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How do you manage a team of geeks? (o2.com)
44 points by edent on Jan 17, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 42 comments

Replace "geek" with "highly sought after, intelligent and talented employees" and you'll be closer to the truth.

The reason developers are "hard" to manage is that they're in demand, so they don't have to put up with bad or abusive management.

That said.. I'd recommend reading Team Geek (http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920018025.do) if you have any ambition to move into a management or leadership role.

IMO the reason developers are "hard" to manage has nothing to do with the fact that they're in demand - fortunately most developers aren't that fickle.

There are numerous reasons why developers are difficult to manage. One of the main reasons is because by and large they are introverts. They therefore don't communicate well with other people at all times.

Also - let's face it - the work developers do isn't always easy to understand and quantify; as opposed to say building a house where the inputs/outputs are clearly visible. I can't imagine being a non-techie and trying to manage a team of developers would be at all fun.

Source: I own and run a software development company and have employed and contracted with dozens of developers.

Have you thought that maybe you pay so bad, that those are the kind of developers you get to be around, and therefore build judgement and assume they are introverts, or don't properly communicate?

Social HR huh? Yeah.

Interesting point but unfortunately you're off the mark - we use pay ladders for our team, very similar to those Joel Spolsky applies at FogCreek. We keep one eye on the .Net market to ensure our pay scales are aligned with market rates, so pay isn't the issue.

Hah .NET coders. Yeah I got ya.

Not a lot of intelligent and talented software engineers know about it, so they put up with that shit. I know I did.

This article, (and many others), has a tone that some people ("geeks" in this case) are like another species of human origin that only the most skilled manager has learned to tame.

According to this article, they hate bureaucracy, filling out time-sheets and want flexible working hours. I guess I'm a geek in need of special management.

Who really believes this crap?

Couldn't agree more. There's this odd implication, after listing a load of usually pointless make-work tasks and tedious process, that geeks are somehow odd for disliking this. In reality, you're just dealing with a group of people who, because of the nature of what they do with a lot of their life, are perhaps better than average at seeing and analysing that state of affairs. The rest of your company probably doesn't like it much either, but they're perhaps not quite as sensitive to pointlessness as people who deal with it much more.

What you should be learning from the things that "your geeks" (blech) dislike, is what the rest of your company also dislikes but isn't telling you. The fact that you can fill in the timesheets for 15 people should show you exactly how pointless they are. You already know what they're doing! What are you trying to track exactly? I'm presuming you're not paying them based on the timesheets, otherwise they probably wouldn't let you fill them in.

That's just a small example. You don't have some weird sub-species. You have people who are attuned to certain things as a side effect of their job/life choices. Now work out what the rest of your company are attuned to, and go and listen to them as well.

> Who really believes this crap?

You'd be surprised who believes and applies it. I'm doing a university degree that is supposedly a combination between CS and business/management. For some reason, however, 99% of the students enrolled are heartbreakingly disconnected from anything CS; most of them hope to become management consultants. I've worked with those people in group projects, and trust me, they are exactly the kind of techniques junkies, who sacrifice all humane common sense [1] and become this sort of compulsive manipulators who keep tailoring their attitude towards the team to the point where it stops making any effin sense whatsoever. I am starting to think the reason why those techniques end up actually working is because they appear so convoluted and ridiculous from the outside that you're just going to comply out of confusion. Or maybe it's out of pitty.

[1] If we are to be rigorous, then "common sense" is just another technique, learned and applied. There's nothing sacred about it, so if it necessary it should be replaced with a more effective "sense". However, what I tried to emphasize is that the techniques like the ones in the article are very, very buggy.

Show me someone who likes filling out time sheets, wants inflexible working hours, loves bureaucracy, and respects authority more than ideas. I don't know anyone like that, so I must only know geeks.

I know some three of four people like that.


I hate labels like these.

Why can't I be a developer? Does the author have such endearing terms for people in sales or marketing?

People who have worked with IT geeks and people in other areas, and know that not all people are the same, and that different kinds of people have different preferences, aptitudes and approaches?

I hate this tone. Geeks want what everybody wants, respect, recognition, autonomy, progression, money.

Its just that geeks are more likely to stand up to a manager (They respect ideas, and knowledge, not authority)if they don't like the way something is done, rather than be meek. Thus have a reputation for being difficult to control.

> Its just that geeks are more likely to stand up to a manager (They respect ideas, not authority)

How much of this is inherit in "geeks" and how much is just because we're lucky enough to be in one of the strongest job markets around? Many people would be ecstatic to have the problem of recruiter spam.

I don't think it is the job market as much as personality types. I saw this consistently in bad markets, too.

I guess its not about the job market. Geeks are more of creators and artists. They dont bother much of the hierarchies and luckily the hierarchies too dont have an issue because they deliver.

Its just that whose in more power. In the factory age it was the sales man. In the tech age its the geek

I think we all are wired to bother about hierarchies, it's just that among "geeks" the perceived rank has to be more about actual substance and real acomplishment, compared with "normal" hierarchies where the differentiator is about who is the more social, political person even when often the person has no substance nor real acomplishment.

"Geeks" are more analytically smart than emotionally smart. They can solve any computer problem, but they create many interpersonal problems. Dennis Rodman is an example of this. He was a brilliant Basketball player, but was a misbehaving douchbag off the court. Linus Torvalds fits this description too. I am kind of this way too. I can solve any problem you give me, but I'm most likely going to piss someone off on my team in the process. But I will get the problem solved. My problem is that I don't really care about other people's feelings. When I'm right, I'm right. If you stand in my way, you can go fuck right off.

Managers need to focus on fixing the people problems that geeks create. Passion is a double edged sword. One moment everyone is singing kumbaya, the next moment they are at each other throats. Managers tend to be the opposite of geeks. They are great at emotional intelligence, but not so strong at analytical intelligence.

I have to say I'm not normally one to post here, and I dislike posting negatively, but this isn't a submission I've enjoyed.

We're all a bunch of human beings. People are complex and have varied fears, motivations, and delusions - and they act accordingly. Whatever role they play in a company.

Someone who has the role called 'manager' in an organisation who interacts with other people who have a role called 'developer' has the task of interacting with a bunch of human beings, and that is often difficult. It is made more difficult when they all decide it is in their interests to devote their time to creating something complex. That's a fine area about which we can talk about ways to improve.

However this 'geek' moniker, while all lighthearted, puts distance between people. It makes the article, to me, seem partly about the author (telegraphing the distance he puts between him and others in a relationship he possibly sees as being based around 'power') and partly about his message. I'll be happy if I've gone overboard in my interpretation though!

I think giving geeks a quiet space to work in with little distractions is the most important aspect.

Most companies fail at doing this though, usually offices are geared towards the extrovert, so huge sprawling open plan desks with people coming/going all the time.

An ideal solution would be everyone gets their own office, a practical solution would be to provide laptops and allow remote working or the option to work anywhere in the building with carefully designed areas to that are quiet and comfortable.

Most corporates don't understand this though and just put everyone on a desk/cubicle in a huge room with 80 others and blindly hope some productivity will happen

Well, maybe the way Danny Ocean (George Cloony) manages his team in Ocean's Twelve (the movie) - tight team, clear plan, known desirable end-result, exact subtasks and timing, confidence in the experts' abilities (proven before).. A sense of common purpose, unity, and perhaps friendship helps also.

And having a scriptwriter who can ensure a great outcome for you, that's a definite plus.

This is probably a tangent, but can we use a better word than "manage"? I honestly think the vocabulary continues to inform our expectations of the job that needs doing here, and I'd suggest that in cases like groups of talented engineers the needs isn't one of authority or "management". Something closer to "facilitator" is a more appropriate description of the real need.


I think many professions have to put up with the condescending and patronizing bullshit that this article reveals. This is exactly why tech corps are ruined. A few business grads get into the top and convince the company that anyone who has to think to do their jobs is infantile. It's quite sickening but is a natural part of the death of a corporation.

Weekly Skype team calls against the current milestone & scheduled 1:1s.

Mockingbird for web wireframes, fluidui for mobile.

FlowDock for devops and support: tickets (jira), commits (git), builds (jenkins) and releases. FD is way better than HipChat/Campfire due to threads and tags. (Try looking in HipChat for a real 24x7 multiperson support incident with some admin password for some random box 80 hours ago. GFL!) It also rocks for support because of the group inbox. And, it can be used by PR people (in a different flow) since it does RSS and twitter.

JIRA + Greenhopper for features/milestones, Redmine/Chili works too. (Gitlab looks neat.)

IRC for informal chats.

"[...]especially if they have been told that other people have looked at the problem and couldn’t find a solution!"

There's too much ego in our profession, we have to get rid of it. I hate when a client says: "You have to implement a real time video compression algorithm of 100K LOC in brainfuck. This shouldn't take a lot of time for a talented developer like you"

In my head it sounds like: "I think you are stupid and I'm using your ego to get a better/cheaper/faster result"

I've been on the wrong end of #4 a couple of times. My boss' opinion of what is "interesting and really challenging" rarely coincides with my own opinion. By this criteria, "make me a Facebook" or "solve the bin packing problem in linear time" would be perfect tasks! And yet I can't imagine many developers jumping for joy when assigned to them.

"Remove as much bureaucracy from their working day as possible, they hate doing it, are not very good at it and will spend more time trying to figure out ways of either getting around the tasks or automating them than it would take to actually do it in the first place."

In most other professions there are secretaries to do this kind of thing.

I agree with this but it shows an even bigger problem in my mind. It seems to me that the author has decided that employees attempting to automate bureaucratic tasks is worse than just doing it himself. This seems like a wildly inefficient way to manage. Maybe I'm missing something though.

For example, regarding the time sheets, if I could write a quick script that automates the process of filling it out (correctly) in three hours and it would have taken me twenty minutes to fill it out by hand, what's the problem? after only nine weeks I have earned back that three hours in productive time. If I were to distribute it to the entire team of fifteen people and they each take a similar amount of time to fill out the sheets then we are already ahead.

> the golden rule of “manage how you’d like to [be] managed” still applies

I tried that. It lasted about ten minutes. I then changed to managing people how they would like to be managed. That was much more successful.

If it's O2/Telefonica (which it is), then they manage them fucking terribly and deliver shitty products that fall over and leave people in dire shit regularly.

Not only that, they stereotype and patronise them terribly.

I think I've spotted why.

"We’re an innovation team, powered by O2. We were set up in January 2011 to test new ideas & concepts fast, in an open environment...We create prototypes, iterate and pivot where necessary, building alpha and beta products to test with user groups with the goal of adding value for our customers."

They've got the PHB working for them.



Honestly, I think these rules apply to most employees, not just geeks. But there are some great tips here!

Two words: continuous integration.


(I drew these notes up the other day)

PS. Since you appear to be the UK O2, I would add: pay people the same or less but let them work remotely from a more comfortable and healthy environment. Maximum reduction of bureaucracy? Removal of physical environment.

Why did this get downvoted?

Give 'em beer or pot, and a spec. :)

PS: I'll be hiring this year; if you don't have anything against what's written here send me your resume (email on profile).

Wait, don't you need some dummies to manage those people? Better offer some hookers and blow as well. If you need warm bodies that like beer and pot, college hiring season is starting.

I figure won't be sending your resume. Your loss ;)

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