job better.
I think the problem in large part is that most "managers" are brought in later on and then feel they have to go above and beyond to justify their existence/position/salary. In the end they do things just to be able to talk about all the amazing things they are doing and how their shiny new processes are helping everyone so much.
I have yet to see a successful founder introduce nonsense simply for the sake of it.
But you can't just leave all choices to developers, there has to be a commercial point to it all - that isn't something a lot of devs even consider. Technical changes may be great, but the time spent on that has to paid for somehow, not just in 'job satisfaction' for the techies working on it...
I think depending on the organizational context, and how much external communication a project needs to succeed, this can mean that the lead developer becomes a manager in responsibility but not in resources. This can harm the project and its participants both because the lead developer's attention may be siphoned off towards management-related activities, and because their advocate to upper-management is less equipped.
E.g. Can the lead developer recognize that the project needs a person with a skillset not already present, write a JD and oversee the search for a suitable candidate? Or will the organization say "tech leads don't hire; managers hire"? Does the lead developer have the same access to the decision-making process of the larger org that a manager would, or will they be denied access to certain meetings, documents and resources? ("Sorry, we keep that personnel info in the same place we keep compensation info, which only managers should see").
I think the article makes the point that the problems preventing an org from making good products or decisions extends all the way up to the CEO, and I agree. And in the many organizations, software managers are a necessary evil to try to compensate for those broader dysfunctions.
I think you've nailed it here - what's been described is a manager under another title, and one who will be hampered in that role in the exact ways you describe.
Project managers are a different story.
Do not under appreciate the importance of managers attending meetings, because a good manager attends those meetings so the devs don't have to. A good manager of developers seeks to shield her developers from the busywork and politics imposed by the larger organization so they can be as productive as possible.
My previous role, I served 100s of clients, each with 1000s of end-users. If those users had direct access to my development team (5 devs, 2 test engineers, 1 BA) they'd spend the entire day fielding requests and get nothing done.
So, to avoid that, you add a product management team. And an SDM, who acts an umbrella over the dev team to prevent shit raining down on them from tech support, product management, sales, etc.
I suppose that's the key - if an SDM doesn't see themselves as a shit umbrella, they aren't doing their job. That's not their only role, but from the developers' perspective, it's perhaps the most important.
Edit - the team did interact with customers via various channels, but it was more controlled than "unfiltered". We had a forum where both sides could communicate (though the BA typically did the lion's share of that work from our end). We also had periodic beta review meetings with select customers. And of course, when tech support issues got to our level, we were often on the phone, VPNed into their systems, etc. But, between the BA and I, we triaged most inbound communication, and there was zero expectation a developer would respond unless specifically asked by me or BA (though they were free to do so if they wanted - most preferred not to do so).
One of the other ideas at the times was a custom BT version of HTML - that got stamped on very had by the Labs thank god.
If devs are doing:
- Product design
- On call duties
- A/B tests
- Can't cause outages
- Fight bullshit corporate politics
- Fight to remove blockers
- Fight to remove deadlocks
- Ultimately produce something that earns money for the company
- Write bullshit promotion docs for themselves
- Wait to be Pipped or something.
What exactly is the value provided by a manager?
What exactly is the value provided by a manager?
in those cases the managerial "class" is more like an old-boys club, and its the grunts who do the real work (and the boot when things go south)
Incompetent managers fail to unblock their teams and instead push pressure on their reports to "fight". Often blocking career growth, promos, compensation changes with these reasons.
I'm sorry. If the dev ultimately does this work, the manager should be fired or made an IC where they can demonstrate their value.
We're also lucky enough to have pretty good management, at least locally in my department, I haven't really been exposed to the higher levels of decision-making (which is a sign of good management IMO, that stuff is mostly irrelevant to me)
I have admittedly less experience than you, (~10yrs) but from what I've seen, my conclusion is that really bad management is worse than no management at all, fairly bad management is about as bad as no management at all(and from here can the opinion that management isn't needed really form in developers head) and good management is way better than no management at all.
I also think that software/tech management is a different beast from basically all other types of management. Experienced managers from other sectors tend to fall in one of the first two categories above in my experience.
Good managers are perceived from the developers point of view as someone who just helps organise tasks, and help you find the right person to talk to if you need something from outside your team.
In reality of course they do lots of other stuff too, but those things mostly shouldn't bother the developers IMO.
Never should a manager ever act as a go-between. Doing that puts you firmly in the "worse than no management" category of managers
In any case, when I first read the headline, I thought, well, in a worker cooperative, the developers can fix the bad management. :-)
So how much management is really necessary?
And you could argue PR reviews was how Linus performed his management function. Which could be an interesting way to organize technical management in proprietary software projects, too...
Yeah, I don't know. But even just keeping up with PRs seems quite time intense.
> And you could argue PR reviews was how Linus performed his management function
You certainly can, but just because the word "management" appears in there, it is wholly different from the "management" that the original post is talking about. But yeah, you can call both management. You can also call a software developer a manager of the codebase I suppose.
Personally, I think managers are primarily intermediaries between capitalists and laborers. So they are needed under capitalist mode of production, where surplus value is extracted (according to Marx, at least), but they are probably superfluous under different modes of production, like that of open-source software.
Most linux contributors, as I understand it, are paid to do it by their employers, and get managed that way.
If you get a team of purely the of developers that don't need this, it's great! But that means somewhere else there's probably a team that's 2/3 or worse that, and that's hell. If there's a manager, it's luckily just hell for the manager.
I feel exactly oppositely. The best teams I've been on have been ones where the manager has a strong focus on being a crap-umbrella for the team, sheltering us from anything coming from above, being an advocate for our needs, and a fierce seeker of true requirements for the projects that our team needs to work on.
I think I would be very anxious being on a team that didn't have some manager who took seriously the role of sheltering and nurturing the rest of us. It's obviously not an easy job to do well (else we wouldn't have had bad management experiences).
Every single approach works when you have driven, intelligent people who all mean to do the right thing. The validity of an approach is only tested when those things stop being true and you need to notice and recover.
And to some degree agree on what the right thing is.
The truth is that not all approaches work on your perfect scenario. Many are known exactly for turning competent cooperative people into incompetent individualists.
IME smaller organizations with experienced & stable teams can do fine without formal management, especially if the system is small enough to fit entirely in you head. Beyond that you need some form of management.
Aside: you come off at best somewhat ignorant or less charitable as kind of a jerk; there's a lot more to running a software company than writing code by yourself. We get it; you think all managers are useless MBA suits, but some of us actually still self-identify as devs that just want to improve the systems that build software. You can only get so far focusing solely on individual improvement.
I like the story of google, however. They theorized they didn't need managers, tried to prove it, and ended up proving the opposite. It's almost the kind of thing only google could do, that is a large enough company with the resources to run large scale studies internally, yet is curious and cares enough that they're willing to run such a study to definitively determine the direct value of managers and manager traits.
If you're lucky you can get a team of devs who are capable of self-managing and communicating with the outside world and handling everything else they need to do to be successful besides just writing code (writing JDs, talking to customers, dealing with budget, etc.)
But hiring a team like that is hard. Developers like that cost a lot of money. The law of comparative advantage is a real thing. If you can't hire a team that can manage everything themselves you can at least piece together people who can fulfill the different functions.
And that's how you end up with developers and managers.
I don’t know how a large company could function without that role. If you have 200 developers working on 100 different projects.... who is deciding what to work on? Who is deciding how many people should work on what? Those people are managers.
I think some layer of management is needed for strategy, business operations, market positioning, etc., but they should get out of the way as much as possible, similar to how Joel has done it at Fog Creek.
Many years ago I was visiting a startup being incubated at Stevens Institute in Hoboken, and there was a group of graduate engineer students on-site looking at a demonstration; the CEO asked what the most important factor in building the product was, and the very smart engineers talked about output, efficiency, portability/miniaturization, etc. The CEO stopped the brainstorming and said "whether or not someone will buy the product".
If your lead dev didn't have to spend that much then I'm afraid that experience does not extrapolate on what larger companies do; if they did then I think you're missing the elephant in the room that the lead dev was de-facto the manager at the expense of their direct duties.
I also agree that a high-performing team tasked with a clear mission don't need more than a glorified secretary.
But if any of those start to fail then it starts degrading everything. Without decent managers, development/progress can collapse.
Decent managers can paper over the other deficiencies to a surprising degree.
Good software devs can also paper over deficiencies in the chain as well to a surprising degree.
Bad managers can be part of the problem too. Bad devs will obviously kill the whole thing.
And of course everyone in that chain has their own agendas, from selflessly devoted to the macro-organic corporation to machiavellis edging for any economic and power advantage.
Capitalism is supposedly about the free market, but organizations strangely don't align themselves to the basics of microeconomics. They are centrally planned top-down pyramids. Incentives will never properly align to maximize organizational productivity because of the totalitarian nature will reward those with power, not productivity.
Pick your flavor of Agile or whatever process your team can agree to, but I doubt the term "KPI" will ever come up when doing real life planning and work.
2) Agile still comes with meetings
Never once have those "KPIs" been actually relevant to real world planning.
My manager seems to defend the team from a lot of bureaucracy. I see his schedule and task lists and other paperwork and I am extremely happy to have him.
My current manager was also my previous manager at my previous company! He is so good I literally followed him lol.
Like manager, or director, product, product marketing?
The world looks very different from there.
Bad management is everywhere. We humans are not very good at managing knowledge work. Worse at software in my experience. And all too often I see software developers taking the blame or blaming themselves.
A good deal of software errors are enabled by poor management practices.
When you let off the management reigns and trust developers to understand the importance and impact of their decisions you get a lot better results.
Agile would be just fine, if it was the bottom-up, developer-focused scheme that the manifesto writers and True Scotsmen claim it to be.
Unfortunately, it's been co-opted, and we end up with interminable daily standups that are driven by line managers, or by yet another useless person who bought a Scrum Master certification, and exist solely for developers to justify themselves and kowtow in self-abasement. Likewise with the whole cavalcade of infantilizing sprint planning meetings and planning poker and retrospectives and meeting after meeting after meeting imposed as part of a holy Process, that the company spent tens of thousands of dollars having consultants implement.
Can you recommend some? I’m at a point in my career and at an organization where this is a matter of survival way more than actual competence.
https://www.amazon.ca/Elegant-Puzzle-Systems-Engineering-Man... helps to understand managing from an engineering perspective
To understand some of the history and context: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-BOSpxYJ9M
A bit dated but still useful book: https://www.tablegroup.com/topics-and-resources/teamwork-5-d...
Best of all, for surviving at a difficult organization, invest in yourself and get a good therapist. I can't recommend this enough. Burnout is the worst but you can manage if you have solid, professional support to aid you.
"Managers are a force multiplier", well so are developers. A good developer can write programs that runs on thousands or even millions of machines delivering great value, thus there is no limit to how much value a developer can deliver. However since managers gets promoted by implementing social solutions they will always try to go that route. Of course you can do it wrong the other way and be too technical, but I doubt it happens often since managers holds so much more power than developers. Google and Facebook have about the right amount of technical focus, most companies are way less technical than that and suffers from it.
For reference, at my org, management already does what it says it should do and already don't what is says what it shouldn't do. Still there are developers who need to step up their business understanding. Despite all the training, the stimulus, the right incentives, it is not natural for new tech/team leads to communicate well how technical challenges must translate into business decisions.
This shit is hard and complex, stop trying to assign blame.
I've met several excellent managers and I have huge respect for them but seriously, they are rare. I am almost 20 years in the industry and I am not sure I've even met 5 of them.
It is also a story the pretty much every group in an organization tells themselves at some point: from HR's perspective things would be great if the company just let them if the company let them pursue their vision of proper talent acquisition. The sales team believes they're most important because without them there's no revenue and they understand customers the best because that's one if their closest contacts. And so on.
The truth is that no one group would accomplish much if they were the only ones in charge. In reality, there should be a seat at the table for all of the groups.
Absolutely developers should be in the mix for understanding customer needs and helping guide things appropriately. But developers are no more inherently capable of understanding those needs than anyone else, and in fact a non technical view is just as important when the target audience is not just technical folks.
An organization will fail when pretty much any one of its groups is sufficiently bad at their job, and will rarely succeed just because one group is good at theirs. But the "if only developers ran things" trope is old and worn and wrong.
Different depts having a seat at a table is great if your org is flat enough that the table is actually the group making the decision. If their decisions just get overridden by middle management, it's back to the same problem again: not that there are too many depts with their own limited perspectives, but that managers with little to no technical background are making decisions that affect their more skilled minions, typically without their minions' buy-in.
The problem isn't any particular skillset, but the professional managerial class whose management skills are too often dubious to begin with, unmeasured, untested, and yet prioritized over technical skills, be they marketing or HR or dev. Some orgs help mitigate that by having a feedback loop for their managers and the ability to underlings to skip a step or provide meaningful feedback that can result in the discipline or "impeachment" of someone above them, but that's the exception rather than the norm. In most orgs I've seen managers are recruited from other management backgrounds horizontally instead of rising up the ranks from a technical background. Maybe the intent is to recruit better people-people instead of super-smart devs who don't understand humans, but in my limited experience that rarely works past a certain tiny scale...
Most don't have "tables" to begin with, just thrones and various forts.
I don't like that management gets bashed so consistently, because it is a view blinded from the truth: good management isn't actually all that rare as this POV would make it seem: Good management is nearly invisible. It smooths over things, putting fewer roadblocks in workers ways, and thereby only gets noticed when there's a problem. And even the best managers will encounter problems, meaning people really only take note of management when there's something negative going on.
Maybe it's because I've had all three types that articles like this put me on the defensive. I've seen bad management, I've seen invisible management that generally makes my life easier in ways I only notice because I've had bad managers, and I've had at least one manager that was so good that they not only made my life easier, they made me much more effective at my job.
Rising through the ranks is also no guarantee of success: management is a skill, and it does not always overlap with being good at the jobs you manage. All that does is make sure the manager understands the work, not actually understand how to manage a group/department/division etc., Which is a different skillet. I'm not a manager, despite opportunities, precisely because I understand that fact, my own preferences, and my own limitations.
It's also important to remember that "bad management" is frequently not monolithic. There may be very good managers throughout an organization, but one bad mid-high level manager makes them all look bad when even after they fight back against something,they lose the fight and their job is still to implement it. No different than an excellent developer forced to write something useless/bad/inefficient. Is the developer a bad developer? There are some fights like that-- won or lost-- that I've only found out about long afterwards, because again: good management is often invisible.
For all those reasons, it would be nice of the skillset of management could be decoupled from the hierarchy, pay, and prestige of management. Too often the "managers" in an org, and by the extension the CxOs, are there not due to their skill in managing people/projects, but more or less "awarded" the position as a consequence of their connections, founder status, length of employment, whatever.
If only "management" could be thought of more as "facilitation" (or mediation, or HR, or similar) in that it's a unique skillset, yes, but no more or less valuable to a group than any other skillset -- not an inherent part of some hierarchical and unaccountable structure. Managers should not be above the people they manage, but be able to offer workflow & worklife improvements, help resolve and mediate conflicts, etc. And there's no inherent reason they should get paid more or less than workers of any other skillset.
Top-down control != group facilitation skills, but present-day corporate hierarchies try to pretend they're one and the same, to the detriment of many orgs, and especially anyone under (visibly) bad management.
A "seat at the table for all" implies a level of idealistic flatness that's just not there in most hierarchical organizations. I think it's easier to teach a flat organization better people and project management skills than to try and flatten a purposefully-hierarchical organization that uses middle-management not to improve the productivity of self-directed workers, but to corral a disposable workstaff who have miserable lives because they're thought of mere doers-of-tasks, not partners in planning -- a vicious cycle reinforced by the existence of a professional managerial "class" (as opposed to skillset).
Just another manager who wears their ego on their sleeves.
A lot of developers handle EVERYTHING (including politics) in modern companies except promotions and performance reviews. There is no real need for a manager if devs are doing everything.
But if we're bringing the issue of ego into it, there's yours right on display thinking developers know everything. Well, consider this: If you were right, there'd be a lot fewer startups with great ideas that flop even with developers in charge, but they fail because they can't execute on their idea by also running an organization properly.
Developing code and running an organization are different skill sets, and not many people have both.
Which modern company does this? The closest that jumps to mind is Valve.
This has been known, and ignored, for at least 30 years now.
BUT...how do you also maintain some degree of accountability? If timelines can perpetually slip due to changing requirements and there's no objective mechanism for identifying this, then things might not get delivered at all. Surely some delays in the delivery process are due to inefficiencies or poor prioritization -- deadlines help identify this.
Now, to some extent the answer lies in hiring. The right blend of autonomy and individual motivation negate the productivity slip that might occur in an environment where it's easy to procrastinate. The right people in the right environment will self-police and police each other (in a healthy way).
I appreciate deadlines as a mechanism for forcing a discussion about tradeoffs. If there's some cost to delaying things then I'm more likely to think carefully about taking on the associated work. This usually leads to better decisions. I (usually) avoid spurious refactoring and overzealous testing, and scrap features that are less important.
So, rather than do away with deadlines entirely I think it's important to build up a culture that:
* Avoids punitive patterns -- rarely should folks be held unaccountable for adjustments in the timeline. Unless it's a clear pattern, it's not the fault of the person.
* Embraces (sometimes a lot of) discussion about deadline adjustments and the associated trade offs. There should be some friction to missing a delivery date, but not so much that it prevents us from doing the right thing.
This is of course hand wavy and really hard to get right.
unaccountable? Was that a typo?
Bad managers putting blame on developers for "not doing their job" when they did not provide correct environment for developers to do their job well.
Developers don't recognizing they are in fact making a lot of management decisions every day because of nature of they work and that they make poor job of it.
I dont disagree with this article in general but please dont contradict yourself.
One thing they miss is that managers manage expectations both up and down. People only get angry when you step outside of their expectations. I work in a PMP setting and I am up front in my project plan about how we're using PERT estimation (so they always look high), that we're dedicating time to testing, automation, and documentation, and explain why. Its straight up in scope. The client signed it. The CIO signed it. Problem solved.
The one thing I find is that developers chronically underestimate. And that's something that I found going from a programmer to a project manager. I always thought about my code and never the back-and-forth communication with stakeholders, and the change requests, and all the little BS that inflates estimates. That's why I teach my programmers PERT estimation, because it forces them to think about what the doomsday scenario is. We've gotten pretty darn good at estimation these days, which is good because we are a consulting shop, so if we underestimate we don't get paid, or have to get a change request.
Then there are managers like my former manager, who took a 2.5 year estimate from me and sold it to leadership as something we can do in 6 months.
When he tells me the project got a green light, I pointed out that I also listed several risk factors that would be major blockers in the first 6 months. This manager was also the scrum master on the project, and proceeded to contribute nothing for the next 3 months. He was waiting around for a promotion to some sort of leadership/project management position. Luckily his replacement was a massive improvement.
A year later and we were right on track for my original estimate but I lost all credibility in the org despite busting my butt to keep the project on the rails.
It's not just engineers who are bad nor is it just managers. Both sides have to do their part and respect each other or it can go sour.
I have the privilege of working in a pretty low management shop, but sometimes it rears its ugly head and I chafe at it.
Of recent I've observed that not everyone is like me in this regard. Even though humans don't like being managed, they also don't like taking risks. And for some people, the ability to offload risk, accountability, and liability to a scapegoat figure that is inconvenient to deal with at times (e.g. a bullshit manager) is actually a purchase they're willing to make.
It's ironic to me, that years ago, the world had lots of clerks (people who kept the wheels of process logistics rolling) and less managers. Today, there are fewer (almost no) clerks, but lots of managers. Look at what most of your manager does, and see if (s)he isn't mostly just a clerk that collectively figured "manager" pays better.
This is why "bad managers" survive in our industry, far too often a manager's performance is measured on the success of the projects they are "accountable" for.
I believe the responsibility of a "manager" is to provide support to the people they "manage", which can take on many forms. e.g.
- Hiring additional staff to handle the current workload at the desired cadence.
- Influencing the stake holders so the business priorities benefit their employees (and indirectly the company).
- Providing emotional or moral support to their staff.
- Being a source of motivation through exuding passion, or setting an example that their staff aspire to.
All promotions were based on the fact that the original person holding the role left.
You could end up as head of r&d with being just out of college for two years.
However, I see a lot of issues that have also to do with a few factors that are hard to control:
1) programmers are mostly young. There are older programmers and they don't actually disappear (I'm one of them). However, the number of programmers keeps on doubling every five years meaning that at the ripe age of 46, I've experienced about five doublings meaning there are about 16-32 x more juniors aged 20-25 active than people my age. I work with a lot of people half my age currently.
2) Most people aged 30 would count as "senior" because they are relatively scarce and more experienced than most programmers. I got that label slapped on me around that time. That's nearly 17 years ago. I did not have a lot of experience at the time and I've certainly learned a lot since then. This is a common pattern in our industry. We have a lot of very junior senior engineers rediscovering a lot of things about software engineering every generation because there are very few proper seniors around to learn from. I'm usually the oldest person in a project and that's been the case for almost ten years for me. Yet, I know lots of engineers my age as well and most of them are in a similar situation.
3) Scrum adds roles to teams that I would classify as junior management. Product owner or scrum master would be good examples of job descriptions that end up like that. I've experienced more than a few PMs that were effectively on their first job and scrum masters that had little more than a two day training + a hand shake as management background (been there, done that). Junior management and junior "senior" engineers adds up to very predictable issues. Sometimes it works. Mostly it doesn't. The problem is not the process but a lack of experience on both sides. Hiring more people makes it worse.
4) Proper seniors are expensive but being old doesn't necessarily mean you are very good. I know I have to work hard to keep up with younger people. There's something to say for removing mildly burned out cynical forty somethings from your team. I've had to make calls like that to resolve a few toxic situations. Putting an old person in charge does not necessarily solve your problem either.
5) Software engineers generally lack soft skills needed for management and there's a lot of pressure on people to get promoted to their level of incompetence. Once that happens they are easy to manipulate by senior management. Large organizations with a lot of middle management that isn't so great fall victim to this. It' a classic A's hire A's and B's hire C's. Replace hire with promote and you have basically a template for how great companies almost inevitably turn mediocre. The A's tend to leave when that happens.
6) If you think forty something male programmers are scarce, try finding a forty something female one. They are a small minority in any age group but the golden combination of being forty plus, female, and still doing actual engineering is super scarce. As in: I struggle to name a single person that qualifies as that. Most women I know that age have long stopped being engineers and have turned manager or changed career entirely. Women generally are better at soft skills and make great managers so it's not the worst thing. But there's also sexism that drives them away from engineering prematurely before they've had a chance to become really good at that. I know more than a few women that have hit a glass ceiling where people just naturally assume a lack of technical skills because of gender bias. If you have the option, balance your teams as much as you can and things will get better. Resist the urge to put the girls in charge because they are girls. That's a form of sexism that helps no-one. Instead promote them to being tech lead, senior engineer, principal engineer, etc. They'll make better managers when they are ready for that career move. Better still, they might attract some junior female talent. Women generally know where the good jobs are. I've been in a few places that had good policies on that front and it makes a difference.
I'd add that mid-sized and up companies are usually not homogeneous. There are usually good and bad leaders, managers, and developers to be found within them. You can have a great experience in one part of a company and a horrible one in another part.
Another thing that I've found is that there is no "one true way" for a team to operate. I have found that what works best is to lean into a methodology that meets your business partners wants/needs and hire people that work well in that environment in that mode. Be it highly formalized and layer ITIL, super agile kanban+devops, or somewhere in between.
... who's exactly like the old employer because everybody is following the same playbook.
> We have a management problem!
> How traditional management sabotages the bottom line
> Developers are fine, management needs to change
Folks who agree with these headlines & don't click away immediately seem more predisposed towards the offered product, which seems to be a mixed bag of developer-entrepreneur-leadership training that would make sense for a small, flat organization.