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Good Engineering Managers Just "Don't Exist" 312

hype7 writes "Here's a provocative article; the VP of engineering of a Sequoia-backed startup in Silicon Valley makes the case that good engineering managers aren't just hard to find — that they basically don't exist. The crux of his argument? The best engineers get all the benefits of being leaders, but without needing to take on the rather painful duties of management. So they choose not to move up. Compare this to the engineers who aren't as strong, and use the opportunity to move up as a way to get their voice heard."
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Good Engineering Managers Just "Don't Exist"

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  • I know one (Score:5, Interesting)

    by n1ywb ( 555767 ) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @06:53PM (#46241675) Homepage Journal
    I have met exactly one excellent engineering manager. Of course he was a licensed professional civil and HVAC engineer, and he didn't know anything about software engineering, but it turned out that didn't matter, because he was awesome at project management, documentation, using the right amount of process, and he really "got" engineers and engineering in general, and trusted us on the technical stuff. Then he got unceremoniously shitcanned by a blowhard asshat VP who didn't want to hear what he was saying, who himself proceeded to jump ship a year later. *sigh*.
  • by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Thursday February 13, 2014 @06:54PM (#46241689) Journal

    Managing needs a fundamental rethink. Lot of managers act like kings or generals, not partners or guides or communicators. And that's doing an injustice to good kings, who understood that they could not be slave-driving dictators. Engineers should have the authority to fire managers. Vote the bad managers out.

    The West prides themselves on being fair democracies. Yet corporations are still handled with medieval traditions. Most are even passed on to heirs, under the odd medieval notion that, like entire kingdoms, a company can belong to an individual bloodline.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @07:06PM (#46241769) Journal

    Managing needs a fundamental rethink. Lot of managers act like kings or generals, not partners or guides or communicators. And that's doing an injustice to good kings, who understood that they could not be slave-driving dictators. Engineers should have the authority to fire managers. Vote the bad managers out.

    That's what the sales teams think, except they want the ability to fire engineers. Every group thinks they are the most important, including managers.

  • Re:Uh huh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hemanman ( 35302 ) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @07:10PM (#46241793)

    Correct, I know what you mean, having the same credentials myself.

    However, having both is what enables you to enable your team to work pure magic in projects, a shame it is invisible to all but the ones that take the credit for it, when you yourself is looking the other way being stuck with some technical detail.

    Being technical, which requires quite a bit of IQ, also comes with a high sense of right and wrong, that makes you somewhat backstabbing impaired, and every time you get screwed over you loose a little bit of willpower to try again.

    That's why you don't see any good engineering managers, they just gave up at some point along the road.


  • by Sarusa ( 104047 ) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @07:21PM (#46241863)

    I work for one of them. I've worked for two others previously.

    Current boss likes being able to have his fingers in all the design pies, which he can do because he doesn't have to code any more. That could be a disaster if he were a micromanaging ego driven tool who wanted to own everything, but he knows what he doesn't know and defers to the area experts/leaders. He comes up with very good ideas or ties it together with another part of the project, so he's also contributing.

    He spends the other half of the time doing all those horrible managery things the rest of us don't want to do. And for that he makes more money.

    Everyone wins!

    Of course this /requires/ someone who can manage his time and his ego effectively to work well, but they do exist.

  • Kind of right... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RocketScientist ( 15198 ) * on Thursday February 13, 2014 @07:21PM (#46241865)

    People go into engineering to engineer. Not to tell other people how to do it. Let me explain my day:

    Meetings: 2 hours, minimum, per day. Every meeting starts 2-10 minutes late, depending on the most senior person in the meeting. The more senior, the more they impress by being late to the meeting to demonstrate their importance. "Sorry I'm late, had to stop in the bathroom, fill up my coffee, and blah blah blah don't care". Anything discussed in the meeting could have been done in a 5 minute conversation or 10 minute email composition, but nobody "has time" to read email and comment, because they're in meetings all the time.

    HR Crap: Wanna hire someone? That's at least 40 hours of solid work to pile through the paperwork, which by the way changed completely since the last time you did it, WHY ARE YOU DOING IT THE OLD WAY YOU MORON! Doing annual objectives. Doing semi-annual reviews. Approving timesheets. Approving expense reports. Sitting in on interviews for other teams so they have enough feedback to fill out their paperwork, so they return the favor when you need it. Touchy-feely manager training. Sexual harassment training. Diversity training. Interviewing training. Training training (not kidding).

    Stupid Management Stuff: Talking to every single person on the team, asking about their kids, their favorite sports team, whatever. Every day. 1 hour/day or so. No, I don't care, but *I* get reviewed on that stuff as well. Dealing with making sure people are happy so you don't have to spend the 40 hours of interviewing and HR crap to hire someone else.

    Bureaucratic Crap: Buying things (Budget approval, another approval to actually buy the thing, approval to install it, and security team approval to actually get access to it). Borrowing things. Getting office space, computers, and computer upgrades for the team. Putting in tickets when phones don't work, when people need security access to new systems. Acquiring software is the WORST, I work for a multi-million dollar corporation that has sales people expense accounts for a week over $20k, and it's taken me 8 weeks to get a $10k software acquisition approved.

    Building things: fill out forms to make something. Spend a lot of time reviewing forms and approving them. Don't spend any time actually doing things, that might be fun, you have to delegate that onto your team. You might get some design work in, but you should leave that to your Architect, aren't you late for a meeting?

    Mentoring: The only fun part of my job that's left. 2 hours per day. Max.

    All of this and what do you get? Better pay? Nope, I got a guy working for me making the same money. An office. Well, yeah, sure...untilNO. YOU HAVE TO BE SENIOR MANAGER TO GET AN OFFICE. Until then, a cube like everyone else. Respect of peers? LOL.

    Honestly, being a manager is a shitty, shitty, shitty job. It simultaneously doesn't pay enough and can't pay enough, so it doesn't even try. You don't get to do fun stuff anymore, and you get yelled at if you try. I got roped into it because everyone else took a step back faster when they were looking for volunteers.

    Why yes, I am sending out resumes. Why do you ask?

    Honestly, the best thing to do in IT once you hit a certain level is ask yourself "Do I want to be a manager". If the answer is no, you essentially have to quit and go be a consultant.

  • Re:It's personality (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:11AM (#46243247)

    No, those aren't the best engineers

    False equivalency, Best Engineer is not the same as Best Engineering Manager. Being good at solving engineering problems is not the same as being able to lead or manage people;

    The best software engineers were child prodigies who began programming as children, saw the forest for the trees at the university and didn't care much about their grades, people who have done hobbyist software work throughout their lives.

    Sometimes. And sometimes they fail to make the jump to break bad habits formed, convinced their way is best.

    These people can explain engineering to a child,

    Nope. Maybe some can, but being good at engineering doesn't mean you can teach it, or are good with children

    admit when they make mistakes,

    I'll give you this, I've seen too many very smart engineers fail this, this might be the break between very good and great

    and you can discuss with them any subject whatsoever.

    No. Being well read has nothing to do with being a great engineer

    These people find what they need using Google, because they are great general problem solvers.

    Yeah, if your problem can be solved using Google, its not much of a problem.

  • by funwithBSD ( 245349 ) on Friday February 14, 2014 @01:17AM (#46243415)

    This is why IBM has two lines of advancement: Technical, and Line Management.

    Line Management does HR, resource management, business goals, budget, etc.

    Technical line does technical work and leadership. Project Managers are not management of personnel, but of projects.

    That at least, they get right.

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Friday February 14, 2014 @04:57AM (#46243891)

    Matches my experience. Good managers in particular know when the hell to shut up and get out of the way of the engineers.

    Of course, one critical skill of a good engineering manager is to recognize bad engineers. In particular in the software field, the majority is bad and a sizable fraction is very bad.

  • by ScrappyTheObscure ( 82234 ) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:39PM (#46246917) Homepage

    I work on the east coast and I am (I admit) a manager, though I write code about half the time. I completely understand the class of people this guy is talking about. The power hungry incompetent douches exist. No doubt. But there ARE those of us who are not project managers, but dev staff managers whose job is
    a. figuring out who should be on which project so that people learn from each other and good work gets done
    b. making sure that when a programmer comes up with a really good process or tool it gets propagated to the rest of the teams.
    c. making sure that people who need mentoring because they're on a problem outside their expertise get it even when they're too stubborn to ask for it
    d. making sure that when programmers have expressed an estimate of the complexity of a problem, the over-eager PM who is probably NOT a software person doesn't over-reach and try to push some bullshit schedule.
    e. defending my team against idiotic business requirements and pseudo-experts.
    f. fighting for budget, headcount and training
    g. really working at finding ways of making our distributed team collaborate more effectively.

    Maybe in the rarified air of San Francisco there are so many fantastic programmers capable of concentrating on both the big picture and the small that all of these things get done magically and in a self organizing way by the 1st among equals in the dev staff. Maybe. But I believe in the service I give my team. I took a hit to stop writing code so much because it needed to be done at the time, we didn't want an outsider who was apt to be douchey and I'm good with the people involved. The extra money doesn't mean that much and god knows I hate the sense that every programmer who doesn't know me assumes I'm an idiot until they've worked with me. I wouldn't do what I'm doing if I didn't believe it actually made my team a better place.

    So thanks, a LOT for making it harder for real dev managers to exist, by declaring we don't.
    We all appreciate your eye rolling world weary lack of belief.

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern