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Do Non-Technical Managers Add Value?

timothy posted about 4 months ago | from the which-outhouse-is-uphill dept.

Businesses 249

New submitter Kimomaru writes "Ars Technica asks, 'How does a non-technical manager add value to a team of self-motivated software developers?' IT Managers have come some way in the past decade (for some). Often derided as being, at best, unnecessary and, at worst, a complete waste of budgetary resources, managers in technology today can add significant value by shielding developers and systems engineers from political nonsense and red tape. From the article: 'Don't underestimate the amount of interaction your manager does with other departments. They handle budgets, training plans, HR paperwork. They protect the developers from getting sucked into meetings with other departments and provide a unified front for your group.'" Has that been your experience?

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249 comments

Valuable source of proteins but especially lipids (5, Funny)

sideslash (1865434) | about 4 months ago | (#45850089)

Consumed in moderation, they can be part of a balanced and brain enriching diet. Personally, I am sort of a vegan when it comes to this specific item at the cafeteria, so I make it up with M&Ms and Mountain Dew.

WE NEED COMMUNISM NOW! (1, Offtopic)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | about 4 months ago | (#45850101)

Modern Industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist. Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organised like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.

Two Flavors (5, Insightful)

mythosaz (572040) | about 4 months ago | (#45850103)

Project managers come in two flavors:

Those who put check-marks next to items on SOWs, and those who can bring people of dissimilar skill-sets together to complete a complex project.

Those in the former should be shot.
Those in the later should be praised.

Re:Two Flavors (4, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | about 4 months ago | (#45850219)

Even without acting as a bridge to external people, simply having an educate but non-technical resource on hand is useful.

If you can't explain your project to your manager in terms they can understand, you have no hope of explaining it to the end-users, upper management, budget committees, etc. If your non-technical manager sees through your bullshit, its your clue you are doing it wrong.

Just as the act of merely explaining a problem to another programmer will often yield insight into the solution (without the other programmer saying a single word, or perhaps paying all that much attention), explaining stuff to a non-technical manager often helps with the design and implementation. The questions they ask will also be asked by others.

Re:Two Flavors (5, Insightful)

Shinobi (19308) | about 4 months ago | (#45850517)

I have to agree with both you and the GP.

A good manager without a technical background can be a boon simply because it forces you to examine the project from another angle, and can thus increase the likelihood of spotting pitfalls etc.

Also, in terms of skills and abilities, there's a skill and a personal knack good managers have that is WAY more important technical skill: The understanding of logistics and planning ahead. Especially since it's a trait many developers themselves lack.

Working as a freelancer, in many projects I have to do the logistics, time management, all the paperwork etc myself, which is quite complicated, and makes me value managers even more. It's often a thankless task even when the manager is good but events are beyond their control(Such as "I ordered that shipment a month ago, it arrived in-country a week ago, but it's still stuck in customs...").

Re:Two Flavors (2, Insightful)

TENTH SHOW JAM (599239) | about 4 months ago | (#45850581)

Where oh where are my mod points.

In the end it is all about communication. A person who makes communication easier is an asset to any project. If they are called a manager, whatever. I know I will listen to colleagues as they discuss their issues, and watch the light bulb moments as people answer their own questions by listening to themselves.

A good manager will run interference for the team and make sure they are supplied with what they need to get the task done.

Re:Two Flavors (2)

Penguinisto (415985) | about 4 months ago | (#45850619)

Even without acting as a bridge to external people, simply having an educate but non-technical resource on hand is useful.

If you can't explain your project to your manager in terms they can understand, you have no hope of explaining it to the end-users, upper management, budget committees, etc.

This is 10x as true if you're doing UI design/implementation (which is why I still get a laugh out of whoever let Windows 8.x through...)

Re:Two Flavors (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | about 4 months ago | (#45850543)

In large corporations, a large function of managers is to be a "Bullshit Barrier", and when it's not done well you notice right away.

Re:Two Flavors (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 4 months ago | (#45850737)

I think most of the replies to my post said this, and I agree.

I'm your basic guy who sits in a cube and produces technical solutions. Above me, I've got a manager and a PM. Since I'm not solely a task worker, they have, for the most part, assigned me the scope of what needs done, and I return to them where I am in that body of work. I work with them in prioritizing objects in that scope, and they, in turn, act as a communications conduit to The Powers That Be around here, apprising them of my team's status and giving feedback on how we should continue to prioritize things. When I need assistance, they help provide me with the resources. There's some box-checking going on at the PM level, but that's to be expected. TPTB like a percentage number on their project dashboard. They don't care about the minutiae of tasks, or who I need on some other team to come into the office for a change. They just care if the project will get done before we run out of money.

I don't know my bosses boss. For the most part, I don't need to as long as we all do our jobs.

Acronym abuse (4, Funny)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | about 4 months ago | (#45850567)

Project managers come in two flavors:

Those who put check-marks next to items on SOWs, and those who can bring people of dissimilar skill-sets together to complete a complex project.

Those in the former should be shot.
Those in the later should be praised.

I assume you mean the first item on this list?

  • Statement Of Work
  • Scope Of Work
  • Special Operations Wing
  • Sign of Weakness (Wyckoff trading theory)
  • Speaking of Which
  • Schemes of Work (Department for Children, Schools and Families; UK)
  • Sound of Water
  • Suspension of Work
  • Save Our World
  • Share of Wallet
  • Spirit of the Wolf (Everquest)
  • Stand-Off Weapon
  • School-on-Wheels
  • Show Low, AZ, USA (Airport Code)
  • Superstars of Wrestling (TV Show)
  • Seal of Wisdom (gaming, world of warcraft)
  • Start of Word (computer programming)
  • Switch on Wheels (telecomunications)
  • Special Order Weapon
  • Sent on Way
  • Save Our Waterways (environmental group)
  • Source of Wealth
  • Songs of Worship
  • Subordination of Women

Seriously, I'm getting sick of having to look up acronyms every five minutes. Why can't people just spell out WTF they're talking about these days? SMH.

Re:Acronym abuse (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 4 months ago | (#45850607)

Proper grammar used to hold that the first time something is referenced, it should always be spelled out, but is OK to abbreviate from that point forward.

Problem is, a lot of people seem to take that statement, "the first time something is referenced," to mean the first time ever.

SIG (So It Goes).

Re:Acronym abuse (1)

Lorens (597774) | about 4 months ago | (#45850751)

Those who put check-marks next to items on SOWs

I assume you mean the first item on this list?

At least the use of upper case let you assume that the items in question aren't attached on the backs of female swine.

Re:Two Flavors (1)

sumergo (2510518) | about 4 months ago | (#45850965)

As an old fart project manager with a software development/UX/Business analysis background who hasn't coded for years, I see my role as: 1. Protecting developers from all the management stuff so they can excel at doing their work. 2. Offering guidance, from a client perspective, about what they actually need to produce. I try to set the development team free, while nudging them in the right direction ;-)

Managers (5, Insightful)

Thyamine (531612) | about 4 months ago | (#45850107)

I think the problem is the same most IT professionals find about their own job. When you have a good manager, they are almost invisible and you don't realize what is going on behind the scenes. When they are a problem, then you notice and complain. It's how most of the other departments in a company see IT. Completely ignore them unless something is wrong, and then complain about them.

Re:Managers (1)

pentagramrex (1125875) | about 4 months ago | (#45850333)

If you didn't notice what good managers who appreciate the guys and gals who are doing the things that build the product, you don't know what bad managers are like. Or are dumb to all the other things that need to be done.

Re:Managers (2)

BronsCon (927697) | about 4 months ago | (#45850497)

You're missing the point. When a bad manager is busy being a bad manager, they're in your way, preventing you from getting your work done, dumping their own work in your lap, and generally not protecting your time and productivity like the company is paying them to do. When a good manager is busy being a good manger, on the other hand, they're leaving you alone so you can get your work done and working constantly to protect your time and productivity, guiding your work via email or posted memo unless something critically urgent comes up or you come to them looking for more work because you've completed what they've already given you.

You generally tend not to notice someone who stays out of your way nearly as much as you notice the asshole who keeps you from doing your job because you're too busy doing his. A manager who generally goes unnoticed by his (or her) employees is a good manager; a manager who's always in your face and distracting you from the work you are actually supposed to be doing is a bad manager.

Re:Managers (4, Interesting)

black6host (469985) | about 4 months ago | (#45850349)

I think the problem is the same most IT professionals find about their own job. When you have a good manager, they are almost invisible and you don't realize what is going on behind the scenes. When they are a problem, then you notice and complain. It's how most of the other departments in a company see IT. Completely ignore them unless something is wrong, and then complain about them.

Before retiring I was an IT manager. I can tell you my presence was a great benefit to my employees. In addition to isolating them from all the politics and idiotic suggestions from other department heads, I also was a mentor. My staff had varying skill levels and I worked with each one to help them improve their skill set. I also prevented those less qualified from being assigned tasks better handled by someone else.

In addition, I fought the rest of upper management to make my staff's working environment enjoyable. No overtime when I was there. I knew enough to know that overtime is, generally speaking, non-productive when forced, and forced often.

I also instituted incentive plans for those of my staff that tried hard. They didn't have to be superstars, they just had to try to improve themselves. And my staff loved me. All our software was developed in house and we did a major conversion on one of the pieces, probably the most important piece in the chain. We did it on time, minimal roll out issues and no overtime. And everyone had fun along the way.

Problem was, the owners couldn't see the benefit I was bringing to them. Most projects like that are late, over budget and don't work right out of the gate. They fired me :)

Wonder how they like things now?

Re:Managers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850557)

Problem was, the owners couldn't see the benefit I was bringing to them.

Translation:

It's very frustrating to be so much smarter than everyone else.

- Terry Childs

Re:Managers (2)

ImdatS (958642) | about 4 months ago | (#45850443)

What I learned over my lifetime is this:

A good manager does:
1) Define clear objectives (what to achieve);
2) Define a "strategy" (how-to in general terms) to achieve it;
3) Create the right team with the right, complimentary skill-sets to reach the objectives;
4) Provide all the resources needed to the team so they can achieve the objectives;
and the most important:
5) Clear the path for the team to run towards the objective - on an ongoing basis - so that the team doesn't need to bother with anything like politics, bureaucracy, and other hindrances that would otherwise make it impossible for the team to achieve the objectives.

On a regular basis, the manager needs to do some "controlling', i.e. compare the team's achievements against the plan/objectives and either adjust the plan, the objectives, or the team/team's requirements. A manager who believes that the plan "is carved in stone" is a bad manager. A manager who believes that after implementing 1-4, everything will work out is a bad manager. A manager who believes that "... the team will work out the best solution and deliver as planned ..." is a bad manager.

#5 above, i.e., making sure, on a daily basis, that the team's path is clear and that the team can run towards the objective (including changing team members if needed) is one of the core tasks.

If the manager masters these five tasks, he will be (more or less) invisible and the team will think that they didn't actually need him/her at all to achieve the objective... This is when I would call such a manager a "Master"...

Whether such a manager is technical or not doesn't matter - it might be helpful to be of technical/engineering background (so the manager can understand things better), but it might also be a hindrance to be of technical background (bias)...

Re:Managers (2)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 4 months ago | (#45850871)

While I agree with you that your 5 points define one type of good manager, I disagree with your last sentence. For items 1-3 (like defining a "how to" or understanding different technical skill-sets), it is usually important that the manager HAS at least some technical background.

But a missing technical background is no problem if the manager in question is aware of it and instead accepts (technical) input from the team.

Re:Managers (4, Interesting)

sabri (584428) | about 4 months ago | (#45850851)

When you have a good manager, they are almost invisible and you don't realize what is going on behind the scenes

This is so, so true. At some point in my career, I was working for a large vendor's Advanced TAC. I had a manager who occasionally would come up to my desk with some hot escalation which needed immediate attention. I was wondering what he was doing all day.

Then came the day that he left. He got the Silicon Valley escort out of the building right after his resignation, and I got a temporary manager. All hell broke loose. That's when I realized the true value of my former manager: he was shielding his precious TAC engineers from unnecessary political escalations and made sure that we only got cases which needed our attention, and made sure we actually have some time to analyze the case before coming to a preliminary conclusion. My workload tripled.

I have also been on the other side of that coin. Not so long ago, I was working as a team lead for another large vendor, on a project for a new product. I had a couple of engineers in my team and they would sometimes jokingly ask what I was doing all day. Coming in at 11am, delegating a bunch of tasks and leaving at 4pm. What they did not see is that I worked at home from 8am until 10:30am, and usually until late at night. When I left, I spoke my best engineer a few weeks later. He confessed that he sometimes thought that I was a slacker, but that he now got my workload and was suffering badly. Best compliment I've ever had.

No (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850121)

No, it has been the opposite. They come out of these meetings, not knowing what they have agreed to. They cannot translate what the developers need, and what the business needs either. They end up being a man-in-the middle mess of Chinese whispers.

Re:No (4, Informative)

mooingyak (720677) | about 4 months ago | (#45850575)

Depends on the manager. I had one recently (re-org. He's still around but I don't report to him anymore) who was excellent at exactly what the summary stated: shielding us from red tape and political BS. He was mildly technical - he could code if he had to, but it wasn't his strength, and (this is probably what made him good) *he knew it*. He would do requirements gathering, secure resources when necessary, and stay out of the way on technical stuff. He'd also take my estimates and grossly inflate them, which generally made them more accurate. Good managers exist, but it's an odd niche sometimes. If we swapped jobs, we'd probably both be much worse at it.

A good manager deals with the paperwork (5, Insightful)

msobkow (48369) | about 4 months ago | (#45850135)

A good manager deals with the paperwork of requisitions, financing, and getting "buy in" from "customer" departments and management.

A good manager makes sure your projects have visibility, and that their successes and ROI are broadcast through the company so your department doesn't end up downsized.

Having technical knowledge is good for a manager to understand what their team is doing and what they're saying in meetings, but "technical knowledge" is not and never has been what the manager's job is about. A good manager doesn't need to understand the details, because they're not micro-managing their staff.

Re:A good manager deals with the paperwork (2)

next_ghost (1868792) | about 4 months ago | (#45850267)

Having technical knowledge is good for a manager to understand what their team is doing and what they're saying in meetings, but "technical knowledge" is not and never has been what the manager's job is about. A good manager doesn't need to understand the details, because they're not micro-managing their staff.

But at the same time they need to understand the skillset of each team member just enough to know who to bring with them to a meeting with the client. Never, EVER let a non-technical manager go discuss product features with the client without any qualified developers/designers around.

Re:A good manager deals with the paperwork (2)

LearningHard (612455) | about 4 months ago | (#45850455)

I understand the point you are trying to make but I've also had plenty of managers who did not understand what the team was doing and as a result agreed and committed to projects that were completely outside the scope of possibility. Since those same managers tend to have achieved their level in spite of their competence not because of it the whole thing turns into a finger-pointing game where the manager is trying to find who to blame for the managers over-commitment.

Re:A good manager deals with the paperwork (1)

msobkow (48369) | about 4 months ago | (#45850613)

But that's not a good manager.

A good manager gets input from their team before making commitments.

Re:A good manager deals with the paperwork (1)

Eros (6631) | about 4 months ago | (#45850651)

A good manager deals with the paperwork of requisitions, financing, and getting "buy in" from "customer" departments and management.

A good manager makes sure your projects have visibility, and that their successes and ROI are broadcast through the company so your department doesn't end up downsized.

Having technical knowledge is good for a manager to understand what their team is doing and what they're saying in meetings, but "technical knowledge" is not and never has been what the manager's job is about. A good manager doesn't need to understand the details, because they're not micro-managing their staff.

So how is this non-technical manager supposed to provide oversight, manage conflict, improve workflows, and improve processes when they don't understand the technology or tools?

Seriously, when the shit hits the fan non-technical managers are just guessing at how to fix it and why it happened in the first place? I'm sure we have all worked with plenty of bullshitters that make the rest of our lives hell. And they get to exist and continue to exist because of non-technical managers that can't filter them out.

I know it is tough to keep up with technology when being a manager because of all the things you mentioned. But there is a reason why we are paid more to manager engineers instead of Wendy's workers. We are expected to know more and actually lead by example; not just be a baby kissing politician.

Re:A good manager deals with the paperwork (2)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 4 months ago | (#45850915)

I know a guy, Mr. M, who's a retired computer programming project manager. One of his proudest accomplishments is keeping the rest of company A away from two of his employees, Messrs K&R, who were developing a project, U, which went on to become a foundational technology for the Internet.

So, yeah, it can happen.

On the other hand, the average effective project manager (and not all are) adds a 10% productivity boost to a team of 9. And that's real data, look it up. Hierarchy's value has diminishing returns, but fits well with the tribal instinct with humans. That makes it comfortable, not economically efficient.

TPS reports / middle man / just reading a script (1, Insightful)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 4 months ago | (#45850139)

TPS reports / middle man / just reading a script (getting in the way of one team talking to an other team) / micro managing people even when they are waiting for some other team to do there part so you can do you next step.

I've had a few in my time. (5, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | about 4 months ago | (#45850141)

Two of the best bosses I've ever had could be described as "non-technical managers". They made sure I had what I needed to get my work done, they were very clear about the objectives, and they kept the rest of the organization from distracting our team.

-jcr

Re:I've had a few in my time. (5, Interesting)

dbc (135354) | about 4 months ago | (#45850289)

This. Rule number 1 for managers: have clear goals, and communicate them. Rule #2: make sure the team has what they need.

The best boss I ever had was an ex-Israeli commando officer. No, no, no, he wasn't a "do it or I kill you" manager. He was good because: 1) there was never, ever, any doubt in your mind whatsoever what he wanted accomplished. 2) When you told him what you needed to accomplish that, he either got it, or adjusted the goal. When you think about it, no good officer sends in a team of commandos with a fuzzy objective and poorly equipped. To do otherwise it to spend too much of your life writing unpleasant letters to parents.

Exactly. Shield me from the stupid stuff (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850669)

Make sure I have the resources to do what needs to be done. Sometimes those resources are blockers.

I'm have a key role in how the entire enterprise functions. I *CAN* look at your printer. But so can the department that is supposed to do that. I'm not better than them. I'm in a different role, and the desktop/printer people won't be put on a pike out front if payroll doesn't happen. So it's not fair to skip them to come to me, and expect me to do both, and them to do neither.

I'm lucky that's been my experience (2)

phoenix03 (3348193) | about 4 months ago | (#45850145)

Absolutely. While I would hesitate to call my manager 'non technical', he is much more focused on the look and feel of our company websites. It's my job to implement back end functionality. However, he makes my working life easy. I'm able to work for long periods of time with 0 interruptions - mainly because he fields all the 'feature requests' and complaints. A great manager can be worth their weight in gold - a terrible one can drag you down like they were made of lead.

Re:I'm lucky that's been my experience (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 4 months ago | (#45850933)

You could stick to the "gold" metaphor as they usually still get paid as they were golden but are as usefull as a golden life buoy.

If they're necessary, yes. (1, Insightful)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 4 months ago | (#45850147)

My current non-technical manager is my first stop when I need corporate permission to do something, or if I need a resource that isn't directly given to me. He manages most of the non-technical aspects of being employed here, so I can do my job without wasting my own time on the paperwork.

Since I'm currently working in a very large company, it's very valuable to have someone who knows and understands the full layout of the corporate hierarchy, and has the rapport with all the "friends in high places" to call immediately and get things done.

How non technical? (3, Insightful)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 4 months ago | (#45850151)

Managers that know nothing of programming, may have extensive industry experience.

But a truly 'non-technical' manager brings nothing but lack of understanding to the the table. What use is a TPS report reader?

Again though; Project management is a skill. Someone with no programming knowledge can still recognize when something is on critical path. Having no programming knowledge they might be tempted to split the critical path workload by assigning some of it to an air thief.

Re:How non technical? (2)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 4 months ago | (#45850679)

Your subject question was the first thing to pop into my mind. The best software development manager that I have had was a mathematics Ph.D., with very little programming experience. He was great in abstracting and explaining problems, and excellent in team and people skills.

An anecdote: He was given a guy who just wasn't good at programming. Instead of booting the guy out, he put the guy in charge of builds, verification, and regression testing. These were all things that nobody else wanted to do. The guy got really excited about the job, and took a lot of load off our hands.

The manager told me later, "Not all programming languages are right for every problem. In the same way, not all people are right for every task. But most people want to do a good job. Find a job that is right for them, and they will motivate themselves and excel at it."

I would have liked to work for that manager until retirement.

Re:How non technical? (1)

dnavid (2842431) | about 4 months ago | (#45850741)

Managers that know nothing of programming, may have extensive industry experience.

But a truly 'non-technical' manager brings nothing but lack of understanding to the the table. What use is a TPS report reader?

Sometimes, what a non-technical manager brings to the table is a lack of understanding. The biggest source of failure in software development, among other large IT projects, is consistent and almost institutionalized miscommunication between the producers of the project and its consumers. Most developers are not user-centric when it comes to thinking about the requirements of a software project, and most users are not sufficiently competent to request what they want with technical precision. So you have end users asking for things using jargon they do not really understand, and programmers writing things they think the users want without knowing for certain. These projects *only* succeed if there are people in the middle constantly vetting what's going on and making sure that both sides don't just say they agree on what should happen, but actually understand enough to provide informed consent. And that's hard when both sides don't want to look stupid and thus tend not to ask questions or demand clarification.

The guy who can admit he doesn't understand what the developers are saying but demands they keep explaining it until he does, the guy who is willing to tell the customers that he doesn't know what they are asking for and sits down with them to drop the jargon and have them explain it in their own language, is *enormously* valuable. He is actually the only chance the entire team has to be successful, unless they happen to consistently hire intrinsically lucky people.

Sometimes your own technical staff just happens to have people who can serve this purpose, and don't need non-technical go-betweeens. But such people are far rarer than competent developers themselves. Sometimes, what you need is someone around who reminds you that your customers are as technically ignorant as he is, and if you can't explain it to him your customers can't possibly have understood you either, and conversely makes your customers feel comfortable enough to explain things without believing they should try to exhibit more technical knowledge than they actually have.

Non-technical managers are technical (4, Interesting)

hessian (467078) | about 4 months ago | (#45850171)

They're technical, but in another discipline: organizational management.

Unfortunately, most companies treat this as if it were not a discipline, which allows them to promote either (a) cronies or (b) droids who went through the project management courses that are short of an MBA.

Your "non-technical" managers specialize in planning projects, keeping people off your backs, and keeping you from falling into common developer pitfalls.

Keep them -- just insist on having good ones, so you have fewer of them.

Worked with all kinds (1)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about 4 months ago | (#45850173)

I've worked with managers that did nothing but get in everyone's way and make their subordinates' lives hell, and managers who were masters at building esprit de corps and getting their subordinates the resources they needed to do better work. So, they come in all flavors.

Either way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850179)

a manager needs to understand what their underlings do. It's been my experience that non-technical managers rarely understand the jobs of the people they are managing.

Question from IT (MBA) manager during technical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850187)

I was going through "technical" interview with IT manager who had only MBA under her belt. She asked me the question: "What is common between air plain, rubber band and lake ? "

In my experience, IT mangers don't none of those things: "They protect the developers from getting sucked into meetings with other departments and provide a unified front for your group."

OP Has It (5, Insightful)

snookerdoodle (123851) | about 4 months ago | (#45850191)

"shielding developers and systems engineers from political nonsense and red tape"

Yup, plus shielding users and clients from those of us whose interpersonal skills aren't as great as we think they are.

Sometimes, though, this same role can be filled by a Team Leader who actually does have great people skills.

ObAnecdote: I had a coworker and friend who was a great developer but who always managed to get people mad at him. He was so oblivious to this fact that he'd occasionally comment about how well he got along with users and customers. One day, he came in laughing about the previous night's Big Bang Theory, telling us how clueless Sheldon was because he pissed everyone off and had no idea he was doing it. Yeah, he was that oblivious. And our manager protected many users from him.

No (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850197)

Just ... no.

Best article I've seen on managing techies is here, http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9137708/Opinion_The_unspoken_truth_about_managing_geeks?taxonomyId=14&pageNumber=1, but it takes another techie to recognize it.

Re:No (2)

oneiros27 (46144) | about 4 months ago | (#45850587)

And for those too lazy to copy & paste it, here's the link [computerworld.com] .

Personally, I think it's spot-on, but I don't necessarily think that non-technical managers are a problem. If they know what their deficiencies are, and are willing to ask for help at the appropriate time, they might be just fine.

But I've also had 'technical' managers who were from different fields -- one only dealt with mainframes, and when our departments got merged, didn't understand that the unix team oversaw dozens of machines per person and didn't just have a single task; his boss wouldn't bother showing up to meetings and read the white boards afterwards and would report on that to upper management (with the boards sometimes being the 'no, that won't work, I'll show you why after the meeting' diagrams). He also didn't understand why a 35k user mail system change (spread across 15 hosts) wan't just insert a disk and double click. With the two of them together, they'd do things like plan a power outage to service the machine room UPS and not bother telling the sysadmins until the week before, so we had a mad scramble to coordinate between groups on what order the 200+ systems had to come down and back up.

I currently have more than one manager, because I'm a contractor ... my boss (who assigns the tasks) has enough IT skills to be dangerous, but he delegates to the rest of us for the most part, so it's not a big deal; my manager deals with the contracting company's HR / corporate headaches. Both come from the sciences; neither one's business-school trained, but they're not IT, either. I actually think it's better than having washed up IT people in management jobs, who think they know what they're doing. (eg, insisting on specific hardware configurations, but not realizing that the process is single threaded so they would've been better off buying more 2-cpu boxes rather than the beefier ones they got some great deal on)

IT Crowd Jen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850225)

It crowd, a relationship manager can be far more useful in alot of situations for IT pros, I ahve had non-technical managers in the past and wasted alot of time explaining basic terms and computing requirements that a Technical manager would have grasped/known, our current manager for a team of 25 It pros is actually called a relationship manager and she is amazing for sorting out interdepartmental issues / managing budgets and so on, she is not required to understand what we do, just that we get it done.

Law of headlines again (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 4 months ago | (#45850227)

No. Not unless they are in a non-technical role. Then they can add plenty of value.
Easy wasn't it!

Good managers allow for code mode (5, Insightful)

quietwalker (969769) | about 4 months ago | (#45850233)

You ever duck your head down, put the earphones on, and cut a swath through the feature list, barely realizing that you've missed lunch and it's already 7pm? You'd leave but you've just thought of a really elegant optimization routine and it's so obvious, but you need to see it work before you go?

A good manager can provide coordination between project members, act as an insulating buffer between customers/requirements and devs, fight for resources, push back against poor requests and push forward agendas like refactoring, internal tool development, or library updates (ie, the Good Fight). Really though, this boils down to the simple goal of letting the devs do their job.

Without all the other context switching, we're free to descend into code mode, shut out the outside world, and make beautiful code that we're proud of. In practical terms, that means less bugs, better security, efficient code, lower cost of maintenance, and so on. That's the biggest thing a manager can really provide; an environment where we're free to excel.

That doesn't require any sort of technical chops.

Re:Good managers allow for code mode (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850867)

you've just thought of a really elegant optimization routine

Does this "elegance" give real value to the business that pays your wages? If not it's your managers job to stop you doing that and get on with something useful.

Re:Good managers allow for code mode (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850885)

No, but someone who can see/smell/determine BS - unachievable requirements/lame excuses from both the end user side and the developer side are far more useful than a paper pusher ...

God forbid (1)

barakn (641218) | about 4 months ago | (#45850237)

Oh, please spare the developers from having any contact with the outside world. It's not like the clients or individuals in other departments ever discover any bugs or have anything relevant to say about design features or the future of the product.

Re:God forbid (2)

roc97007 (608802) | about 4 months ago | (#45850467)

Oh, please spare the developers from having any contact with the outside world. It's not like the clients or individuals in other departments ever discover any bugs or have anything relevant to say about design features or the future of the product.

That's a good point, but it can get ridiculous. One manager I worked for required a kaizan (with A3, presentation, followup, the whole works) from every individual employee once a month, on a new topic each time, on the theory that if he made continuous improvement a job requirement, he'd be able to show a huge amount of improvement in the department, and catch the eye of the higher ups. Problem was, after all the low hanging fruit were gone (which, admittedly, some really needed to be fixed) the requirement was kept in place, and now development has all but halted while developers scramble to find ever smaller and less relevant process improvements to implement.

I think it comes from higher ups telling the manager "I want you to do this" while the manager hears "I want your department to do this while you update linkedin and attend management seminars".

not have tech people in meetings can be bad when (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 4 months ago | (#45850245)

Where the mangers is answering questions when those questions need technical people to answer them.

Re:not have tech people in meetings can be bad whe (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about 4 months ago | (#45850495)

Where the mangers is answering questions when those questions need technical people to answer them.

Agreed. Absolutely true. On the other paw, having development attend non-technical meetings are often a waste of the developers' time. One strategy that seems to work is to have the on-call developer attend all the management meetings, as his life is ruined for that week anyway.

Re:not have tech people in meetings can be bad whe (1)

akozakie (633875) | about 4 months ago | (#45850573)

A good non-technical manager recognizes situations where such questions may arise and:
1. Predicts such questions or gathers them from informal talks before the actual meeting, asks the team, makes sure that he/she understood the answer well enough by rephrasing it in front of someone from the team... and is ready to give a technical answer.
2. Is very good at delaying the answer to consult the team first and at recognizing situations where this is not enough and the person asking must be redirected to the right person on the team (as rarely as possible).
3. Has at least one person on the team with sufficient interpersonal skills (and enough political common sense to stay quiet during non-technical discussions) to take with him to meetings where many unpredictable technical questions are likely to arise.

Really, this doesn't happen all that often. Most of the manager's work is non-technical. I'd take a good absolutely non-technical manager over an average technical one any time.

With similar management skills a technical manager would probably be better. Probably. Can he resist the urge to micromanage things he does somewhat understand?

Personally... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850247)

I do not enjoy working for non-technical leaders. I don't like having to explain what I'm doing all of the time, and often breaking things down into words and ideas my child or mother could understand. I've worked for both in my almost 20-year IT tenure, and I far prefer "working technical leaders".

I dislike the term "manager". It shows a false understanding of what's supposed to be in place and occur. You manage things, you lead people. Leader is and should be the correct term.

Oddly enough, the captcha is "idealism".

good/bad manager. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850249)

It describes the good bosses perfectly.

Like all managers, the bad ones pass down everything from the top unfiltered (so they can never be blamed), and
pass stuff from down to his superiors only when required, and never does something like that proactive, always needs
to be cornered and forced to do something about anything.

political nonsense (1)

DarthVain (724186) | about 4 months ago | (#45850255)

Isn't that actually generated by managers in the first place?

Sure they might shield developers from it, but if you got rid of them all, you wouldn't have it in the first place...

Re:political nonsense (2)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 4 months ago | (#45850381)

My experience is that most of the political crap comes from outside the technical organization. Sales. marketing, business development and all that shit.

A good manager will shield you from that. A bad one will add in his own political crap and dump the whole wad on the developers. In meetings scheduled at 7 PM.

What is needed is good managers. Bad ones are a waste of fucking skin plus they suck up precious offices with windows.

new respect for good managers (4, Insightful)

trybywrench (584843) | about 4 months ago | (#45850269)

I made the jump from developer to team lead and now on to management. Good management is very very hard, keeping people on task, motivated, and managing burn out is really more of an art than science and I'm not even including dealing with different personality strengths/weaknesses and the various combinations thereof.

If you have a good manager or even just a not-bad manager let them know. It's a difficult position to do well and lots of folks who you respect see you as worthless.

Re:new respect for good managers (1)

akozakie (633875) | about 4 months ago | (#45850665)

Where are the mod points when I need them?

Relatively flat management structure in my department puts me in a weird position - direct management of a relatively small team, but high enough on the chart to have to deal with a lot of high-level stuff. That means I get to do a lot of both technical and non-technical management stuff on several layers.

The technical management is very, very easy in comparison. If you have the right people, projects mostly do themselves, your job is just to steer them and solve deadlocks where your developers just can't agree and any decision is better than none. But the non-technical parts... the horror... Keeping the team motivated on one side, keeping the bosses happy on the other. Hiring. Resources. Paperwork. Getting other departments to really support you, not "just do their work". This. Is. Difficult. And few people see it as such.

Not at IBM (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850273)

At IBM, the manager's job is to figure out a way to keep their developers from being laid off, or to aid in that process. The employees are pitted against each other, so that instead of working as a team, they work to keep their job over their teammate. The manager has to divide the group into 3 levels of "performance" where the bottom tier is in danger of going on "a plan." If a manager likes his/her whole team, they rotate everyone in and out of the bottom tier. If there is someone they don't think is performing well, instead of realizing it's probably due to their poor management skills and the toxic environment of pitting employees against one another, they flounder about instead of finding work that would interest the person and end up having to let them go.

So, to sum it up, at IBM you don't need management or technical skills to be a manager, as neither skill is used.

Not what type but how many levels (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850275)

Actual Technically-oriented managers will want to remain near the technical, productive level, so they won't allow themselves to be promoted up and have more managers brought in under them.
Non-Technical managers do not care about being near the technical, productive level, so will always be aiming to get promoted or get underlings below them, thus bloating the organisation and eventually destroying its productivity as top management become n-levels seperated from the people actually producing stuff.

Maybe, maybe not (1)

Enry (630) | about 4 months ago | (#45850277)

It really depends on how good a manager they are (technical or not).

A good manager (as others have alluded to) is there to make sure their employees are able to get their work done. If that means doing back-end stuff to make sure they get the equipment/staff/priorities to meet the deadline, then that's the job of the manager and it doesn't matter if they've never written a line of code.

Yes, a technical manager can understand the lingo and be of use. Then again, people who are technical and became managers quickly get away from the latest technologies and get stuck on what they did 3-5 years ago rather than what is common practice now. That can be a huge disadvantage to the team.

In my case, I let my staff go they way they wanted to and did what I could to encourage them to do so. I had my own opinions, but allowed myself to be swayed if they made a good reasoned argument that went against what I thought was the way to go. And they were able to get it done.

Sure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850319)

I agree completely. It can be a invaluable help, and spares all that time which would be spent on meetings explaining things to consulents, the customer or whoever else. Not to mention all the organization of parts, support and tests.

A bit of technicality is a must, otherwise almost the same amount of time is spent on explaining the problem, just now for a much smaller audience.

A fair amount of technicality is even better, or impossible or very hard to implement solutions could be sold by "mistake" as a result of lack of understanding of the system.

It's not whether they can or not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850335)

but how many actually add value, and how many are PHB's. A lot of MBA's are taught that arbritrary checklists are the only way to manage. I've seen places that demand time allocation listed in 15min increments, which inevitably leads to filling out the checklist being included on the checklist.

Depends, obviously (2)

new death barbie (240326) | about 4 months ago | (#45850351)

Management is inherently interrupt-driven: phone calls, meetings, other interactions with the organization

Development is generally NOT interrupt-driven; in fact each interruption has a productivity cost. You want your developers 'in the zone' as much as possible. A phone call, a question, a meeting, not only take time in and of themselves, but in the time it takes for the developer to get back in the zone, which could be much longer than the "quick" question you just interrupted them with.

A good manager (technical or otherwise) keeps interruptions away from their developers as much as possible, A non-technical manager MAY be at a disadvantage, if they cannot do their job without a technical 'guide dog'; but if the organization is structured in such a way that technical proficiency is not required (i.e. not expected to estimate tasks or understand or explain the internal workings of a particular subsystem), then they might be able to manage just fine.

So... depends. Duh.

My primary job... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850355)

As a non technical manager is to continuously ask "what/why" to every feature we're building but to trust the engineers in how to build it. If you can explain it to me, you can explain it to the user. If you can't explain it to the user, he won't use it. I'm not talking about if you want to use PostgreSQL or MySQL, I'm talking about if an action is necessary to take. Here are some of the standard questions I ask:

What exactly does the user expect
Does the proposed functionality fulfill that expectation
What are the approaches we can employ to create that functionality
What's the best way
What's the quickest (usually cheapest) way
What's the criticality to the use flow of this functionality

These questions help me budget time and money and meet the users requirements. Remember, from an engineer's standpoint, you can build anything. It's the managers job to make sure you're building something useful within the constraints of the project and ensure you think about how to do something, and not waste time thinking about what to do and where to get the resources.

Product Managers vs Worst Non-technical (4, Interesting)

Ukab the Great (87152) | about 4 months ago | (#45850359)

Salespeople

- To be good in sales, you have to be able to lie to yourself about the quality of a product, because the customer will not be able to believe it's a good product unless you believe it's a good product.

- To be good in sales, you have to be able to convince yourself that a customer has a need for something that they in actuality have no need for.

- To be good in sales, you have to have the belief that "the product is awesome because I am awesome."

- To be good in sales, you have to do anything you can to get a sale

- A good sales person can sell sand to arabs and ice to eskimos.

Product Managers

- To be a good product manager, you cannot lie to yourself that a product is superior.

- To be a good product manager, you have to design a product that people will really want and really need.

- To be a good product manager, you have to be able to say "I am only decent if the product is decent".

- To be a good product manager, you have to have to be willing to push back against a change that will harm the long-term usability or usefulness of a product for everyone else at the cost of getting a short term sale for one specific customer.

- To be a good product manager, you have to make sure your company won't be selling sand to arabs or ice to eskimos, but rather selling ice to arabs to cool their drinks and sand to eskimos to give their cars traction.

With the rare exception of someone like Steve Jobs who's good at both roles, promoting an outstanding salesperson to do product management is like hiring a convicted arsonist to run your fire department. .

Re:Product Managers vs Worst Non-technical (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850697)

Sounds like you've worked at some pretty shitty places with crappy products. Of course that says a great deal about you, as well...

I've seen it both ways (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about 4 months ago | (#45850375)

A really good non-technical manager serves to shield you from company management drama. Developers are allowed maximum practical development time because the manager is handling all the non-development stuff. A really bad non-technical manager acts as a conduit of bureaucracy. After awhile, all the developers are doing the manager's work, while the manager fulfills the function of finding more mindless procedures to heap on his direct reports.

I've worked for both kinds. Recently.

I should say, a technical manager can fall into the second category above, if they really want to develop instead of manage.

In my experience.. (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | about 4 months ago | (#45850429)

Non-technical managers just cave to pressure from higher management, the only line of defense I've ever seen is from technically experienced managers - usually those who were sys/netadmins or developers themselves once- who understand the issues and workloads.
I don't think it has to be this way, but unfortunately that's my personal experience. But really, that's just poor management and brown-nosing more than anything else, even a good non-technical manager should listen to his subordinates and make smart decisions by taking that into account. The ability to say "no" to superiors, even when their pie-in-the-sky ideals are unrealistic, is definitely lacking. OTOH, saying no to subordinates, not so hard. However, the day when we can no longer pull miracles out of our ass is fast approaching.

Your experience seems to be limited ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850799)

as a good manager is one who can buffer their staff from the dumb ideas from senior management.

One of the key attributes of such people is the ability to talk with and deal with senior management on their terms - i.e. they speak the same language, and they can translate the problems identified by their staff into terms that senior management can understand.

This is not something that technical managers can always do - they may understand the issues, and may not need to get feedback from their staff, however translating that into a conversation that presents senior management with the risks and accountabilities that they need to accept.

Bad Mix: Tech. Engineering & Non-Tech Managers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850457)

A bad combination is a non-technical manager managing an R&D group. I worked in such an environment as a senior R&D engineer making furnaces.

We desperately needed some test equipment (nothing earth-shaking, a couple of $200 items). My manager just crossed his arms and said "Why do we need it?" Fair question, so I had to give him a heat transfer and fluid dynamics primer (conservation of mass and energy) explaining that we needed to measure an air flow rate to understand what was happening in the device we were trying to market. The idea was to be able to tell our customers the principle of operation and how to optimize the control settings.

He basically nixed my request, pointing to a Wikipedia page with fluid mechanics equations that could be used to estimate air flow rates (ignoring or not understanding that the equations did not apply to our application). So I launched into another heat and mass transfer lecture, explaining why these equations were not suitable, and we needed the equipment to actually measure the air flow.

Nixed again, another Wikipedia page thrown at me with yet more equations that did not describe our situation.

I left after 7 months, despite the $120k salary, because I couldn't make any technical headway and saw that a crash was coming. When I left they were struggling with a flood of customer complaints about the furnaces that they were pushing to market yet they did not understand how they really worked. A few months later, after the more-or-less inevitable downsizing, I met with a few of my ex-coworkers that said that I was one of a string of PhD engineers they hired to sort things out, but they all left out of frustration. They praised me for sticking it out for 7 months, the previous record was 3 months!

Now I am a professor teaching engineering heat transfer and fluid mechanics and I get outstanding teaching reviews, so I chalk up that 7 months as teaching apprenticeship. Thanks boss!

Correlation does not imply causation (2)

Shemmie (909181) | about 4 months ago | (#45850485)

The best manager I ever had was non-technical.

The worst manager I ever had was non-technical.

The best manager was best, because she was a superb manager of people.

The worst manager was worst, because she was a crap manager of people.

My own experience (1)

Kimomaru (2579489) | about 4 months ago | (#45850505)

I used to think that IT Managers needed to be technical to be any good, but I don't think it's true anymore. I've had non-technical managers that new what it took to make things happen; 1) hire the right people and 2) make sure they had what they needed to operate. The best project manager I've had did the one thing I needed when I was working on an issue at 2am - she brought me coffee. No attitude, no, "I'm a manager, I don't do this". She went across the street and brought me coffee. That happened 7 years ago and I never forgot it. Non-technical managers come with advantages and disadvantages like everything else, but when they're good, they're VERY good.

Speaking as one of those semi-technical managers (1)

GerryGilmore (663905) | about 4 months ago | (#45850513)

(Formerly - I'm in sales now...) I was lucky in that A) I had some basic coding skills, though no one in their right mind would hire me as a real programmer. At least I understood the basics. And, B) I'd spent many more years as a worker-bee than a manager so I had *lots* of experience on how NOT to manage people. I always adhered to a few basic principles; first, they are people, dammit, not "resources" and they have skills, desires and aspirations that must be acknowledged and rewarded or they'll fly the coop to some place that will recognize them. Secondly, my success as a manager depends on what they produce, both in quantity and quality. Period. Therefore, it's my main goal to make sure that they have the tools and guidance to be successful. Finally, the age-old saying: praise publicly and punish privately. Again, they're people and deserve to be treated with respect. Even when you have to fire someone.

Seriously (1)

Dunbal (464142) | about 4 months ago | (#45850523)

If you need a manager to "shield" people from politics and red tape in your company, let me tell you that the thing that is sucking out all the value and all your profits is in no way connected to technical knowledge or not.

Wow! What a genius! (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 4 months ago | (#45850579)

ARS Technica asks, 'How does a non-technical manager add value to a team of self-motivated software developers?'

Ars Technica asks the rhetorical question, "what use are the non technical managers?", then finds the answer as, "they solve non technical problems". They might do further research and find that adding technical managers to projects will solve technical problems too!

Abstraction layer (2)

benmk (2819735) | about 4 months ago | (#45850601)

A non-technical manager can add value by serving as an abstraction layer that encapsulates non-technical stuff (such as budgeting, marketing, and political tackling) and interfaces between technical and non-technical groups. This requires leaving the technical stuff to the right people, which may lead to a technical guru as second-in-command. The biggest challenge to a non-technical manager is long-term planning! After all, how can you see ahead when you cannot fully understand the current picture? The manager of a technical unit must have technical knowledge at least on overview level of enterprise architecture...

What makes a good manager? (2)

drstevep (2498222) | about 4 months ago | (#45850639)

A good manager keeps invasive outsiders away and makes sure that the workers have what they need.

Bidirectionally, this means understanding (of the needs of each group) and communication (both listening and answering). To the outsider, this means understanding their issues and communicating meaningful replies in terms they understand. It means making appropriate requests and supporting the requests using concepts that the outsiders understand. To the insider, this means understanding their needs and being able to re-frame them in a business sense (for the outsider). It means being able to answer why the insider can't have everything. It means being able to explain business needs and how the technology can meet it. Within the team, it means managing the dynamics of the group without being a babysitter or kindergarten teacher.

A business-oriented person who understands the implications of the technology can make as good a manager as a technical person with a strong understanding of the business needs. The most critical factor is the ability to translate and communicate.

Management is never Value Add (1)

Hillgiant (916436) | about 4 months ago | (#45850681)

Good management is good for the organization. But, there is no customer that will pay more to a vendor because they have good management. Irrespective of what the inflated compensation packages of various members of management may suggest.

Short and complete answer: (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 4 months ago | (#45850747)

Short and complete answer: Depends on the manager.

It's only bad if he thinks he can tell the developers how to do the technical part of their work.

Absolutely (1)

Quantum_Infinity (2038086) | about 4 months ago | (#45850753)

My manager totally shielded me from all the meetings and endless debates about business requirements. I wouldn't go to meetings for several days in a row. Just programming, music and beer. Now he's gone (resigned) and they haven't replaced him. Those were the days!

Mythical Man Month (2)

phantomfive (622387) | about 4 months ago | (#45850785)

Fred Brooks makes the point (in Mythical Man Month) that nearly any project organizational method can work, as long as the project is small enough to be within the understanding of the entire team. If you have 10 good people on your team, you don't need a manager. If you have more than 20 people on your team, it starts to get hard to do things without a manager.

Of course, managers are of all quality levels, as are programmers. A bad manager slows things down, just as a bad programmer does.

Would you... (1)

MNNorske (2651341) | about 4 months ago | (#45850827)

Would you put someone in charge of finance who didn't have a background in finance or accounting?
Would you put someone in charge of a legal department who was not a lawyer?

I'm guessing the answer in both cases would be no. These are specialist areas that require specialized knowledge to ensure that the organizations are working correctly and effectively. Information Technology is also a specialist area and should really be treated in the same mode as a finance or legal department. Leadership within a specialist department should be representative of the core competency of that department. We certainly need people to help manage the money and people, and there are many other roles within a large IT organization that don't need to be technical. But, when it comes to making good decisions about technology you really need people with a technical background.

Managers are your boss.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850833)

... and their boss's way to get you (and every one else two levels down) to do their boss's mission.

Management is a myth (2)

BringsApples (3418089) | about 4 months ago | (#45850861)

Management is a human-made thing, and has no real place anywhere in Nature. If you get a group of any number of people that know how to do something that needs to be done, they'll always self-assemble, and get it done. The problem comes when one of them tries to manage it all.

As far as a bunch of idiots all sitting around in cubicles, waiting for their daily instructions, yeah they need a manager. And for that, any manager will do, as long as the manager can understand the overall project, and is able to explain (each's part of it) to the ones doing the work.

Management is a skill just like other IT skills (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850899)

Have dealt with my fair share of managers. A few good ones most of them mediocre, some truly awful. Just like programming, systems administration, testing, etc etc it is a skill and like many IT skills they don't necessarily teach it at college. You don't need great IT skills to be a good IT manager, you need good people skills, and the ability to determine what is it the next level of management thinks about your dept and how do they make that determination. In roughly 20 years of IT work, 2 of the three most effective managers I have worked for were not from the IT field.

As an Engineer with an MS in Management (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850911)

Strong business knowledge helps tremendously in no matter what you do. I can't tell you how many times my education has led me to solutions overlooked by my coworkers with equivalent, if not superior tech savvy. At the same time, you still need the technical knowledge otherwise your not in the game, I can't stand managers that don't understand at least the framework of what their employees do, its all too common and you can usually tell because they hide behind buzz words and vague assumptions.

Even if a "non-technical" manager can do the job, guaranteed that one that gets it would do a much better job. Good teamwork can go far here, but I'm a firm believer in leading by example.

No, not my experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45850987)

My non-technical manager usually pulls me into non-sense meetings with other departments and teams so that I can do the talking in case a technical question comes up. Around here we are asked to provide "feedback" on training plans, and we do our own HR paperwork. At the end of the day the non-technical manager handles budgets, hiring, and walks around asking when he's going to be able to put the checkmark on this and that item.

A previous very technical manager understood the trade, and did in fact shield my team from all the noise that prevented us from getting things done.

A prior to that I quit a company because the non-technical manager there insisted on having the technical people explain and justify their work every other day, and we never figured out a way to make things work with her.

Why not just address the nonsense? (2)

EMG at MU (1194965) | about 4 months ago | (#45850989)

If managers are there to shield engineers from "political nonsense and red tape" it is probably more cost effective to reduce the political nonsense and red tape instead of hiring someone to deal with it.

If there are too many meetings address that issue. If there is political bullshit address it. If the processes are all fucked up and you have guys jumping through hoops just because some process document says to, fix it. Fixing the actual problems will benefit the company way more than hiring a guy to shield the engineers from it. The last non technical manager I had just invited me to all the meetings he went to because he wasn't able to answer anyones questions. He literally did nothing and when he quit after being denied a promotion he applied for his position was not backfilled

In my opinion you want the engineers to interface with the rest of the company. That is how problems get solved. Engineers getting feedback from customers, tech support, manufacturing, and ops. Then engineers figure out how long it would take and how much it would cost to solve the issues and present that data to marketing and project management. Then you get representatives from each group together to decide based on marketing data and project management input what features to prioritize, what features to drop, and so on. ( I know this never happens in the real world)

All too often marketing draws up some Marketing Requirements Document, which is usually fucked to begin with because marketing doesn't present the engineering group with the customers problems, instead marketing presents the engineering group with marketing's (usually poor) solutions to the customers problems. Then some project management people get together with the non technical manager and agree upon some crazy timeline based on no input from the actual people responsible for doing the work. Then the engineers get a product spec document that basically says to invent a perpetual motion device in a couple of months. When they don't do it everyone blames the engineering group for not following through once again. Set up to fail from the start... In my experience non technical managers don't do anything but add additional noise to the signal.
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