Michael Lopp, also known as Rands from randsinrepose.com, uses sometimes-crude, but strangely elegant, humor to shed light on the way he perceives his work as an engineering manager. Subtitled “Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager“, this book is a collection of posts from his website, organized in a delightful and easy-to-digest way and offers a good overview of the unique perspectives he has on managing software engineers.
Why I Read It
I’ve recently transitioned coming from a job where I had a good mix of responsibilities in people, product, and project aspects to a job where the bulk of my role would focus on people and processes. In the first few weeks, I was just starting to find my way through this new role and finding ways I could make a positive impact with my new job description. I picked up this book and found a lot of valuable guidance on what goes into “managing humans” beyond making sure their day-to-day work is going well. I found that there were a lot of little things I had been doing regularly that I never even realized was actually “work”. Ultimately, that helped me realize I needed to invest a little time into learning more about these things so I could more effectively put them into practice. In essence, “Managing Humans” helped me develop a little bit more consciousness and a better appreciation for all the work that went into being an engineering manager.
Wow, there’s a lot to really summarize in a few lines. But I’ve run down some of the things that made quite an impact to me and really made sense in the context of my personal work experiences.
Killing The Grapevine. This is one responsibility of managers that never occurred to me. Quite the opposite, I sometimes felt that a part of my job was limiting the flow of information to my reports so they don’t get stressed out by reality. “Killing the grapevine” means making sure the inevitable office rumors are translated into the truth as soon and as often as possible.
Organics vs. Mechanics. One of the articles in “Managing Humans” talks about two different communication personalities – organics and mechanics. This was actually a topic on micromanagement, and it was very relatable, having seen (and, embarrassingly, done) my share of micromanagement in the past. This gives micromanagers the benefit of the doubt and suggests that they may just be “mechanics” (people who need data in a structured, consistent way) who have not yet received the information they need. It’s a fresh perspective on how one might work with a micromanager more effectively.
The 90-day Interview. I picked up this book at the beginning of my transition to a new company, so this topic resonated particularly with me. I realize it never ends at just a job offer. Your probationary period is an extended interview and it’s a chance to really make sure it’s a good fit. Rands offers some advise on how to make it work, most of it unconventional such as such as getting into an argument with a co-worker.
Web of work. One of the times Rands waxes poetic in the book is when he describes how every decision or task you complete leads to a web of work for the people around you. He describes the work of a leader as staying on top of this web and making sure it doesn’t get too tangled to make sense of. Reading this part made me realize how much of my work has been doing just this. I felt some validation of the value I put in when most of my output is not as tangible (or at least, has a really long feedback loop).
Recommended reading for..
People who are in the position I’ve been in, transitioning from engineer to manager, or shifting between different management roles. The insights really help make sense of the value we can put into our work. If you find yourself in a management role and not too sure about what needs to be done, start with “Managing Humans”.
Dexter is an engineering manager at Synacy, a co-founder of ATeam Business Software Solutions, and founder of TechManagement.Life. He loves to share his experiences and thoughts on managing software teams and running businesses.