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Can a Manager Be a Techie and Survive?

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the pointy-hair-with-a-diploma dept.

Businesses 238

theodp writes "Some say that good managers should not be technical at all. Over at Computerworld, 'C.J. Kelly' takes a contrarian position, arguing that managers should keep their hands on the technology. The ability to tell the difference between fiction and reality, says Kelly, is priceless." From the article: "If you don't know the difference between fiction and reality, you've got a problem. By being technically informed while managing people and projects, no one can blow smoke up my skirt. I can tell the difference between a lame excuse for a delay and a legitimate reason why something can't be done." Where do you fall on this issue? Is it nice to be able to flim-flam the boss once in a while? Or is the valuable input of a boss with a technical background worth the occasional all-nighter?

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ehh (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986246)

phirst phosth

It depends on your perspective (5, Insightful)

Amehcs (1019694) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986252)

Of course it's "nice to be able to flim-flam the boss once in a while," but that doesn't make them a good manager. I'm sure that the their boss wouldn't see it that way if they knew what was going down.

Re:It depends on your perspective (1)

karlto (883425) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986504)

Of course it's "nice to be able to flim-flam the boss once in a while," but that doesn't make them a good manager.

It doesn't make you a good employee, either. There's got to be something wrong if you don't want the boss to know what you're doing (at work)...

Re:It depends on your perspective (5, Insightful)

iocat (572367) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986536)

Good managers should be able to tell when they're being flim-flammed, regardless of their technical expertise, by the way their team responds to them. That said, they should also be able to suss out when they should let something go, because they're being flim-flammed for a reason (such as: the original request was retarded, and it's easier to flim-flam than actually implement something dumb, or some other reason).

Not at all saying I'm a good manager, but I once asked someone to do something, and they explained to me very earnestly that it couldn't be done until some other guy did something (and that guy was gone for the weekend). Since "other guy" was way more junior, and this guy was very talented and generally very eager to tackle any task, I knew something was up, and it was -- his girlfriend was coming in from out of town about 20 minutes later and he wanted to get out of Dodge. That was when he was new (now he'd be like "dude, gf coming to town, can't do it now") but it does illustrate the scenario I'm presenting.

On the larger issue, I always like it when my managers have at least a vague clue about what I'm talking about. They don't need to know details, but they should get the general idea of what we do and how we do it.

Re:It depends on your perspective (5, Funny)

ray-auch (454705) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986782)

Say what ? You hire techies who have girlfriends ?

Why ? Why take the productivity hit when there's such a massive pool of talented geek labour* that is never going to have this problem ?

*large parts of it reading right here...

Re:It depends on your perspective (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986592)

>>but that doesn't make them a good manager

of course it doesn't. the boss' flim-flam susceptibility could hurt, help or do nothing for him as a manager. I think in best case it does nothing for him. Worst case, it really hurts his ability to be a manager.

Now what the hell is your point? Please re-read your post, it makes little sense.

Of course "bacon tastes good", but that doesn't make ice cream taste good. I'm sure that pizza tastes good with cheese.


Anecdote (1)

SRA8 (859587) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986872)

While i was at a Big-5 consulting firm, a Senior Manager allotted two weeks for "conversion" of HTML files to ASP. No, i'm not talking about refactoring or anything, all that had to be done was renaming of the file extension and a wrapper tag. Overbilling or stupidity? You decide. I suspect it would have happened even on a fixed fee project.

Re:It depends on your perspective (2, Insightful)

mark-t (151149) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987132)

A few years ago, at a brand new job I once had (my 5th day there), I was asked by my new boss how I accomplished a particular system administration task that I had completed when he asked me to do it. I thought that glossing over the details of how I accomplished it would be a good idea, not realizing that he himself was a system administrator, and this task was merely a test of my skills (in fact, I had crudely hacked the solution, which worked fine, and I had backed things up to restore immediately if they didn't, but that was entirely beside the point, even though the end result was exactly what was needed, the means by which I came to the result was what he really wanted to know). The boss, being far more technically competent than any employer I had ever had before, saw through my lack of a detailed explanation in a heartbeat and accused me of lying to him, which I wasn't even really trying to do... He then spent the next 15 to 20 minutes explaning to me how I _should_ have done it (which was stuff I already knew, but thought a shortcut would be superior). At the end of the day he told me that he felt I wasn't right for his company and he let me go.

Obviously, Yes! (4, Insightful)

aneeshm (862723) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986258)

Does this even need to be said?

I mean, come on! How much easier the lives of techies would be if their boss was one of them, if he would actually understand?

Re:Obviously, Yes! (2, Funny)

sphealey (2855) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986666)

=== mean, come on! How much easier the lives of techies would be if their boss was one of them, if he would actually understand? ===
A little bit of a problem there: the microsecond the boss lifts his hand to actually perform any technical task, the rest of the management team classifies him with the toilet-cleaner and never listens to him seriously again. There might be a few hyper-technical organizations where this isn't strictly true, but it is a fact for 95% of the employers out there.


The boss shouldn't do the coding. (5, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986844)

A little bit of a problem there: the microsecond the boss lifts his hand to actually perform any technical task, the rest of the management team classifies him with the toilet-cleaner and never listens to him seriously again.

The manager should be sufficiently aware of the organization's culture to know that ahead of time.

It isn't necessary for him to do any of the actual coding. But he needs to be able to explain to the other managers why, with the current people / money / time / equipment / deadlines / other projects, the IT team will not be able to hit the deadline of the new project.

Then it gets into negotiating with the other managers for more people / money / equipment ... or pushing out other deadlines ... or dropping requirements (for the new project or existing projects) ... or re-prioritizing the projects ...

The manager's job is to understand the business and the technology sufficiently well that he is able to communicate the business's IT requirements to the coders and provide them with the resources necessary to achieve those requirements in the time allocated.

It's a simple definition, but it's been useful for me. It also allows you to see where the "bad" managers have problems.

#1. They don't understand the business and the team gets stress for delivering tech that isn't appropriate.

#2. They don't understand the tech and over-promise what can be delivered.

#3. They don't understand the business or the tech.

#4. They don't communicate the requirements to the coders.

#5. They don't provide the resources the coders need.


It's difficult to fail if your manager is competent at each of those steps. But not impossible. There can still be personal issues that cause conflicts/problems.

But the chance of failure goes up dramatically with each step that the manager fails.

Re:Obviously, Yes! (4, Insightful)

pcraven (191172) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986736)

I've found bosses that are good at tech, or think they are, to sometimes be guilty of micro-management. If they were good at tech, fine. But if they are spending all their time keeping up with technical stuff, then they aren't spending that time learning how to do their management job. Usually those people micro-manage and are good at neither tech nor management.

Management and programming/system administration are two totally different things. If you are a manager, do you job and manage.

Re:Obviously, Yes! (5, Insightful)

brad-x (566807) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986820)

I've been here. My experience is the same - when a manager is technically minded, he or she involves himself far too deeply in the details of projects they should simply be overseeing.

Sometimes, in the case of managers with particularly stunted emotional makeup, you'll find them attempting to use their managerial position to prove themselves as technical geniuses, to the detriment of the people on their team.

While it may be beneficial in theory to have a technically savvy manager, in practice it's very dependent on the person. Most tech people don't have the emotional makeup required to successfully manage.

Re:Obviously, Yes! (3, Insightful)

toolo (142169) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987052)

Normally the response of someone who's not confident about their work or cannot articulate progress properly are the ones that scream micro-management first.

As a manager who is technical at a FTSE 250 company, it is common that employees who are behind and/or not skilled enough to carry out a request cry micro-management when they are questioned on activity list detail. I would suggest that you give updates on progress before being asked, to get us tech-manager types off of your ass.

Remember your output as a team member reflects on the entire team and the team's management. IT in exec management's eyes is always assumed to fail whatever project they are on, thanks to poor project management and/or management in general, therefore a lot pressure is on whoever is responsible for IT to perform.

As far as your comment about most tech people don't have the emotional makeup required to successfully manage teams, may be true. However, that same group of people usually don't think beyond their cubicle they are sitting in as well. IT is very social as your work output generally impacts the entire business you are in, and good social skills take one a lot farther in IT than coding behind a desk for 16 hours a day.

Re:Obviously, Yes! However.... (2, Insightful)

AtomicBomb (173897) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986776)

Obviously, Yes! However, how many techies have the necessary organisation and human skill to climb up the corporate ladder?

Re:Obviously, Yes! (1)

morcego (260031) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987118)

I mean, come on! How much easier the lives of techies would be if their boss was one of them, if he would actually understand?

How much easier the lives of the manager would be if their techies actually understand the non-technical issues ?

I can't even begin to count the number of "technical perfect" projects that flunked, many times taking the company along.

Well, guess what ? We have techs and managers because both are needed for things to work.

Geeky Chick in power in a skirt.... (1)

woodchip (611770) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986260)

Mmmmmm... um, I will be back later.

Could be wonderful, could be a disaster... (4, Insightful)

nigel_q (523775) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986268)

I think it depends on what kind of background the boss has, specifically. If they were formerly a member of your development group, then they would likely make a good manager. If they came from another product group, it could be disastrous. For example, there's nothing more annoying than someone offering unqualified technical solutions that they encountered in their former world that don't apply to yours...

Re:Could be wonderful, could be a disaster... (2, Informative)

cbreaker (561297) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986516)

Yea, you can't be definitive on this issue issue because people are different. One boss might be non-technical, but he chooses competent employees/team members and trusts their opinion. Another boss might have a bad team, but is technical enough to know where things should head from a technical point of view.

Every company, situation, boss, and team is different. None of the variables need be set in stone - it's all about the group dynamic and how they work together.

And some bosses are just assholes, and it won't matter how much tech experience they have.

Re:Could be wonderful, could be a disaster... (2, Insightful)

Duhavid (677874) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986578)

You are correct, but...

"One boss might be non-technical, but he chooses competent employees/team members and trusts their opinion"

He/she/it cant know if competency was chosen, or smoke blowing.

"Another boss might have a bad team, but is technical enough to know where things should head"

And if he/she/it is not technical, then there will be trouble.

In either case, having technical grounding will help with the evaluation of the situation.

Re:Could be wonderful, could be a disaster... (1)

cbreaker (561297) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986626)

I do agree that a manager with some knowledge of the subject matter would be preferred in most cases, but some of the best bosses I've had were pretty much non-technical. Then again, I'm a self starter and I'd like to think I do a good job, so that works for me.

Re:Could be wonderful, could be a disaster... (2, Insightful)

dknj (441802) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986524)

smile and nod motherfucker. if its just an offer, then you can decline it.

now if s/he is saying "you have to do it this way or else" then its time to gather everyone on your team and rebel against your manager. this doesn't mean ignoring what s/he says, or thinking of him/her as less of a manager, but sitting down in a meeting and laying down all the good points and bad points of his plan (either s/he will see how the bad far outweighs the good, or you will actually realize its a good idea. i've seen both happen). you must do this THE FIRST FEW TIMES they throw out outlandish comments,suggestions, deliverables. otherwise you give your new manager upper hand and future revolts will not go over so well.

additionally, psychology comes into play. find out what s/he likes, chat it up with them, go to lunch with them on occasion. get to know the person and then use it to your advantage. if you're good around women, use the same tactics with your managers (play on the warm fuzzy feelings, avoiding the cold pricklies. it doesn't matter what you say, it matters how they respond to what you say). if you're a hermit.. well, you'll probably just end up on slashdot complaining about your manager :)

Re:Could be wonderful, could be a disaster... (2, Insightful)

callistra.moonshadow (956717) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987060)

Gosh, I hear this all the time. This is one of my personal tech/religion hot-spots. I'm a Senior IS Business Manager that was writing code in C# and VB.NET not 6 months ago. My background started as a C++ and PAL programmer 14 years ago. Over the years I moved from team member to senior developer to joining the ranks of the managers. I found as the dev lead that I ended up doing most of the work of the manager on top of being the lead. That got old. I'm amazed that this argument keeps coming up. From what I've seen the BEST project managers have been and/or continue to be former developers and manage to stay technical by various means. To the idea that you might get a "tech" manager that that might claim to know an answer that is BS it's usually because they are getting rusty and you get the "Captain Obvious" response. These days I tend to assist with things like owning and administering our Team Foundation Server, sitting with stressed out developers and helping them find their bugs, otherwise reviewing architecture and being the one to break ties on tough decisions. Without my background I could not function as a true member of my team. I'd be reduced to a project coordinator. I think this is the key - do you want just a bean-counter that updates project plans and sends out reports or someone that is actually part of the team and can contribute?

Just my two cents - deep in the front-line of personal experience.


Assuming.. (2, Insightful)

diersing (679767) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986284)

Thats assuming the ones blowing smoke have the technical knowledge. In larger organizations, managers usually have other manager reporting to them and throw in managers from risk management, project management, procurement management, and so on - its hard to get things done in general because of the meetings and approvals and testing and argh - I'm glad I left that world behind.

In smaller shops, IT Managers absolutely have to have the technical knowledge because without it stuff won't get done - small IT Manager are expected to help carry the workload whilst mentoring the people under them. Even if your not in IT management, having some technical knowledge is good to keep the IT Manager in check - I've seen IT Managers who couldn't configure a RAID array, but they knew the lingo well enough to keep the business at arms length and slowly spiral the department into the toilet.

At the end of the day. (1)

odyrithm (461343) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986288)

At the end of the day, they pay me for my skills as a programmer. I could blow "smoke" up all there ass's and they wouldn't know. Problem is though, that is never the problem. The problem is they always believe as managers they are greater. And knowing programming 101 won't help them make informed decisions or decide best practice. As a manager they need to learn to listen, trust and RESPECT there workers.

Re:At the end of the day. (2, Insightful)

ZenShadow (101870) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986538)

On the other hand, I've met a lot of techies that don't understand that trust is earned, and respect easily lost.


Re:At the end of the day. (1)

ray-auch (454705) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986812)

In part, that self-selects - techies that do understand that will tend to become managers.

Who says that? (4, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986292)

Some say that good managers should not be technical at all.

Who says that? Some people say that if you shove your fingers up your nose and blow, you'll increase your IQ. Some people say ...

Can we just stop with the "some people say ..." crap?

If you're a tech manager and you lack the technical knowledge, how will you be able to determine which approach is viable or even realistic?

And don't tell me that you'd rely upon your staff. How do you know if your staff is any more technically proficient than you are? What happens when two people on your staff have contradicting approaches to a situation? Do you just flip a coin? Or do you go with the one that's been kissing your ass the best in the past week?

If you're a manager, it means that you have the responsibility to understand BOTH aspects. The technology and the business. That's why you're paid more. That's why you were hired.

If you can't handle both, then turn the job over to someone who can and find yourself a job more appropriate to your skill set.

Do we really need another article on this when Dilbert cartoons have been around for so long?

Re:Who says that? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986594)

How do you know if your staff is any more technically proficient than you are?
They're all Microsoft Certified Professionals?

Re:Who says that? (3, Insightful)

jollyplex (865406) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986746)

Words of wisdom coming from a suspiciously low UID.

Stepping onto campus, I had little interest in management roles, as they did not seem interesting (and presumably did not require technical ability). After several co-ops, I developed a respect for those who had both an extensive mastery of a technical field as well as the ability to earn the trust of and successfully coordinate teams of engineers, scientists, etc.

It's hard work IMHO, to manage an intelligent team. You have to dive in the psyche of each member and figure out what motivates them, what they are good at, what they want to learn more about, etc.

Re:Who says that? (1)

dantheman82 (765429) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986806)

>If you can't handle both, then turn the job over to someone who can and find yourself a job more appropriate to your skill set.

Do you mean a job as manager at McDonalds? Let the BS begin for those who'd rather not give up their 200K+ salaries...

Re:Who says that? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986954)

I agree on this one 100% --- I have witnessed the disaster that is an incompetent manager in technical sense. The decision-making needs to be geared towards to understand who is suitable for which task in the software development environment. Without technical knowledge the manager must go with his gut instinct and that's the same as flipping coin to solve problems with choices (or maybe even worse as in this case a good actor can con his / her way into a position where great harm will come to the organization, because it took too long to blow their cover).

And I couldn't agree more on the salary part too: I mean you get more for KNOWING more, right? You are more valuable to the organization and thus you get compensated for it accordingly. However I see it way too often when people get promoted who have no idea what they are doing. But when confronted they explain that they are super-good in delegation... that they surround themselves with "good people..." blah-blah-blah... Hmm, how do you delegate if you don't know the aspects that you need a person for? Explain me this or just admit you experienced a lucky break with your position and you are completely clueless...

By the way, I am a manager (mid-level) and not a bitter floor-level person. I think America needs a wake up call on the quality of management today--the old days had its glory when managers were competent and educated. Today they are mostly gum-flapping show clowns with no real knowledge about life or their subject matter.

That's just my $.02 --- now shoot me.

Some people say ... Heard of Fox News? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986982)

Can we just stop with the "some people say ..." crap?

To get rid of it entirely, you might need to stop watching Fox News...a common phrase used on their news.

Re:Who says that? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16987032)

If you're anything like my boss then you take the side of which ever company's sales team has paid for the most expensive lunch and totally ignore your technically savvy staff.

There is such a thing as a free lunch if you work for the government of your neighboring state.

People in business school (1)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987240)

They tell the students that there are aspects of running a company that are independant of what the company does. Which is true. But then somehow they conclude that you can run a business without really understanding the business/industry/product/tech. Same goes for management. It's really unbelievable.

unavailable (1)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986302)

You've heard the expression about people "being promoted to the level of their own incompetence"? Well, in order to be a good manager, you should be good at managing AND at the tech involved in what you're managing - but unfortunately, if you're THAT good, you're probably either working at either a much higher level or attempting your own start-up. This leaves people who are only good at one or the other, and sticking someone who can't manage in a mangement position would be even worse than using someone who is able to manage a team even if they only have cursory knowledge of what the team is doing.

Re:unavailable (3, Funny)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986548)

You've heard the expression about people "being promoted to the level of their own incompetence"?

Yes indeed, "The Peter Principle", from Dr. Laurence J. Peter's 1968 book of the same name. Technically, this has nothing to do with some managers being dicks but in practice it does seem that way.

Re:unavailable (1)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986968)

>Dr. Laurence J. Peter's 1968 book of the same name. Technically, this has nothing to do with some managers being dicks

But his theory of "injelitance" does. Incompetent people with enough brains to realize they are incompetent will be hostile to anyone who exceeds their abilities. Peter identified this blend of jealousy with incompetence ("injelitance") as the driver for much organizational politics.

a Tech Mgr or Mgr of Tech?? (2, Interesting)

jackb_guppy (204733) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986308)

I have worked for both types of Mgrs: Tech Mgrs and Mgrs of Tech. Tbe second tend to better because they stay out of development and allow their staffs to do the work. A Tech Mgr beleives they are right and will commit to schedules that generally not reasonable nor possible.

Re: a Tech Mgr or Mgr of Tech?? (3, Insightful)

imadork (226897) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986502)

I've found the exact opposite. In my experience, a "Mgr. of Tech" is more likely to be bamboozled by bright, shiny schedules that bear no resemblance to reality (and by people who are better at smooth talking then getting their work done), while a "Tech Mgr." is more likely to create reasonable schedules because they've done the death march before, and can smell bullshit a mile away because they've slung some themselves at tome point.

It's all a matter of personality, I think. A good techie is not necessarily cut out for management, and not all managers are cut out to understand the underlying technology they're managing in any real depth.

Re: a Tech Mgr or Mgr of Tech?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986580)

maybe your company should look into hiring a Mgr of Spelling

Re: a Tech Mgr or Mgr of Tech?? (4, Informative)

shirai (42309) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986646)

If you are managing tech and either of these describes you, you could use improvement:

You are a manager with little tech knowledge

You are a techie with little management knowledge

The problem with the tech managers you had is that they just didn't know enough about how to manage or had enough management experience. They believed that all techies are just like them. That TRAIT, is a problem. And while it may be beneficial to be managed by a non-techie, the company may suffer overall because the manager does not know how to drive his team.

I am CEO/owner of a 25 person (successful, profitable and fast growing) Internet company and my best managers are both comfortable being in a management role and are very smart in the area they manage. A good manager knows the capabilities of his/her team and also knows what they don't know and helps them learn it. Instead of resigning ourselves to be as weak as our weakest link, we teach that we need to be as strong as our strongest link and we have created a teaching and learning environment. This doesn't work if the manager doesn't understand much of the tech him/herself.

The result? Many people think our company is 2-4x as large as it actually is. We have an environment where everybody loves coming to work. There is a huge amount of respect for our managers and there is constant praise both from managers, from the teams and across team boundaries. We love our work, we work hard and in our case, our tech managers were actually all techies first but they have received guidance on how to be a good manager. I don't think a really good manager can be just either/or.

This is a philosophy I have personally taken throughout my life. I came out of business school from marketing (though most of my best marketing knowledge I learned through books), but also am a programmer (wrote most of our original code), graphic designer (owned a design co) and was CTO for another Internet company. The more I know about my business as a whole, the better I can run my company.

Re: a Tech Mgr or Mgr of Tech?? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986984)

The result? Many people think our company is 2-4x as large as it actually is.
When I view a home page with obvious errors like "...for UNDER $20 bucks!", I'm shocked to learn that that there's more than one flunky with no command of the English language working there. "$20 bucks"? Please, fire whoever approved that text.

Re: a Tech Mgr or Mgr of Tech?? (1)

mgemmons (972332) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986784)

In my experience it isn't true at all that non-tech managers try to "stay out of development." They still try to understand what is going on, they just generally have a less successful time doing it. That lack of knowledge will hurt the teams he manages more than if he had some tech background. A good manager is there to shield his people from being bothered from outside distractions and to make sure they have what they need. If he has a firm grasp of what goes on in his teams, he will be able to better anticipate when and where problems might arise in a project and plan for it.

Both scenarios are wrong (1)

Morgaine (4316) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986920)

Both tech and non-tech scenarios of management just ape the traditional view, which is that management (as a distinct function to tech) is mandatory.

I'm afraid this is entirely wrong, and just a self-serving view created by the management "class".

Competent techs can organize themselves perfectly well without any imposed hierarchy --- in fact, this is probably a good definition of "competent". An unthinking directed tech slave is not really a competent tech in a true sense, because all tech work requires effective self-management if it is to be "good". (I guess it can also be "good" by sheer accident, but relying on repeat sheer accidents is not a good idea.)

This isn't a pie-in-the-sky view of the world either, although it's definitely unconventional. It stems from my experience in numerous companies (I'm freelance, so I see a lot of them) --- the best work comes from those tech teams that are self-managed from within, and not from those teams with managers who are not actually doing the tech work themselves.

I'm still trying to work out why this is so, but my working hypothesis at this time is the following: "if you're not doing the work, you're hindering it".

In any event, the conventional view is simply wrong.

Don't step in the leadership (1)

Null Nihils (965047) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986338)

A leader should be more experienced than the people he or she leads. This does not mean the leader should know about or be concerned with the smaller details, but he should have a broad enough background to comprehend the individual tasks he is organizing people to do. A manager is not there to tell people what to do, he is there to organize the division of labour. If a manager was cloned ten times he should be able to replace the people he organizes after learning the specifics of each task he would otherwise be unable to cover as one person. A manager is the frontal lobe; He has to do the higher level strategizing, but not get distracted with the reflexes and autonomous functions. However, he should still know what every part is doing. He should not be disconnected. A common misconception is that a manager capable of "lower level" tasks may become distracted or tend to micromanage. This is not the case; indeed, many can attest that managers who like to "get involved" tend to know even less about the task that they are interfering with, than managers that take a "hands off" approach.

One example (4, Funny)

laing (303349) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986352)

I remember hearing this story from some senior engineers I worked with about 20 years ago. I'm pretty sure that it's true.

They were all working hard down at Cape Canaveral getting ready to launch a satellite (an old HS-376). The boss came by and asked how things were going and one of the guys said that they were stuck on a problem and needed some parts. The boss eagerly got involved because this was something that he knew he could handle. They sent him to Radio Shack (Titusville) and had him ask for some polarized resistors. He took it in stride and did not get too upset when he came back (red faced) without them. It must have been very humbling for him.


Re:One example (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986410)

That's dangerous as hell. If you sent someone to Radio Shack for a polarized resistor today, he'd come back with a cell-phone charger and insist that you install it in your satellite.

Re:One example (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986458)

The worst part of this story is that 20 years *if* you walked into a Radio Shack and ask for polarized resistors you'd probably at least be talking with someone knowledgeable enough to laugh at you. Nowadays, under the same circumstances, the kid behind the counter would look it up in the catalog, not find it, and just offer to sell you some batteries.

Re:One example (1)

doesnothingwell (945891) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986670)

Not even twenty years ago, could you go to radio shack and find anyone who would know better. Even thirty years ago I knew better than to ask a salesdroid anything technical, whether they had a part number in stock was pushing it.

Reminds me of the Signal Corps prank (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986934)

from back in the days of vacuum tubes, when the new guy would be sent to Supply with orders to pick up a Fallopian tube.

We've all seen this. (1)

IANAAC (692242) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986368)

We've all seen a case or two when a tech moves into management. Rarely is it a smooth transition.

I think it's great if a manager keeps up on technology, but once you're a manager, don't step on your workers' job responsibilities. I once had a manager who would constantly say things like "When I was doing it, I always did it this way. Try that." Yeah, that's nice and all that, but when you were doing it, the kernel was at level 2.0.13. Things have changed enough that the way you used to do it no longer works. It got old pretty quick.

Re:We've all seen this. (1)

OfficeSubmarine (1031930) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986822)

I was coming in to post exactly the same. A while back I worked in a company which had that same problem. The founder had his shit down to the needle about five years ago. Awesome guy, really smart, and he was like a walking encyclopedia of tech from that time period. But things have changed, he didn't realize that his staying the same was in fact a problem if he was making the tech decisions, and I was getting the feeling of a sinking ship after fixing errors for my home use that I wasn't allowed to implement at my work station because the boss didn't grasp how it worked.

Re:We've all seen this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16987096)

When I was doing it the kernel was at 1.2.13.

Now that I'm CIO, we're still an all 1.2.13 shop.

Sad State (3, Insightful)

CyberLife (63954) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986372)

Is it nice to be able to flim-flam the boss once in a while?

I'm sorry, but the fact that anyone would even consider this paints a very sad picture of society.

Re:Sad State (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986540)

It paints a sad picture of Zonk. Not everybody lives in a Dilbert universe with hateable idiot bosses. Zonk certainly doesn't, which makes it all the more corny. Let's all blow off some steam and make fun of our jerk managers! How bout his stupid haircut, LOL M I RITE, GUYS? Gas prices / weather!

Point of view (2, Insightful)

karlto (883425) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986568)

Every time I see one of these management articles/questions on Slashdot, I wonder from which perspective many posters are commenting. If each poster was tagged "have been in management" or "have never been in management", I think that would make for very interesting reading...

Disclaimer: have been in management (goodbye karma)

Yes (4, Insightful)

daeg (828071) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986386)

If my manager doesn't know the technology that I'm using, he will inevitably agree to something that cannot be done (either impossible or not feasible). Haven't we all had bosses come down and dish out a nearly impossible task that sounds simple when he explains it, but really isn't? When that happens, a few things can happen: a) you get stuck doing it anyway, putting other projects behind schedule b) you fail to do it and look bad (and your boss is insulated from it: "I thought he could do it!") or worse.

I don't expect my bosses to know how to program Python, but they at least have to know what the technology is, how it works, and preferably at least how to read/interpret it.

Of course, in smaller teams, your manager is probably coding with you. Not every group can have a hands-off manager. However, if this is the case, the manager does need to ensure his role is maintained as manager, and not simply a developer. Managers need to insulate their team from stupid ideas, demands, and pet projects from higher levels of management.

Best of all, a manager that really does know the underlying technology will protect his job better. He might not have to program, but he could if he wanted to. Then he is telling the truth when he tells a manager that the "Project was possible, we just didn't have the talent for it."

Ideally managers should be very blunt, too, but that's just a personal preference. Where I work now, for instance, the managers are all-but-silent except during your yearly review. They then present a binder (not just a folder...) of your performance through the year. You may have sucked for 8 months, but they won't tell you til that review, and by then it is probably too late. I'd rather know that I suck sooner than later. Tech-savy managers could make that happen easier.

My boss: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986412)

Loves coding and loves working with databases.

Technically competent managers are needed by all (4, Insightful)

onyxruby (118189) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986430)

You have to be in order to be effective. While the manager can't be expected to get in the trenches to do the work, they have to know how the trenches work. And for far more than knowing if a tech is blowing smoke. The techs need a manager that is technically competent to at least a certain level.

Incompetent managers can cause dilbertesque levels of insanity in technology just as much as anywhere else. I've seen managers so incompetent that they have led multimillion dollar projects straight into the ground through sheer ineptitude.

I recall one 100 million dollar plus project I was brought in on where a manager believed the vendor when they said you didn't need a single desktop technician to migrate tens of thousands of desktops. Needless to say that manager lost their job and the vender was sued for millions.

The manager needs to know enough to know what's needed for the department to do it's job, to know what to ask for it from venders and upper management. I've seen an it manager approve money for expensive inkjets because they like the pictures without leaving any money in the budget to replace a five year old server on it's last legs. I shouldn't have to explain to a manager that tape drives really do cost much and that a failed unit really needs replaced /now/!

Upper Management needs someone that can make that kind of decision correctly, they rely heavily on management's opinions for purchasing. The user base needs someone that isn't going to be snowed by a vendor with a dog and pony show. The techs need someone that knows what tools they need to do their job.

The job of management is to be an abstraction layer that interfaces between workers and upper management. They need to know enough about the job being done by their employees to do that.

In buisiness, expertise is never bad. (1)

briester (1031918) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986450)

A manager should be informed, and stay that way. Sure its nice to blow smoke up someone's skirt, as you say, and possibly more. Putting that closed-door office to good use is always a fun afternoon. But that's not what we're paid for, is it? If we just want to get by with standard pay and an HMO, a boss without expertise will suffice, but if we want to be a part of a successful, thriving business, we need all the expertise we can get. People skills are only gravy on top of the real issue at hand for a manager: knowing what needs to be done, and who can do it. Being technicaly proficient helps you to stay on top of your projects, and ensures that you know exactly what your employees need to get done, and in what order. It reduces inefficiencies due to miscommunication, and it increases the amount that your employees trust you. Your technical abilities are nothing but a benifit for you and your company.

Thoughts. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986452)

The issue isn't knowledge of technology. Certainly, more is better.

The issue is personal. As it's said, the more someone knows, the more they realize they don't know. If that were universally the case, we'd never have stupid management decisions.

Instead, many people learn just enough to be dangerous, and then promulgate a potentially erroneous view with a vigor that overcomes all competing options. The cause is either 1) a lack of desire to learn more, 2) a lack of realization there is more to know, or 3) a personal stake, be it pride or otherwise.

The ComputerWorld article seems to be black and white; knowledge is good or bad. But like everything else, the true answer depends entirely on the makeup of the person wielding it.

Yes and no (4, Insightful)

tttonyyy (726776) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986462)

I've been managed by non-technical managers and technically-aware managers, and also been a technically-aware manager myself for a little while.

It's a double edged sword. Non-technical managers might not understand the importance of technical details/problems, but technical managers might end up micromanaging [] . Personally I believe it all comes down to trust (and hence personality). The best managers are those that are technically competent but trust their team to make the correct judgements without the managers input. The worst are managers that are technically competent but want to make every decision for the team. Engineers *need* to have creative input and make decisions in order to be happy in their roles. Non-technical managers are in-between - they are forced to trust their team, but might not understand the pros and cons of important technical decisions.

Like it or not, those "difficult to quantise" aspects of running a technical project (such as personality) can make or break it. Surviving as a techie manager depends 100% on your personality. Put your trust in your team.

Here's an example (4, Informative)

broothal (186066) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986480)

I'll stand up. I have a masters in computer science. I read slashdot. I'm a manager. I'd say it helps me a lot in my daily work to have the same mindset as the developers and architects I manage. Of course, most of my guys could out-code me any day of the week. Luckily, it's not a competition. I'm glad their java-fu is better than mine. I use my background knowledge of developing to ask the right questions and find the right answers, based on their skills.

By being technically informed while managing people and projects, no one can blow smoke up my skirt. I can tell the difference between a lame excuse for a delay and a legitimate reason why something can't be done. That ability is priceless.

If your people blows smoke up your ass then you need to work on your management skills. Regardless that you can detect their lame excuses - if they feel the need to give a lame excuse then it's not only them that's doing a poor job - you are as well.

my old boss... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986496)

Hah! You are kidding right? My last boss was incapable of setting his own Mickey Mouse watch. Yet he was making all the key decisions. He started out as an employee and through a bit of back stabbing and sniping managed to eventually work his way up to MD. Of course, the best thing is the company is on the slide right now and he doesn't realise it. The developers keep stalling him on the nextGen product he thinks they are going to produce whereas in reality they are treading water on their salaries until some other jobs show up. I'm so tempted to name the company but I'm not drunk enough yet ;)

He's wearing a skirt... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986498)

how 'with it' is that!

watching the flim flam (1)

opencity (582224) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986506)

As a messenger years back I watched two high end video techs snow a room full of ad agency suits at $400 an hour while editing a toy commerical.
One kept saying: "I've got 14", and the other would reply from behind the control desk "I've got 15". At one point I grinned at them as this had been 30 minutes of downtime that shouldn't have been billable. They grinned back as they knew I didn't have any where near the authority, or motivation, to mention it to the suits. It went on for over an hour.

OT? sort of I admit.

Two type of managers... (1)

faloi (738831) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986508)

And both have their place. It's nice to have a manager with technical know-how when they can truly act as another person in your workgroup, in essence increasing the number of people trying to fix a problem.
It's also nice to have a manager that trusts their employees and will fight in the management trenches leaving their employees free to actually do the work.

I work with both types (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986514)

My network manager is a techie. Great at coming up with solutions and knows the technology better then myself, the network engineer. The problem is he does little to no actual "management" and a lot of big picture items fall through the cracks. There is no one to look at what we have coming down big picture and we have a lot of knee jerk reactions because of this.

Our tech support supervisor is not a techie. He is a complete idiot. He manages everything and nothing gets done without his approval or oversight. He promises technology solutions that do not exist or are not within our capabilities (network or space requirements). If it can not be done, he tries to safe himself by making the network team look bad like we dropped the ball and could not deliver.

Overall? This is the first place I've ever been where the tech support manager has more pull then the network manager. If the tech support supervisor has users reporting a slowdown with some web application and thinks the switch is the bottleneck, he will request the network team add a second switch (even though he has no knowledge or concept of how our network is running or the difference between a switch or a hub or what type of bandwidth we have), we have to add another switch because he wants it. Well sure enough, I already know the application server is dogging because it does not have anough ram or it running on a loaded VM server, my input does not matter, I have to do it no questions asked, very frustrating.

I don't know what is worse, 100% techie or 0% techie, I thing they both suck and one of each is even worse.

Can a manager NOT be a techie and survive? (1)

tyrr (306852) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986520)

A good manager has to be a good leader first and foremost. A non technical manager will have a very difficult time earning respect among techies. Conversely, techies will eagerly follow someone who they perceive as an expert in technical matters.
Managers who can't lead are useless and should be outsourced to India.

Is this a real person? (1)

MollyB (162595) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986546)

After re-reading the article, some things pop out that don't seem quite right about this story. For one, it is chockablock with generalizations, banalities, and has a ring of inauthenticity: No specific technologies are mentioned save firewalling and VPN.

The writer has spare time to teach after pulling "all-nighters"? Puh-leeze.

If anyone writes to, please post your impression, 'kay?
Women who worry that Anyone will "blow smoke up [her] skirt" are misguided. I think the brain is the region someone smart would protect...

Or, maybe I'm just burnt out and jealous.

Obviously they should, but... (1)

mark99 (459508) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986586)

The non-technical managers feel threatened by managers that have technical know-how. And they can use their considerable social skills to brand that know-how as a disadvanage, as a distraction to the essential task of management, which they see as making financial decisions and communication.

I have experienced this ostracism, and while it can be dealt with, it is definitely something a techie manager has to keep in mind when dealing with the other non-so-clued managers. It is a "weakness" which can easily negate any advantage derived from greater and deeper technical insight.

It is a talent that is more appropriate to an entrapraneur than a manager in my opinion.

Re:Obviously they should, but... (1)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986744)

You are right that combining technical knowledge with business awareness is a quality appropriate for entrepreneurs. Managers are slaves just like anyone else: They know the business side of things but can't build a product themselves. Programmers, likewise, can make products but often have difficulty marketing them. A programmer who knows about business and has an urge to self-start things can become a great entrepreneur.

Knowledge (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986588)

If you don't understand the hardware, how can you manage it? How can you understand why one system or software package is better than another?

I feel if you don't know your particular field as a manager then you're just a PHB, and probably buy everything Microsoft and Dell tell you to.

You cannot manage what you do not understand (1)

nrgiii (1031926) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986802)

Why is this even a question? Lower Management *must* understand whatever they are managing in order to be effective. That means if they are managing technology (hardware, software, whatever...), they must understand it to some degree. Otherwise they become a pointy-haired-boss incarnate. I manage a group of Engineers at a software company and I consider staying current with what they are working on part of my job. Managers who simply create gantt charts and manage budgets and schedules typically have worse results than those who understand the technology. Those managers spend too much time focusing on the wrong things. At the middle and senior levels, things are different. VP's and CEO's need to rely on managers that report to them to make the right technology decisions.

My manager is a techie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986602)

and I can say he does it quite well. The important thing for me is that a manager every so often understands that certain problems can not be easily overcome - heck, some problems are underestimated. A good manager will guide you to the right path and tell you to watch out for such problems.

Nay 'Can', Must. (2, Interesting)

Demiansmark (927787) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986616)

I was brought in by a small web design and development company to refine their methodology and process while increasing the overall quality of the work. The owner is essentially a sales person and has no knowledge of the technology beyond (often false) sales sound bites. This has completely undermined almost all my work as the owner makes commitments to clients that are unrealistic given the scope and budget of a given project and as a result client expectations are consistently unmet.

I believe anyone who is in a position to discuss a project with the client should, at a minimum, know the technology to the point where they have a realistic understanding of the cost and time frame of a project and changes to that project.

Now because of the difficulties my company is facing the owner is clamoring to begin using and purchasing templates, outsourcing more of our coding overseas, spending less time understanding what the clients want and beginning production almost immediately. Because he has no understanding of the technology I have had a difficult time convincing him of the value of slowing down the process, understanding client expectations before production, and coding with standards from the ground up.

A personal example of how a lack of technical knowledge can kill a project: the owner oversaw the outsourcing and development of a application using SQL Server 2005 that was to be hosted on one of our shared servers despite that we run 2000 and do not have any 2005 licenses, oops.

Hmmmm... (1)

multimediavt (965608) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986622)

Having worked my way up through the ranks to management and seen both non-technical and technical managers, I'd have to say that managers with a technical background and are keeping their skills or knowledge (at least) current are better than many of non-technical managers. As was stated in a previous post above it all depends on whether the technical manager has a head for the business side of things, and vice-versa. If the non-technical manager is at least reading journals, studying trends in the market, and listening to input from multiple sources on and off their own technical team they can be very effective managers. The exact opposite of that is a technical manager that may not have a strong business head, but is at least doing his/her homework and working with other management colleagues to develop their business understanding.

I will say that this is a pretty silly argument, and that the ability to work with people of multiple personalities, common sense and a good work ethic makes a good manager regardless of their technical expertise. The role of a manager is to provide strategic direction based on needs, mentoring of employees, conflict resolution, and an avenue for the employees that work for said manager to relay concerns to upper management. Yes, it's nice if they can pitch in and help get the technical work done, but I don't believe that it is imperative that they have the same or similar skills to those they are managing. Dilbert provides an example of the stereotypical worst case scenario and is meant to be humorous, but it's not representative to the whole of IT.

Well... (1)

Karl Cocknozzle (514413) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986658)

If you're going to be a "technical" manager, for crying out loud stay current! Whatever you do, don't force it and be half-assed... If it comes naturally to you, do it. If not, maybe you should think about that MBA and become a "senior" manager.

Technical Manager (2, Insightful)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986688)

A Technical Manager, such as a project manager, must know a lot about technology and use it actively in practice, otherwise they are just wasting the programmers's time by asking stupid questions and giving bad directions. A General Manager in an IT business need not have much grasp of technical matters except excellent appreciation of the concepts involved (e.g. they ought to know about information systems), but I would still recommend some weekend coding even to a general manager, especially if they participate in hiring decisions.

I personally am a holder of a BSc(Hons) in Computer Science and I am now studying towards an MSc in Management, while I work as an Analyst Programmer on European Union projects and contribute to open-source. It's not all bad: Techies can certainly become good managers if they try, but I guess it all depends on why one decided to go to business school.

Just look at Apple (1)

Amid60 (938961) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986760)

Even at the CEO level, an attempt to run a high-tech company in a way PepsiCo is being run is disastrous: witness Apple under MBA types. A techie with a managerial clue (Jobs), OTOH, was pretty good.

Employed in large international IT company (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986836)

I am employed in a large international IT company, which much to my satisfaction requires managers to have technical knowledge. If you don't know the difference between TCP and IP, don't expect to even be interviewed for a manager position here.

Being technical is great and all, but... (1)

no_pets (881013) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986850)

Being technical is great and all for managers that proceed up through the ranks, but what happens when a good (and technical) manager changes jobs? What I'm getting at is that (supposedly) a good manager can manage people in various industries and many do switch entirely. I had a manager once that had proceeded through the ranks and knew all the technical aspects of the systems he and his staff managed, but once he was hired in as our manager (same industry - health care) it was entirely different systems and OSes.

I'd say that first year of working with him sucked. Yeah, I worked with him and not for him it seemed as he shadowed my every move as much as he could afford to. He believed that he needed to know all the technical stuff. And he did learn a big chunk of it never all of it (as should be expected).

I will just say, nobody should have to spend hours, days, weeks and basically a never-ending chunk of their time teaching their bosses technical stuff.

Managers should know their business (1)

Phemur (448472) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986866)

I can't imagine anyone thinking that someone managing techies doesn't need to have technical skills. Of course they need to have technical skills. A large part of management is decision making, and the better informed a person is, the better the decisions. Tech managers need to have technical knowledge to be effective.

And it's not just in the technical field, in any field. Retail managers need to understand the products sold in their store, bank managers need to have a clue about finance, etc.

Hi, Sys Admin to Director over here... (3, Interesting)

ellem (147712) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986876)

I have 2 HUGE problems as a manager who was a tech.

1) I side with my "guys" (who are .33 women!) too often.
2) I have a nagging feeling I could "do that better" than they're doing it.

Sounds fun, or funny but it's not. It's a pain in the ass. It literally triples my stress levels.

There is no doubt in my mind that being a Sys Admin was a MUCH easier job.

Re:Hi, Sys Admin to Director over here... (1)

tttonyyy (726776) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987158)

Put your ego to one side and trust your team. Message ends.

Exercise of the Obvious... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16986890)

I believe that it would be more ideal to have someone who is both a technical expert AND a wonderful manager as a company leader. Are there those who do not think so?

I hazard that most people realize that not all managers make great technical people, and not all technical people make good managers. In many cases, neither has an aspirations of being the other.
For many years, it was a case that one didn't have to be both, but it seems that now the unemployed lines are full of misdirected former managers (who made unreasonable demand after unreasonable demand), and lots of technical gurus who do not know how to lead, all of whom are expecting to be paid the same as someone with both the technical and leadership skills (or are successful in one and just sound enough in the other.) There will always be the technically adept person who thinks he would be a better manager, and that manager who thinks he knows more about the capability of the technology than the person who built it; this situation lends itself to the popularity of Dilbert. However, it sometimes also lends itself to the stagnation of many smaller companies, as the wheel of productivity never quite turns the way that it should. It creates a situation where folks are butting heads, the managers cannot lead properly because they do not know their own product line, and the technical staff are so wrapped up in being "smarter" than the managerial component (not understanding that smart comes in many different flavours, and technical knowledge is not the end-all) and--ahem--apparently trying to find ways of getting out of work to pursue their own interests, so the fingers are not working with the hands, it seems.
In companies where you have these two separate positions, but both understand their place in the system and understand each other's goals (better technology/more profit/faster production), and try to reach some thought-out compromise, the dichotomy works rather well. Unfortunately, when communication breaks down and this understanding is not always reached, and both sides are too wrapped up in ego to compromise, you end up with the situation described above. Jobs are lost, money isn't made. No good.

A bit off-topic, but I think it relates: it should also be understood the manager will likely be paid much more than those who are the technical experts (not always, though...I expect several responses of single-case anecdotes where this isn't true.) This will be a source of friction for some. In the case where one is both a technical expert and a really, really good leader, I suspect that their initiative, expertise, and good people skills will lead them to success regardless, and they will be paid well. For those who are only one or the other, their bottom line won't be nearly as fruitful, and their salaries will probably reflect that.

The tides are changing, and you will find that graduates of engineering and computer science schools are expected to have the capability to become both the expert and the leader, and we will see the days where you could be "just the technical guy" and be paid comparably gone.

As an aside, someone who prefers their boss be ignorant just so they can be lazy is a bad worker. And shouldn't be surprised when one day their skills and usefulness have been surpassed by others, and they are without a job.

My favorite pointy-haired boss... (1)

Telephone Sanitizer (989116) | more than 7 years ago | (#16986976)

How exactly are we supposed to get bosses who are technically competent? Who hires the bosses? HR people and veeps. What do they know about hiring competent people? On average, somewhat less than a flea knows about special relativity. My favorite pointy-haired boss was an architectural engineer who was put in charge of a tv IT department because his degree had "engineer" in the title. He frequently commented that his engineering background gave him a special perspective on the television production engineers and computer tech's who worked under him. Inside of a year, almost all of his employees quit. Thereafter, he got promoted to head a new department, incorporating previously separate IT departments from all over the company. Incompetence rises to the top. There's no stopping it.

Depends on the manager's character. (1)

neiras (723124) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987002)

This can really go two ways.

On one hand, if your manager has some technical knowledge, he's more likely to go to bat for you when upper management gets unreasonable with their demands. Ideally, he'd be able to understand the technical reasons for, say, a production delay - and translate that to management-ese for HIS boss. Having a manager who is hands-off enough to let you do your job, but still really interested in the workings of the things you're creating - heaven! Imagine a boss who sees in your work a particuliarly elegant solution to a problem, recognizes it for what it is, and commends you for it - without you having to explain it! These kinds of managers DO exist.

On the other hand, if you get a manager with an inflated opinion of his own (sparse) technical knowledge, you have a problem. This kind of guy ends up making long, irrelevent speeches in design meetings, imposing work methods that don't make sense for a project, and constantly second-guessing his subordinates' technical abilities. In the very worst cases, he will listen to an idea from you, give you ten reasons why your idea sucks, then quietly suggest it to everyone else in the office to make himself look good. Then, while you're off on vacation, he'll make a Grand Announcement that turns your suggestion into Policy, and when you get back everyone will be talking about how brilliant your boss is. It's threat management - you were a threat, he managed you! Sure bosses are allowed to do this, but it's a grand way of destroying employee relations.

Managers don't have to know everything, but they should have an in-depth understanding of the work their employees do. They need to acknowledge the limits of their practical technical abilities and defer to their employees when they are unsure. On the flip side, employees really need to respect managerial efforts to assist them on the technical side.

If your manager doesn't "get it", it's your responsibility to help him understand, and his responsibility to listen. Just keep in mind that your manager might actually be right!

Cluelessness (1)

XNormal (8617) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987012)

Bad managers come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them have good technical knowledge, some don't. But a special place of contempt is reserved for the truly *clueless* manager. Those are usually of the non-technical sort.

An expert in EVERYTHING? (1)

melonman (608440) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987020)

Surely the basic fallacy here is that "techie" is a unidimensional attribute that you either have or you don't. In reality, no-one these days has up to date technical knowledge of every aspect of IT. Even if you take, say, web-based solutions, anyone who claims to be up to speed on all the relevant technology is lying or stupid. And if "manager" means more than "lead programmer", the chances are that the project as a whole involves more skills than any one member of the team - techie or not - has mastered.

It's obviously helpful if management know enough about the general area in which they are working to ask intelligent questions, but you really don't want the management arguing with the programmers over how to write the tightest loop.

Perhaps an analogy ... (1)

richg74 (650636) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987034)

Cooking, like development, requires a combination of knowledge, technical skill, and creativity. I've eaten at restaurants run by chefs, and at ones run by bean-counters. There's no prize for guessing where one gets the better dinner -- but the dinner is enough, if you're the one eating it.

A Notable Example (1)

Assaulted_Peanut (742517) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987068)

From an outsiders perspective I'd say Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software [] ticks all of the boxes, e.g. "The Development Abstraction Layer [] ". It's such a shame that they can't clone him on demand and ship him worldwide in 48 hours :(

Jack of all to Director to CIO (1)

mrscott (548097) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987130)

I've got a pretty wide background in IT. Thirteen years of overall experience with the last five plus a few months in senior management. The first five years in management were at the Director of IT level where I reported to the CFO and last couple of months as a CIO on the executive team. My background includes programming, DBA, networking, systems, help desk, training, etc. I stay very, very current on my technical skills by writing technical articles. This serves me in three ways: (1) it helps me stay out of the way of my staff at the office for their regular work. I get to play on my own time and not bug them (as much); (2) I can continue to contribute when there is a problem or when we're working on a new project. Like it or not, my guys and gals aren't the ones sticking their necks out every time a project gets started; and (3) It keeps me marketable. I'm on the side that the IT leader needs to have a pretty good understanding about what's going on. Systems continue to get more complicated and you really have to have the ability, in your mind, to envision solutions to problems, and have at least some idea about how to get to that solution.

All that said, I'm far from being the "techie" that I once was. Yes, in some technical topics, I could run circles around my people (not bragging here... just a fact), but in many others, they've got me beat--as they should. I'm not there to be the expert on every single technology we have, but to be the glue that brings it all together and serves it up to the rest of the company. This means I needs to "get it." I don't think it hurts that there are some areas in which my technical skill outweights theirs, though. Over time, their skills will come up as well.

I've read a lot of comments to this article from people basically saying that the IT Manager should basically stay completely away and let the IT staff make all the calls. Sorry... that's not the way it works. The line staff person isn't the one calling the big picture shots, no matter how much he or she knows. I've made decisions that, at first, seemed less than rational to my staff but, after some chat and a Q & A, they realized why I made a particular decision. If you have an IT Manager that's always making bad calls in your book, then you either really do have a bad manager, but the more likely explanation is that one or both of you lacks communications skills. If you're feeling frustrated, you need to be able to talk about it to get the "why" behind the decision. If the manager refuses to talk about decisions, he's not comunicating with his staff.

Enough said.


The reason you flim flam (1)

zullnero (833754) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987138)

Is to keep your manager essentially from freaking out about the project. From experience, it's easier to tell a non-technical manager that a particular component will take more time (then you research how to get around a problem) than it is to tell a technical manager that you need to spend some time researching a problem. Technical managers often freak about their deadline, and will go hire some temp to try and "speed things up". Even worse, they'll try and second guess the engineer and feel that there's a "really simple way" to fix the problem. Technically-oriented managers almost NEVER can resist going either route when they start sweating about their job possibly being on the line. And usually, when they go either route, all they end up doing is fouling things up worse.


Nocturnal Deviant (974688) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987144)

of course you cant be a manager, in circuit city all our manager does is play video games, "hey a customer needs you sir" "CANT YOU SEE IM KILLING PEOPLE IN GTA: VICE CITY STORIES"...."yes sir, ill just use Dave Chappelles presentation and do this *puffs out chest at customer* I MAM THE MANAGER!!"....on that note i wish i had his job.....=( i wanna play video games all day and get payed more =(

Managers manage... that's it... (1)

thesandbender (911391) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987194)

One of the most difficult phases of my career was coming to the understanding that I, as a manager, was not responsible for determining how something was done or the technical purity/perfection of my subordinates work. I am a manager... I am not a implementer or designer. My job is to:

1) Determine the competence of those that I manage.
2) Rely on their judgment and expertise to solve the problem.
3) Assess the value of their solution against the needs of the customer and the company.
4) Provide them the resources and staff required to accomplish this solution.
5) Judge their performance based on the constraints that I have provided them.

Sadly enough... that's it. For my power I pay the price of letting younger, brighter staff tell me how my projects should be done. If you spend too much time second guessing your staff and telling them how you thing thinks should be done then you've failed. You *should* be paying attention to financial, competitive and political forces and dealing with them so your staff doesn't have to and can focus on doing their job.

I give a clear and accomplishable objective... you get it done.

That's how it should work.

Who is your team? (1)

Tyr_7BE (461429) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987198)

Well, who are you managing? Are you manager of a marketing department? If so, it probably doesn't matter one way or another if you're able to turn on a computer. Are you manager of an engineering department? If so, one might wonder how you got there in the first place if you're not intimately familiar with that field of engineering. A good manager has to know the business that they do. They need to know when to push their team, and when to push back on other teams. If that manager's team happens to create technology, then that manager had better know everything involved in the creation of that technology so that they're able to make the calls for scheduling, and know when something is possible or not.

Managers need to know the technology (1)

SilverJets (131916) | more than 7 years ago | (#16987230)

If someone is managing an IT department they better know the technology. Nothing worse than a manager that doesn't know thing one about IT saying something stupid that puts IT people in an impossible situation. If you don't know the technology, even a little, how can you ever hope to effectively manage it?

My small experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16987234)

I work with computer simulation of structural engineering problems. I had two managers on my current (and first) work. The first was a 20-years experience engineer, who worked in pioneering jobs in simulation in many industries, mostly aeronautics. The second has never worked with simulation at all, and has no idea how it works.
    The second is a lot better, because he listen to what other people say. Works goes a lot better, we can change things when we think we should, he knows when to call for help instead of thinking he can solve everything by himself (and that we should do the same).
    The first, however, is a great work colleague, as long as he doesn't plan my activities and priorities.
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