by Esther Schindler

Don’t Be A Jerk Manager

Nov 01, 20072 mins

Most books on managing technical people, especially managing software engineers, have no use except perhaps as spider-squashers. One exception is Michael Lopp’s Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager. Lopp’s book—which came out from APress in June but has languished on my To-Read stack since then—is useful, insightful, and (certainly a rarity) funny.


How to Deal With Bully Bosses

Geek Bonding (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Star Trek)

How to Stab Your Boss in the Back

Lopp tackles the day-to-day life of any manager, not just a manager who’s in charge of herding a programming team. The short essays (which are suitable for bathroom reading, and I do mean that in a nice way) tackle such subjects as speaking in managementese, keeping your staff in the dark (a.k.a. information starvation) and how to cope with someone’ Monday Morning Freakout. None of these essays are vague “Go get ’em Tiger!” rah-rah speeches; they’re down-to-earth representations of real problems. Like this:

There is a basic skill you need whenever you walk into a meeting that has suck potential. This skill is important whether you’re a participant or the person running the meeting. The skill is called agenda detection.

Simply put, agenda detection is the ability to discern:

  1. Typical meeting roles and how meeting participants assume them.
  2. Explanation of what these distinct meeting roles want out of a meeting
  3. How to use this understanding to get the hell out of the meeting as quickly as possible

And then, of course, he explains each one in detail. Plenty of examples, too, reflecting his experiences at companies like Borland and Netscape.

The author also doesn’t offer the expected advice, such as telling new programming managers to give up coding because they’re supposed to scale (i.e. the expected advice is to stop because “I want lots of you, not just one!”). Instead, he explains why you must continue coding… and also to stay aware of the traps in doing so.

I confess that I haven’t finished the book yet; I want to savor it and I won’t rush through it just to say I slammed the cover shut. But there’s no doubt that it’s worth the time to read Managing Humans. Your techies (and probably your CEO) will thank you for it.