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Technologists, Managers and the Blackout of '03

My father was a nuclear engineer until he recently retired.  We were talking about last week's blackout, and in his opinion, the blackout was caused by politicians and management who consistently refused the advice of the technologists in order to appease special interest groups, or to cut corners by buying cheap equipment and skipping testing phases.  This seems to be a pattern.

How can we, as a society so dependent on technology, be governed and managed by technical illiterates?  Why are managers so much better compensated than technologists?  We're the ones who tackled the rough math & science curriculum in college, and we're the innovators.  Why does our society value a great software engineer only half as much as a virtually uneducated MBA in middle management?  Why, as a society, do we not care that management is outsourcing our brain-power?  Seems to me that in the fifties, people were up in arms when the Soviets beat us to space because they feared technical inferiority.  Today, people don't seem to care one way or another that leaders are making it impossible for us and our children to be technologists.  Can we do anything about it? 

anon
Monday, August 18, 2003

Anon asks, "Why are managers so much better compensated than technologists?"

Managers are the responsible party; therefore, they get the "Big Bucks" to make the decisions and take responsibility for them.  Unfortunately, we live in a society where actually _taking_ responsibility is a rare thing indead.

bpd
Monday, August 18, 2003

Devil's advocate: We got the managers we deserve.

Johnny Bravo
Monday, August 18, 2003

Agreed that you get paid for the responsibility you take on.  Contrast a surgeon and working at Starbucks.  Air traffic controller vs. receptionist...

anony125
Monday, August 18, 2003

I have no idea where you live, but here in the USA, this is a result of a capitalist setup. Our interactions, economy, government and means of survival are all based on money. Technology only serves as a means of making that money. Money (gold, silver or government issued currency) is the means trading, not technology as it changes too much.

So, "How can we, as a society so dependent on technology, be governed and managed by technical illiterates?" Because we are governed by people who specialize in money.

I am sure somewhere in the country right now there is a group of people who all have X in common. They are asking how can we, as a society so dependent on X, be governed and managed by X illiterates. The solution (not necessarily a good one) has been Special Interest Groups, Lobbyists and most importantly Cash.

m
Monday, August 18, 2003

Anon asks, "Why are managers so much better compensated than technologists?"

Because they don't spend all their time whining on message boards? Because they seek out positions of responsibility? Because communication skills and networking are more important for career advancement than technical skills? Lastly, who says that managers aren't technologically savvy? I've seen plenty that are.

Obvious
Monday, August 18, 2003

m wrote:
>> "I have no idea where you live, but here in the USA, this is a result of a capitalist setup."

You're living in a fantasy dream-world.  We haven't been capitalistic since FDR.  I don't have the exact figure, but everyone knows that out government controls a huge percentage of our GDP.  An observer from the twenties would surely label today's US socialistic.  Everyone also knows that government is in bed with big business which gives management powers far in excess of the powers they would have in a truly capitalistic system.

anon
Monday, August 18, 2003

anony125 wrote:
>> "Agreed that you get paid for the responsibility you take on.  Contrast a surgeon and working at Starbucks.  Air traffic controller vs. receptionist..."

...President of the United States vs. Biff the middle manager.

anon
Monday, August 18, 2003

>> Managers are the responsible party; therefore, they get the "Big Bucks" to make the decisions and take responsibility for them. 

>> Because they seek out positions of responsibility?

These are absolutely ridiculous statements. "Responsible"? Managers wear teflon, and take only credit and never blame. Managers are almost w/o exception not personally responsible nor culpable for failures.  Managers blame the technical hired grunts In EVERY failed technical project I have worked on or known about, even when the failure is due to the manager's systemic lack of understanding and engagement in denial.

A manager's job in most companies is to represent the company's viewpoint at all times, and to find ways to minimize the acknowledgement of objective reality when it conflicts with rose colored visions.

Not a characterless management weasel
Monday, August 18, 2003

>> "Because communication skills and networking are more important for career advancement than technical skills?"

Translation: "Because kissing butt and conforming are more important for career advancement than technical skills?"  I know this.  I'm asking *why* kissing butt is more valuable than technical skills.

>> "Because they seek out positions of responsibility?"

If you really want a position of responsibility, become an entrepreneur, not a butt kissing corporate toady.  The only responsibilities a corporate manager/cog has are to shut up, fit in, and don't rock the boat.

anon
Monday, August 18, 2003

Anon, exactly. As an independent who has his butt out swinging in the breeze, I've been belittled by several "professional manager" type gutless @$$holes, who themselves wouldn't have the common sense or risk tolerance to run a lemonade stand.

Manager-employees are the most non-entrepreneurial, assurance wanting type toadies I've known in the business world. Their "job" is to operate a company long after anyone with balls has left the operation.

Not a characterless management weasel
Monday, August 18, 2003

"...Managers blame the technical hired grunts In EVERY failed technical project I have worked on or known about"

Then those managers were not very effective.  Good managers show leadership, motivate their workgroups, deflect praise, and take responsibility when things go wrong

" *why* kissing butt is more valuable than technical skills"?

If you are in sales, then communication and networking are high importance - just to get on the radar of potential customers.  If you have great technical skills but nobody knows about you, then how do you make money?

"If you really want a position of responsibility, become an entrepreneur, not a butt kissing corporate toady"

Total agreed.  If you start your own company and hire software developers that report to you, it's kinda hard to avoid responsibility for things, pass the buck, try to not rock the boat, etc.

anony125
Monday, August 18, 2003

I understand the original poster's sentiments.

However, just look at this message board. There are lengthy threads debating the proper pronounciation of the acronym SQL. And we wonder why other people are asked to take charge of the important things?

Not all managers are pin-headed twits. But some are.

Not all techies are narrow-minded geeks who would rather argue over the proper placement of brackets than actually solve a business problem.

But *plenty* are.

And that's why non-techies are often placed in positions of authority. Because they often are much better at seeing the "bigger picture"

Get Real.
Monday, August 18, 2003

anon wrote:
"You're living in a fantasy dream-world."

Let me quote myself "capitalist setup". The word setup implies that it started that way. I made no mention of the current state. Blame Keynesians for the misuse of the world captialism.

m
Monday, August 18, 2003

Being in a position of authority, and having the capability of seeing the bigger picture are two completely different topics. The first one requires you to have balls, the latter one requires you to have wits.

Also, note that today many top managers have their ass covered by a D&O insurance. Add this to the fact that executives are still unlikely to be convicted for "unusual business practice".

All employees are equal, but some employees are more equal than others.

Johnny Bravo
Monday, August 18, 2003

m, point taken.

anon
Monday, August 18, 2003

We live in a world of social relationships and politics. Some managers are good, some are bad, but all of them got there because they have maneuvered *themselves* to that position (or via nepotism!).
One of the things I like the most about being a developer is that my job's primary goal is to make something work, not to deal with people and politics. I assume many of you feel the same way.
But I don't kid myself about it: I am fully aware that taking myself out of the political game obviously precludes me from winning the political game!

Jordan Lev
Monday, August 18, 2003

>> "There are lengthy threads debating the proper pronunciation of the acronym SQL."

I get lengthy memos from management every day telling me about how they're maximizing professional meta-services as well as globally leveraging synergy in order to foster diverse win-win paradigms.  So pa-lease, don't tell me that these threads are sillier than their "communications".

anon
Monday, August 18, 2003

Jordan, agreed. 

That's why in school, the techies tend to gravitate to courses like math and hard science, as opposed to arts like English.  Ok, this is not based on statistical research, just my own intuition, but I don't think it's a big stretch.

In math, the answer is either right or not, there are no grey areas or political points.

anony125
Monday, August 18, 2003

anon,

Do you think all managers are like yours? Do you think that is all that any manager does is talk about synergy and thinking out of the box?

Is it possible that your anecdotal experience is causing you to stereotype all managers as idiots?

This isn't my first rodeo. I've worked with numbskull managers and I've worked with brilliant, ballsy managers who took charge, cut the crap and got stuff done.

I've also worked with brilliant developers who made great managers. I've also worked with great developers who simply didn't understand (or care to understand) basic business. Technology was an end to itself for them. And that's fine, but heaven forbid they ever be in charge of anything.

As is expected, I see many developers blame management for all their woes until the point that management is painted as a bunch of dim-witted, golf playing morons with good teeth and hair. And that stereotype is just as wrong as developers are socially inept, white male geeks who subsist off pizza and Mountain Dew.

Get Real.
Monday, August 18, 2003

>> "In math, the answer is either right or not, there are no grey areas or political points."

In any halfway decent department, points will be added or subtracted depending on the elegance or clumsiness of the proof.  (A fact that some software engineers should be more aware of.) 

But, I know that politics is everything in corporate management.  I am asking how we, as a society, have let ourselves digress to this state.  Isn't anyone afraid when uneducated sales/marketing people are promoted to the positions of authority in corporations that manufacture potentially dangerous, technically advanced equipment?  Isn't anybody afraid that idiot lawyers in the Congress are making Energy policy without having any idea what an ohm is?

anon
Monday, August 18, 2003

I'd rather say those "techies" tend to math because they don't have to write any essays in math classes.

Also, while it might be true for math that there is either true or false, 1 or 0, right or wrong, that observation already fails for physics, chemistry, biology, let alone computer science.

It's like in the old jokes about "What is 2 * 2?": The math scientists claim "The problem can be solved!", while the applied physics scientist answers "Something about 1 * 10 ^ -1".

Johnny Bravo
Monday, August 18, 2003

Funny that no one mentionned them TPS reports yet...

Frederic Faure
Monday, August 18, 2003

In my really big technology company there are all kinds of managers but there were two key things: First, the higher in the chain, the smarter they are.  Second the guys at the top came out of engineering.

tk
Monday, August 18, 2003

"Obvious"

"anon" was not  "whining". He brought up a good question for discussion. Please do not discourage people to bring up good and important topics.

Explain how top ENRON officials "seek out positions of responsibility?"

Anti-Obvious :-)
Monday, August 18, 2003

"Funny that no one mentioned them TPS reports yet... "

A was going to but I had to order my first and very own red stapler from http://www.thinkgeek.com/cubegoodies/toys/61b7/

:-)

Anti-Obvious :-)
Monday, August 18, 2003

I call it whining because his words are those of someone who has never come to grips with the way the real world works. Venting about how managers make more than technologists is *whining*.

I used to work for Tyco, so I know first hand about corrupt management. But I also know that for every 1 Tyco or Enron, there are a 100 ethical companies.

I've also been an engineering manager. I've had empoyees who sit and bitch about the "suits" without ever making an effort to understand how the business works and why certain decisions are made. I've worked with hundreds of engineers of all disciplines and can state without reservation that none of the ones that persistently bitched about management would ever be capable of running a business.

Learning to communicate and network doesn't mean butt-kissing. Re communication, I had a senior engineer whose proposals kept getting shot down (at meetings I didn't attend).  I started going over his presentations and his approvals went way up.  The problem? Even when he tried to make his topics layman friendly, they still were too technical in places where they didn't need to be. I helped him boil it down to the core issues. Re networking, you don't need to give your boss a colonoscopy to network. For instance, I used to pop into my bosses office from time to time just to give informal updates on projects. My primary motivation was to avoid writing status reports, but it also means your boss doesn't have to track you down to find out what's going on. That not only shows that you're responsible and low-maintenance, but the chit-chat helps build repoire.

Lastly, I call it whining because the latest that I heard (as of Monday morning) was that the exact cause is still unknown. Yet blame is already being assigned by anon. As a "technologist" it's obvious he's applying solid scientific method skills in his evaluation :-P.

I've heard that fixing the grid would cost $55-60 billion. Hmm, let me think. There's been 2 days of blackout in NYC in the past 25 years, and I, the US taxpayer, am supposed to shell out that kind of dough?

I don't think so.  Buy some fucking flashlights and quit yer bitching.

Obvious
Monday, August 18, 2003

<<I've heard that fixing the grid would cost $55-60 billion. Hmm, let me think. There's been 2 days of blackout in NYC in the past 25 years, and I, the US taxpayer, am supposed to shell out that kind of dough?>>

Obvious -

That money has already been spent by the customers of the Power Companies in the affected area over the course of many years. It seems that maintenance wasn't chosen as the preferred way to enhance shareholder value.

Devil's Advocate
Monday, August 18, 2003

Obvious:

I would stop giving out my ideas volunterely if a manager ever told me I was whining.

Anti-Obvious :-)
Monday, August 18, 2003

>>That money has already been spent by the customers of the Power Companies in the affected area over the course of many years.

No it wasn't.

>>I would stop giving out my ideas volunterely if a manager ever told me I was whining.

Good. That's the whole idea.

Obvious
Monday, August 18, 2003

I've heard the argument (mentioned above as well) that managers get paid big $$ because they "take responsibility" and "run the risks of bad decisions".  In other words, the top managers (CEOs) are worth hundreds of millions of dollars in annual salary and bonuses because they make decisions that affect perhaps billions of dollars of revenue streams, and will get fired if they blow it.

All well and good -- but what risk is today's CEO taking when he (and I do mean "he" since female CEOs are darn rare) has such a generous severance package that getting fired just means making a few million less than he was before?

Where's the penalty for bad decisions?  Where is the "taking responsibility"?  Where's the risk?

Biotech coder
Monday, August 18, 2003

"All well and good -- but what risk is today's CEO taking when he (and I do mean "he" since female CEOs are darn rare)"

You callin' Carly a man? (esp. considering the indictment of CEO's that follows)

Philo

Philo
Monday, August 18, 2003

Hmm. That reminds me of the time I temped in the head office of a large catering chain.

Pay rises had just been announced. The secretarial staff would be getting a 0% raise.

Meanwhile, the group of managers I was working for had awarded themselves a 20% raise.

When they protested to the manager I was temping for, she replied coolly that they were the ones who took the risks, so they were the ones who deserved the money.

Odd. The very moment I started, that same manager had aked me not to reveal that they would be laying off 20% of their senior restaurant staff.

They might have been taking the risks, but they sure weren't paying for them out of their own pockets. They had plenty of other people's pockets to charge them to.

Fernanda Stickpot
Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Why are managers better paid than technologists?

Could it be because pay scales are set by ...  managers?

A cynic writes
Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Obvious wrote:
>> "Lastly, I call it whining because the latest that I heard (as of Monday morning) was that the exact cause is still unknown. Yet blame is already being assigned by anon. As a "technologist" it's obvious he's applying solid scientific method skills in his evaluation :-P."

It wasn't my opinion, it was my father's.  By way of credentials, he has a masters from Carnegie Mellon and 30+ years experience working on reactors in the nuclear navy and public utilities.  I didn't claim that his opinion is fact - just the view of a guy who's had to deal this crap for his entire career.  And, by the way, he was a manager too because in this insane world, that's the only way to get promoted.

anon
Tuesday, August 19, 2003

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