Don’t forget what it’s like to be 10

with 10 comments

This post is part of my series on Managing Developers – How not to suck

Remember what it was like when you were 10 years old? I do. In the summers our mothers kicked us out of the house in the morning and didn’t expect us home until dinner time, or later. We spent all day riding around on our single speed bikes causing minor trouble. We usually had lunch or dinner at the friend’s house we were closest too when hungry; our mothers treated us like a pack of wolves. We found cool junk, built forts, had dirt clod fights; shot each other with BB guns, swam in the pond, fell out of trees, blew stuff up, shot turtles, played in the mud, and got chased out of vacant lots by old men. It was a blast.

I often ask people "Do you remember what it was like to be 10?” By far the most common answer is something like ‘No, not really…” Bummer.

This applies to development managers too. I often ask them “Remember what it was like to be an individual contributor” or "a new developer on a team"? The usual answer is "no, not really", or something worse – a bunch of hand wavy manager talk. Bummer.

This is a huge problem – especially for first line managers who often forget this stuff the day they are made a first line manger.  Its like they went through a manger brain wipe in some evil lab.

If you don’t remember what it’s like to be an individual contributor then how can you manage them? Forgetting this leads directly to many dumb manager mistakes (many of which are discussed in these posts).

Do you remember how interruptions screwed with your concentration? No? You should. Context switches and interruptions are disruptive and expensive when a developer is in the middle being thoughtful and creative.

Do you remember how annoying it was to go to poorly run meetings with no agenda, where nothing was discussed that pertained to you, or where the meeting always resulted in ‘action items’ consisting of needless bureaucratic work?

Do you remember how disruptive it is to have your manager, or your manager’s manager ask "are you done yet", ever time they saw you?

Do you remember that its really hard to predict how long some things will take?  Bug fixing is a great example.  Managers ask “When will bug 2372 be fixed?”  The developer thinks “Man, I don’t know, if I could tell you when it would be fixed, I would know how to fix it.  If I knew how to fix it, it would already be fixed!”

Do you remember what it’s like for everything your manager asks you to do was of the "highest priority" or needed to be done with the "highest quality… tomorrow!" ?

If you don’t remember what it is like to be an IC, you will suck as a development manager no matter how awesome you are at everything else.

So, don’t forget what it’s like to be an IC; don’t manage your team… help your team. Your job isn’t telling them what to do. 80% of your job is understanding what your team does, and what they need to accomplish their job; then helping them do it.



Written by foredecker

March 5, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Managing Developers

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10 Responses

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  1. “Your job isn’t telling them what to do. 80% of your job is understanding what your team does, and what they need to accomplish their job; then helping them do it.”

    Heh. I remember this. Let me guess, you’re not directly exposed to the turbulence in the money stream. You just see your managers reacting to invisible bogeyman and being stupid.

    Worse yet, you get paid salary and thus believe that time and market pressures making your management crazy are imaginary and artificial constructs used to try and keep you from focusing on your job – which apparently consists of web surfing until you “get in the zone” to do work?

    Inexperienced Programmers expect life to be the same as it was as 10, back when all they had to do was show up, play games and have fun for a while until they get bored… and then they can drop their bikes in the yard, go back home where mom will be waiting with cookies, xbox and later a warm bed stocked with porn where you can dream happy dreams.

    The manager wants to help the team, who don’t even understand the mission, nor the need to get things done. He or she has the same resistance to micro-management that you do, but your sense of empathy stops at kittens and the cute but distracted coworker.

    Good luck with your insight.


    April 2, 2011 at 9:09 am

    • You can take your turbulent money stream and stuff it where the sun doesn’t shine. We’re talking about people here, life.


      April 3, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    • Hi,

      it is managers job to explain the mission and the need to get things done to team. If they do not understand, it is ultimately managers fault.

      Anyway, what does poorly run meeting have to do with turbulence in money stream? People that have nothing to do with agenda should not be there. It is waste of resources.

      The same goes for interruptions. The manager should be able to organize himself so he does not come back every 15 minutes with new question.

      It is not developers versus management. The attitude is childish from both sides. The article is about management practices that leads to such attitudes and problems.


      April 5, 2011 at 10:48 pm

  2. Sorry bud, but clearly you dont know anything about the author, a quick look at his about page would tell you he is a development manager and microsoft. Funny how some people arrive at a blog, pay little attention to the true worth of an article then drop a comment infused with their own failings… tisk tisk


    April 2, 2011 at 10:28 am

    • Bad managers work everywhere.


      April 2, 2011 at 11:04 am

  3. […] Don’t forget what it’s like to be 10 by Richard G Russell – Your job isn’t telling them what to do. 80% of your job is understanding what your team does, and what they need to accomplish their job; then helping them do it. […]

  4. If I could mention one thing, it would be to make sure that your team isn’t scared to come see you and ask questions just because you have a lot on your plate.

    I was never in management, but I’ve often worked on “things” that were used by others in the company and these requirements tend to come directly from them. This can cause added pressure to get things done, either from yourself or your team. Don’t put the task ahead of the people even if they complain about things not working right. You’ve got nothing without the people you work with.

    If you have a list of priorities, SHOW THEM where there request stands. Use a tracking system that is accessible. Set yourself up correctly so that your team and others at the company can have the information required on what is being worked on and when. Nothing I hate more than secretive managers or team leaders causing its own frustration with their coworkers.


    April 2, 2011 at 4:38 pm

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