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Re: Interview

 
 
Tom Anderson
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      10-01-2009
On Thu, 1 Oct 2009, Ken T. wrote:

> I had an interview today. It didn't go as well as I would have liked.
> It didn't go badly but I wasn't familiar with everything my potential
> employer did.
>
> When did it become necessary for a developer to not only know the
> language used inside out, but also the APIs used, the third party tools
> used, and basically to have done the same job for the last five years.
>
> I thought that the whole point of a good computer science education was
> that you could apply what you learned to any language or API.


It is. Most people are idiots, and don't appreciate this. Some of these
idiots are managers.

tom

--
Most people lose their talent at puberty. I lost mine in my early
twenties. I began to think of children not as immature adults, but of
adults as atrophied children. -- Keith Johnstone
 
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Tom Anderson
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      10-01-2009
On Thu, 1 Oct 2009, Eric Sosman wrote:

> Tom Anderson wrote:
>> On Thu, 1 Oct 2009, Ken T. wrote:
>>
>>> I had an interview today. It didn't go as well as I would have liked.
>>> It didn't go badly but I wasn't familiar with everything my potential
>>> employer did.
>>>
>>> When did it become necessary for a developer to not only know the
>>> language used inside out, but also the APIs used, the third party tools
>>> used, and basically to have done the same job for the last five years.
>>>
>>> I thought that the whole point of a good computer science education was
>>> that you could apply what you learned to any language or API.

>>
>> It is. Most people are idiots, and don't appreciate this. Some of these
>> idiots are managers.

>
> Quick question: Have you ever been a hiring manager?


No.

> What hoops did you have to jump through to get budget allocations for
> the new employee(s)? What promises did you have to make to the people
> who authorized the money?
>
> I have hired people, and I have had to go to the mat to justify the
> expenditure -- which is not trivial, as the fully-burdened cost of a
> full-time engineer runs at least 150% of the "face value" salary,
> sometimes a good deal more. I had to make the case that we needed
> additional help, and would never have succeeded with "Let's hire
> somebody just in case; I bet it'll come in handy someday." No, the
> debate *always* centered on our needs for some project that was already
> underway, or at least imminent. And if you've justified the position on
> the grounds that Project Pancake needs help, the person who fills it had
> better not be a general-issue cook, but someone who really knows
> griddles.


The person who *should* fill it should be someone who will get Project
Pancake back on track as fast as possible. That might be someone who's
spent the last ten years being a short-order cook, true. But it could well
be a hotshot sous-chef who can pick up everything there is to know about
griddles in a couple of weeks.

Now, you're talking about what you have to do to keep the next layer up
happy, not what's best for the project. That's the point you're making
here. But i don't think this is really any different to the situation i
was implying - there are people making bad decisions who have the power to
make them stick somewhere in the tree. It might be the person doing the
hiring, it might be their boss, it might be anyone up to the chairman of
the board, or indeed your local national legislative body. None of which
changes the fact that Ken T., who spent four years studying under Gordon
Ramsay, is going to lose out to some burger-flipping dolt on the strength
of a few bullet points.

> I eventually got myself out of the management game, feeling that I
> wasn't all that good at it and that there were aspects of it that I
> actively disliked. I especially hated doing annual performance reviews;
> who was I to be playing Judge, Jury, and Executioner with these people?
> And on one occasion there was a person I really should have fired, but
> I lacked the guts. Luckily for me he accepted an offer elsewhere and
> left under his own power, but I knew I'd lucked out and might not luck
> out the next time. So I jumped off the management ladder -- I hadn't
> gotten high enough to suffer injury from the fall -- and have been much
> happier since, thank you. But I *don't* subscribe to the no-thought
> Dilbertian dismissal of managers as inherently defective (a position
> more extreme than the one you've actually taken, I confess, but using
> words like "idiots" to describe people who face circumstances of which
> you wot not tends to make me rant a bit).


I certainly didn't mean to imply that managers are a special breed of
imbecile. I think most developers are idiots too.

tom

--
[Philosophy] is kind of like being driven behind the sofa by Dr Who -
scary, but still entertaining. -- itchyfidget
 
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markspace
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      10-01-2009
Eric Sosman wrote:

>
> Okay, enough. Now, where did I put that pill bottle?
>



I put mine in the empty beer bottles.
 
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Arved Sandstrom
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      10-02-2009
Eric Sosman wrote:
[ SNIP ]

> I eventually got myself out of the management game, feeling that I
> wasn't all that good at it and that there were aspects of it that I
> actively disliked. I especially hated doing annual performance reviews;
> who was I to be playing Judge, Jury, and Executioner with these people?
> And on one occasion there was a person I really should have fired, but
> I lacked the guts. Luckily for me he accepted an offer elsewhere and
> left under his own power, but I knew I'd lucked out and might not luck
> out the next time. So I jumped off the management ladder -- I hadn't
> gotten high enough to suffer injury from the fall -- and have been much
> happier since, thank you. But I *don't* subscribe to the no-thought
> Dilbertian dismissal of managers as inherently defective (a position
> more extreme than the one you've actually taken, I confess, but using
> words like "idiots" to describe people who face circumstances of which
> you wot not tends to make me rant a bit).

[ SNIP ]

IMHO an IT organization works best if it has two parallel chains of
management/supervision just like the military does. In the military, of
course, you've got the enlisted chain, which reaches all the way up to
the top, and this is where the technical expertise mostly resides. And
also in the military, you've got the parallel commissioned chain -
officers - who lead and "manage". At every level of the management
food-chain you have a technical advisor - the enlisted person.

A lot of IT organizations are layered exactly opposite - they have a
bottom layer, somewhat stratified, of technical people, and on top of
that is the management layer. There may be a little bit of mixing in
between, but that general picture holds true. So what ends up happening
is, the junior technical folks talk up to the senior technical folks,
who in turn talk up to the junior managers, who in turn talk up to the
senior managers. The bigger and/or more formal the organization is, the
worse this situation is.

There's no mystery here as to why things don't work well. I've
encountered few IT managers over my career who had any real software
development experience. I don't even pretend to know what their academic
credentials have been; I just know they haven't been programmers. So
these people start out as junior managers, and generally with little
background have to present the condensed input of the entire technical
team under them to _their_ manager, who usually started out the same
way...as a non-programmer. No wonder things don't translate all too well.

It's not that the managers themselves - as people - are defective. It's
the system that's defective. Next time you get a chance look at your
organization or one that you have dealings with. If the structure is one
of top-level non-technical managers supervising intermediate-level
non-technical managers, who in turn supervise bottom-level non-technical
managers, who in turn supervise technical people, you've got a problem.

AHS
 
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EJP
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      10-02-2009
Arved Sandstrom wrote:
> IMHO an IT organization works best if it has two parallel chains of
> management/supervision just like the military does.


It does but more accurately these consist of the Staff chain where the
technical expertise is and the field command chain where the moral
leadership is. You can get to be a staff general without ever having had
a field command. This of course is resented by the field command chain
but they know they need the system.

The bizarre stratification in industry where senior techs report to
junior managers only seems to happen in Anglo-Saxon countries. In
Germany and Italy you can get onto the board by virtue of being an engineer.
 
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Eric Sosman
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      10-02-2009
Arved Sandstrom wrote:
> [...]
> There's no mystery here as to why things don't work well. I've
> encountered few IT managers over my career who had any real software
> development experience. I don't even pretend to know what their academic
> credentials have been; I just know they haven't been programmers. [...]


The Peter Principle takes good programmers and promotes
them until they're bad managers. (It also turns good doctors
into bad department heads, good teachers into bad deans, and
bad actors into worse governors ...)

The issues that programmers and managers struggle with are
different. Yes, they need to be able to communicate about
technical topics in technical jargon, but the programmer does
not participate in the fights over budget allocations and the
manager does not spend his days ferreting out race conditions.
The skill sets are not the same, not at all, not even when the
two work toward a common goal.

In a long-ago job it suddenly occurred to me that I was
under the care of a good manager. What caused this revelation?
Was it his skill with the debugger? No. His ability to squeeze
half a microsecond out of an inner loop? No. His beautifully
clear, idiomatic source code? No. The realization hit me when
I was chatting idly with someone else whose project was stalled
yet again while the ordering process for a piece of equipment
ground ponderously along -- and it suddenly dawned on me that
for upwards of a year I had *never* had to wait for new gear to
arrive: It had somehow always been budgeted for, ordered in
advance, allocated lab space, and so on. My manager would seem
to do nothing, yet somehow the equipment always showed up when
it was needed and I got to move smoothly from one project to the
next without down-time. I claim that my then manager was doing
a superb job of managing the resources, and I further claim that
his activities had nothing whatsoever to do with programming, and
I still further claim that neither I nor the most talented programmer
in our company was equipped by training, experience, or skill set
to accomplish what my manager did.

(Alas, not all managers are as good as that one. But then,
few programmers are as good as they think they are, so it sort
of evens out.)

There is no a priori reason to think that a good programmer
can be a good manager, nor that a good manager must be a good
programmer.

--
Eric Sosman
http://www.velocityreviews.com/forums/(E-Mail Removed)lid
 
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Martin Gregorie
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      10-02-2009
On Thu, 01 Oct 2009 23:46:51 -0400, Eric Sosman wrote:

> In a long-ago job it suddenly occurred to me that I was
> under the care of a good manager.
>

I've been fortunate enough to work for several managers and project
managers that fit Eric's definition and yes, they ARE worth their weight
in gold. I've also worked for donkeys, but haven't we all?

However, there's another menace that hasn't been touched on in this
thread - system designers without programming experience. These people
can screw up projects big time, whether its by designing unworkable and
unmaintainable systems, systems that can't and won't perform or by
refusing to open the design to review by the implementers. IME they can
be worse to work with than a poor manager.


--
martin@ | Martin Gregorie
gregorie. | Essex, UK
org |
 
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Lew
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      10-02-2009
Ken T. wrote:
> I've noticed the money that is being talked about these days seems like
> it is a decade out of date.


A decade ago, script kiddies who thought a pointer was something that shone a
red dot for kitties to play with were asking and getting $85K/yr (US).

--
Lew
 
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GArlington
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      10-02-2009
On 2 Oct, 07:39, "Ken T." <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
> On Thu, 01 Oct 2009 23:42:45 +0100, Tom Anderson wrote:
> > I certainly didn't mean to imply that managers are a special breed of
> > imbecile. I think most developers are idiots too.

>
> I pretty much agree with this statement, but it takes a special breed of
> idiot to make his/her living by telling other people what to do.
>
> BTW, the guy I talked to was a technical guy. *He just wanted me to have
> experience with exactly the portions of the API that he was using in his
> project. *Close was no where near good enough.
>

I was interviewed by a guy like this too just last month, because of
his approach I am now working (contract) 150 miles away from home.
Still, the fact that I AM working gives me some hope...

> That said, it may be that in this market people can get exactly what they
> want. *Maybe enough of us are unemployed (or underemployed as in my case)
> that they can just ask for something and expect to get it. *
>
> I've noticed the money that is being talked about these days seems like
> it is a decade out of date. *
>
> --
> Ken T.
>
> * Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: first, a right
> * to life, secondly to liberty, thirdly to property; together with the
> * right to defend them in the best manner they can. *-- Samuel Adams


 
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Eric Sosman
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      10-02-2009
Martin Gregorie wrote:
> On Thu, 01 Oct 2009 23:46:51 -0400, Eric Sosman wrote:
>
>> In a long-ago job it suddenly occurred to me that I was
>> under the care of a good manager.
>>

> I've been fortunate enough to work for several managers and project
> managers that fit Eric's definition and yes, they ARE worth their weight
> in gold. I've also worked for donkeys, but haven't we all?
>
> However, there's another menace that hasn't been touched on in this
> thread - system designers without programming experience. These people
> can screw up projects big time, whether its by designing unworkable and
> unmaintainable systems, systems that can't and won't perform or by
> refusing to open the design to review by the implementers. IME they can
> be worse to work with than a poor manager.


Yes, indeed! A good clue to watch for is the word "elegant:"
A designer who uses "elegant" a lot is probably a candidate for
hanging (on a tastefully-decorated gallows, of course).

--
Eric Sosman
(E-Mail Removed)lid
 
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