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Management for Engineers: Don't Be a 'Pointy-Haired Manager'

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Max The Magnificent
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Good vs Bad
Max The Magnificent   1/31/2014 2:34:12 PM
I've told this story before... I used to work for a company where there was one really bad manager. We'd be in the lab when he brought visitors round. We could hear him talking. He always explained how there had been a problem, and he had come up with a brilliant solution (when he hadn't), and how he had saved the day etc. etc. etc.

There was another manager called Pete Miles. Without a doubt one of the best managers I have ever known. When Pete brought visitors to the lab, you'd here him say things like "Then we ran into an issue with XYZ, we were stumped for a while, but then our intern John came up with a brillian solution. Look, there's John ... John, come over here and let me introduce you to..." And "John" would come over, blushing and embarrased, and Pete woudl sing his praises and make his day.

The way Pete made it sound, he didn't do anything, he was just lucky to have great peiole working for him ... but the thing was that he was a great engineer and a great manager who could get his team to give 100% all the time.

henry..12
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Re: Good vs Bad
henry..12   1/31/2014 9:48:08 PM
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@Max The Magnificent it seems like every engineer runs into at least one "bad manager" even if they're only been in the workforce for a short while. 

But what bothers me most about modern management "opportunities" are stacked against the newly minted manager. With dozens of direct reports, it's next to impossible for managers to learn and succeed. It's no wonder that so many fail to make it through the management gauntlet.

Bad managers are legendary, but so then are great managers. I'm afraid that today's crop of engineering managers are being short-chyanged.

lister1
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a derivative of a famous proverbs...
lister1   2/1/2014 12:57:32 AM
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"He who has not good management, and knows not that he has not good management, is a fool, avoid him;

He who has not good management, and knows that he has not good management, is simple, teach him.

He who has good management, and knows not that he has good management, is asleep, awake him.

He who has good management, and knows that he has good management, is wise, follow him."

:)

zeeglen
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But I don't WANT to become a manager...
zeeglen   2/1/2014 9:12:11 AM
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Seems there is a general expectation (from HR departments, upper management, colleagues) that after many years as an engineer the next logical career progression is into management. The concept is that if one does not make it to a management position, there must be something deficient about that individual.

Some of these managers (a few of my former bosses) were promoted to management simply because they were lousy at engineering - were not capable of designing their way out of a wet paper bag.  That said, I did have one engineer-turned-manager boss who was a brilliant designer and mentor.  Unfortunately, he was the exception.

Some highly skilled engineers enjoy their technical activities so much that they have no desire to "progress" into management, other than directing their own projects while doing the technical work themselves.  These are the ones with a passion for what they do.

henry..12
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Re: a derivative of a famous proverbs...
henry..12   2/2/2014 1:37:53 PM
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@lister1 I love the rewritten proverb ... I think it places the responsibility to reognize a good manager a bit too strongly on the employee, but it has a lopt of truth in it! 

henry..12
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Re: But I don't WANT to become a manager...
henry..12   2/2/2014 1:58:23 PM
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@zeeglen you've hit on an age-old problem for engineers.  Everybody has a share in this one regardless of their position in the company. Most larger companies have a bifurcation in the carrer path for engineers: continue up the technical ladder or move onto the management ladder. But engineers who are often under-trained or glamorize management step onto the management track without careful thought to the future of their career. Often, good engineers are promoted into management (as opposed to continuing the technical ladder) because their management recognizes excellent engineering skills and presumes incorrectly that a great engineer will make a great manager. And the engineer owns a piece of the problem when they take the management position.

I'm sure that most engineers can think of a great engineer who crashed and burned as a manager because they weren't tempermentally suited for the job.

I worked with an engineer who was made an upper level manager in a small company. This fellow was a very skillful engineer capable of great designs. He accepted the ego-boosting promotion because it seemed like a logical carrer step. He wasn't a good maanager for several reasons, chief among them was lack of management training and being painfully introverted. Without training he hadn't learned how to do the new job. He failed at managing and his technical work product and decisions were disasterous.

Luckily for him he found a jon outside the company that moved him laterally and back onto the technical lader. He's much better suited for that path, but if he worked at it he could probably gain the skills to continue on the management ladder.

It may seem harsh, but it's the employee's job to dispassionately assess their skill level and future goals before accepting a management position. Sometimes an offer of a management position may become a lever to move up the technical ladder. To successfully negotiate such as move, you MUST dispassionately understand your strengths and weaknesses and have a cleat career path in mind.

 

Max The Magnificent
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Re: a derivative of a famous proverbs...
Max The Magnificent   2/2/2014 2:43:45 PM
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@Lister1: He who has not good management...

Good one!

bk11
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Manager
Re: a derivative of a famous proverbs...
bk11   2/3/2014 12:27:30 PM
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"Good decisions come from experience.  Experience comes from bad decisions."

I'm not sure who said it, but too many times engineers have to deal with managers in the process of gaining experience...

JeffL_2
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CEO
Re: But I don't WANT to become a manager...
JeffL_2   2/3/2014 12:31:49 PM
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What bothers me is many companies openly refuse to consider having "tech track" careeer options anymore. Now I know I for one would make a lousy manager because I know my heart just isn't in it. But it doesn't keep me from wondering how a manager responds to an order from high up to "reduce headcount" and you just KNOW the intent is to cut total salaries, do you cut the most experienced (and generally highest-paid) FIRST, leaving yourself without the folks you need to make a technical success out of that next project? Then having done that if the next project is running into technical or schedule trouble don't you just blame the staff you're left with, don't they know that about you already? (And if you don't operate on that basis aren't you just putting your OWN job at risk?) I get the impression that a lot of the skills you need to have in order to flourish as a manager are diametrically the opposite of what you needed to be a great engineer in the first place, so why SHOULDN'T companies provide that "tech track", and then doesn't NOT having one admit that they aren't really seeking excellence in the first place (I don't mean at ANY price just a reasonable one)?

aegispower
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Re: a derivative of a famous proverbs...
aegispower   2/3/2014 12:52:49 PM
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Nice proverb :) Thankfully, at Aegis Power Systems we have an awesome boss, but I can easiily see how management is not for every engineer!

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