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Lopp-Sided


Michael Lopp is an engineer’s kind of manager. Besides having a great last name (can you say Lopp-sided?) and an even better pen name (“Rands In Repose“), the guy still understands and relates to down-in-the-trenches engineering work. He even drops an occasional F-bomb in his writing for dramatic effect. The dude is a rare bird and I pay attention to what he says.

Although I think the name of his latest book, “Being Geek“, is meh, there’s a lot of great stuff in there for both managers and DICs. Here’s a sampling of “culled” passages:

The story we tell ourselves when someone we like chooses to leave the group or the company is, “Everyone is replaceable.” This is true, but this is a rationalization designed to lessen the blow that, crap, someone we really like is leaving. We are losing part of the team. Professional damage is done when a team member leaves, and while they are eventually replaceable, productivity and morale take a hit.

A manager’s job is to forget. That’s what they do. They get promoted and begin the long processes of forgetting everything that got them promoted in the first place. I’m not joking. Manager amnesia will be the source of much professional consternation throughout your career.

My management strategy is to assume those closest to the problem can make the best decisions. That’s how I scale.

In defense of my brethren managers, we don’t forget everything, and during all that forgetting, we’re learning other useful things like organization politics, meeting etiquette, and the art of talking for 10 minutes without saying a thing.

The list of words that define management are revealing: direct, in charge, handle, control, and force. Looking at this list, it’s not a surprise that the term “management” has a distasteful Orwellian air.

If it’s been six months, you’ve been actively looking, and no one has told you a great story about how engineering shaped the fortunes of your company, there’s a chance that engineering doesn’t have a seat at the culture table in your company.

There’s the been-here-forever network, the I-survived-the-layoff people, and the untouchable did-something-great-once crew.

It pains me to write this, but my first question about your boss is this: is he taking the time to talk with you in a private setting? A 1:1 is a frequent, regularly scheduled meeting between you and your boss, and if it’s not happening, I, uh, don’t really know where to start. The absence of a 1:1 is the absence of mentorship, and that means your need to gather your experience in the trenches. And while there is nothing to replace “real-world experience,” I’m wondering what the value add of your boss is.

My impression is that the presence of status reports is an indication that your boss doesn’t trust the flow of information in your organization.

We’re knowledge workers, which is an awkwardly lame way of stating that we don’t actually build physical things with our hands.

Asking for the impossible is an advanced management technique, and it’s one that is particularly abhorrent to engineers. Frequent impossible requests result in an erosion of respect and a decaying of credibility.

You’re not going to engage if you don’t respect the person who is asking you to do something.

Management by crisis is exhilarating, but it values velocity over completeness; it sacrifices creativity for the illusion of progress.

Everyone is an adjustment. When you’re interacting with anyone, you leave the core you and become slightly them.

Categories: management Tags: , , ,
  1. PhilN
    August 27, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Just finished this book, I liked it but the F-bombs didn’t really help me at all.

    • August 27, 2010 at 11:05 am

      I liked it too. Even though most of the content was good, there were several chapters that didn’t really float my boat.

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