Saturday, July 02, 2011

I've been a professional programmer for over 20 years. The languages have changed, the techniques have changes, the computers have changed, and the buzzwords have changed. The only common thread is that I've always been programming and never doing anything hokey like "managing" (whatever the hell that means).

I've been at my new company for about 8 months now.  After about 2 months there, my boss took me aside:

Boss:  With all the growth we've experienced, we're reorganizing our engineering group.  We'd like for you to be a manager here.  Does that sound like something you'd like to do?
Me:  Oh, good god, no.  That would be a train-wreck.

She skulked away and the status quo remained for a few more months until she quit and her boss came to me.

New Boss: I know that you said previously that you didn't want to manage people, but I want you to know that that option is still available.  I think you'd do a good job at it.  Have you considered it?

Astonishingly, I had been considering it.  I'd spent a good portion of those months interviewing people in their 20s for our open developer positions and was wondering if perhaps programming was a job best suited for people decades younger than me.  I answered her with words I thought would never come out of my mouth.

Me:  Yes, I am seriously considering it.  Maybe I should be a manager.

So, I talked to a few other managers, lost a lot of sleep, watched as my stomach slowly seized up into a tight little knot, and eventually decided to take the plunge.  I chatted with her again after a meeting.

New Boss:  So, have you come to a decision?
Me:  I have, but first I need to confirm something.  This meeting we just had, it's one that you organized but frankly I should have organized it months ago.  It's shameful and embarrassing that I didn't have the planning and organizational skills to do this myself.  Am I really the guy you want managing engineers?
New Boss:  Yes.
Me:  Have you seen my resume?  It's Programmer This and Data Wrangler That.  There is NOTHING in there that would indicate that I should be a manager.  What on earth makes you think I can do this?
New Boss:  Mike, I'm confident that the areas where you might be inexperienced are areas where I can help you and fill in.  The areas where you're strong are the areas that I need the most help.

And so it was done.  I was managing 3 other engineers.  I demonstrated my skills to my new boss with conversations like this:

New Boss: So, how was that status meeting?  Was it useful?
Me:  Yeah, lots of good information.  I wrote down some notes so that I can pass on the info to my engineer, Kevin.
New Boss:  Don't worry about that.  I'll be covering this with Kevin myself.
Me:  But, but, I'm supposed to have weekly check-in meetings with each of my engineers.  This was going to be what I talked about.
New Boss:  These weekly check-in meetings are for you to find out how they're doing.  Just talk to them about how they're feeling.
Me:  Feeling? That's ridiculous.  I can't spend 30 minutes doing that.  I need to filibuster to fill time!

After a few months of that, another manager in the organization left.  New Boss asked me to take on his engineers as well as a few other engineers we had picked up in an acquisition.  That gave me about 10 people to manage.  I plugged away at it with my usual wide-eyed fear and ineptitude.  This week I sat down with New Boss for my first review.

New Boss:  You've done several things very well.  People like working with you and I think you have good instincts about how to treat people.  However, although people appreciate your self-deprecating sense of humor, I think as a manager you need to show a little more confidence.  I need you to be a leader and convey to the people around you that you know what you're doing.  If someone asks you a question you don't know how to answer, it is ok to say, "Let me get back to you on that" but....
Me:  But I shouldn't say, "Oh, I'm a total idiot about that sort of thing!"
New Boss:  Exactly!  Don't say that any more.
Me: So, all you need me to do is change the person that I've been for the last 43 years?
New Boss:  I thought this might be a tricky issue for you.

So, uh, this should be amusing.  Train, meet wreck.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Don't listen to New Boss. Just keep being yourself. Seriously. Geez.

Mr Rogers said...

Buck up, little camper. You can do it! Thought these might be helpful...
http://www.louisehay.com/affirmations/

Ms. Chompers said...

i love your blog. please post more often.

Mike said...

Anon, I COULD do that, or I could keep getting paid for this job.

Mr. Rogers, thanks for the affirmations link. I look forward to reciting them to you the next time I see you. Oh, who am I kidding, I never see you!

Thanks Ms. Chompers!