How do I feel worthwhile as a manager when my people are doing all the implementing?”
There are some great points in that post. It prompted me to try to define the role of manager as an acid test for would-be managers or those wondering whether to continue with management or change course. Indeed, there does appear to be a simple principle that can guide us - though not necessarily to an easy answer:
Your job as a manager should be to act as a proponent and propagator of moral action for your team
… and, in some way, for your organisation and wider society.
If you disagree, then you may be on shaky ground…
Charity Majors’ post may or may not agree with this conclusion, and I will not put words in anyone’s mouth. However, in part, it appears to allude to this when noting some of the responsibilities of a manager:
- To ‘pick up on someone’s anxiety’ and help
- To ‘argue someone into receiving a well-deserved raise’
- To ‘wielding your manager powers for good’
That last one hits it on the head (assuming one knows what good is; admittedly, that is a big assumption). A crucial one to add to that list of responsibilities, the trait that, no doubt, many have seen as lacking in their leaders over the years, is:
That takes courage. And if you don’t think you have that yet, then you should try to put that right before you accept or seek to be a manager. In aggregate, enough managers lacking in this area makes for a horror show software house. If you do think that you have that kind of virtue - and that doing the right thing doesn’t drain you to the point that you are an empty husk - then you at least have a foundation to potentially extract satisfaction and worth from being a manager. If not, you should be wary. The point here is not to make a judgement call on whether you have enough courage in this regard to deem you a good person. The point here is do you have enough courage to make it sufficiently easy for you to do your job.
There is more to say on all this of course, such as the extra hours that it can sometimes take because you are, at least partially, responsible for the result of other people’s work. And, I agree that missing out on the problem solving and solution design nearer the code-level can be fatal enough to one’s happiness to decide against being a manager. In the unlikely event that you have hours left over at the end of the day, there may be that occasional moment that affords the chance to look into a new technology (it’s assumed that you won’t have enough true code-level context to efficiently dive into an existing problem that needs code implementation in your organisation - hence, the suggestion to look into a new technology instead).
My claim, that there exists a moral core requirement to have a shot at being a satisfied manager, may come into conflict (or may not; again, not wanting to put words in any mouths) with at least part of Charity Majors’ blog post:
There seems to be precisely one acceptable answer to the question of what motivates managers: loftily waxing on and on about how they get ALL their joy and fulfilment from empowering others and watching other people succeed without ever personally building anything tangible or receiving ANY of the credit. I call bullshit. (This bugs the ever-loving crap out of me.)
My claim of a moral core requirement may appear too closely tied to a manager fundamentally getting their kicks out of positively empowering others. I do believe, however, that if your core is not about doing right by others then you will find the going difficult. If your moral code isn’t set up for success then neither will the actual code be, nor your team, nor your chances of ongoing satisfaction. On the point of praise, or lack of, I do not know if it is commonplace for an organisation to skip giving credit to managers altogether, so I’ll skip over that here.
What if you are a moral monster 👹 yet still want to be a manager?
Well, the good news is that much of morality can be learned. In many ways, you are what you read. So, skipping a few of the blog posts on the latest tech trends and finding some enjoyable and informative podcasts or books on ethics and philosophy can help. These can give you a solid foundation to extract happiness from managing and to be a more effective manager. Reducing the three demons of lies, Lip-Service Development (perhaps the topic of a future blog post, but you can guess at the meaning for now) and dogma is a great place to start.
The skillsets required for being a good manager can differ from the skillsets required for being a good engineer, but there are plenty of other excellent resources on that. So that’s been out-of-scoped for the purposes of the above discussion. It is suffice to say, however, that a moral compass is an important part of the engineer’s toolkit as well as a manager’s.