Re: Interview

Eric Sosman wrote:
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I eventually got myself out of the management game, feeling that I
wasn't all that good at it and that there were aspects of it that I
actively disliked. I especially hated doing annual performance reviews;
who was I to be playing Judge, Jury, and Executioner with these people?
And on one occasion there was a person I really should have fired, but
I lacked the guts. Luckily for me he accepted an offer elsewhere and
left under his own power, but I knew I'd lucked out and might not luck
out the next time. So I jumped off the management ladder -- I hadn't
gotten high enough to suffer injury from the fall -- and have been much
happier since, thank you. But I *don't* subscribe to the no-thought
Dilbertian dismissal of managers as inherently defective (a position
more extreme than the one you've actually taken, I confess, but using
words like "idiots" to describe people who face circumstances of which
you wot not tends to make me rant a bit).
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IMHO an IT organization works best if it has two parallel chains of management/supervision just like the military does. In the military, of course, you've got the enlisted chain, which reaches all the way up to the top, and this is where the technical expertise mostly resides. And also in the military, you've got the parallel commissioned chain - officers - who lead and "manage". At every level of the management food-chain you have a technical advisor - the enlisted person.

A lot of IT organizations are layered exactly opposite - they have a bottom layer, somewhat stratified, of technical people, and on top of that is the management layer. There may be a little bit of mixing in between, but that general picture holds true. So what ends up happening is, the junior technical folks talk up to the senior technical folks, who in turn talk up to the junior managers, who in turn talk up to the senior managers. The bigger and/or more formal the organization is, the worse this situation is.

There's no mystery here as to why things don't work well. I've encountered few IT managers over my career who had any real software development experience. I don't even pretend to know what their academic credentials have been; I just know they haven't been programmers. So these people start out as junior managers, and generally with little background have to present the condensed input of the entire technical team under them to _their_ manager, who usually started out the same a non-programmer. No wonder things don't translate all too well.

It's not that the managers themselves - as people - are defective. It's the system that's defective. Next time you get a chance look at your organization or one that you have dealings with. If the structure is one of top-level non-technical managers supervising intermediate-level non-technical managers, who in turn supervise bottom-level non-technical managers, who in turn supervise technical people, you've got a problem.