I’m trying to keep the level of “management” articles low on this blog, but this is quite funny and I wanted to comment on it.  Last week Jeff Ello’s article The Unspoken Truth About Managing Geeks did it’s rounds on the Internet. Not surprisingly, with quotes like this:

[the IT world] is populated by people skilled in creative analysis and ordered reasoning. Doctors are a close parallel. The stakes may be higher in medicine, but the work in both fields requires a technical expertise that can’t be faked and a proficiency that can only be measured by qualified peers.


When hiring an IT pro, imagine you’re recruiting a doctor. And if you’re hiring a CIO, think of employing a chief of medicine

It’s not bad at all! Compare me with Dr. House, and I’ll send your article to my friends too!

Ello’s has some good points, though, and probably does a good job as a management consultant. Not because if his amazing insights about geeks, but because his observations can easily be distilled down and applied to anyone who has ever been managed, anywhere: Show people respect and they will like you and do what you want.

But, there is a second opinion. Looking for this I came across this article by Tim Bryce, who appears to hate those low-IQ programmers and their techno-babble, but still has choosen to work for 30 years with advicing people on managing them. Let’s say he takes the other side of the management consultant spectrum from Ello. Now he has some saucy quotes, for example his own “Bryce’s law”:

“There are very few true artists in computer programming,
most are just house painters.”


Whereas the knowledge of the language is vital to performing their job, programmers often use it to bamboozle others and heighten their own self-importance. To outsiders, programmers are viewed as a sort of inner-circle of magicians who speak a rather cryptic language aimed at impressing others, as well as themselves. Such verbosity may actually mask some serious character flaws in their personality.

and the rather inflammatory

Regardless of the image they wish to project, the average programmer does not have a higher IQ than any other worker with a college degree. In fact, they may even be lower.

and it goes on and on like this.

He has the occasional good point, however. Particulary, I find this to hold some truth:

I deliberately avoided the term “Software Engineer” because this would imply the use of a scientific method to programming. Regardless of how one feels about the profession, this is hardly the case.

Programming is often dominated by untested dogmatics, lack of empirical study, arguments-from-authority, opinions presented as facts, try-and-see approaches, voodoo programming and all sorts of other practices that would be counter-productive to, well, great engineering achievements. That’s the things I’m trying to fiddle around with in this blog, only with a focus on the parts that deals with the human side. Of all the concepts in programming, few have been thoroughly tested to see if they are actually as good ideas as they are put forward as. That doesn’t mean they are not, of course, only that we often only have convincing arguments to base decisions on.

If the above got to depressing, here’s another Ello quote to pick the mood up:

A good IT pro is trained in how to accomplish work; their skills are not necessarily limited to computing. In fact, the best business decision-makers I know are IT people who aren’t even managers.

Ok, that was probably the last post I’m going to do in a long time about management, even if it deals with people and programming. Other people write better about it (although perhaps not the two above).

Actually, feel invited to post any links to good blogs about programming managment below, because I don’t really know who these better writers are…

One thought on “Managing programmers: love vs hate

  1. Shawn says:

    Good managers do not make good decisions; good managers make environments where professionals can make good decisions.

    Is it any wonder that the world is full of software that looks like it has been slapped together in a hurry when managers do not give the programmers time to do a good job?

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