Management Take a deep breath

Managers Are Not Evil, Pt. 1

“What, exactly, do you do?”

Slack.

Jawed.

Amazement.

This question is coming from someone I trust. A trusted employee who has been working in my group at the start-up for years. This guy always tells me the straight dope and now he’s asking me what I do with my day because he honestly does not know.

Let’s recap my day. I got to work just after 8am. After my usual thirty minutes of scrubbing and answering email, I did a quick check of tech news… taking a quick pulse of the planet… and then it’s off to my first meeting. It’s my bosses staff and it runs for almost two hours as usual. After that meeting, I spend 30 minutes digesting notes from that meeting into actual tasks for myself and the team while also tidying the corporate news I received for my staff meeting.

Lunch. I’m eating with the web applications team today. It’s thirty plus minutes and then I’m back for bug database scrubbing… a daily thirty minute task before a cross-functional meeting that turned ugly… needed someone to do something and they are incapable of doing it and that means I’m screwed. After that sixty minute debacle, I’ve got an hour and half of one-on-ones. It’s during this time that I am asked the lamest question ever,

“What, exactly, do you do?”

My first reaction to this question is the wrong one. I want to leap over the table, grab my friend by the shoulders, shake him, and yell, “WHILE YOU WERE USELESSLY STARING AT THAT ONE BUG THIS MORNING I WAS KEEPING THIS ORGANIZATION MOVING PAL.” My second reaction is to take a deep breath, so I do.

This basic “what-do-you-do” disconnect between employee and managers is at the heart of why folks don’t trust their managers or find them to be evil. I’ll explain why in great detail in my next piece, but first, I want more content.

Today’s question is, who is the worst person you worked for? And why? I’m looking for sour grapes, I’m looking for irrational rants, I want to hear about that manager experience that STILL MAKES YOU YELL.

Like the Remotely piece, I’m hoping the comments are far more interesting than the question.

44 Responses

  1. poorly managed 11 years ago

    I’ll start.

    The Boob. VP from long ago. Start-up was slowly tanking and he was doing nothing to help. Senior Staff was scrambling to think of bright ideas to save the company and this guy was coming in late and leaving early. My 1:1s with him were discussion about how he liked to climb. JesusFuckingChrist.

  2. I once worked with a lawyer who wanted to use his great business contacts to sell some software. He had no idea what he was doing and basically gave us a book to implement, then followed on with dozens of modification requests that often contradicted each other or were logically not sound.

    The two main weaknesses were:

    1. He had no idea what he was doing and unwilling to learn.

    2. He lacked integrity. He didn’t care about the quality of the product and was just in it for the $$$.

  3. 1. A youngish entrepreneur with the attitude “you suck because you work to live; I, on the other hand, live to work”.

    2. Another youngish manager who returned from the US with the “I’m better than anyone” attitude and become a CEO of a banking-software company inspite of knowing literally nothing about a) banking, b) Croatian corporate laws and practice, c) managing people and d) development (Quote 1: “I know Java”. Quote 2: “I know we need a C guy, but we’ll hire that Java guy nevertheless; since he know Java he’ll have an easy time with pointers.” Note: It wasn’t irony.)

    3. A CEO and majority shareholder of a software development company with about 30 excellent developers. Sold complex, feature rich and non-existent telecom applications to clients, telling them that the applications are complete and it will only take “a few weeks to customize them”. At the same time left the dev team in charge of the most incompetent PMs (one of them would be no. 4, but I don’t have the time to write a book…), and firing developers working on failed projects (even though the failure was due to unrealistic marketing). In less than a year a 30-people team was reduced to a handful.

  4. Mighty WOMBAT 11 years ago

    I was the tech lead for a group of employees working on the shiny new code base. My manger and the group integrating the old code with the new database were two time zones away along with the VP of Development, two other development groups, the QA group, the lead project manager and the COO.

    I weekly update my MS Project schedule and email it to him along with my status report. He is supposed to integrate it into the schedule he is maintaining for the group working directly with him and hand that off to the lead project manager who integrates it into the company schedule and looks for inconsistencies.

    My team is feeling sky high because we have been approved by QA. It’s a bit tight because the site is one week from go-live but given that we were told we were crazy we are thrilled to not be late. So we get onto our weekly con call with my manager and the first thing we hear from him is “Guys, we’re six weeks behind schedule.”

    Come to find out he had not been integrating my schedule into his because his never existed. He had no idea how much work his team had to do or how long it would take them to do it.

    And those six weeks? Matched almost exactly the six weeks of vacation one of the programmers on his team took during the summer.

    Those six weeks turned into three months of twelve hour days, seven days a week to catch up data scrubbing and code fixing while we were live.

  5. My worst manager was a sadist who thought himself the reincarnation of the Worst Sports Coach Ever.

    He was not horrible technically, but valued writing code *right now* over all other things, and never spent any time in design. He wasn’t afraid to make his staff consistently work death marches fixing problems that came up due to this, and also never got a deadline from his superiors that he wouldn’t agree to — without any knowledge of the details of implementation.

    My worst single experience with him was when he viciously, almost violently, berated me for telling a customer what it would take to fix a product we’d written for them — apparently, we’d been lying to them consistently for months on end about it, and no one bothered to inform me of this. His motto, that I was told I should have had common sense enough to recognize, was “Never tell the customer the truth.”

  6. A manager that put his career above the project’s – thus above the customer’s – needs and didn’t hesitate to make others responsible for his project faults. He was never to be seen during the deep crisis times – eg when the customer is waiting.

    I spent alot of time to solve the technical issues, thinking it would be rewarding in the end – how naive I was! – until I realised he just used me to have someone to accuse when something bad happened.

    Last I heard he had a promotion in that company that I left out of disgust because of him. All other developers that are/were on his team and that I met all share my view on him. Pointy-hair-boss-wanabes on his team were mostly fond of his success.

    I guess his modus operandi is “suck those above you and screw those under”. Way to go for a successful career in a big company.

  7. Well, this is sort of shilling for my blog, but the one time I wrote about management I referenced Rands in Repose in the same breath as Fred Brooks and Joel on Software. Following is cut’n’paste from http://www.metapundit.net/sections/blog/93

    ————

    I meant to tell a story. This story happens to be true and is a good example of the unintended consequences of active managing. When I first got out of college I worked for a dot bomb; one of those internet companies with a little VC, big ideas, and a dubious business plan. Now initially we had a very small team: I was the second most senior programmer and we had a room of about 8 or 9 programmers and graphics designers working on databases and flash applications. Because we were so small, we were pretty informal and initially we filled out time cards by hand. My immediate boss was sort of in charge of making sure people were honest about the hours they worked, but we tried to be flexible with people’s time. If you marked your card 8-5 but you actually worked 8:30-5 with a half an hour lunch break, hey that was fine with us.

    Eventually, our manager got irritated by people coming in at different times and brought in a time clock. No more flexible accounting, from now on you punch your card when you sign in and out and you only get paid for the hours you actually worked.

    This of course, could only end badly. As it happened most of the programmers were working an extra 10-20 minutes a day. We were tackling some semi-interesting problems and people were enthusiastic; sometimes showing up a little early to informally meet and brew the day’s first pot of coffee, more frequently working on “just this last bug” untill 5:20 instead of racing out the door at 5pm. Two weeks after the time clock was introduced, the two senior programmers were again called on the carpet, this time because people were working too much. Apparently people had to be paid in quarter hour increments and so everybody was getting paid 1/2 an hour of overtime every day. Accounting didn’t like this much. The new rules were: if you came in early, wait untill it was actually 8 o’clock before clocking in. Likewise, if you were going to leave at 10 after 5, clock out right at 5 and go back to doing whatever you were doing.

    This of course provoked much grumbling and many complaints from people who arrived early, forgot to clock in right at 8 and were being docked 15 minutes pay despite actually being here. Eventually the senior programmer aquired a key to the time clock and we went back to the old system: hourly employees worked an average of at least eight hours a day and we forged all the time cards to say 8-5 with an hour lunch break. We had finally arrived back at the old system, with the extra baggage of 3 or 4 meetings, recriminations between departments, and a new daily 10 minute task that reduced the Senior programmer to the role of secretary/forger.

    ———-

    End cut’n’paste. I recently told this story to another guy with some managment war stories to tell. He said his management would at least have had the foresight to have the timecards preprinted 8-5, 1 hour lunch, which struck me as a brilliant idea. More to the point, that dotbomb experience left me with lots of stories to tell. I quit about 3 weeks before they quit paying the programmers due to “temporary cash flow problems” and 6 weeks before they closed the doors for good. They did manage to continue to pay the monthly lease for the Lincoln Navigator w/ leather seats, rims, etc. (after all, it’s very important for the owner to present a prosperous front to people!).

    I also date my complete rejection of the “team player”, “dreaming big dreams”, “buying into our vision” and similiar “motivational” sounding speeches to that job. I’m cynical and like ironic humor anyways (hey I’m a geek), but after hearing the owner of the dotbomb give rah-rah football style talks about how we were going to be bigger than Microsoft (!) (total revenue I knew about was ~$.25-1M, total employees about 20, total # of people with a clue, about 4 or 5) and everybody in the room wouldn’t care that they were underpaid now because they would be selling their stock options in the future… I also had the pleasure of sitting in client meetings where the owner promised all sorts of things (During the meeting: Oracle integration? We’ve got that. After the meeting: What’s Oracle?) we hadn’t even thought of working on yet and expected software to come into existence because he willed it to be so.

    Am I bitter enough? My real problem with management is frequently that people with no observable skills are making decisions they aren’t qualified to make and compensating for problems they created by attempting to manipulate their employees into sacraficing time and money for no discernable payback. I’ve had (I have) some good bosses and universally they have enough humility to know what decisions they can and can’t make and enough insight to know when I need my butt kicked cause I’m slacking (almost never), wanking on architecture instead of solving the problem (sometimes) or when I’m doing the best I can (most of the time).

    I contend that a manager literally can do nothing positive to speed the completion of a single concrete task. Good managers know this. Bad ones don’t.

  8. Oh yeah! Here’s another of my favorites! The small web-design company I worked for was hired by a large medical data company to rewrite their external website including a customer account login with approx. 1.2M accounts. We were selected by a consultant whose role with the company seemed vague to me, but were delighted to have such a large account. We got the project about 75% but increasingly had trouble getting co-operation from the inhouse IT department at this company. They were hosting the web and db servers and wanted to do code audits on all scripts, stored procedures, etc, demanded written documentation for new tables created and consistently badmouthed our work to management in these massive “clearing the air” meetings we would have.

    Eventually the fired us. We were behind schedule and relations with inhouse IT were getting ridiculously acrimonious. The consultant who hired us attended all of these meetings and defended us but never did anything to actually force IT to cooperate with us despite seeming to have a great deal of power. When they fired us we had the completed website done on our own server, with our own db, but they shorted us 25% of our bid (IIRC, for me personally it was 3 or 4 thousand dollars).

    A few months later they fired their head of IT and a few others and appointed the outside consultant to be the new head of IT. As it turned out, he was a personal friend of the CIO’s and had been retained primarily to dislodge an incompetent but firmly entrenched IT staff. His way of doing it was propose we be hired to rebuild the website (which, it turns out, internal staff had initially written) and watch IT kill themselves trying to make us look bad. When everything went down in flames as planned, he’d off the IT department en masse. The only challenge was to keep stroking us so we didn’t quit in disgust or figure out what was going on and demand complete control of servers, etc…

    As corporate Kung Fu it was pretty impressive. And retrospectively, it was my own dumb fault for not figuring out what was going on. As the collateral damage, however, after doing 6 day 12 hour death marches to get things up and spending email, phone, and meeting hours trying to pin an elusive IT staff down only to be fired and shorted, I was furious. To make things even better, the CIO shortly thereafter went to jail for embezzling 1M+ dollars for ski trips, vacations, and designer clothes, leaving the consultant with even more power. Our office seriously considered sending her flowers and a “Happy You Got Arrested” card…

    Again, my experience is that management is frequently trying to manipulate you for ends that may not be immediately obvious.

  9. Well, the worst manager I worked for was known some colleagues as “Poison Dwarf”. The nickname wasn’t that appropriate, but it will suffice to identify who I am talking about to the cognoscenti.

    Crime #1 was her view was that the most important thing was what she thought someone else was feeling. “Oh, you can’t possibly do that. Fred will be really upset if you do.” Never mind that I’d talked to Fred and agreed it was the best approach.

    Crime #2 was berating me for wearing jeans on a trip to another office of our company where I was going to spend most of the day in their computer room moving equipment around.

    Crime #3, the worst of the lot, was deciding that anytime there could be a negative connotation to anything I did, the reason was malicious intent on my behalf. For example, any time I booked less than two days vacation she asked me, outright, who the interview was with.

    She still makes my blood boil.

  10. Zorkerman 11 years ago

    I would say that the issues in management that bother me would make me want to ask my manager what he does. I’m told that I’m insulated from some stuff that happens outside our little part of the company. What stuff? Is it hard, challenging, sound good on paper?

    I spend a significant part of my life being a better developer, does he do the same for his skills?

    Does he know or care us low guys on the totem pole feel ignored with respect to decision making?

    Do his goals at all include me getting better at my job, or just not making a comotion?

    Most importantly has anyone else been screwed by anything that I’ve done, or does any stakeholder in my well-being at the company feel any ill will towards me that he knows about or could know about. (This one came to burn me, even as I asked for this information specifically, which he knew and didn’t tell me about.)

    Zorkerman

  11. I think the worst I’ve ever worked for was ‘beulah’ (after Beulah Balbicker in Porky’s)…

    She took the cake. A few incidents:

    #1 If I didn’t say hello loud enough in the morning (she was a bit hard of hearing, I guess) I would get a “I SAID HELLO”

    #2 Took notes on anything and everything. EVERYTHING. If you were caught in the smallest logical inconsistency, she’d fly into pedantic mode, whip out a notepad, and start reading back to you something from earlier in the week. Nevermind that situations change in light of new facts.

    #3 Would get on me for not following the ‘procedure’ we performed from paper. I didn’t perform it from paper because I have a rather eidetic memory for processes. Also, I wrote the process. Also, two of use would test each other on the process: one would keep the notes, and the other would perform the process to verify our memory.

    #4 After I left the department, she was moved to another department where she had a tendency to lord over someone even though she was no longer a manager in charge of anyone. She was made redundant about 6 months later, and I’ve been here for about 7 years after that incident.

  12. While not technically my direct manager, the worst “boss” was a bean counter that couldn’t count beans. We ended up going into a layoff spiral until it was so bad a good number of us left within weeks of each other. Oddly enough it was just what the bean counter needed, as he could now replace us with people making much less and would take much more crap. We got better jobs and the company got bought, so it was a win for everybody…in the end.

  13. Off-topic: For me, the manager is the one who communicates the needs/expectations from everyone to everyone and incites the direction of actions to be the best for everyone (including boss, minions and clients). He usually helps you foresee bad stuff (because he knows what’s on everyone’s mind).

  14. JohnO 11 years ago

    My worst manager was my previous one. He had zero clue about programming, yet was trying to take his company from a webdesign shop to a custom programming/consultantcy shop. He stood in between the programmers and the clients. He would make deadlines and sign agreements without consulting a programmer. He couldn’t gather requirements because he had no idea what was needed to program anything. Absolutely horrible on every front.

  15. Worst ever was the entrepreneur I worked for who tried to be a programmer. It was like, look, you’re good at what you do, this is not it. I know you’d like to help me with the programming workload but this is NOT working at all. He was a good guy, but it wasn’t cut out for him at all.

    Bonus points for ending up running a company and hating the business side so much that the maintenance work never gets done.

  16. Freiheit 11 years ago

    Hmmm…

    Worst one ever is still too painful to talk about in great detail. Company he’d started with a friend, ISP with probably under 20 employees at the time I worked there. One manager for tech support, everybody else reported directly to the CEO. Most people other than tech support were friends with him before he started the company. Basic problem: he’s a gregarious guy, but had abso-fucking-lutely no clue how to manage, and apparently no clue that since he was doing it he should learn how to do it. Did a terrible job of listening, ended up inadvertently encouraging petty infighting by rewarding useless toadies and punishing (or bullying) useful people willing to point out when a bad idea was bad. In the end, employees that tried to tell him what he was doing wrong got fired. All at once. Big loss for the company, since he lost 90% of the talent *and* a whole bunch of people really loyal to the company all in one day.

    Good at that outward looking, grow the company the right way, schmooze with the local press, etc. stuff that a CEO should be good at.

    I hear things there have improved a lot. I know a couple people that work there now. Sounds like mostly it’s improved because he’s being a CEO and hired managers to do the managing. Still gets a tad too involved in some of the small details, but that’s nothing compared to the massive incompetency he had at managing before.

  17. I have plenty of terrible stories from working for a salesman turned CEO but who has the time? Besides, you asked what still made me angry, so here it is.

    Monday morning I come in to find the CEO already at his desk (highly unusual even though it was already 8) and immediately he wants me in his office. Not a good sign. He’s totally furious. Face red. Smoke from his ears. I’m the worst developer ever. Why can’t I be trusted? Do I have any idea how much business I cost him? Oh yeah, he hasn’t even told me what the problem is yet.

    It’s an ecommerce company and our sites have been down since sometime Sunday morning. By down I mean totally unusable. Not one order.

    After I’m out of the wringer I go back to my office to track down the problem. It’s easy. Some code libraries are missing from the server. A one minute fix. Let’s look at the logs. A quick call to our ISP confirms that their CEO deleted them because he didn’t know what they were for.

    The ISP was a small (shitty) company. Our CEO threw them a bone (our business) because their CEO helped him out (once). They built/configure/maintain our server for a ridiculous monthly fee.

    a.) Why is the ISP deleting files on our box?

    b.) A one minute call prior to deletion would’ve saved us a lot of mess.

    c.) Our agreement says they monitor our sites 24/7 so how could it stay down for almost a full day without them knowing?

    All these questions pop into head about the same time. I’m in his office when their CEO tells my boss that he deleted the files. I actually saw a look of disappointment wash over his face as he (now) meakly tells them how much money he thinks he lost.

    That was it. Not another word about it. Not even an apology. Like I said, that’s just *one* story. I couldn’t take it anymore and I’ve moved on. To the best of my knowledge, they’re still using the same ISP.

  18. The CTO calls together NOC and MIS for a meeting. His idea of motivation is telling the teams “you guys are the only non-revenue generating departments”. Basically puts us “on notice”. Meanwhile, paychecks are bouncing, engineering’s flaky software is crashing the servers and customers are complaining about the product. I think they’re out of business now.

  19. wibble without a pause 11 years ago

    The worst boss I have ever had was my previous team leader.

    I should have realised that things were dodgy when he asked, at the end of the second (or maybe it was the third) interview whether I had any kind of problem with some one else being in charge. After all, given my experience I might feel that (perhaps) I should be in charge. The TL was about 3-5 years younger than me. I replied that I was glad some one else was charged with the responsibility. He seemed to accept this but I should have seen a lurking problem here.

    The basic problem was that the team I was joining was quite dysfunctional.

    The most experienced developer was sitting on the periphery, virtually on the outside, and hardly spoke with the TL. The TL’s favourite developer was a very bright junior developer with lost of good ideas, and a quite forceful manner.

    Three days in I get my chewed out by the TL because I have rewritten something that was already written and was in CVS. Exactly where was unsure since the TL didn’t actually know. He didn’t care much for integration things, he just loved his IDE (Eclipse).

    At this point the junior dev came to my assistance and pointed out that the code in question was in a different CVS repository to the one that everyone was using.

    Did I get any kind of apology? Well, yes I did, a half-mumbled one.

    At this point I should point out that I was very glad to have a job, even if it was (supposedly) a three month contract. I had been out of work for 6 weeks since I had been laid off back in July 2003. This job paid a lot better than another opportunity that I had available which was in testing rather than development.

    Still, it didn’t make me feel very welcome.

    As time went by, I just kept my head down and got on with what I was assigned. In general I avoided asking questions that would lead to awkward silences and provoke *unusual* answers. [We had an unwritten list of taboo topics].

    Two months in, I am summoned to a meeting of the COO and Production Manager.

    What do I think of the code? Was the code commented? How do I think the work is going? When will essential feature X appear?

    I was frank, but very circumspect:

    The code was ok. There were comments and they fit into the middle of the comment-spectrum (i.e. they exist and match the code). I told them I though the work was proceeding well enough but I did not have enough experience of the domain to judge. As for feature X, that would be at least 3-6 months away at the rate things were going.

    Boy, they didn’t like that 3-6 months thing.

    After my meeting was over they hauled the rest of the team in for a series of one-on-ones. The end result of which was that feature X was done in 3 weeks, the most experienced developer was moved into test and our current tester was prompted to Product Manager.

    The PM promotion was a direct result of the TL saying he felt more comfortable receiving requirements than generating his own.

    What an idiot!

    In one deft stroke he effectively demoted the skill of the software team, put himself on the bad-boy list of management and pushed us into a corner.

    In my first annual review he (lightly) scolded me for getting involved in hardware. “We do software” he told me on several occassions. I told him that I felt that not getting involved in the hardware design was wrong, especially since I had the skills and experience to make sure that the hardware was designed in a software-friendly way.

    His preferred approach was to receive a completed design from the outside and then, no doubt, be able to bitch about it when it came up short. Frankly, I have little time for this approach. Why did he work this way? Well, I guess he felt beseiged by the rest of the company.

    When developing a product that comprises hardware and software, you usually find the software is the unversal glue for everything. This leads to it becoming the most highly visible focus of all that is wrong with the product. The TL didn’t want that heat; he wanted the ability to point to others as carrying some of the blame. A bit paranoid perhaps, but understandable.

    The TL felt that ALL software rested on his shoulders alone. He would only commit to what he could do (himself). I guess he did not feel that he could really rely on his team.

    I continued to work with the main hardware (i.e. electronics) engineer. This led to a system that was a bit of a compromise to the TL’s sensibilities but which I (at least) could live with. It was not the best solution (we are doing that now) but it allowed me to continue functioning in the oprganisation without having the TL classify me as a traitor of some kind.

    My first year there, with that TL, had me feeling as if I was some kind of ancient fossil. In fact, the most-favoured developer once referred to me as more of a *coder* than a developer. I laughed it off but that foolish, sarcastic comment damn well hurt.

    I was the Unix/RTOS guy in a Windows world. I guess that the *most-favoured* developer only saw me was a non-Windows person and was (by definition) unskilled in her world. It is an *interesting* way to look at others, is it not?

    We replaced the developer that moved into test with a guy from the TL’s former company. Now this was a very calm, reasoned guy that was easy to like because he took his time doing things and was very careful about what he did. His dev skills were excellent and he produced some of the best documented C++ that we possess. In the end he decided to leave and return to his home country but he took me through a series of hand-over session before he left. I didn’t ask why I was chosen for this taks but just got on with it.

    The reason became apparent much later when the TL told me that the I was chosen for the task because the developer found working with the *most-favoured* developer too hard. From what I understand he found her style to be belittling. He accepted the slights that she (I suspect unintentionally) made as something to be shrugged off as he was working in a foreign country.

    The thing is I know what he meant. That *coder* reference hurt! And she didn’t realise it.

    I should be fair. Whilst she was a very bright, young lady with a top degree in mathematics, her first position had been in testing and her develoment skills were still maturing. A clear example of this was her love of arrays, the most basic of data structures.

    She just loved arrays. Array were “simple” and “clear” to her. Even though we were working in Java with its support for Lists and Maps, she much preferred to use that kind of “complicated’ thing internally and pass arrays back through public methods.

    Personally, I never understood that. Why recast something that is fundamentally a List into an array when the list (and iterators) is the correct conceptual level to work at.

    However, I could not convince her.

    The TL used to say that she was really good at designing classes. I did not agree. Her classes were big and cumbersome and made little use of helper classes. The design was all mixed together and it was hard to separate the GUI stuff from the data model.

    Mind you, the TL was responsible for our worst designed class. It was several thousand lines long and had wonderful method names like doScan() and internaldoScan().

    The TL loved algorithms but I don’t think he loved class design. It was not his interest and it certainly was not his forte. Is it any wonder that her classes were thought to be good.

    Anyway, I am drifting a bit here. Let us get back on course.

    If I had been more Machiavellian, I would have used that meeting with the COO and Production Manager to set the ground for pushing for the TL job myself. However, I am not a political animal and I missed that opportunity. I missed it because I wasn’t looking for it and because I did my best to be loyal to a team that I had just joined. I didn’t want to bad-mouth people that I hardly knew.

    Of course, that wouldn’t be what they saw. They probably saw someone with a decent amount of experience that said things were pretty much ok. And they didn’t see things that way.

    My fault. I screwed up.

    Fast forward to December 2004. The *most-favoured* developer announces her resignation (a bare foure weeks notice – the minimum). She is moving to Europe with the partner.

    She and the TL had hardly been speaking for the last four months. I think he felt that she was undermining him. I think she felt that he was slowing everything down to his pace and not letting us get on with newer and better things. She also tried to entrap him (rather obvviously) into saying that “testing was a waste of time”.

    Fast forward to March 2005. We are down to three people after the *most-favoured* developer has decided to move overseas with her partner to Europe. The TL is a lot less pushy now and is sort of resigned to the way things are. We have a new developer who has a lot of Java in his background. He came onboard around October 2004. He was been vocal about the lack of quality in the codebase with anyone who will listen. Those with a conspiratorial gene will be pleased to note that th shares the same nationality as that of the Production Manager and they often go for walks together at lunchtime. I think it is because they enjoy speaking their native tongue. My partner thinks I am naive.

    So, I take some time off for a few days sailing.

    On my return I find an e-mail saying that we have a new TL in software. The e-mail goes on to say that the former TL has “asked to take on a more technical role” in software.

    Everyone knows exactly what has happened here.

    And I am annoyed as hell for (1) not being consulted about this *change* before it happened and (2) not even being considered for the TL position.

    Naturally, I do not fly off the handle in public but just “keep my cool”.

    Item (1) is just being decent to those on a small team. Item (2) is, I suspect, an almost direct consequence of not sticking the knife into the TL’s back two months after I started at that meeting of the COO and Production Mangager.

    So how are things now?

    Pretty good actually. I have a lovel big desk to work at, a rather nice 19–inch LCD monitor to stare at and the new TL is a very good TL.

    We hired a new developer back in April 2005 and he has worked out very weel. He is a pleasure to work with and (thankfully) an ego that does not depress all those around it.

    Yes, it still hurts every now and then that I wasn’t consulted about the changes that happened back in March 2005. It hurts that the COO didn’t consider me up to the job of TL. And it hurts that I have no career progression available to me (here) now.

    I like the new TL and approve of almost everything he has done.

    I guess I just wish it had been me. But, my skill lies in fitting in, getting on with others and (I think) bringing people together. I suyppose I’ll just have to stick with that for now.

    Hell, the new TL called me the “core” of the time a wee while back.

    That, at least, is a positive appreciation of my contribution. I never got that from my previous TL.

  20. A year or so back I gave up 5 grand from my paycheck to keep another member of my staff onboard with our company. This was roughly a quarter of my take home paycheck. This was made known at the time that it was a short term offer and I’d be given some recompense to keep going with the company in the future. I did give up a sizable chunk of work for that and all my overtime, but I wouldn’t expect any future extra cash to come for free and I never dole out the crappy jobs that I wouldn’t be the first to muck in with. The company failed repeated over the last 18 months to give me extra work, or take me on in another area of the business, by this time I’m barely making my monthly outgoings on my mortgage and car payments, so I started to look elsewhere outside the company, which I make upper management fully aware of, and give them full chance to make a counter offer to keep me. Offers are made and back and forth we go. The company was on the loosing side of these offers and they knew it. I work with another manager on a similar level with myself, I’m Chief Engineer, he is Acting Director, unfortunately, he doesn’t have a good relationship with people, a good ideas man, but no follow through. Constantly giving himself the nice jobs and dropping the crappy ones down on his staff. He approached me in the last week of these negociations to say he was making the guy’s job I saved redundant anyway, and that they would love it if I could take back this work but on a time-in-lieu basis, as they couldn’t afford to pay me what they originally paid me for doing the job in the first place. The guy never did take notice of what was going on around him, and never took to the job in a constructive way. I do believe he is leaving the company too, as he has overseen the 100% turnover in his staff since he started. Including me, his peer and colleague.

  21. Chris 11 years ago

    I think the most annoying boss-related incident I ever had was very early on in my career. I had been moved from programming to tech support, and the bulk of the support was done at the clients’ site.

    At this stage, I didn’t have a drivers licence, and was told that I needed to get one; there was a very heavily implied “or look for another job”. And I had to get this before my next performance review.

    Anyway, I get my licence in the morning, I’m all set for my review in the afternoon, and I find out that it has been cancelled, and my boss was away that day.

    He was away, because he had decided that that day was a good day to go skiing instead. I only found that part out much later, but he never even mentioned the review he was supposed to be doing, or let me now beforehand, or anything.

    I guess I’m still bitter… I ended up leaving that job about a year later; the company focus was on billable hours above all else (never mind actually solving the customers’ problems; that was merely a way to get more money out of them), and tech support didn’t bring in anywhere near the same revenue as the apps people…

    Which brings me to another rant from that place: some customers had maintenance contracts on their hardware, which basically meant that if anything went haywire it became a top priority to fix it, given that they had paid for that support up front. It also meant that any time spent on jobs covered by these maintenance contracts was not billable to the customer and was looked on as a waste of time by the company (Make up your minds, people! Is it important or not?).

    Net result, spending 2 hours on billable work in a week, and 40+ hours in that same week on maintenance contract items was seen as an ‘unproductive’ week… yes, I’m still bitter about that, too.

    Ah well, I’m long gone from there, thank goddess.

  22. My worst experience was with a manager who was totally out of her depth, didn’t understand developent or project management, completely abdicated all responsibility for risks and just updated gant charts all day. She would play the role of helpless female to get me to promise her the project wouldn’t slip – so I wound up loosing sleep over things beyond my control.

    Pretty much every conversation I ever had went something like this:

    Mgr: Hi, hows it going with feature X

    Me: Fine thanks.

    Mgr: It will be ready on time won’t it?

    Me: Well we’re on schedule so far

    Mgr: But what if something goes wrong or changes?

    Me: In that situation then we might be late

    Mgr: But it’s really urgent that we finish this on time (long pause)

    Me: I can’t see any reason why something would go wrong or change though

    Mgr: Oh good, so you’re sure we’ll be finished by X then

    Me: Well… yeah, I suppose

    Mgr: Great

    Then, if something did change or go wrong…

    Me: We’re not going to be ready by X

    Mgr: But you promised! It’s really urgent!!! (long pause)

    Me: Perhaps we could solve this by reducing scope/using more people.

    Mgr: Ok, you sort it out and let me know when it’s all ok again

    It took me a while to realise what was fundamentally wrong with this conversation.

  23. Joe Pellerin 11 years ago

    amazing – ask for rotten manager stories, and the howitzers come out… 😉

    my worst manager was actually not my direct report – but the ceo of our company… he had a habit of bypassing lines of command, however, and issuing direct orders to the humble foot soldiers. among the many beauties he delivered this one stands out.

    our product was a large targeted marketing database (sold to our clients as a “data warehouse”, even though it wasn’t). this product ran on an oracle platform, and required a very technical and very manual installation process. we had a very large customer pee all over their server, and needed a re-install.

    the client, being rather ignorant (not their fault – that’s why they pay us), insisted on saving money and doing the re-install themselves. our manager came to us asking whether this was wise – we replied with a unanimous and obvious “no!”. within two hours, the ceo made an appearance at our cubicles, informing us that the client *would* handle the re-install themselves.

    one year, and about $100k of effort later (not to mention the $4-$8 million the client lost in revenue), the install was still a botched mess – and the client was lost.

  24. Holding my breath... 11 years ago

    About ten years ago I worked for a local ISP. Several management issues just generally, but my manager in particular was awful.

    Three employees, with a board of directors of five people. The board would convene even for routine tasks like writing a $200 check to buy some modems.

    One of the owners had another business that shared an office with us. He did our books. He’d routinely be on the phone with other owners complaining about how he wasn’t sure he would be able to make payroll – within earshot of the entire staff (no walls or even cubicles in this open floor office). Mysteriously, when he quit in a huff and someone else took over the books, we were in the black in under 30 days.

    I initially interviewed for a tech support position. This mostly involved talking to customers and helping them set up or fix their network configurations. I interviewed with the person destined to be my manager. His approach to the interview was to have me draw random shapes on a piece of paper, and then describe them to him. He drew what I told him (“a circle… about 1 inch from the left margin… about 3 inches across…”) and the objective was to see how accurate his copy was. I went along with this partly so I might get the job, and partly out of a baffled curiosity as to what the point might be. It turned out that he was testing my ability to describe things to people who can’t see what I’m looking at. Never mind that configuration screens look nothing like what I drew, and were described typically by their labels (words) not shapes or positions.

    After I was hired, I was given a Linux machine to work on. Almost every customer was using either Windows or a Mac. I had neither to work with for the first month or so. I was also supposed to do certain tasks that required admin access on our servers (i.e. root-level access). But he forbid the main tech guy from giving me this access, meaning I had to interrupt that guy constantly to do things for me. Inside a week, we solved this problem: I was given root access surreptitiously and whenever the boss came around I’d switch to another screen that wasn’t logged in as root.

    The manager’s job seemed to consist of 4 things:

    1. Taking long breaks to read playboy.com and Cigar Afficionado magazine. Whenever a customer showed up, everybody knew to double check his monitor to see if playboy.com had to be closed.

    2. Browsing catalogs of cowboy boots online, and buying a pair every now and again. These boots were well known in the office, because they’d always be perched up on his desk while he was reading Cigar Afficionado.

    3. Going on half-day “business meetings” to one of our clients, conveniently owned by a couple of his high school buddies.

    4. Calling his father to beg for another loan to pay his mortgage.

    Whenever someone walked up behind me, I could tell if it was him by the smell of his breath (I’ve smelled better from a dog’s mouth). It didn’t take long before I instinctively held my breath whenever I heard footsteps.

    He resigned a couple of times via email, then just showed up the next day like nothing had happened. The third time he did it, they changed the locks and told him to pack his desk. We had a special lunch to celebrate it.

  25. Ben Newman 11 years ago

    Ugg, I started on a new team a couple of years ago, and should have known relations with the team lead were going to be bad from day one. In our first technical meeting it became obvious that he didn’t know how to read a relational database diagram. If you questioned his application design he’d berate you in the middle of meetings. If you proved his designs wouldn’t work he went through the roof. He didn’t trust CVS, so he wanted the 3 developers on the project to create a java web app together, using our own machines to develop on since we didn’t have a central server yet, to keep all of our source on a shared drive on the network. This was actually the first case where I quoted Rands in a meeting. Fortunately he was ousted 3 months after I signed up.

    Contrast that to my best manager. I was a server engineer at one of San Francisco’s larger web consultancy companies before the bust and our manager was the bomb. Not only was he a rock star engineer, but he one of those rare developers who was just as good at understanding people as he was at understanding machines. He had a lot of great experience but at the same time knew that you knew more about the project then he did and listened to what you had to say. He was great at advising you how to do your job without ever telling you how to do you your job. He worked hard to keep the engineers learning and exposed to new trends in the industry and you knew he had an internal chart of where everyone on the team stood technically and what he thought he could do to help them move forward. Most importantly there was never any doubt that he was on our side. During staff meeting you could see him consolidating every opinion in the room, and in his dealing with upper management you knew you were being represented. If a compromise had to be reached, he came back, laid out all the reasons and explained why it was important. He might not have won every battle for our department, but you knew that he tried, and if someone was out and out trying to screw us he’d go to the mat to defend his people. It’s been almost 5 years since I’ve worked with him, but I still ask myself what he’d do when I’m faced with a difficult business problem.

  26. anontexan 11 years ago

    God, take your pick:

    1) The CEO who begged support from his construction magnate dad to found a startup [with next to no business experience, leading to a great deal of foundering and business plan changes], thus making all of us technically construction workers. Not really evil, just clueless and directionless. This was right around the time of the dot.bomb meltdown and so being on an unstable ship was double-plus unnerving.

    2) The general manager who would actively lie to different departments and to the owner in order to cause strife and discord so that he could be the knight in shining armor, saving the day. Imagine the smarmiest “I’m going to screw you in the ass and you’re going to say thank you” mannerism possible, and you’d have this guy to a tee. I’m tempted to put his name and last known contact info here as a grim warning to all future people that if you hire this malignant turd, half your team will quit inside of a quarter. I wouldn’t be at all suprised to learn that he stole candy from babies and cheats on his wife.

    3) Oh, the owner above? Clueless lady who inhereted the business in the middle of a divorce because her jackass of a husband, the sole owner, died of a heart attack (rumor-mill had it that said MI was stripper-induced). Not evil, just really out of her league and willing to trust whatever was fed to her (see smarmy two-face above). Wanted the developers to wear uniforms and punch a time clock.

    4) “Sure, we can do Vignette/EJB!” (team lead at a later job, we were a LAMP shop almost exclusively. that project was a total charlie foxtrot and about four people ended up getting canned because of it)

    5) The current leader who might have been a good database person in a past life but has *ze-ro* people skills and kind of sucks at the non-spreadsheet aspects of management. (Hello, if the estimates were two engineers for a week, if you reallocate one of them somewhere else, it’s not getting done in five days!) Also an expert at writing incredibly ill-formed (terrible grammar and spelling, let alone rhetorical structure) and inflammatory intra-team memos. Part of the problem is that the C.L. is a stone Mechanical and I’m about as Organic as you can get. C.L. also doesn’t seem to understand that losing people to solvable stuff like horrid morale is a Real Bad Thing when the environment has about a three to six month ramp to proficiency even for fluent-in-the-tools engineers. And, guh, the copying and pasting when CL gets into the codebase is just gross. Like hundreds of extraneous lines littering up the files gross. It’s a good day when CL is out sick or tied up in meetings.

    Typing that list out is kind of depressing… I guess I’ll use the memory of my best team lead ever as a “unicorn chaser”. He rocked: technically brilliant, a true people person with an intuitive knowledge of his team and the company as a whole, and a genuinely good person. The sort of guy you’d enjoy having a beer with and that could also lead a huge, many-man-years project to completion efficiently and enjoyably. I’m still kind of tempted to see if his new company in Atlanta has any openings, even though I have basically zero ties to that region (he moved there for family reasons).

  27. James 11 years ago

    My worst manager was the President of a local ISP. I was hired to do tech support and some light unix network stuff, until one day she read in the paper how outsourcing is the new wave.

    Two weeks later, we received an email telling us we would all be “let go” the next week in favor of the outsourcing, but we had to stay the remainder of the time or else she would block our unemployment money.

    Then precisely a day before the outsource, the mailserver went tits up, relegating me to reinstall most of it since she spent her IT budget on a cruise to Mexico… since, aside from being the President, she was also the accountant and payroll department.

    I took that final paycheck (nearly 20 hours in overtime) and cashed it at an Amscot check-cashing place, to make sure I actually got my money.

  28. Still Disgruntled 11 years ago

    Alright, I’ll throw in my two cents worth. I hope I get this out right, I’m highly medicated right now.

    About 4 years ago, I had to close down my own company. Things had been going well, but several large projects we had been working on were cancelled due to 9/11.

    When I started looking for work (and it was a VERY bad time to be looking for work where I am located), a friend that I had worked with before recommended the place he was currently working. The work was cool, the environment sound cool, I went for it.

    In reality, I should have seen the issues right off the bat, especially when they offered me the job. But I was desperate for work. Sadly, they knew I was desperate, due to my friend telling them. So, here I was, with about 17 years experience, being offered a job for 45K a year. I managed to up them to 50K, and I let them know that my goal was to manage thier software development department. They were thrilled. The current manager was the CEO, and he thought that in a few years, he would love to transfer the duties.

    Fast forward a few years.

    I’ve completed several projects for the company. Each project had no specifications and only vague requirements. Each also had no timeline. “When you are done” was the bosses motto. In the years previous, I had converted the team from Visual SourceSafe (which oft times corrupted binary data) to CVS, and introduced an Issue Tracking system.

    There were no formal performance reviews or pay reviews. (I know, the two do not go hand in hand). In fact, some of the team had not had a raise in 3 or more years, because they did not initiate anything with the boss/CEO. I made it a point to initiate a review every year, which also ended up with a pay increase.

    Last year, during my review, my boss (CEO) offered me the management position. I accepted. I turned down my pay increase, in order to immediately give everyone on my team one. None were gratefull, but I was happy. I started implementing some time lines, and a planned release date for our product, all based on the teams input.

    Now comes the good stuff.

    A week later, one of my team members was removed from the team. He went to the CEO and said he didn’t want to work for me. He had been working at the company longer, and felt slighted. The CEO removed him with out discussing it with me.

    A month later, I was told by the CEO that I would no longer have access to my teams salary. Seeing as how one of my tasks was to ‘equalize’ the salaries, I felt that was a bad move, and asked why. It seems that the friend that got me hired didn’t want me to know his salary, even though we had discussed it for years. On top of that, he went behind my back to the CEO and got another raise. All with out my knowledge. We got that sorted out (I retained knowledge of salaries, since it was my responsibility to equalize the pay scale, and do performance reviews with salary recommendations.)

    About a month after that (for those keep track, I’ve been a manager for about 2.5 months), I came to the conclusion that I had to let someone go. His work was substandard, painfully slow, and he had problems communicating and incorporating with the rest of the team. My decision resulted in two days of meetings with the CEO, when he then agreed it was for the best. It was up to myself and the controller to inform the employee. It was the first time I had to get rid of someoneone (multiple hire situtaions, but never a fire), and it was the toughest thing I had to do. Especially since the employee was completely surprised (and yes, I had given him several warnings, some in writing, with a check list of what had to be improved).

    To make a long story short (too late, you say?), the CEO rehired him a day later at substantially less salary (15K less a year). CEO’s perogative is what I was told. Two week later, I stepped down from management, and started looking for work.

    Also during the 3 month period, the CEO would repeatly change the tasks of my team members, and not inform me. When I stepped down, I walked into his office and informed him of my decision, He said Okay, and went back to work. As did I. Three or 4 weeks later he wanted to talk about my decision. I quite frankly told him that he didn’t want a manager. He needed one, but didn’t want one. He agreed. Great! (that was sarcasm)

    So now it’s a year later, I’m STILL looking for work, and still working on projects with no specs and no deadlines. Motivation is difficult.

    I’ve had a couple of job opportunities, but since I am still gainfully employed, I am being somewhat picky.

    Thanks for listening to my rant.

  29. George 11 years ago

    Oh man, that would have to be “Steve”. It was a coop that later turned into a job. We were working on a medical product with an embedded 68K system in it, with a Mac front end. He was a hardware engineer who thought he sort of knew everything. He had a junior engineer working for him that he literally would ask to _count_the_resistors_ in the cabinets. This guy was working on code for another small device that applied test signals to the larger device. After everyone went home, he’d go onto the guy’s computer and “review” the code, changing stuff without telling him, in a large 6800 assembly program. I was working on the front end software on the Mac, which was in C. One day “Steve” asked me to print out the code so he could “review” it. I dutifully printed out all 75,000 lines of it, walked into his office, slapped it on his desk and said, “Go ahead.” He never bothered me again. You can imagine how well the hardware worked and how fast it got done, right?

  30. Had a boss at a fast paced and teeny tiny (3 employees) print shop. Guy wanted to provide A+ customer service all the time, which I respected. Problem is, he didn’t have confidence that any of us could do it, even though his employees were SPECIALISTS in various areas that he, well, wasn’t that good at.

    End result, he’d check every single job after you finished it and come back with inane questions. Did a lot of over the shoulder co-piloting (hello, halitosis!). Generally caused anxiety, slipped deadlines (cuz we spent too much time doing twice instead of just getting it done), general hatred of the job.

    Saw him drive off a whole passel of talented employees, myself among them. Business kind of tanked after that and was sold to someone who was less micromanagey.

  31. Now Contracting 11 years ago

    Im not going to piss and moan about a particular incident that pissed me off, there are quite a few, but since you actually seem to be a manager that gives a shit what his employees think i will give you a broader idea.

    excuse typos, im just going to whack this out.

    I used to be a jack of all trades server administrator, dba, programmer, a bit of everything. it paid well, and sucked appropriately for the pay.

    My (3) bosses were usually in a 2 on 1 conflict. i was routinely given contradicting instructions.

    I would frequenly never see my main boss unless there was a mistake / problem.

    during such a mistake / problem he would do 1 of 2 things. 1 – walk into my office. shout untill he felt better. 2- actually do the ‘come here’ index finger motion and take you for a walk around the complex calmly telling you that you are a waste of money, not allowing any replies.

    He had no knowledge whatsoever of code / server administration and would never admit it. he was terrafied of computers now that they had evolved beyond him.

    this certain corporation had not added a 10 line perl script to the sever since 1987.

    when other departments yelled at him, he thought the best defense was to sell his employees out and say that he was shocked to learn that X wasnt working and he would sort it out. back to 1 of 2 options.

    the fact that he had the stress managment of a pubescent 14 year old is not the problem however.

    the only time you saw him was when something was fucked up.

    secrecy ruled the upper ranks, there was never any written document on what to do or not do when X fails. moreover, nobody had any idea what everyone else was doing. in 3 years there i attended 4 meetings. they announced retirements. we routinely fucked eachother up by working on two different ends of the same problem.

    twoards the end of my employment, before i moved to private contracting, i started to document what they wanted me to do when something wasnt right. when a similar instance would come up i would say “but last time i did..”

    inconsistancy, secrecy, and unwillingness to simply communocate when something went well were what i would say the hallmarks of why i hated these men passionately.

    highschool style favoritism of certain employees (our senior programmer had no idea what a dual dimension array was, how to manually use a connection string(other than ms generated crap), or any sort of many to many relationship in any database)

    his work was shuffled onto many catch-all jobs which were overloaded with tasks from the different bosses.

    while its unwise to do that, i had already begun securing clients outside the company and was preparing to give the bare minimum notice before i left.

    if you are looking to connect with coders, give them 2 minuets to explain a bug, just let them talk a bit about what they have tried.

    the most articulate thing i could say about my job was that: strictly punishing failures dosnt work on dogs and it dosnt work on people.

    i worked there 3 years, and can say with complete confidence i never was thanked for putting in a 14 hour day, working sunday and saturday back to back, or pulling out a last second save with any work.

    i was however, reprimanded for putting in too much overtime during a complete meltdown of our active directory system (managed by 1 of the 3)

    if this makes you want to reply TLDR, than just read this : reward achievements, punish failures, let people bounce ideas off you, and have the decency to retire if you dont give a shit if technology blasts by you.

  32. treborinato 11 years ago

    The floodgates tend to open whenever the topic of bad managers comes up. That’s an interesting topic itself.

    Most recent bad manager experience: About a year ago.

    He was hired from the outside to replace the old manager, who was moving to a different group. Some of us had certain reservations when we interviewed the new guy, but we knew that the company was desperate to hire someone soon, and so it happened (Warning flag #1).

    This guy’s failure was the result of four major factors: Personality Clash, Mistrust, Technical Incompetence, and Weakness.

    A. Personality Clash: He had a way of annoying at least half the people in the company. The other half was able to tolerate him on a professional level. Rands talks about mechanics vs. organics. This guy was HYPER-mechanical. In other words, he was so mechanical, he even made the other mechanicals anxious. Everyone in the group was at some level organic and it turned into a volatile mix.

    B. Mistrust: The team had, on average, about five person-years of experience with the codebase; yet he was unable to trust the team enough to make the right decisions about how to implement a feature. Not only would he challenge everyone on the team with questions about why vs. why not, this would go on for hours at a time. Folks began to feel he was wasting the team’s time.

    C. Technical Incompetence: He has a Ph.D. in Comp Sci which may have led to several misconceptions about technical ability. He may have known about linked lists, binary trees, and big-O notation, but when it came to managing people and grasping the meaning of our codebase, he was a failure (had he simply been more trustful, this wouldn’t have been an issue). He often misunderstood explanations of how products and the code behind them worked, and would jump to wholly incorrect decisions about implementation, design, and scoping. We engineers were spending more and more time having to correct his decisions and finding other ways to explain how things worked. When his decisions were questioned, he often resorted to the “because we did it at Company X” argument.

    D. Weakness: Warning flag #2 waved when I had interviewed him and I found out he admitted to not knowing that his company was being moved to Middle-of-Nowhere, BFE until the night before the announcement. This told me that, despite the list of impressive titles on his resume, he wasn’t very good at being the “inside man” for the group. The warning was soon realized: When hired, he started as a peer to Mr. V, the Sr. VP of Sales. Within nine months he became Mr. V’s direct report.

    Because of our frustrations we started to challenge him directly, and we began to chip away more at his assumed authority over the team.

    Within a year, thirty percent of the team quit, and another fifty percent decided to do something about it; we got him laid-off, which was a nice way of saying that we fired him. Rumor has it that he told his new employer that he quit (although fortunately, it looks like he’s no longer managing a development team).

  33. Cornelius 11 years ago

    Oh, where to start? I’ve had so many bad managers that I wonder if it oughtn’t be me writing an article on the subject. And this isn’t to say I’d make a good manager; these are individuals so socially retarded that the shear wrongness of their decisions is blindingly obvious to anybody on the receiving end of them.

    Naturally I won’t name them, but whilst working for one of Europe’s largest printing companies, I was part of the internal IT team developing the intranet. The IT manager, I discovered, was not only rotten-to-the-core racist, but was actually a closet Nazi. Well, not so closet given he wore his racial views on his sleeve, but it was still a shocking surprise to hear him quote Mein Kampf off the top of his head. I was eventually ‘made redundant’ due to not fitting into the team; it was made clear to me that it wasn’t because my work had been substandard. Essentially what it boiled down to was that I wasn’t racist, and so didn’t fit in.

    In a more recent role I came under the command of the company’s marketing manager; a man who had no prior experience of marketing in a real company having only previously been a tutor of the subject at a local college. His ‘hands on’ approach to person management was to effectively ignore me for months at a time, allowing the interfering MD to regularly sidetrack me with non-essential work not related to my key projects, only to pass on the blame directly when the MD queried as to my progress on said projects (although in truth they were both as responsible for that sad situation as each other).

  34. Steve Peters 11 years ago

    My worst manager was a treat from my first job. After spending two months on a project that I had no clue what we were trying to accomplish, I sat down with another newbie to figure it out. Between the two of us, we took a couple hours to put all the pieces together so that we could actually understand the system. With a whiteboard and diagrams sketched on printer paper, we had ER diagrams, flow charts, and everything else we needed to understand the system. Unfortunately, the suck-up that sat behind us, tattled (I can’t think of a better word) on us.

    Inept manager: What are you guys doing?

    Me: We were just going over the system to get a better understanding of it.

    Tony (the other newbie): Yeah, we thought since we were just about to start testing that we’d figure out how everything worked together.

    IM: (turning red) You are just programmers. That’s not your job.

    Wasn’t that a great way to develop us as employees? Looking back ten years now if I were the manager, my response would have been, “Great! Why don’t you clean up the diagrams a bit and we’ll schedule some time so you can present this to the rest of the team.” All we did was get marks against us on reviews for it while Dickhead (that’s what we called him) decided to present everything we figured out to our team and a few other managers to show off, using photocopies of some of our diagrams.

    I do have to say that I learned more from that one person on how to manage much more than from anyone else. The negative examples he provided has helped to develop me as a manager far more than the truly great managers I’ve worked with. The good managers provided me with the polish, but the gut responses I have are “What wouldn’t Andy do?”

  35. My worst boss was an ex-programmer who thought he would outsmart everybody in a 10 miles radius. Not just programmers, everybody. He is a smart guy, but he failed two projects missing the deadlines by months and blowing his budget with 300%.

    He’s gone now and I’m now looking through his code, trying to figure out where to start fixing things. For one thing, when this guy had to choose between simple and complicated he always went incredibly complicated. Sad, because he is indeed a very smart guy. But he got overconfident and arrogant and thought that WHILE I WAS USELESSLY STARING AT THAT ONE BUG, HE WAS KEEPING THE ORGANIZATION MOVING …

    Now here’s the punch line. I had no idea what this guy was doing all day. I mean what he was doing useful. It came out that he was doing exactly the same things as Rands: meetings, technology checks, bug assignment, one on ones … but not in a useful way.

    Therefore “What exactly do you do?” is a legitimate question because it may mean “What exactly do you do that is useful and keeps this organization going?” As a developer I know exactly what I’m doing to keep my company going: I’m fixing bugs and code problems.

  36. I can’t top some of these, but my new boss is the most clueless guy I’ve ever seen. Short conversations and emails are like interacting with an ELIZA machine over a noisy channel:

    Me: “I’m talking to the guys at Verminous about the frangle, it has some problems.”

    Him: “The frongle is very important. If there are problems with it, you should contact Vomitous immediately.”

    Me: “Ok, will do.”

    All in all, this works OK for me. Meetings and longer conversations do not go as well, unfortunately. One of us–or often all of us, taking turns–will try to explain some basic thing about our latest database project. He doesn’t get it, doesn’t get it, doesn’t get it. Finally he seems to get it, or pretends to. Five minutes later, it becomes clear he was actually talking about the company picnic.

    Have you guys seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail? The scene where the king is trying to explain to the guards to “stay here and make sure ‘e doesn’t leave”? It’s like that.

    I don’t know how this guy gets his pants on right way round in the morning. So far, he has not actually engineered any disasters, but it is only a matter of time.

  37. Ok, here goes. This is one that I _still_ get really angry about.

    Back in 2000, I was working for a company that was in the throes of conversion from a consultancy/service based to a product based business model. As you can well imagine, this is bound to lead to all kinds of stress.

    I started with them several years previous as a developer, and had progressed through senior developer and team lead positions to eventually be promoted to the position of “Product Software Development Manager”.

    I took my new position seriously, however in retrospect I think I may not have been fully ready for the job back then. I was still in the “what the hell am I doing?” mindset with my position. My team was a great one, the developers were all very, very good, and communication was great. We consistently hit every (insane) deadline.

    The problem was, I was still thinking of myself as a developer, not as a manager.

    Anyway, that isn’t the part that makes me mad. I’ll get to that in a bit, but first I need to set the stage a bit more.

    We had a slot open for a new developer, and I had received several resumes from HR. After interviewing gobs of folks that looked good on paper, I simply had not yet found anybody who I thought was good enough for the team. Finally one came through that piqued my attention simply because it should never have made it from HR to my desk.

    The resume was for a fellow (an 18 year old kid) who had never attended college, or even public high school. He was home schooled, and lived in a rural area north of the city. He included some code samples, and they looked good.

    I called him in for an interview, and this kid absolutely blew my mind. He was friggin BRILLIANT! He had a few “oddities” about him -he was extremely introverted, and was very shy. However, something about him made me think he would fit in. I had him spend a day “hanging out” with my dev team, and the feeling was unanimous -EVERYBODY wanted this kid on the team.

    I made him an offer and he accepted. We now had a fully staffed team.

    Fast forward 4 months. The kid is doing awesome work, everybody on the team absolutely LOVES him, and we are FINALLY ahead of schedule on the “BIG PROJECT”.

    Sounds good doesn’t it? Well, as with all things good, this couldn’t last.

    Remember I said we were moving from service based to product based? Well, part of the problem with this is that our revenue stream was effectively dying off. We didn’t have a sellable product yet, and morale in our outlying sales/delivery offices was at an all time low.

    I was sent to our Boston office to spend a week with the development team there -sort of a fact finding trip- and to help bring them up to speed on the new code base. That week opened my eyes. When I got back, I reported to my boss (the DIRECTOR) and his boss (the CTO) about the morale problems out there.

    A few days after that, my boss informed me that we needed to send a developer from my team to the Boston office to help out -two developers had quit without notice, and they were short staffed. He asked about sending “the kid”. I told him absolutely not. I had several other very skilled, very seasoned, and very mature developers who I was willing to send, but not him. Remember, he was only 18 at the time. (Just try to rent a car at 18?) On top of that, I didn’t want the morale garbage in that office to rub off on him.

    We decided on sending another developer, and they would be leaving the following monday. This was on a Wednesday afternoon.

    Thursday progressed without incident, and I took Friday off (it had been scheduled weeks prior to this).

    Monday morning, I got into the office early (about 6:00 am) so that I could “catch up” before everbody else showed up.

    As I was sitting there working, my IM pops up with a message from “the kid”. I knew he wasn’t in the office (I could see his cube from my open door).

    the kid: Good morning!

    me: Good morning, where are you?

    the kid: Boston office.

    me: .. .. .. WHAT?

    the kid: I’m at the Boston office. I got here last night.

    me: wait a minute, what are you doing there?

    the kid: On Friday Darren (the DIRECTOR) told me I was supposed to fly out here yesterday. I’m supposed to be here until the end of the week.

    The conversation went on a bit after that. It seems that my boss (the DIRECTOR) and his boss (the CTO) decided to completely ignore the agreement we had come to about this. What’s more, they had one of the admin folk book his flight and hotel on Wednesday (the same day we talked), and decided that it would be easier to just send him without telling me. He couldn’t rent a car, so one of the Boston developers would pick him up at his hotel on the way to work (6:00 am), and a different developer would drop him off on the way home (8:00 pm). The kid had NO credit cards, and had to rely on onsite staff for all of his transportation needs.

    As soon as the CTO came in, I had a closed door meeting with him. I never once raised my voice or got emotional in any way, but I explained very clearly to him that he was absolutely wrong, and I wanted the kid on the next flight home.

    I was laid off the next day.

    The kid got back from Boston a week later, and promptly quit.

    The entire company collapsed shortly (9 months or so) after that.

    I firmly believe that the major reason for the collapse is that the kind of shit the CTO and my DIRECTOR pulled was “normal operations” on the part of the C-level staff.

    Lessons Learned: I no longer trust upper level management to do what they say they will. Until I see the actions from a decision, I just grit my teeth and keep my fingers crossed.

  38. Second worst boss: the look-at-every-detail-guy. Back in the days when I was programming Notes applications, I found myself working for a guy who had something like 3 months experience on that subject. I was in my 6th year. I don’t mind being told what the program should do, but I do mind being told in great detail how to do my job by someone who does not really understand what he is talking about.

    The worst boss: the look-at-your-priorities-guy. Three months after my daughter was born, we discovered that she had a heart failure. When she was 7 months she had to undergo open heart surgery, so naturally I wanted some time off to spend with my wife and kid. My boss made clear to me that I was something of a money-loser, spending time in the hospital instead of working. This happened about 3 years ago and – thank God – everything is OK. (Furthermore, I changed jobs twice). But thinking of that still makes me angry.

  39. Miguelito 11 years ago

    Some of these managers described have been criminal. I’ve been very lucky to have almost entirely excellent managers. My worst manager wasn’t all awful. For instance, he was very good at protecting our QA team from the vicissitudes of the product management guys. He also always appreciated my hard work, both publicly and monetarily. But some of his actions really reduced morale and killed productivity.

    When he first arrived, we were preparing to test a new project. He decided to throw out all of the test plans and test cases that we already had for the new project. I don’t think he even looked at them. He also decided not to bother to ask our assistance or look at the pages and pages of documentation that we’d written on how to test this complex system, which involved external wireless devices, the server software, and numerous 3rd party add-ons. Instead he loudly (open office plan in the QA area) spent 2 weeks bitching about trying to get the client-server connection working. When I left, 3 years later, the degree of specification for test plans was just reaching the point where it had been before he arrived.

    The insult to our technical abilities and knowledge was one of the most annoying things. A month after he’d arrived he still hadn’t learned the system and so invited one of the clueless product guys to lecture us for an hour on a really basic feature of the system, one which we’d been actively testing for months or years for some.

    He liked to hire people he’d worked with before, which I have no problem with – you know them and their capabilities well. But his ex-coworkers were not all entirely competent. He had a preferred guy who got to work on his pet project for 3 months while we did QA gruntwork. The pet project that was never used for anything. He later made preferred guy into a test lead for one of the projects, but was forced to remove him from lead a couple months later after the PMs complained bitterly to upper management that preferred guy was incompetent.

    I really didn’t know what he did, since for all I could see, I and the other team leads were doing all the managerial work for him. All those things you list, Rands, in your daily tasks: this is what I was spending my time on. And trying to squeeze in some testing on the side since they didn’t give us enough staff to make the deadlines they required. I went to bug triages, kept an eye on the bug database, met with IT, development, PMs, and customers, drew up test plans and test cases, and even went to the company-wide status meetings where I’d present the slides that I delivered to my manager so that he could send them to the status meeting guy to include in his report.

    Oh yes, he spent a lot of time trying to hire people. He and the VP of Engineering had decided that they weren’t going to hire any straight QA anymore – they had to be developers/QA. It’s almost impossible to find people who are good at both skillsets and who are willing to take the pay cut and some of the tedium of being “just QA”, even if it’s a QA/developer position. I’d prepare schedules months ahead of a project, saying I needed X number of skilled (SKILLED, meaning they know something about testing our product) testers for approximately X weeks to test Y product to a sufficient level. It took them months to hire 1 person. Then too late into the project they tried to get a bunch of contractors, who we then had to train, instead of testing the new prouct. And who were then released 6 months later just before we needed SKILLED testers again, so we got to retrain the next group of contractors. The QA/developers? Never did any development, since they were always fighting fires because the core team never had enough testers.

    At one time I was leading 4 different projects at once, working death marches just to keep up on the administrative work and slip in some test time. It drove me insane that I’d specified my resource needs months ago and had been effectively ignored, and expected to do the job anyway. The inevitable happened with too many features, not enough people, not enough time to test: product quality was poor and all of QA were embarassed at the lack of quality.

    The final straw was when upper management took our schedule for a very important customer contract and halved the estimated test time and took away a tester. My manager did nothing to counter this stripping of the schedule. And then they were SURPRISED when we found serious problems in the codebase and there wasn’t time to fix them.

    Near the end of my time my manager’s control freak tendencies started showing and he required us to submit a weekly status sheet, detailing how many bugs we had opened and closed, how many test cases written and edited, how much time spent in meetings, and exactly how much time was spent on all tasks (down to the granular level of “how much time spent writing bugs”). Since I’m a huge NADD sufferer and because of the afore-mentioned 4 concurrent projects, I was constantly context switching between about 15 different things. I mostly made up my time sheets, I’m embarassed to say.

    I’m glad to be away from that environment, which had more wrong with it than just a not-so-good manager.

  40. Fed up with "I don't care just do it!" 11 years ago

    I think the question I have of managers is not so much “What do you do?” but more “Why do you get paid more than me for doing it!”

    After all in the technical field that I work in most managers have as little idea what I do as I have of what they do. We would both be screwed without the other.

  41. Reading all these stories makes me happy my managers so far have been okay to excellent; not always as good as you’d want them to be, but nowhere near as bad as most of these stories (though the bad breath sounds familiar…)

    What struck me about a lot of these stories is the naivity and lack of self defense of the people being screwed over, espcially the person who took a paycut to keep somebody else working!

    Of course, by definition only bad managers take advantage of this, but it is important to remember your boss, your manager and your co-workers are not your friends or family and it is important to not expect them to be.

  42. The only way to know how evil management is, is to be part of it. An anecdote.

    I turn up at work, wearing a three-piece suit, a white shirt, a tie and shiny shoes. My colleages greeted me with supprised faces: “It suits you, but it really isn’t you. Why are you all dressed up like that?”.

    Me: “Remember, we have a meeting today and our customer is bringing some big brass”.

    Colleages: “Yeah, so?”.

    Me: “Also remember what is on the agenda? A presentation from the technical project leader”.

    Colleages: “Yeah, but what has that to do with you?”

    Me: “Well, I am the technical project leader. It is my presentation, today”.

    Colleages: “You? How come? Since when?”.

    Me: “You never asked why I was present at your interview for this project?”

    Colleages: “Hm, no”.

    Me: “You never wondered why I am the one asking for your estimates about the tasks you are assigned? Or why it is me who suggest what to do next and reviewing your work with you?”

    Colleages: “No. That is just what you do”.

    Me: “You never stopped and thought why it is me who introduces you to those in the company that you will need to coordinate your efforts with? Why I often attend those meetings and why I talk to you about how a certain meeting went that I wasn’t present at?”.

    Colleages: “No. It kind of works that way.”

    Me, to one of the colleages: “You never thought is was strange that I was the one who told you to continue and to only come back to me when there is a problem?”

    Colleage: “No, but as I am working independent now, what is it that makes you the project leader?”

    Me: “Simply: if you screw up, I am the one that gets the blame. That goes for every one of you.”

    For a big part, I have it easy. At heart I am still a programmer and every bit as good as the best programmer of the team. I am always a step ahead of my collegeas because I know where things are heading. Basically, we work on my design, so I understand what is going on. And I have programmed in over fifty programming languages on over ten different platform (including CP/M, DOS, VAX/VMS, System/36, Windows, Unix SystemV, MacOS/MacOSX and many, many others), so I kind of have a huge reference framework that I think not many developers have.

    I do the “heavy-lifting” modules that my colleages then use in various modules. This allows me to keep track of what they are doing in a very natural way.

    However, being screwed is only a mind-set. In the early phases of a project I write some documentation. Part of it is a list of factors that are critical for the project to succeed. Remember, I am only the leader responsible for the technical aspects of the project. So, at a certain point some of the prerequisists aren’t met yet: a server isn’t made available, we don’t have the kind of location where we can work or talk, staffing is less then planned, access to certain apps or to certain services isn’t implemented, purchases aren’t made. That kind of things.

    These points I take up with several managers. They make choices: either they fullfill the requirements or they don’t. The only thing I have to do is to make sure that the manager understands the choice he is making. If they understand and still are not helping to get everything in order, then they simply choose that the project will fall behind. It is no more complicated then that.

    As long as I am only an employee, why should that bother me to the point that I loose sleep over it or get angry? Even as the responsible manager? It is the project that is screwed, not me. Any conversation about not meeting goals can be restricted to simple facts: I am only the messenger. A manager higher then me who doesn’t like the current state of the project needs to take that up with his peer manager who chose not to provide nessecary requirements.

    The same goes with “difficult colleages” that are in a position where I depend on them. Simply make them say out loud that they are not helping you or show how a promiss is broken over and over and make that a point for the next progress meeting for the project. There is no reason to fight that person: if a manager wants to see the project succeed, they’ll pick that fight for you. If the manager doesn’t see a reason to take action, why should I? (The choice I made some time ago: from a technical point of view, if it can’t be fixed in software, it is not my problem. I am rather flexible, but this is where I sometimes draw the line.)

    Just as I say to my teammembers that if they screw up, that I am to blame, so I say to a manager above me that if I screw up that he is to blame. I use it as a trump to delegate upwards. When played correctly, it works. You can play that card up the highest level of management that you can get an appointment with.

    Ok, I wasn’t that relaxed the first time I happened to be in such a situation. Or the second time. Nor the third. But I am doing whatever I can do. I still try to make progress. I still try to conduct the lightning bolts from angry members of the team so nobody gets hurt. I still try to get all the requirements met. I am responsible for the work my colleages do and for the project in general.

    However, there is no reason for me to take a project more personal then colleages with more responsibilities. Perhaps here in lies a key: I see no difference between the colleage wiping the floor and the colleage that has a plate on the door of his office saying “CEO”.

    If a project is at a track to nowhere, then it is time to look outside the box. The result has been that I had to make “career choices”: stay with a company or find work elsewhere, move between departments or business units. These are difficult decissions, but sometimes that is the only thing left to do.

    If you find yourself in a situation that nobody takes your work seriously, then there is just one thing that you need to focus on: portable skills. Make sure you are not working with yesteryears tools or last-century’s platforms. You can always make a case that it is for the benefit of the company, although you might need to bend the truth on how it relates to the project you are supposed to be working on. Make sure that if you need to jump ship, that you know how to keep yourself afloat.

  43. @Ronald Snijder

    I once heart of a similar story. The situation I describe above is really in the past, since I am an independent software developer at the moment, but during that time a situation occured.

    Peter, his real name, always shy and silent is unusually still. As I want to talk to him to ask what is the matter in private I tell him that he and I are going to get everyone coffee (although I am his superior, I still work as one of the team and my desk is just like any other). While at the machine I ask him if he wants to talk about what is bothering him.

    Peter knows he can trust me, but is cautious. After hesitating he decides to tell me: his father was rushed off to a hospital the everning before and was on the intensive care for heart problems. Since it happened to my father, I understand what he must be feeling. (Luckely, my father has survived this several times and is still alive.)

    Me: “If you don’t mind me asking, but why did you show up this morning? It is obvious that you aren’t getting anything done”.

    Peter looks scared, which I don’t understand.

    Me: “Do you think the situation is so that he will live?”

    Peter: “No …”

    Me: “So you could never see your father again?”

    Peter starts shaking. From what he is telling me in a broken voice, I can make out something like that it happened before when he worked somewhere else and when he asked for a day off, he was given a choice: to stay or to leave and never come back. He didn’t know better as that was how things were done in the corporate world.

    Me: “Peter, just go. This is not where you should be right now”.

    Peter: “Don’t I need to get any form filled out or don’t I need to tell the general project leader”.

    Me: “That can all be sorted out later. It is not your responsibility. It’s mine”.

    Peter leaves. Some time later the general project leader, Paul, arives. I take him apart and tell about what happened.

    Paul: “You are lucky”

    Me: “How so?”

    Paul: “If you had done anything else, I would have had to kick the crap out of you!”

    Me: “Glad we understand each other”.

    The rest of the team is equally supportive when they learn why Peter suddenly left. A get-well card is bought that everybody signs.

    Peter calls a few days later. Things are better. He askes if it is ok to stay at home for the remainder of the week and to come back on monday. Fine by me, as long as he thinks he is up to it.

    When Peter gets back, he is a lot more open then before. And he even manages to speed things up enough to catch up the time he lost.

    I would have liked keeping Paul around as a general project leader. He is blunt in how he communicates, but he is crystal clear and honest. It made my job easier, but I would have done the same even with an unsupportive project leader.

  44. Well, this guy must be my personal worst because he’s always the one that pops into my head.

    Context: mainframe systems programming group at a certain financial institution about 20 years ago. Just coming off a very very successful OS migration (the kind where someone asks you, “So when will we be migrating to X?” and you get to say “THREE MONTHS AGO” and smile because you beat the time estimate by that much. We got a nice bonus for that). New manager: ex-military. Well, we can work with that. If you want to talk to him “meet him in the bar after work”. Not so good.

    A particular problem’s brought to us by the users with a suggestion as to how they’d like to see it solved. “We solved that problem this [totally different and incompatible with the users’ needs] way in the place I used to manage, here’s a printout of the code,” with the implication we should just type it in and use it, never mind the fact that it has nothing to do with what is required, and screw the users. We had spent a lot of time building a good relationship with the users, since their goodwill = more support for the IT group.

    We (the two lead sysprogs) implement the actual requirement as opposed to typing his code in and using it. The users are very happy. However, we get chewed out for being insubordinate. He moves us out of our offices into cubes. I was insufficiently clued at the time to realize that this was a passive-agressive “shape up or I’ll make your life suck” move.

    A couple months later there’s a similar situation. We do what the users need us to do on another thing instead of “the way we used to do it at X” (and frankly we pulled out a pretty damn elegant solution). He then hires a guy who used to work for him who proceeds to undo most of the stuff we’ve already done and replace it with, you guessed it, “the way we used to do it at X”.

    We complain and the users complain. This time he forces our manager to give us “unsatisfactory” reviews come yearly review time (she actually told us that he kept sending the reviews back telling her to make them worse). At this point I finally realize that from here on either I do nothing but follow-orders-don’t-think-hut-hut, or get fired. I quit. A couple months later I hear the rest of the group (modulo his guy) have also quit.

    Smooth.