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In middle management, nobody can hear you scream

February 21, 2023

In middle management, nobody can hear you scream

A slightly caustic take on managing engineering teams in large organizations


February 21, 2023

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  1. In middle management, nobody can year you scream A slightly

    caustic take on managing teams in large organizations
  2. Warning ! • I may use strong language, with bad

    French pronunciation • Many stock pictures • This talk does not purport to re fl ect the opinions or views of my employer
  3. ❖ Director of engineering at Mercari JP for search, recommendation

    and product metadata ❖ Deeply involved in OSS and scienti fi c python in 2005-2010 ❖ A common career theme: work at the boundaries of software engineering and science ❖ @cournape on GH / twitter Who is this guy ?
  4. What they don’t tell you when you become a senior

    manager The senior manager is not on the left
  5. Mise en scène Aka setting the stage • Context: middle

    to large company, at least a few 100s engineers, and with product market fi t or mature business • A de fi nition: • You’re not managing ICs anymore • You’re not a general manager: not directly accountable to execs for fi nancial results, etc.
  6. As an EM, you build a team. As a middle

    manager, you manage a set of individuals • You may spend a few hours / week with each report max • Your reports don’t work together on a daily basis • Your report line is large enough that you don’t know everyone anymore, maybe even by name (> 50 people) Cohesion is challenging
  7. Once your report line reach ~40-50 people, whatever you decide

    will piss o ff at least one person • Higher probability for misunderstanding: impossible to share same context at that level • Some decisions may genuinely negatively a ff ect some people You can’t make everybody happy
  8. What you do have visibility beyond your report line •

    Managing up and laterally becomes a must • People will request you to do things you have no idea about • “Competence is like blood to upper management: they can smell it from afar” • Corollary: don’t get good at something you don’t want to do Large “attack surface”
  9. As an EM, transparency is the right default. Important to

    establish trust, etc. If you manage 40-50 people, through "lateral" projects, your decisions may impact 100+ people. Total transparency cannot work anymore. • You need to share the info at the right level with the right context, people don’t trust you by default. • High probability for being quoted out of context, even in good faith • you have "spooky action at a distance" Transparency goes out of the window
  10. Importance of "composure": your attitude matters, you will be less

    and less able to openly share concerns The tradeo ff humility/transparency vs con fi dence/inspiration becomes challenging • Constantly sharing doubts will not inspire con fi dence • Your report will require a vision and clear direction Lack of confidence: reports smell fear Not a role model for management
  11. Aspiration needs to be tampered with a sense of reality,

    otherwise your reports will fl ip the bozo bit flip the bozo bit v. Decide that someone is a clown, and stop listening to them. The fl ip goes one way, forever: you can’t switch back. They also smell BS !
  12. • Positive impact on reports is rewarding • Impact can

    be lasting even after you leave • You need a certain detachment If you have manager: you can give positive feedback to your manager too. We like it too ! How to keeping our spirits up
  13. References • “Only the paranoids survive”: book by Andy Grove,

    Intel founder • Con fi dence and humility, podcast on econtalk.org, with David Deppner • https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2009/03/09/how-to-be-a-program- manager/: discussion about the “bozo switch” • https://www.manager-tools.com : very prescriptive, but a good way to grow the M of EM • Alien, 1979, by Ridley Scott • Wolf of wall street, 2013, by Scorsese