Genghis Khan to pointy hair boss… the vast array of managers

There are many types of managers in the often unusual landscape of information technology, most of which are really good at what they do, but we often happen upon that small percentage of folks with their fair share of defects. Let me preface this by saying, out of the 10 or so managers I have had in 13 years, 4 have been outstanding, 3 have been mediocre, and 4 have been bad to absolutely horrible. I’ve already have sung the praises of the outstanding ones before, but I haven’t really got down to the nitty gritty about what gave the others the placements on my list, so lets look at the worst of the worst.

The Sociopath (With Delusions of grandeur)

You probably haven’t seen this one too much. It is a rarity, even amount the most incompetent of professionals, but I have worked with two of these in the past. I was working at a small company doing GPS mapping software, when owner of the company walked in and his first words were, “We have Google scared boys!”. This coming from the same guy who switched from calm to violent in the blink of an eye and who also had managed to play his investors against each other for funding. I label him sociopath because he could sell ice to an eskimo when he didn’t even have the ice to sell. He often made statements like he did about Google about other things, including landing government contracts. Google being scared of out 4 man operation, was just the pinnacle of his lunacy. To Google, we were merely the flatus from a small hummingbird. I could go on for hours about this guy.

The Empire Builder (Genghis Khan syndrome)

Chances are that everyone has seen one of these. They make up 60% of management professionals. They covet a high number of direct reports to solidify their positions, climb the ladder and have job security. These types can be good and be bad. a good empire builder will make your job easy because they are always augmenting staff and dividing the workload. The good ones treat you like the member of a team and see you as a name. The bad ones, see you as a number or a “resource”. The worst kind of empire builder is the one who over delegates everything to the point, they have no involvement with the team. Delegation is an important management trait, but delegating with the goal of not having to work at all, is a recipe for disaster, unemployment and a team that will turn against you because they see you are a detached leader who won’t get into the trenches.

The Folder or Pushover (Cheap Suit Disease)

This one is fairly common too. A deadly one to work for if you are out for job security. This guy will allow all the stuff above him to just roll past him and hit everyone below him. I’ve worked for one of these recently and not only do you fear for your job every day, but you often get left out there hanging in a meeting with people far above your pay grade and no power behind your title to protect yourself. This manager in particular was just marking the days until retirement or getting laid off and he wanted no stress, no work and no worries. Anytime trouble came rolling his way, he’d pony somebody up as a sacrificial lamb to “throw under the bus”. He was a minister no less, but obviously had no idea what the golden rule meant.


The Fast Food Guy (Micromanagementitis)

This one is becoming a dinosaur. These are mostly older folks who still think work is a strict 8-5 job or someone who has a plant or fast food mentality about work. They hover, micromanage, watch your hours, check your online activity and demoralize you at every turn, even when you productivity is up.

In today’s work society, it is ever increasingly common for folks to be more flexible in their work habits. Jobs like IT are all day and even at night and can be done remotely just as easily as they are done in the office. This type of manager will make you miserable and they often find some little hold in the wall at a place where their employees are indentured servants and don’t have much choice but to submit to their oppression. It has always been my belief that work is a meritocracy. If you are productive and the job is getting done, I would care if you were ever in the office.

The Weasel

Related to the Fast Food guy, this guy is that and worse. He doesn’t have a bit of good in him and he’ll make sure you suffer every day you come into work. He’ll play coworkers against one another. He’ll have other managers hating you, he’ll prevent you from being promoted and even won’t give you a job reference. This is the most identifiable of all managers. These are often noticed in the first phone call of in person interview. You will often see kids fresh out of college or H1B workers surrounding this person because he can’t fool the experienced.

The Idiot (Pointy Hair Boss)

Idiot is a harsh word to use when referring to a person, but it is really the only word that fits this type of individual. You will definitely recognize these. They are straight out of college MBAs or professionals in other fields like accounting or advertising that move into IT. Usually this happens as the result of a favor or buddy hire or nepotism or they are begat by another Idiot above them. This type knows nothing about IT or technology, using Word or Excel is often the limit of their technical skills. They don’t have any experience with the software development lifecycle or even care to learn anything about it. A good IT manager needs to have some background in technology and no, writing Cobol 15 years ago doesn’t count or VB script 10 years ago also doesn’t count and most certainly knowing how to install Windows doesn’t count. Qualifications are important here. For example, a Software Architect that migrates into management or a project manager with a background in C++ development. A passion for technology is almost always a must as well. You can weed these people out just by asking them what programs they use most and what types of things they do on their home computer. If they say, I do Web pages in Front Page or I use Yahoo Page Builder to develop Web sites, they are either noobs or idiots. This guy will ring familiar anytime you read a Dilbert comic.

The Human Shield

Here is another one who can be good or bad. The good is that they shield you from all the politics and stuff thrown their way from above them, but with the bad ones, this is a double edged sword. I had one before that took all the credit for developing my product. I was a contractor and didn’t care because I didn’t have to deal with the politics very much, but when it came time to cut contractors, I was unnoticed by the SVP for the department, so I went on the list. My manager at the time had claimed victory for the entire project lock stock and barrel. Of course, it backfired a bit when I was gone and he didn’t have a clue about the project. If you find a good one of these, even if you do something that incredibly stupid, they will protect you at all costs to the people above them and chastise you later in private. Another part of being a good manager is that you are accountable for your people’s actions. They reflect on you.

The Tyrant (My way or the highway)

These aren’t common in IT, but there are some. These are the types of people with no management skills and  rule by fear and intimidation. Their entire existence is to dictate what yours will be. You are merely a robot that is programmed to follow their every whim. These folks are related to both Fast Food guy and Weasel. They are generally a bad combination all every bad type. A tyrant can be passive aggressive to extremely aggressive, but the results are the same, a demoralized, oppressed and miserable group of peasant underlings. I have worked for 3 or 4 tyrants in my life, but mostly not in IT. I did interview with one a while back though at Franklin American Mortgage in Nashville TN. The manager and the VP were both tyrants, but one was aggressive and the other was passive aggressive. The people working there appeared beaten down to the point of just about to jump out a window…I am dead serious.

The bottom line here is that you should treat your employees as they deserve to be treated…with respect. You will no doubt get it returned to you. Sun Tzu said it best, “Men who fear you will fight for you….men who respect you will die for you.” Pardon my paraphrasing, but the essence of the quote is intact.

Goodbye cable…you will not be missed

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=theespsho-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B001FA1NK0&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrI finally pulled the plug yesterday. I dropped all of my cable TV services and was left with just internet. I’m pretty excited about the change really and since most everything I watch is on Hulu, Netflix or streamed on some site, I should be set.

One of the other reasons I decided to get rid of cable is more about productivity. When my wife and I first got married, we had no cable TV for 6 months or so and during that time, we went hiking more, exercised more and just generally got out of the house more. A friend of mine from Wisconsin, who also recently dropped his TV service, said that once he did it, he analyzed what shows were more important to him and just stuck to watching though. Not everything is available through streaming out there. There are some stubborn cable TV networks who don’t offer it, so if one good turn deserves another and they don’t seem to care about us, we just won’t care about them.

While my Wisconsin buddy had a point, I’ll make another. If you are just sitting there and you are bored, mundane TV can be pretty tempting. For example, you may just be channel surfing and land on an old episode of something you have seen before or a movie that you may have seen 100 times, but you know what….you still watch it. Due to boredom, last year, my wife and I picked up over 5 shows from cable TV that aren’t necessarily that good, we just landed on them and got interested including Pit Boss, American Chopper, American Pickers and a few other odds and ends. I know what you are saying, if they aren’t that good, just turn off the TV…have you actually tried doing that?

So let’s look at a rundown of our favorite shows and how we will watch them before and after dropping the cable TV.

Before

  • House
  • Lie to Me
  • Two and a Half Men
  • Pawn Stars
  • American Pickers
  • NCIS
  • NCIS Los Angeles
  • Stargate Universe
  • Bones
  • CSI
  • !@#$ my Dad says
  • Big Bang Theory
  • Smallville
  • CSI New York
  • Blue Bloods
  • Pit Boss
  • The Walking Dead
  • Sarah Palin’s Alaska
  • American Chopper
  • Dirty Jobs

After

  • House (FOX: Love it, will catch on Hulu)
  • Lie to Me (FOX: My wife loves it, will catch on Hulu)
  • Two and a Half Men (CBS: have to to to their site to watch, so we may drop it)
  • Pawn Stars (HIST…dunno how or if we will watch this one)
  • American Pickers (HIST: We’ll prob be dropping this one unless we pick it up from Netflix)
  • NCIS (CBS: We love the show, but CBS needs to get on Hulu)
  • NCIS Los Angeles (CBS: We like the show, but CBS needs to get on Hulu)
  • Stargate Universe (Syfy: No episodes on Hulu yet, so we may drop)
  • Bones (FOX: We’ll watch on Hulu, we like the show, only because of Booth, Angela and Hodges)
  • CSI (CBS: We’ll drop this crap…it insults my intelligence. All CSIs need to be cancelled.)
  • !@#$ my Dad says (CBS: We like it, we want it, CBS needs to get on the ball)
  • Big Bang Theory (CBS: We like it, we want it, CBS needs to get on the ball)
  • Smallville (CW: Dunno how we will watch, but we will find a way…last season anyway.)
  • CSI New York (CBS: Another one we will prob drop, it is the better of the CSI shows)
  • Blue Bloods (CBS: We don’t know if we will continue watching, but I love Tom Selleck)
  • Pit Boss (Animal Planet: We’ll be dropping this one)
  • The Walking Dead (AMC: The season is over until next year. We’ll watch this if we have to go to a bar.)
  • Sarah Palin’s Alaska (TLC: We will prob drop the show until it comes to Netflix or Hulu.)
  • American Chopper (DSC: We’ll be dropping this one)

So as you can see, the lists leans toward a few conclusions.

  • We prioritized what is important and what is really good and what is available via streaming
  • Most everything is available via streaming through a Roku, Boxee, Apple TV or some media box
  • CBS sucks…

    What’s coworking? Will it get me out of this office? Read this book…

    I met Todd Sundsted, one of the authors behind the new book, “I’m Outta Here: how co-working is making the office obsolete”, back in 2003 when I went to work for a small, now defunct, medical imaging company and immediately I knew he was the kinda guy I wanted to work for. Sundsted was charismatic, his people liked working for him and were productive, our philosophies on how to be productive aligned and my manager was the anti-Christ compared to him. Todd was the most successful manager I know and I have yet to come across another who has managed to topple him from his title. Well, enough of stroking Todd’s ego and I’ll get to my original thesis.

    Todd’s book is centered around coworking, a concept centered around telecommuting, but eliminates the anti-social behaviors, depresssion and disconnect that can develop from the practice. Many engineers are anti-social by default, so we really don’t need any help in withdrawing further into the downward spiral. Telecommuting and coworking solve several issues that are the bane of an engineer’s existence, the principal being the mundane insanity of the corporate world.

    Corporate society isn’t ideal for work, it’s ideal for politics, backstabbing, showboating and stroking the egos of executives, while glorifying middle management to continue their domination of those who appear inferior to them. I admit that all corporate environments are not evil, in fact, the new age environments Facebook and Google have managed to keep that startup mentality that influences growth and innovation. I won’t get into the other perils of an 8-5 corporate sweat shop, most of you probably experience it every day anyway.

    Telecommuting describes a wide array of practices. Working from a remote location like home or a coffee shop part of the time or all of the time. Different companies have different levels they support for their employees to make their lives more flexible. Coworking is a more specific classification of telecommuting where folks gather at a common place and work on different projects. They share ideas (So long as they don’t divulge proprietary information), socialize and keep up with their peers. It has been en extremely successful movement in many cities. In New York, coworking facilities have been springing up over the past few years. Most startups just pay a nominal fee to have some desks in these facilities and meet there when they need to. the facilities have internet access, copiers, phones, all the essential office equipment. This prevents the extremely high overhead startups have of finding a place to lease.

    In Birmingham, Alabama, a facility was started a few years ago by another individual I used to work with. Quite a few developers I know go there during the day periodically and work together. They span several different companies. In some cases, in lieu of working from home, they go to the coworking facility instead. Before this facility existed, folks went to the local coffee shops, which are hardly ideal for productive work and meetings for long durations.

    The environment an engineer/developer strives for is that ideal startup environment where things are relaxed, you are working, productive and having a good time (Yes, work can be fun.), but over time as the startup become successful, the managers and executive with their MBAs come along and steadily transform it into just another cog in the corporate juggernaut. The talent that was once innovative is now stifled and ultimately leaves the company or gets pushed out. Todd and I saw this happen at the medical imaging company. The greedy executives corporatized, the debased and pushed the engineers to the backrooms, glorified sales and marketing and worst of all, the Nazis eliminated the free Starbucks coffee. OK, so you think the coffee was a pety thing for me to bring up, but it was a symbol that represented the many other little perks they took away over their tenure, including our insurance coverage, free gym membership, and other benefits. At the same time, they were taking away perks, they stopped hiring engineering in the US and started outsourcing to Bangalore. They were adding more executives, a dedicated executive lawyer and more management than you could shake a stick at, while reducing engineering costs.

    Coworking has helped the industry get away from the stigma that if you are having fun and socializing, you must not be working. It is quite the opposite, it leads to better ideas, more entrepreneurships, better code and a more productive, happy employee.

    I highly recommend reading the Book or at least get some information for yourself. Find a coworking facility near you or just head out to the local coffee shop or just meet at someone’s home. I can’t think of a single person who has tried it and said they didn’t prefer it over sitting in their office for a day…

    Coworking references

    NotAnMBA

    Inc.com article

    Buy the Book

    Visit the book website

    Good developers program in a language, talented developers code

    By Chris L Hardin
    Sr. Software Architect

    Have you ever heard of “framework fatigue”? This term is meant to describe the creep of hundreds of third-party frameworks into development projects. Ten years ago, there wasn’t a whole lot of choice out there for Java, my current language of choice, so the average number of third-party libraries included in a project were 1-5, but today, the average has grown to around 30. You’ve got Spring, Hibernate, JUnit, Struts, Commons, TestNG, Joda, Unitils, DBUnit, iBatis just to name a few in the Java space and each of these have dependencies on other libraries and those have dependencies on others. I could rattle off another list for C#. While I don’t think that choice is a bad thing, and while I tend to use 20-30 third-party libraries in a project, I do think that there have been certain side effects of this that have been detrimental to technology. I am going to address what I think is the biggest.

    Getting a Job

    When did getting a job become more about knowing a specific framework and not being an expert on the Java language? I have seen managers walk over qualified resumes looking for the names of frameworks only to land on someone less qualified who decided to put a particular framework on their resume.


    Kevin Rose, CEO of Digg.com, said the next time he hires for a project, he is going to hire for talent rather than technology. He said that when he was hiring for a project, he looked for developers working in PHP, but after placing the individuals, he decided to branch out to other technologies and the developers he hired, weren’t able to make the transition and dare I use the term, “Think outside the box”. A talented developer may know PHP, but can easily ramp up on any other technology, whereas, a developer with merely a toolbox, may not necessarily be able to assimilate other technologies fast enough if at all.

    Recruiters and managers are the worst offenders here. These folks are not necessarily technology experts so they try to cultivate a candidate that has the exact blend of frameworks that the target company is using. While this doesn’t necessarily always result in a poor hire, it does tend to exclude perfectly qualified candidates with real talent.

    Let’s look at an example that I ran across recently. A manager in Denver had a requirement for a developer with Struts 2, so he excluded any candidate without Struts 2 knowledge. In reality, he could expand his search to include an older version of Struts or just MVC frameworks in general. The principles are the same, the technical details can be learned quickly. A talented candidate can take adapt and move with your enterprise. This is what Rose was trying to get across.

    Ten years ago, having just the knowledge of a language or knowing one object-oriented language, could get you a job doing Java or C++, to name two of the bigger choices. Now, you have to learn and have experience with every framework imaginable just to get your resume to a hiring manager. This is why the tech sector says there are shortages in the development field of highly-qualified labor. Heaven forbid we have a shortage of Java Server Faces developers… Most of you know how I feel about JSF so you get the joke.

    Java, in particular is plagued with frameworks and they change rapidly. Five years ago, it was J2EE, EJB and such APIs and Struts, then Spring, Hibernate and more lately Grails/Groovy. My point is that it is impossible to know all these frameworks and it is also impossible to know some frameworks completely. Spring, for example, is just too large for any one person to hold all the knowledge on it’s features. Even if you could learn it all, two or three new versions would be out by that time and you learned the first. The key here is familiarity and talent. A rudimentary understanding of what a framework is used for and a little research, will give you what you need to get the job done.

    Here is a little secret that developers have known for years and non-technical people have yet to figure out. It doesn’t matter what language a developer knows, they are all similar. A talented developer has an interpreter and compiler in his head and thinks in pseudo-code anyway. Applying that to a language or framework is just a matter of figuring out the syntax…and that is the easy part.