Two Essays on Management That I Really Love to Share

Once upon a time, I was a manager. I oversaw a fairly large team of eleven, and it was a mix of designers and developers. It was my first run at a mangement role, and the first time I wasn’t directly responsible for something I created with my own two hands.

Looking back, I don’t know how effective of a manager I was. I think I did some things well. And I know for sure I did some things badly. And I have a very specific list of things I would absolutely change, were I to do it all over again.

My tenure as manager has definitely shaped how I view the working world, and even how I go about my day to day tasks (currently as an individual contributor). I find myself shifting a lot between worlds, looking at things from a granular/IC level, and also from a managerial/macro level.

I’ve read a few things on management, here and there. But of all the articles I’ve come across, I consistently go back to the essays by Michael Lopp (also known online as rands).

I find his writing humorous, engaging, and insightful, in equal measure. And I’ve found myself recommending his writing to others on more than one occasion. It’s happened so often, I have a specific email with description and links that I just copy/paste each time I share it.

It occurs to me that I’ve not yet shared those essays here, so this feels like a good time to do so (I just shared these essays tonight with my current boss, Sajit). Even if you’re not a manager, I think these essays provide some insight into how employees interact with one another, particular in a tech environment.

Stables and Volatiles is a great example of a fun essay that captures the push/pull of how things operate in a software company. In particular, it outlines what happens when the “old guard” meets the “new guard,” and the different drivers/priorities each group has.

Your Stables are there to remind you about reality and to define process whereby large groups of people can be coordinated to actually get work done. Your Stables bring predictability, repeatability, credibility to your execution, and you need to build a world where they can thrive.

Your Volatiles are there to remind you that nothing lasts, and that the world is full of Volatiles who consider it their mission in life to replace the inefficient, boring, and uninspired. You can’t actually build them a world because they’ll think you’re up to something Stable, so you need to create a corner of the building where they can disrupt.

The Update, the Vent, and the Disaster was a total eye-opener for me, and absolutely changed the way that I look at “one on one” meetings.

For a long time, I always viewed these as status update meetings. What are you working, how’re things going, any problems? But in reading Lopp’s essay, his take on the true purpose of these meetings is something else entirely.

A really good Vent starts with a disarmingly long period of silence. I’ve just asked my soft opener and you’re quiet. Really quiet. I can see you mentally gathering steam. I take this time to ground myself because while I know a Vent is coming, I likely don’t know the content or the severity. Vents vary from a semi-tense “I can’t stand QA today” to a full-on explosion: “If I have to listen to Thomas grind his goddamned Fair Trade Certified Peruvian coffee beans in his office ONE MORE TIME, I might lose it.”

When the Vent begins, you might confuse this for a conversation. It’s not. It’s a Vent. It’s a mental release valve and your job is to listen for as long as it takes. Don’t problem solve. Don’t redirect. Don’t comfort. Yet. Your employee is doing mental house cleaning and interrupting this cleaning is missing the point. They don’t want a solution, they want to be heard.

Again, I’m a big fan of Lopp’s tone and writing. He’s got a lot of things posted up on his site, and there’s even a management category.

If you like the two essays above, he’s got a collection of them that you can buy on Amazon called Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager (disclaimer: Amazon Affiliate link). This book is one I really wish I had in my hands, when I first became a manager.

Even though I’m no longer a manager, I still find myself drawn to Lopp’s writing, and still like hearing what he has to say about leadership and management. And sometimes, even video games.

My Promotion: Director of Design Services

This Post Has 0 Comments

Leave A Reply