Management Give him something to say

Deconstructing Managers (Day #2)

Ed: This is Day #2 of the Deconstructing Manager’s piece. Day #1 might help you figure out what is going on here.

I am not going to explain what your manager does all day. Sorry.

I am going to hand you six critical questions that you need to answer in order to figure out if this guy is capable of looking out for #1 — you. Ideally, you’d be able to get answers to these questions before you took a new job, but you didn’t and now you’re working for a manager who isn’t speaking your language. These questions might give you insight into where he’s coming from.

Where does your manager come from?

I’m going to start and finish here because the pedigree of your manager determines not only how you should communicate, but also what to expect when the shit hits the fan.

Ironically, the second most common complaint from the Managers Are Not Evil entry was, “My manager has no idea what I do.”It’s good to know the problem goes both ways, no? There are a couple of possible causes for this situation. Your manager may not care what you are doing. It doesn’t mean the work you are doing is good or bad; it’s just not on his radar. Some folks find this arrangement of ignorance to be a cozy warm blanket. It’s a no-fuss job. No awkward hallway conversation, just me and my code and… I’m what? I’m fired? Holy shit. Well, that’s the risk of having a covert job. No one knows your value, which puts you first in line when it’s time to trim the workforce.

Another likely situation is that your manager doesn’t actually understand what you’re doing because he was never an engineer. I’m not talking about the prequalified disasters where some brainiac on senior staff decided it was a good idea to put the head of marketing in charge of engineering, I’m talking about the engineering managers who are hiding the fact they never really did much coding. Sure, they can talk the talk and they’re buzzword compliant, but what was their last programming assignment? What piece of code are they really proud of? Is their degree in computer science?

If you’re getting vague answers full of words that sound right, my guess is you’ve got a faker on your hands. I’m talking about someone has managed to wedge their way into position of engineering leadership on their chutzpuh and not their technical ability. You’re not automatically screwed in this scenario. A person who can convince the organization they’ve got leadership ability and hide the fact they haven’t a clue what a pointer is… has, well, moxie.

This person has spent their entire career wondering, “When are they going to figure me out?” This paranoia has give them solid information detection skills which can be useful to you and your organization. They know when the layoff is coming, they know how to talk to senior management, but they don’t know how to talk to you because you’re actively, passionately doing something they’re clueless about and they believe they have to maintain the appearance they know what they’re doing.

If this is your manager and you believe there is value in what they do, your job is to figure out how to speak their language. Maybe they snuck out of QA? Ok, then speak QA. Maybe they just never got around to that computer science degree? Ok, take the time to teach them about your work. I’m not talking teaching this guy C++, I’m talking 15 minutes at the whiteboard with flowcharts. THIS IS WHAT I DO and this is WHY IT MATTERS.

Your manager is your face to the rest of the organization. Right this second, someone you don’t know is saying something great about you because you took five minutes to pitch your boss on your work. Your manager did that. You gave him something to say.

Next: Figuring out manager flaws and speaking managementese.

4 Responses

  1. wibble without a pause 18 years ago

    Thankfully my direct manager/leader has never been one that talked their way into the job. So explaining what I do has never been an issue.

    However, when I was a technical manger, explaining a technical matter to the managing director was quite a challenge. He came from the sales side of the business. He had sold technical products all his working life but like to push technical matters to one side in favour of business matters.

    He always listened and I am pretty sure understood most of what I said but I am also pretty sure that I was not 100% successful all the time.

  2. treborinato 18 years ago

    Three months into a new technical job, and I’m currently in a situation where I never interviewed my manager; there was a minor re-org and he was brought in after I signed the offer letter. I’ll take some of the blame for not having a clear enough head to sniff through that during the interview.

    My new teammates, who actually interviewed him, swear they thought he would not be a technical guy, but the guy that will help them with all the non-technical managerial things that you talk about. But this manager *pretends* to be a coder, and has so far produced more bugs than he has fixed. Anti-productivity.

    So, this guy is a technical faker, like you described. He does have moxie, and maybe that’s what got him hired, however the team thinks his true attribute is pulling the wool over people’s eyes; So if he did trick management (and the techniccals) into hiring him, then it’s also time to worry about management. Screwage possibility is pretty high. 🙂

    On giving the manager “something to say”: Several gave him something to say, but it’s not being communicated accurately. Now I’m wondering how close he leans towards evil, or if he’s already there. It may be wise to avoid staying around long enough to find out.

  3. Martin Wisse 18 years ago

    Your manager does not need to understand in detail what you do, does not necessarily have to have been a programmer to understand the value of what you are adding to their team.

    What your manager needs to be able to do is to talk-to-programmers as well as translate your concerns into terms other parties involved in your projects (makreting, sales etc.)

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