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Good Engineering Managers Just "Don't Exist"

timothy posted about 8 months ago | from the oh-you-wanted-good-too dept.

Businesses 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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they exist but do not have titles? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241611)

So... the good engineering managers are leading by example and managing through informal means. They are out there but since they do not have titles they do not exist. Only a manager would think like this.

Re:they exist but do not have titles? (2, Insightful)

Austerity Empowers (669817) | about 8 months ago | (#46241655)

The engineers are leading projects, but no one is managing the resources.

I'm saying what I have seen to be true, but I can't imagine why anyone would go in to management to begin with in spite of some of the importance of the above statement. The biggest issue is taking responsibility for my boss (and so on up the chain). Bottom line: wall street can go fuck themselves, I won't represent that their shit doesn't stink, that it's a good idea, or even necessary. But once you have product and customers, they want to be large and in charge of the inevitable collapse they will bring, and they need that structure of managers to inflict their will.

Re:they exist but do not have titles? (5, Insightful)

ackthpt (218170) | about 8 months ago | (#46241895)

Go back about 40 years ago, before CEOs gathered obscene salaries, bonuses, etc for doing sweet fanny adams, and you had generations of managers who rose up through the ranks and knew the work of their associates, as they once had done it themselves. They were gradually replaced by career managers who knew nothing about what the engineer was doing, but how to play the management game and crawl up the ladder. IMHO this is why so many companies are in such trouble all the time, they are run by people who do not understand what is actually going on.

There's a saying: Those who can't do, teach.

My variation on this is: Those who can't do, teach, but those who can't teach manage.

Re:they exist but do not have titles? (5, Insightful)

James-NSC (1414763) | about 8 months ago | (#46242001)

I'll second that observation. Ever since "manager" has become a career option in and of itself, it's attracted "those who can't do anything else and who don't produce anything of value". Prior to that being a self serving career path, managers were people who worked their way up the ranks and carried with them both the experience of being "worker bees" and the knowledge of what the pain points of the bees were. Once they became management, upper management benefited from their experience of being a worker, and the workers benefited from their experience of being "one of them" - everybody won. These days, you have managers (we have one where I work) who have never done anything else and as a result, bring absolutely nothing to the table.

Re:they exist but do not have titles? (4, Insightful)

ackthpt (218170) | about 8 months ago | (#46242067)

I'll second that observation. Ever since "manager" has become a career option in and of itself, it's attracted "those who can't do anything else and who don't produce anything of value". Prior to that being a self serving career path, managers were people who worked their way up the ranks and carried with them both the experience of being "worker bees" and the knowledge of what the pain points of the bees were. Once they became management, upper management benefited from their experience of being a worker, and the workers benefited from their experience of being "one of them" - everybody won. These days, you have managers (we have one where I work) who have never done anything else and as a result, bring absolutely nothing to the table.

I learned these lessons from my father, who was an engineer. His manager was a managing-engineer. The person above him had been a managing-engineer. Two presidents I knew the children of, they attended the public schools, had been engineers at one time. Now the top tier of the company is a bunch of pros who live off the wealth prior generations brought to the company.

Re:they exist but do not have titles? (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46242041)

Those who can't do, teach,

So you are saying that Ron Rivest, inventor of RSA (the cryptosystem and the company) or Vaugh Pratt, co-founder of Sun microsystems or Rajeev Motwani co-founder of Google can't?

What you are really trying to say is that you attended a sucky college where teachers were not particularly sharp.

Re:they exist but do not have titles? (1, Insightful)

Quirkz (1206400) | about 8 months ago | (#46242069)

You don't think technology's pace has played a part in this? There's not only more tech and more complicated tech, so that it's hard for one person to know it all, particularly while also learning how to manage people, but it's also changing such that even if you were pretty technically sharp early in your career, by the time you've had a chance to rise to manager you're completely out of date, or quickly get there. I wonder if the environment is stacked against managers learning to be both good leaders and also keep up with tech in a way that used to be less true?

Re:they exist but do not have titles? (1)

khasim (1285) | about 8 months ago | (#46242043)

I'm saying what I have seen to be true, but I can't imagine why anyone would go in to management to begin with in spite of some of the importance of the above statement.

Different personality types. Some people love code more. Other people love interacting with people more.

Also, the manager usually gets paid more than their most expensive person being managed.

So what would drive someone who loves code to trade time coding for time attending management retreats? Aside from the money? And the prestige of management retreats?

Change the way you look at management and workers. Managers are supposed to be management because they understand BOTH sides (management and code) and can translate the requirements of either side to the other.

A programmer is NOT the larval form of a manager.

Re:they exist but do not have titles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46242231)

I've experienced working in both stable start-up (100+ , just got in the black) and big corporate (10,000 + staff) and see a distinct difference in how managers are picked. In the former, it was often the engineer leading by example - mentoring other staff, taking on the hard parts, etc - who would get the management opportunity first. It was almost common courtesy to ask if they were interested. The admin overhead was low, so many took the opportunity - and got to stay technical! Consequently we had strong staff across the board, could solve hard problems fast & profit rolled in.

Switch to a more corporate environment with folks who get labeled management because they snagged an Agile certification and what do you get? Slower delivery times, piecemeal systems & bugs galore. You also end up with your engineers doing the delegated admin work from the manager because that's what classic management would train you to do - delegate! Well...delegating admin complexities to your engineers = dumb. Disrupts their focus.

Academic managers like to say there is a difference between management and leading, primarily to justify not having to lead :). Leading can be dirty, gritty work - but more satisfying & bigger impact to the bottom line.

not exactly (1)

bhcompy (1877290) | about 8 months ago | (#46241615)

I'd say that is applicable to medium and large business, but in small business where the engineer is also the proprietor or partner, it's a different story.

Re:not exactly (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 8 months ago | (#46241831)

I think you're onto something, even though the summary's premise is a bit of an over-generalization. It's a different level of care and concern when an individual has a stake in ownership and presumably profit sharing.

There is an inverse proportion of managers who place the company's well being above their own the larger that company becomes. Not everyone's give-a-shitter is broken at even the largest outfits, but an entrepreneurial engineer managing his/her own baby is properly incentivized.

It also strikes me that the most talented often come with quirks like doesn't play well with others.

Re:not exactly (4, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 8 months ago | (#46241873)

The most talented might have some other quirks, such as not enjoying endless meetings, pointless bureaucracy, idiotic politics, and this would render them unsuited for a job in management. Of course, the other managers rephrase this as "doesn't play well with others".

Dilbert (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241627)

Hasn't Scott Adams been saying something like this for ages?

Re:Dilbert (4, Insightful)

ThePhilips (752041) | about 8 months ago | (#46241687)

No.

That's actually one of the things he doesn't cover: good/better specialists end up doing the work, while the mediocre/lesser specialists have lots of spare time to act in a manager-like manner. Former for their achievements get more work. Later - get promoted.

Re:Dilbert (4, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 8 months ago | (#46241733)

He's not even the first. It's basically the Peter Principle. And he wasn't even the first.

Probably originally noted by the Sumarians when they tried to get the Zuggernauts higher than two stories.

He's really just whining and his rant shows you how out of touch these Silicon Valley guys really are. Companies like Boeing, Lockheed, the consortium that made the LHC - they work on engineering projects that would make a Silicon Valley company curl up in a little ball. You can argue that some of the megacorps are indeed getting to big to manage. Witness Boeing's stupid attempt to outsource pretty much the entire 787 in order to curry favor from various countries. As well as Lockheed's inability to get the F-35 going.

But those projects are several orders of magnitude larger than his. He just needs to learn something from the pros.

Re:Dilbert (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241879)

When the astronauts puss out and the cosmonauts go home for the day, who gets shit done? The muthafukin Zuggernauts that's who. When my boss hands me a project that I can't handle, I look at him and say "We are gonna need a Zuggernaut for this bro."

Re:Dilbert (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241937)

Dude, the last project I worked on needed _TWO_ Zuggernauts.

Re:Dilbert (1)

xleeko (551231) | about 8 months ago | (#46242249)

When the astronauts puss out and the cosmonauts go home for the day, who gets shit done? The muthafukin Zuggernauts that's who. When my boss hands me a project that I can't handle, I look at him and say "We are gonna need a Zuggernaut for this bro."

My kingdom for some mod points ...

Re:Dilbert (1)

gargleblast (683147) | about 8 months ago | (#46242201)

Probably originally noted by the Sumarians when they tried to get the Zuggernauts higher than two stories.

Too true. Supervillians rarely appeared more than twice in ancient middle-eastern comics.

It's personality (5, Insightful)

docwatson223 (986360) | about 8 months ago | (#46241629)

The best engineers I've met in 20 years can't deal with people or their problems. The best managers I've met have enough engineering to know what's going on and when to get out of the way.

Re:It's personality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241699)

Yup, the manager style that I like, is point the engineer at the appropriate problems, then unleash them.

Re: It's personality (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241787)

you got it. engineers usually suck at just about everthing but engineering. including negotiation. that is why they usually get paid like shit.

Re:It's personality (4, Insightful)

jgotts (2785) | about 8 months ago | (#46241887)

No, those aren't the best engineers. Those are terrible engineers, people who have done a great job memorizing their university textbooks and they probably got all A's and can tell you 100 useless computer science facts about trees.

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. These people can explain engineering to a child, admit when they make mistakes, and you can discuss with them any subject whatsoever. These people find what they need using Google, because they are great general problem solvers.

Re:It's personality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241955)

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. These people can explain engineering to a child, admit when they make mistakes, and you can discuss with them any subject whatsoever. These people find what they need using Google, because they are great general problem solvers.

In programming you need to pay attention to the trees too, looking only at the forest isn't enough. Both abilities are important for success.

Re:It's personality (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241961)

So what you're saying is that the best engineers don't need no damned education because them thar book smarts ain't all they cracked up to be.

Re:It's personality (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 8 months ago | (#46241891)

The problem is probably that those managers you speak of are a small minority, and rather rare. They exist, sure, but they're not the norm by any means. Most engineering managers either don't know what's going on, or don't know when to get out of the way, or both.

Re:It's personality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241901)

The best managers I've met have enough engineering to know what's going on and when to get out of the way.

Yup. I posted a similar comment just a week ago, but the best manager I ever had didn't micro manage. He wanted to be informed if shit was broke, even if that meant calling him at 4am, and he wanted an honest assessment of the problem & possible solutions, but he never, ever, micro-managed.

If I said "Nagios is alerting because the DNS server is flapping due to high load, but we don't know why yet." he'd say "Let me know when you have more information. Is there anything else we can do right now?" and not "Can we reticulate the flux capacitor and reverse the polarity?" like a fish flapping around gasping for air.

On the flip side if you ever bullshitted him, you'd be in for a world of hurt.

Re:It's personality (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241919)

Three traits define a "good" manager.
1) They observe and know what each member of their team is working on without being intrusive by setting clear and achievable goals,
2) They discover what their team needs to meet these goals and gets them the resources to accomplish them without needing to be asked,
3) They contribute their efforts when and where it is beneficial, and the rest of the time stay out of the way.

Re:It's personality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241951)

You forgot
4) They have an [high level] understanding of the objective from a technical perspective to know what needs to be accomplished.

Re:It's personality (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46242045)

Disagree.

1) Make clear the goals for their employees, and make sure they understand
2) Make sure their employees have the ability to meet their goals
3) Publically praise/punish for performance

Directly from Art of War. You said basically the same thing but more wordy and confusing. I like the simplified version, and it works for all management and so few of them understand how this works and how well it works.

Re:It's personality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46242189)

It's also corporate structure. Sounds like Medallia is too old school to think that an engineering manager is a step "up" for many engineers; most good engineers I've met this would be a step down.

I worked at a company that had a group of engineers that it took me awhile to figure out. It was all these old crusty guys who were just brilliant in their particular field, and their boss was a 30 year old ex-Navy Engineer; still good but she was nowhere near the experience of those guys. She sat in a cubicle, and they all had offices. I later realized, while she was their manager per se, her role was to facilitate their work and coordinate it amongst each other and within the larger projects in the company. Most importantly and uniquely, her role as manager was a separate advancement track in the company from an engineer.

You want a good engineering manager? Someone with project management experience with some basic engineering knowledge. So they know how to communicate to other functions true schedules and metrics, and they facilitate and enhance the work being done by the good engineers. Separately, let the engineers have their own, separate career advancement track. That way you're keeping people doing what they want to do anyways.

Management isn't always a step up from a operator role, and having good skills as an operator does not equate to having good skills as a manager.

Bigfoot, pretty funny (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241657)

This is one 'office and career' blog post I actually enjoyed for a change. I think I agree, there are basic mismatches that militate against any IT company having good management except for some short happy stretches.

This is why Republicans rule this country (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241665)

They are incompetent so they try to gain power to force people to listen to them. We would certainly never listen to them based on their racist and anti-science irrational crap they spew.

Re:This is why Republicans rule this country (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241735)

Especially that black Republican in charge now, amiright?

Re:This is why Republicans rule this country (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241907)

Are you talking about the US President, because he is not black despite what you racist Republicans call him. He is half black, and he is 100% Republican since the only thing he has done is perpetuate Bush's policies and enact RomneyCare nationally. As we've all seen, he isn't the most competent person. He is just the most persuasive and loud one so he is, by definition, a Republican like this article describes.

Re:This is why Republicans rule this country (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241931)

The only people I've heard call him black are racists. He is not. Do you really think there'd be a black woman named Stanley. You're showing your true racist colors by calling him black.

I know one (4, Interesting)

n1ywb (555767) | about 8 months ago | (#46241675)

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*.

Re:I know one (5, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about 8 months ago | (#46241743)

Ah yes, the other reason there are no good engineering managers: someone who is actually focused on managing their team well, rather than playing corporate-politics games in the higher echelons, might well get fired.

Re:I know one (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46242005)

Sounds like the CEO at my work. He doesn't give a fuck about how anything is done, and as a result less than 50% of our equipment still works, and all of it is older than 10 years - some of it dates back to the 70s.

If we were authorised to have it fixed, it would cost money, and that would push the budget over, and then he would look bad and wouldn't get a promotion. The easiest thing to do is just blame the staff to the board, when things break, and say "I can do the same job in 10 minutes."

Sadly, the business is going down the gurgler, even though a million or so (including a huge taxpayer's grant) was paid to bring us up to date. He'll be promoted long before the place goes under, and the next guy who comes in will take a look at the place and realise he's been set up.

The old CEO will have taken a step up to the General Manager's position, and start demanding to know why everything's broken, and why fixing equipment has become such a priority. He'll then blame the new CEO, who'll either end up resigning, or being fired.

There's no talent for management, only matching the books up. That's what you get for hiring an MBA with a Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) - someone who thinks he knows it all, and thinks he worked hard to get where he is, when really, nepotism is the rule of the day for him. Employment laws don't even apply to him - a quick visit from the local labour law enforcement team would sort him out. Unfortunately, I would be the one fingered for that, since I recently called attention to a few breaches, so I would be the one who's services are no longer required.

The business (going to be vague here) is in an industry where creativity is absolutely required, and yet this year is going to be just the same as the previous, with our emails and copyright notices having just one single change: the "3" at the end of the date becomes a "4".

The guy needs fired before he destroys the whole business.

Re:I know one (1)

Maltheus (248271) | about 8 months ago | (#46242095)

Yep. Best manger I ever had (by far) got demoted for some mysterious reason. Worst manager got promoted for her obvious lies.

Re:I know one (4, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | about 8 months ago | (#46242127)

Ah yes, the other reason there are no good engineering managers: someone who is actually focused on managing their team well, rather than playing corporate-politics games in the higher echelons, might well get fired.

"Not a team player."

But which team and what game is never directly stated.

The "team" is not the people you manage. It is the other managers and the executives. You burn "worker bees" to protect the people on the real team.

And that is the game. Protect the careers of the managers and executives. That's why there are management meetings and executive retreats and golf games. So you will be able to bond with the people who will be protecting you and who will expect your protection in exchange.

Re:I know one (3, Informative)

sacbhale (216624) | about 8 months ago | (#46242209)

I have seen this in three multiple previous jobs.

The manager was awesome and everyone on the team loved him. The product the team produced became a hit and all the career managers in the organization wanted that on their list of successes. They played political games (re-org) and stole the project from under the good manager. The team withered away and all the best people left under the new leadership. The product carried on the previous momentum for a while and then joined a whole list of other mediocre products the company produced.

Uh huh (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241677)

Sorry, but good positions for engineering managers dont exist.
Source: I have an MSc and an MBA. I've heard that those are rare qualifications. What I have found: there are NO positions that want both. It's either one or the other, but never both. Business and technical are always very firewalled from each other in job postings. There are not positions that want both skill sets.

Re:Uh huh (4, Interesting)

hemanman (35302) | about 8 months ago | (#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.

-H

Re:Uh huh (1)

n1ywb (555767) | about 8 months ago | (#46241877)

This has sadly been my experience as well, in medium to large commercial orgs. I remember once I was given the choice, and shown a chart, with two career tracks, management and engineering. The management track went through through the usual layer cake. The engineering chart went Engineer -> CTO. Of course there can only be one CTO, and he wasn't going anywhere, so basically it was their way of preventing engineers from ever getting promotions. But they did offer me management track. I'm not sure if I should have been flattered or offended.

Re:Uh huh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241909)

Most times businesses don't care for a Business degree... they want you to learn their business and apply your technical skills to it. Your right, the MBA isn't as cherished as it should be. After my cohorts got theirs and didn't get anything for it, I decided to bypass that. Thank goodness for no more school.

hierarchical org fail (4, Interesting)

bzipitidoo (647217) | about 8 months ago | (#46241689)

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.

Re:hierarchical org fail (4, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | about 8 months ago | (#46241769)

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:hierarchical org fail (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241815)

That is why it is good to lead instead of manage like a boss (your kings or generals analogy). Servant leadership will get you much farther. There are a large amount of folks who let the power go to their head and shout commands. The best ones are the quiet ones who know the subject matter and gain a following that leads toward the goal. These are the people that are the buffer between the boss and the workers and get things done. The sad part is - these people are never recognized the way they should be (make them an actual manager).

Back to the subject matter part - I have not yet met one Project Manager who is good at their job who doesn't have a fairly solid background on what they are managing. The bad part is - we have a ton of people that don't have the experience, or the interest, in the actual work and think they can manage anything... leads me to believe that a PMP isn't worth much (except for boosting your ego and making you think you can manage everything successfully).

Re:hierarchical org fail (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241821)

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.

The purpose of the state is to please the population, whereas the purpose of a corporation is to please the owner(s).

Isn't this the Peter Principle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241691)

Peter Principle [wikipedia.org]

Re:Isn't this the Peter Principle (3, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about 8 months ago | (#46241775)

No, it's different. The Peter Principle says, "you will be promoted until your job is too hard for you to do well."
This guy is saying that good engineers would rather not be promoted, even though they could do the job well.

Re:Isn't this the Peter Principle (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 8 months ago | (#46241911)

I seriously doubt this. Good engineers just aren't cut out for management: they have no interest in bullshitting, sitting in endless meetings, playing corporate politics, etc. Just because you're good at designing and building things doesn't mean you can deal with people well, and a manager needs to do the latter.

Re:Isn't this the Peter Principle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241885)

No. This is just stating true engineers don't have an interest in managing. In fact it can become painful for them as it smooths out the technical portion of what they know and makes it so you have to deal with the difficult part - PEOPLE. People don't fit into an equation.

What you are looking at is promoting people past where they are capable of handling things. The likelihood is that those people who are not good at engineering are likely less technical and can give it up more easily. They are also the ones who can grasp and embrace the political side better.

I moved from a highly skilled position into more and more less skilled, but more management position over the course of my career. It has taken me 20 years to work my way through, but I now have a good understanding of everything that I need to manage. The biggest thing I work toward is making sure my staff is not overloaded (been there), making sure I am following the correct processes (learned over years), and being able to make quick and confident decisions (again, learned over the years). Things move along pretty good in my office - all deadlines are met unless an external team causes us to miss our schedule. The only real problem that I have is that my team thinks they are getting robbed of OT when I hire a consultant to cut the peaks off the workload spikes. But at least they stay sane...

why go into management? (1)

golfnomad (1442971) | about 8 months ago | (#46241715)

the highly skilled engineer loves his job, the challenge that it gives him technically and the satisfaction of finding the solution and having it implemented. so go into management where it's all politics, meetings and knowing that those who were once your peers are now your staff. Who could resist such a plum job. I tried it once, never again I'd rather have a bottle in from of me that a frontal lobotomy.....

Re:why go into management? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241845)

The problem is that people don't scale well. Once a project/team gets to 10 or so, somebody has to take charge. Unless that's the max size you're looking to be, there's going to reach a point where a second layer is needed. And somebody has to handle interactions with S&M, support and whatever other groups are present.

You can say that the engineers will "just do it", but you need people who are actually a bit outgoing, have empathy and understand that there are more to delivering product than bits. Just because you don't know of one doesn't mean they're not there. There's training materials and source documents for those interested in seeing things happen that they can't do with a squad.

Re:why go into management? (1)

n1ywb (555767) | about 8 months ago | (#46241847)

There's a bottle in front of you right now, judging from your last sentence.

Re:why go into management? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241941)

I've reached the point of my career where I've been asked if I'd be interested I am in management or business development. But I always decline because I frankly love the technical aspects of my job, and I can't imagine a day where I'm not coding or soldering or solving some customer issue. I've been a project lead on some major new products, but even then I didn't have to deal with too much bureaucracy, pointless meetings, politics, and had no hiring or firing responsibilities.

Luckily there is a technical track in my company so I can still "move up" without having to have people under me, but I completely understand why engineers don't want to be managers.

Thankfully I do have an awesome boss though who used to be our co-worker until he decided he did want to become a manager. But because of his background he understands when it's best just to get out the way, and fights for us whenever upper management decides to do something crazy.

Rare, but extant (1)

JazzHarper (745403) | about 8 months ago | (#46241717)

I was in design engineering for 30 years and had about ten managers over the course of my career. One of them was excellent. Of course, he got promoted...

Re:Rare, but extant (1)

n1ywb (555767) | about 8 months ago | (#46241853)

At least he didn't get fired.

Give the technical leads assistants. (1)

ErroneousBee (611028) | about 8 months ago | (#46241725)

Give the technical leads assistants to manage the scheduling, report writing and staff management. That way you get the same work but without the managers salary. You can also try using the right tools. Too many managers use spreadsheets to do project management.

Re:Give the technical leads assistants. (2)

n1ywb (555767) | about 8 months ago | (#46241889)

I've worked as an engineer in a partnership with a project management guy and I've found it to be highly effective.

Re:Give the technical leads assistants. (2)

Carewolf (581105) | about 8 months ago | (#46241985)

Yes. I was about to say the same thing. An engineering team does not need a manager, they need a secretary. Someone to organize, journalize and report. The best managers I have met act like the teams secretary or assistant, but many seems to get their role in the team confused, and it seems a waste to pay them more than an average company secretary.

I looked up where this dude works. (3, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | about 8 months ago | (#46241727)

I'm not at all surprised that he's not able to recruit good engineering managers to work on yet another waste of venture money. It's not a company that develops anything new or different.

-jcr

I see his point (4, Insightful)

rilister (316428) | about 8 months ago | (#46241745)

Having worked as an engineer and a manager in Silicon Valley, I see his point. But I've also worked in Germany, and it's interesting to see how many senior business leaders in Germany are engineers. I personally think that as a culture we (American engineers) devalue and even laugh at leadership skills. We think they're irrelevant to being a good engineer: call it Dilbertism.

Culturally, German engineers (in comparison) see leadership of people and teams as one of their natural requirements. Engineers are reknowned for their high-handedness and taking lead in any given situation. I remember trying being in an informal situation setting a large number of tables for a party: when I started suggesting a plan, two german language students started saying "look at the engineer, taking over as usual".

So, again, as an ex-engineer, I think our mutually reinforced disparagement of managers is part of the problem. Leadership is something we should be naturally good at, and all engineers offended by Juan's assertion should take it as a challenge, not an insult.

Re:I see his point (1)

darkwing_bmf (178021) | about 8 months ago | (#46241973)

I don't know. Our managers, good or bad, are tasked with some pretty mind numbing things like tracking progress on things that are hard to measure and endless days of nothing but meetings. Why would anyone want that job?

Re:I see his point (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46242089)

Bear in mind that in the US a lot of so-called 'Engineers' are nothing of the sort, it is just a meaningless label used to describe their job.

In the US look at the qualifications for a Professional Engineering designation. That is a real engineer.

They do in fact exist (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241749)

Good engineering managers do exist. I have had the pleasure to work with 2 of them. They are based out of Bloomfield CT and they are extremely talented engineers and awesome managers. They work in the R&D department for a very large laser company. One is the president of Engineering the other manages Specialty products. Working for these guys was the best working experience in my life and I regret having left the company for a more lucrative opportunity.

Clickbait (1)

technomom (444378) | about 8 months ago | (#46241783)

Impossible? No. Very difficult to get both people management and engineering skills in the same person? Yup. That's true, but that's why you take care of that person when you find them.

Correction... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241807)

Good Managers Just "Don't Exist"

What is hilarious is, his employer (3, Funny)

hsmith (818216) | about 8 months ago | (#46241825)

The first thing on their website is:

currently hiring: Director of Engineering

Sounds like a great place to work with blowhard like him there.

My view (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241829)

I work in a division of nothing but IT/IS guys (and girls) and our manager is a brilliant programmer. He's also a terrible boss. You want to be a good boss to your IS/IT/Engineering gang, here's how you do it: (1) Trust them to make the right decisions. This part alone is 90% of being a good manager. If you trust your employees, then number (2) won't even come up (2) Don't be a micro-manager. If you hired good people, give them a task, and sit back and let them do it. Quit getting in the way, it just breeds resentment or apathy. (3) Praise them in public, chastise them in private. If they do good, announce it loudly to everyone you work with, and everyone in the company. Show them you like what they did, and they will feel good about where they work. If they screw up, *gently* chastise them in private. Don't berate them, or belittle them, tell them what they need to do to fix things, and then let them fix it and go on. Don't keep bringing up their past mistakes. (4) Don't bog them down with pointless meetings and/or stupid paperwork. You hired idea people, don't kill their enjoyment of being creative by giving them scut work, take that upon yourself. (5) Look at the big picture. That's your job. Let them worry about how it's being built, you worry about the end result and where it fits in the company. (6) Back your team. Fight for them. If they need something (more resources for example) go get it, don't question them endlessly or needlessly about why, it's your job to ensure they have the tools to do their jobs. If questions are raised by other teams/managers about what they are doing or what they need (X) for, find out from them in private, but state it publicly. It's not hard to be a good manager, but too many people seem to be unable to do so. (posting anon since my boss reads this site)

Oh snap (1)

Neruocomp (513658) | about 8 months ago | (#46241841)

Where is my popcorn?

Buddy System (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241849)

Speaking as someone who is a fairly competent technical person who was recently passed by for two management promotions, the problem isn't that I can't or won't do the job, it's that the existing asshat managers have buddies they'd rather promote instead.

And it's not that I don't have experience as a technical manager (I do), it's that the people promoted and hired are both friends (or at least kindred spirits) of the hiring manager.

As the saying goes, it's not what you know it's who.

Maybe they just aren't paying enough... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241859)

According to http://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Google-Salaries-E9079.htm Google pays a Senior Software Engineer an average of $150,361 and a Technical Program Manager an average of $127,295.

Why would a really good engineer want to take on all the burdens of management for less money than they can make as a software engineer?

I am sure a lot of other companies are the same.

They exist. I work for one right now. (3, Interesting)

Sarusa (104047) | about 8 months ago | (#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... (5, Interesting)

RocketScientist (15198) | about 8 months ago | (#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:Kind of right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46242217)

You sound like you work for NASA, or a contractor sucking on NASA's teat. I don't think every place is quite so bad though.

Heh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46241893)

Looking at the picture of the poster, I know what the problem is.

Good engineering managers pretty much all have gray hair.

As everyone here knows, people with gray hair don't exist in Silicon Valley.

It's just clickbait, and it worked.

*PLONK*

No (1)

The Cat (19816) | about 8 months ago | (#46241963)

America no longer values leadership. America values drama.

There is a significant and growing crowd (which took their inspiration from assholes on the Internet) that takes personal offense at the very utterance of a declarative sentence. They are the self-proclaimed arbiters who stand ready to disprove anything given enough grist for their narcissist logic mill.

They are the people who start every sentence with "actually" or "yeah, but." They insist on consensus and then sabotage it. They litigate everything, right down to the flavor of the donuts. They like to refer to themselves as skeptics, but in reality they are just asses.

These people make real leadership impossible.

Re:No (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 8 months ago | (#46242079)

"..that takes personal offense at the very utterance of a declarative sentence."
Yeah. we should let me move on and make decisions with bad information. Nothing says good engineering better then bad data!

None of which has anything to do with litigation or the type of donuts.

You are the ass.

Alpha geeks (1)

DaveAtFraud (460127) | about 8 months ago | (#46241977)

In any technical project requiring more than a few people a small number of the people assigned will gradually emerge as the technical leads, the alpha geeks. This isn't by designation. It's a meritocracy in action. Even though there is no official process, the results are fairly objective. Lower levels of management retain some vestiges of requiring technical competence but, the higher you go, the more the results of who gets promoted are governed by how well an individual shmoozes, kisses fanny, acts as their own PR and other subjective qualities. It is very difficult for higher management to differentiate between an easy project and a competent manager or a hard project and an incompetent manager.

If the above situation isn't enough to keep good engineers from becoming engineering managers, the reward you get for moving to the management track is technical obsolescence. The only thing you become qualified to do is be a manager. In larger companies the only thing you may be qualified to do is be a manager at that company since the bulk of you time is consumed by navigating the arcane bureaucracy that you are part of.

Cheers,
Dave

Bullshit (1)

organgtool (966989) | about 8 months ago | (#46241997)

I know of several managers who were excellent engineers before they were promoted and have made excellent managers as well. This guy is just projecting his own personal view onto the rest of the world. His argument that good engineers won't accept a promotion is complete bullshit since there are many good engineers who would enjoy the increased pay and/or power. In general, money and power are the ultimate motivators, even if it isn't the case for this author.

Re:Bullshit (2)

BBF_BBF (812493) | about 8 months ago | (#46242193)

Spoken like a true Manager, and not a true Engineer.

Some Engineers actually LOVE doing Engineering things, and will forgo a "promotion" to a higher paying or more powerful job so they can stay technical. It's a quirk that, in my experience, Engineers tend to have more than say people who get Business degrees. For those types of Engineers, being able to direct a project in a way they technically prefer *is* the Power they're looking for.

It's just something that a non-techie just can't grasp because it's so much out of their own frame of reference.

That's why in the good old days of IBM and HP, they had a technical track that would allow the top Engineers/Scientists to get promoted, and paid well, WHILE staying involved with the technical aspects of projects, so as not to *lose* their technical skills by making them management types.

Re:Bullshit (2)

organgtool (966989) | about 8 months ago | (#46242235)

Spoken like a true Manager, and not a true Engineer.

I happen to be one of the engineers who would rather continue with engineering than take a promotion to manager, but I'm not naive enough to think that every other good engineer would make the same decision as me.

I am what I am. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46242015)

I am an ENGINEER: a person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or public works;
I am not an ADMINISTRATOR: a person who manages an organization, or one who inflicts punishment.

Those are dictionary definitions.

And I AM an ABET degreed and PE registered Engineer.

(Shrug) I've worked for at least two. (2)

dpbsmith (263124) | about 8 months ago | (#46242021)

Medium-sized company, small groups, but nevertheless excellent managers. And, incidentally, willing and able to pitch in and do some of the work occasionally. One of the interesting things is that both of the excellent managers always chose to use the slowest, oldest, hand-me-down PCs.

I've also... ONCE in my career... gone to engineering planning meetings led by the VP of R&D, who insisted on doing everything in detail with Microsoft Project, and... you'll never believe this, never... actually used the tool to get a picture of the overall project and the critical paths. Someone would say something like "So, according to the chart, we're going to be three weeks late here," and he might say "Well, that's when marketing says they want it, but they don't really need it and I'm pretty sure I can push that back."

Or he would stare at another part and say, "Well, this looks like the critical path, and why is it going to take eight weeks to get this lens made?" And the optical engineer would say "That's what XYZ in Rochester is quoting us." And the VP would say "Hmmm... is there any way to get that faster?" "Well, we could get it in five weeks if we placed an expedited order but that's very expensive." "How expensive?" "It will cost $22,000 instead of $8,000." Pause. VP says "Well, it looks to me like we'd better do that, then."

Putz's Law (1)

Moof123 (1292134) | about 8 months ago | (#46242023)

Good book, and one of the central tenets is that in a technical organization there will be a competence inversion. Good engineers will defy the Peter Principle by way of "Creative Incompetence", such that excellent technical leaders will stay at the bottom levels due to bad personalities, poor hygene, and similar.

Excellent book, but expect to be depressed as you see the behaviors it talks about in your own organization.

Wrong (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 8 months ago | (#46242025)

I've know a lot of really food engineering managers.
I've know a lot of really bad ones as well.

Managing includes a set of soft skills, as well as not being passive aggressive. So you need those skills as well as engineering understanding.

Re:Wrong (1)

dacut (243842) | about 8 months ago | (#46242169)

I've know a lot of really food engineering managers.

Obviously you meant "good" here, but it made me pause: is there a correlation between food and good managers? I've been reading more than a handful of materials (e.g. Peopleware [slashdot.org] ) which have mentioned eating together as a helping to build strong teams (arguably the most important job of a manager). A number of companies have caught on, from the big (like Google [howstuffworks.com] ) to startups (one of my favorites, The Omni Group here in Seattle even has a full-time kitchen staff who are listed by name on their about us page [omnigroup.com] ).

Obviously, it's not a catch-all solution; heck, I suspect it's more correlation (that is, the managers who get their teams to eat together are more likely to care about their teams) than causation. But still gave me a pause.

this is a terrible argument (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46242051)

The idea that the best engineers are happy to sit around taking direction forever is silly. I've found that it is necessary to take on management duties if I want to work on my projects rather than someone else's projects.

I've worked for some really good managers. In each case, those guys were leading teams doing things they were passionate about and had deep experience with, and they were given wide latitude to manage the project and people as they saw fit.

lack of ownership (1)

submain (856941) | about 8 months ago | (#46242059)

As said in TFA, engineers usually don't want to "move up" in the company, but my experience tells me that a good portion of us day dream about making an app that will make them millionaires. For me, that is a inherent sense of entrepreneurship.

Simply put: why are you going to take in more responsibility to enrich someone else while you can work on your own projects during your spare time and hit the jackpot?

Of course, that mindset might not be realistic: the cruel reality is that most of us will never become millionaires. But if corporations were willing to change the "take this fixed amount of money and I'll try the hardest I can to suck the life out of you" to "you and your team own this project, and your compensation will contain part of that project's profits", then maybe more engineers would be willing to manage.

And Sequoia back this startup? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46242077)

I have worked for some very very competent managers who kept the teams focused and were very technical. Granted there are alot of managers who aren't very good. Sounds like this guy working for the startup isn't very good.

Counter Examples (1)

kellymcdonald78 (2654789) | about 8 months ago | (#46242099)

Tom Kelly, Werner Von Braun, Sergei Korolev and Kelly Johnson.

They do exist! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46242109)

Just because you haven't met one doesn't mean they don't exist. Good engineering managers are just very difficult to find. I happen to know one who works in IC design in Silicon Valley. He's technically excellent, worked his way up the ladder through hard work over decades (starting at Fairchild), and knows how to manage people. He's tough, straight forward, and demanding, including of himself. When he negotiated and changed companies, his engineering colleagues moved with him.

Good E M =/= M good at E (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about 8 months ago | (#46242113)

Management is a different skill than engineering. If less than stellar engineers move into management, their skill in engineering should have no bearing on whether they can manage engineers. If they try to micromanage, that makes them bad managers.

They do exist and flourish (2)

Virtucon (127420) | about 8 months ago | (#46242115)

In organizations where they're not burdened with a lot of Bullshit and Bureaucracy. They're not found however in organizations that have leadership that's based in Finance or the MBA world of idiocy.

I've worked for good engineering managers (2)

david.emery (127135) | about 8 months ago | (#46242153)

I've had the good fortune to work for several good managers, either as direct supervisors or as senior managers, up to the Corporate VP level. That includes people in small companies, in Fortune 500 companies, and even active duty Army officers.

What I've observed is that the top levels of management DO NOT want to listen to what the good engineering managers try to tell them, about topics like staff training and retention, schedules or resources (e.g. hardware/capital expenditures.) Instead, the CxO level people promote those who tell them what they want to hear. It's not universal, but many of the good managers I've had are products of deliberate leadership/management training, rather than being promoted from 'nerd' to 'boss' and left to figure it out on their own. Part of that training is how to talk to the CxO level and how to make arguments in terms of corporate business case, objectives, etc.

The only good news is that at least in this millennium, the number of top managers/CxOs who actually know something about software, has increased. They're still a minority, but you may well find a VP who understands that software isn't "that crappy stuff that always makes our systems late, so we'll 'fix' it by throwing more cheap bodies at it." (I got really tired of the engineering VPs whose experience was in hardware, and whose ideas of software systems engineering was framed by "that FORTRAN course I took in college...")

One interesting model that was popular in the early '90s may deserve another look. Some research labs* split managerial duties, separating technical leadership from administration. Where some organizations got into trouble with that model was not treating both classes of managers as equals. The technical leaders too often got marginalized, because the administrators were the ones that talked about the kinds of stuff CEO/CFO wanted to discuss. It takes a tremendous investment at the CxO level to institute a program that recognizes and grows technical leadership as distinct from, frankly, beancounting.

* It runs in my mind that DEC's Western Research Labs was one of the organizations that implemented this approach successfully.

Those who can't do the job will rule the job. (1)

mrmeval (662166) | about 8 months ago | (#46242157)

Pournelle's Iron Law
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Pournelle#Iron_Law_of_Bureaucracy [wikipedia.org]

I'm fairly sure that is a facet of that law. You have a less than stellar engineer who goes into management to cover his sins with real engineers flesh. They do tend to keep an organization alive. It would be helpful if there were a clandestine organization that assasinated upper level beurocrats in both government and quazi government entities but that's never going to happen.

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