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The Worst "Management Story" I've heard

Reading Joel stories keeps me dreaming of finding a job like Fog Creek Software. I'm in a little country in Europe, so I haven't that mush of a job offer. Just to see how the things are around here, I'll the tell you the worst "management" story I've heard:

When I finish my studies in the university, I started looking for a job. I've applied to 6 companies, and I when to my second choice. One of my last choices was a company, which I'll call LunaticInc. for this post purposes. I went to two interviews with them, The company was a one year old start-up. The boss of that company was one of the more arrogant individual I've ever met. In one "collective interview" with the job candidates and company employees, he told us that he had hired this girl, following his associate suggestion, but he thought that this girl was childish and would never make it. Well, the girl was one of the employees in the meeting, he pointed her to us, so we could see who it was.

A friend of mind accepted their offer, and passed terrible experiences. The worst was when the boss, hired a trainee with only one purpose in mind: to stress him up with so much work and so much extra-time, and then eventually fire him, saying that he was not fit to the job. The purpose was to show his workers how the things were in his company. He followed his plans, but when his associate left the company, he told everybody what had indeed happened.

Tyro
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

On the fllip side, I like to hear the best management story as well, if any has those to share, please.

Li-fan Chen
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Ive had a few good bosses, but they dont make for good stories.

They had one thing in common which deserves a mention.. they never pretended to know stuff they didnt know, and were not afraid to ask their subordinates to explain stuff.


It really creates a nice vibe in the office.

Eric DeBois
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

How about this for a best management story (which degenerates into a bad story?)

I had to hire a guy a few years ago to work on my project.  We found a guy who fit the bill.  He seemed pretty talented and had recently worked with several of the technologies we were using.  He was older as programmers go and it was the beginning of the dot com meltdown so he was a little desperate and accidentally telegraphed that he would be willing to take about $10K less than the position was budgeted for.  The HR guy was pretty happy about that but I convinced him that we should pay the guy what the position was worth to us.  First, it wasn't all that much money compared to what we were wasteing in other ways.  Second the guy would presumably be a much happier worker when we failed to take advantage of him.  Everyone agreed.  I felt like manager of the year.

Fast forward a few months when I have somehow pissed off our VP of technology.  She wants to justify firing me and so she goes to this guy to ask him if I am pulling my weight and if the project can proceed without me.  Apparently his answer was something on the order of "yes, fire his ass and make sure the rest of him leaves too!"

Name withheld out of cowardice
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Were you fired?

James 'Smiler' Farrer
Wednesday, January 07, 2004


You don't hear stories about good managers, you just take em for granted.

Seriously, management stories are getting a little old, aren't they? Do most developers really believe that, if their project fails, it was all the managers fault? Must be nice to be able to abdicate responsibility like that.

I'd much rather hear "stupid programmer stories" from developers than the usual manager rants.

Here's one, with a manager hook to it.

I was at a seminar on post-mortems when this guy gets up to tell his story. He was a manager of a small team on a project that went for a year and a half. The project had problems, and as a result, they held a post-mortem. The manager was surprised to learn that most of the team thought he was too controlling and wasn't taking advantage of the teams experience and skills.

The manager plead guilty and proceeded to tells us of how he took a hard look at himself and learned to guide rather than control, etc, etc. He'd shown up to this meeting with a couple of his developers and by this time they were looking a little smug with a sort of "look at this great manager we've housebroken" look on their faces.

So I ask them: "Why'd you wait 18 months to tell him this?"

The silence was deafening.

anon
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Um- yeah, I was fired.  I guess I should have mentioned that.  At least one other developer marched into that VP's superior's office and demanded to know if she was out of her mind.  But yes, I was fired.

I learned a valuable lesson that day.  We all hear stories about technical employees who are so valuable their managers can't fire or even control them.  In practice this is rare.  Even if it is a mistake to fire a great producer it often comes down to ego (even at the expense of the company).  In these situations upper management rarely will step in even if they suspect it is to the detriment of the company.  This is because they need to show confidence in the managers who work for them and resist the temptation to micromanage.

I'd like to say it was the best thing that ever happened to me but it wasn't.  I really liked that job.

Name withheld out of cowardice
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Anon:

I was once managing a guy who didn't work for me.  It's hard to explain but basically I was in charge of his tasks but had no power over him.  My boss did.  One day my boss tells me that she got feedback from this guy that I am too controlling and that maybe I should give him more freedom and responsibility.  So I did. I handed over a sub-project and told him to amaze me. 

He completed the project but not before writing an internal workaround to my security code and, I am fairly certain, taking a second job somewhere else and showing up to our place maybe 25% of the time.  We never fired him though.  He quit a few months later.

Name withheld out of cowardice
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Ha ha...  Why we were silent so long you asks :-) ?

I always say to a manager what I'm thinking.  Or at least keep silence and do a job if he is not able to understand.  I could see that the other persons are promoted,  who are using easily understandable,  but wrong slogans,  as well as those who say the things which manager likes to hear.

If a programmer needs to attract manager attention to show the problems,  it already indicates a problem.  It is manager work,  to track the project.  He is payed for it.  He should not know how sed works,  he should know only if there is a problem and where.

So the question "why you were silent" indicates HR hires good engineers,  who take technical part and leave the responsibility for their manager.

And if I see HR cannot hire a manager clever enough to understand what is happening,  I'm trying to leave,  or (in big company),  to move to other project.

af
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

In brief.

A colleague was fired for gross missconduct on a trumped up charge to avoid paying a large separation package. This is in the UK where you can only be dismissed for shooting colleagues, using the word 'skirt' and 'nice' in the same 24 hours, etc.

The manager redeemed himself by getting the very same treatment a few months later. I helped carry his stuff to his car and it was soooo satisfying.

NameChangedToProtectTheElephant
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

How can you shoot a colleague in the UK?  I thought you had absolute gun control (and were working on knife control)

Name withheld out of cowardice
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

My Dad was laid-off after many years by a large computer manufacturer the day before he became eligible for early retirement. The co-incidence was no co-incidence. Any illusions that I had about a company's loyalty to its staff was totally wiped away at that point.

Ian Sanders
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

There is no such thing as absolute gun control. Only crims and committed psychos can get hold of handguns in the UK. You can get a licence for shotguns, etc.

Anyway, that wasn't the point . . .

NameChangedToProtectTheElephant
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

>>"yes, fire his ass and make sure the rest of him leaves too!"

Jesus.

Alex.ro
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Alex- I was paraphrasing and probably exaggerating but he did basically say it was fine by him if I was fired.

Name withheld out of cowardice
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Name withheld out of cowardice

Although it seems unfair that you were fired I do not think the guy whom you had help hire with 10K more was totally responsible for it. Probably your manager had already made up his/her mind. Also the guy probably did not even know that it was because of you that he got 10K more.

It is a dog eat dog world out there especially in the consulting business. I saw it myself when consultants would quote a ridiculously low amount just to get the job and then either do a shoddy job or extract their margins in some other way....nobody cares...and  that is how the game is played. 

Atleast you we now have jobs which gives you time to post on joelonsoftware :-)

Code Monkey
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Monkey:

I didn't mean to give the impression that without his say so I would not have been fired.  I also have no reason to believe that he knew I was responsible for not screwing him on salary.  I just thought the two stories were a nice juxtaposition.  They do illustrate your point though.  The guy had to eat and felt threatened so he just told the boss whatever he thought she wanted to hear.  I never have blamed him.  Other, better friends at the company lined up against me for the same reason.  Most others just stood back and expressed shock.

Name withheld out of cowardice
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

[If a programmer needs to attract manager attention to show the problems,  it already indicates a problem.  It is manager work,  to track the project.  He is payed for it.  He should not know how sed works,  he should know only if there is a problem and where.

So the question "why you were silent" indicates HR hires good engineers,  who take technical part and leave the responsibility for their manager.]

You have got to be kidding me. Besides the fact that I wasn't talking about project tracking but simple group dynamics, do you really believe that developers have no obligation to help promote the best working environment possible?

I think I've just found one of my "stupid developer stories".

anon
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Here's a GOOD management story, for a change.

I used to work in Australia for a consulting company named DMR Group. We had a very senior consultant, who suddenly stopped performing.  He missed meetings, missed deadlines, produced poor quality deliverables, and screwed up client relationships.

He was counselled about his performance, given opportunities to improve, but was eventually (quietly) dismissed from the company.

Two weeks later, he privately told one of the management team that he had been diagnosed with late, terminal, brain cancer.

The management team convened, immediately re-instated him to his old position, and gave him full time sick leave. All medical and care expenses were paid. When he died (within two months) his family was entitled to his full superannuation and insurance benefits.

And the best part of this story?  The management team didn't tell. The full story only came out over a long period of time, not as bragging, but as simple human concern.

I'd work for any of those people, any time, any where.

HeWhoMustBeConfused
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

We had a somewhat similar story recently. About three years ago the company brought in a temp; she was kept on as a temp but due to a long term hiring near-freeze never hired. About a year later she got married, this fall she announced she was pregnant. She expressed concern that as a  temp and (her husband's bad job) she had no medical benefits or sick time. About a month later she was hired full-time. I suspect it was coincidence; the hire was probably in the works before her announcement, but the company went through with it anyway.

Tom H
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

"Even if it is a mistake to fire a great producer it often comes down to ego (even at the expense of the company)."

At the end of the day "soft" issues always rule over hard facts. "The company" is an abstract entity. It is the people that make the decisions, and people always let emotions dominate everything else. It is the nature of the beast.

Hiring, firing: the mind is made up on a "touchy-feely-testosterone-oestrogen" basis and "facts" are selectively created to support the defined outcome.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, January 08, 2004

Here's my contribution to the "worst" pile..

Started off as a great job just after I graduated... people seemed nice and friendly, small company.

We had a project in another country, so after a month or two, I moved there to help the tech lead (who was permanently stationed there) finish ...

That was a complete disaster. He was a very technically competent guy, unfortunately who had an obsession about a certain language (which is also a type of coffee and an island in SE Asia.. ;)

At first, I was pretty anxious to please, new job, right.... so I bent over backwards.. then I realized that, like an unfortunate earlier poster, I could NEVER do anything right with this guy. No matter how many extra features, how much the management of the project (in the base company) loved it, I always used to get dinged by this guy. Considering that he was the only guy from home company there (in a remote country) and that he was my immediate superior, he made my life pretty difficult.

Then, I made a realization (fairly late in the day). If I offered to write what I was doing in said language (regardless of its merits for this project), then I could basically do no wrong. It didnt matter (in my technical opinion, which I mistakenly didnt keep to myself) that the new implementation ran slower than molasses in the freezer and took at least twice as long to write... it was "the best of both worlds" solution, whatever that meant.

Unfortunately, at that time, I had yet another "dotted line" boss, who was at the same level as this technical lead. He HATED the new implementation, and I got orders (demands) to go back to the old version ... So, I was the only coder grunt on the project (technical lead had stopped coding a while back and was "managing", which meant a lot of time with MS Word and Powerpoint, but no time in front of an editor) and I was caught in the crossfire between these two idiots..

Upshot was: I ended up working 16 hour days.. made an "urgent" request to return back to my own country after a few months of sheer hell, started looking for another job.. found one, and ran the hell out of that company, never to come back. I am slightly ashamed at feeling secretly happy that the company went bankrupt a few months back, and this loser was looking for a job.

Moral of the story for me:
In an argument between boss and subordinate, remember the boss may be completely wrong, an idiot, anything you like.. but management will ALWAYS back him up till there is a groundswell of opinion against him. In short, dont expect miracles or justice.

I never take on the big guys anymore (I was young and naive then, thought I could actually change people's opinions on technical merit alone), but just do my time and do the best job possible. If a boss says "do X", I make sure my ass is covered (email and paper trails) and then I proceed to do "X".

deja vu
Thursday, January 08, 2004

Sir to me:

"Hiring, firing: the mind is made up on a "touchy-feely-testosterone-oestrogen" basis and "facts" are selectively created to support the defined outcome."

How true, and not just of firing.  The same goes for political opinions, religious beliefs and most everything else.  We decide how we feel, we establish the stories we like to hear and then we twist the facts to fit them.

That's why I like science and try to check my own belief system frequently against the facts.

Name withheld out of cowardice
Thursday, January 08, 2004

>I never take on the big guys anymore (I was young and naive then, thought I could actually change people's opinions on technical merit alone), but just do my time and do the best job possible. If a boss says "do X", I make sure my ass is covered (email and paper trails) and then I proceed to do "X".

I think that is not entirely the correct approach.  My personal approach is that when my boss asks me to do "X" I lay out the pros and cons of doing "X" in an email.  Provide him with the pros and cons of alternative solutions "Y" and "Z" and then wait for him to decide. If he decides to do "X" atleast I know (hopefully!) he has based his decision weighing the factors I laid out and may be some that I did not even know about and then I go ahead and do "X" happily without sulking at having to do it. 

BTW this is what I learnt when I worked in a Japanese software company -- in Japan....people there would argue like hell about how something should be done (inspite of the popular misconception that they are consensus minded and all) but once something was decided upon everyone without any rancour would work towards making succesful what was decided upon.

Code Monkey
Thursday, January 08, 2004

Hey Code Monkey,

Your approach is pretty much the one outlined in the code of conduct for the British Computer Society which does professional registration in the UK.

To paraphrase, they say that if you are asked to do something which you believe is incorrect or not in your customer/employers best interest you should make your best effort to inform them why. If they still ask you to go ahead, ask for that in writing and if when they do that, go ahead and follow their instruction. Obviously, that doesn't apply if lives are at risk or in similar circumstances. Go to http://www.bcs.org.uk for more info. I imagine that the ACM makes a similar statement.

Ian Sanders
Friday, January 09, 2004

CodeMonkey, I hear what you said..

"I lay out the pros and cons of doing "X" in an email.  Provide him with the pros and cons of alternative solutions "Y" and "Z" and then wait for him to decide. If he decides to do "X" atleast I know (hopefully!) he has based his decision weighing the factors I laid out and may be some that I did not even know about ..."

I wasnt clear enough.. when I said "paper trail", that is what I meant. (outline the consequences of doing X).  I agree that this is the best thing to do, but it can lead to consequences ....

You are seen as a person "bucking a trend", where the trend is what the manager dictates.. ("do it  because I said so first and I am the boss" is an all too common sentiment, I'm afraid).

Another reason that I have seen is that the manager doesnt want to be seen backing down ..(with a few managers only, I hasten to add.. and thankfully this hasnt happened to me personally..)

It can be held against you (especially by insecure managers.. wow, have I seen those). You may be wrong about your reasons for the alternative, but you may also be right. Cassandra and the soothsayers of old (cant remember their name ;) werent actually well liked for their predictions.  More so when they came true ? :)

Quite a few cons, not so many pros... makes you want to abandon ethics and just keep quiet at times.. (I havent yet, but I know some very bright coworkers who have .. and I empathize with them)

deja vu
Friday, January 09, 2004

Working at a very small company, we landed a big contract by massively underbidding the competition (over my strenuous objections.)  We were replacing software from a competing company - and we had documents about how it worked, and people to interview about the details.  So, I went off and coded for a couple months.  No big deal.

Finally, the week of the install.  We fly to the site, and get ready to run.  This is one of those "midnight transitions" at a 24-hour facility.  So, the time comes, and BAM - nothing works.  Four dozen multi-million-dollar machines are waiting on data.  What the hell?  So, we dig in and find that the data is wrong.  Very, very wrong.  The documentation we were given is just - wrong.  So, my boss and I start to crank it out by hand, sitting in the boardroom, with a laptop computer with a development environment on it.  It's all flat-files, thank God.  We're learning how wrong the documentation was, and how shockingly incompitent the people that we interviewed were.

I worked 20 hours a day for two weeks, keeping the data going to the machines, and REWRITING THE CODE FROM SCRATCH.  That's how badly informed we were - we had to throw out almost everything we'd done.  My worst day, I worked 22 hours, slept for 2 hours, and worked for 21 hours the next day.  It took us 14 days of round-the-clock work.

My boss splurged and bought first class tickets for the return flight, and I got filet mignon at the hotel restaurant for dinner.  I never got a bonus, or even OVER TIME for the hours I worked on that trip.

This, at the end of four years of working for the company, with no raises, and no promotions. 

Plus, our company lost a bunch of money on the deal.  (Because we'd underbid so much, and then it took way longer to develop, because our clients mislead us so badly.  And then we had to SUPPORT that system, as it limped along.)

I resigned four months later, and was offered more than double my salary to stay.  No, thanks.

Sleepless in the Boardroom
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

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