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My observations (or whinging) on managers vs. leaders in software industry  RSS feed

 
arulk pillai
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What prompted me to write on this topic?

#1. It is a popular topic in software industry forums where people rant about "project managers earning more than developers when developers do all the work", etc.
#2. share my observations in the past 15 years from various organizations and to solicit your views & experiences.

#1. Great titles

"A title is something that is given by the superiors who think that you as a person would help them to advance their needs. "

Development/technical leads with the titles of "VPs" or associate directors. Development/delivery managers with the titles of "executive director" even when managing less than 10 people. I guess this is very similar to the fact that every developer like to append "/Solution Architect" as in "Senior Developer/Solution Architect". I have seen great architects writing horrible code and vice versa. It is hard to be good at both, but it is a human tendency to feel good about great titles. Companies want to attract or retain good staff with great titles. So, next time you lookup someone on LinkedIn, focus more on the quantified accomplishments like "managed 100+ employees" or "responsible for a budget of $250 Million" than on the great titles. Don't buy into statements like "highly experienced leader", etc.


#2. Employee engagement

Key responsibilities of a good manager are:

#1. Stake holder/customer satisfaction.
#2. Manage budget and cash flow.
#3. Employee engagement.

Many managers fail to deliver on #3, which leads to staff retention and employee engagement issues. In my view managers/leaders who can get a good handle on #3 , are worth every extra penny paid more and the developers/leads/architects should stop ranting about managers/leaders earning more than them . It demands great leadership, people, & technical skills to build good teams. It is not a trivial task to build very collaborative and motivated team cultures. This is why good employers tend to focus more on the team/culture fit and your passion for your chosen profession with open ended questions, coding/collaboration sessions, HR interviews & psychometric tests to asses your attitude & characteristics. Just being a good coder will not cut it in large enterprises.

Read the full article if interested
 
chris webster
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Well, I agree that a good manager is very valuable, and that being a good manager is a different skill from being a good developer. Some people can do both well, but in my experience this is a minority. The Peter Principle certainly applies in my workplace, for example, and in some cases I suspect the Dilbert Principle may also be at work.

So yes, I agree that good management skills should be valued and rewarded, but I would also say that bad managers should not be rewarded. The problem is that a good manager will help their entire team to do better, but a good team will also help a bad manager to do better, so how do you decide who is really a good manager?

In any case, many organisations lack any kind of career progression for technical staff, so the only way to earn more (to support your family, save for retirement etc) is to move into management. This creates a perverse incentive for people who are good at one thing to be drawn into a completely different skill area, regardless of their aptitude or genuine enthusiasm for doing so. Organisations effectively create their own Peter Principle Test Case Generator.

Your point about job-title inflation is well made, but this is really just a reflection of the way "manager" roles are over-valued and over-rewarded in many organisations. The massive growth in CEO pay compared to average salaries over the last 30 years has not been matched by similar improvements in the overall health or productivity of the companies they run, for example. At the same time, the corporate cult of the Great Leader, combined with the decidedly mixed quality of many managers (see above), encourages the delusion that if you wave enough cash around eventually you'll find "someone to lead us ... some brave Apollo", and this mentality cascades down the corporate food-chain to the lowliest SCRUM master and HR wonk, ensuring the culture persists regardless of the evidence.

arulk pillai wrote:...good employers tend to focus more on the team/culture fit...

I'm not so sure about this, as my own experience is that this is a two-edged sword. Yes, it can be very productive to build a good team who work well together and complement each other's skills, but "team fit" can actually just be code for "people who are just like us".

See Guess who doesn't fit in at work.

My own organisation has strong policies to encourage diversity in recruitment and is genuinely very concerned to eliminate prejudice in the workplace. But the management culture and promotion system has a very strong implicit bias towards "team fit": people who get promoted tend to be the ones who fit in with the existing management culture, rather than those who might challenge that culture in productive ways. This leads to group-think and general inertia among managers, who are often resistant to change, risk-averse and scared of taking individual responsibility for decisions.

So "team fit" only works if you already have a positive team culture that is worth reinforcing. And it can lead to a lot of covert and unconscious discrimination against people who are "not like us".

My own view is that diversity in the workplace is far more important than homogeneity, as well as being a lot more interesting and fun. I'm suspicious of organisations that place too great an emphasis on "team fit", but maybe that's just evidence of the fact that I'm a misfit anyway!
 
arulk pillai
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My own view is that diversity in the workplace is far more important than homogeneity, as well as being a lot more interesting and fun

Good point.
 
chris webster
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I just noticed that this post is basically presenting the argument you made in your blog (I didn't notice the link in your post), so I've moved it to the "Blog Around The Campfire" forum which is more appropriate.
 
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