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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
    nobody can year
    you scream
    A slightly caustic take on
    managing teams in large

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  2. Warning !
    • I may use strong language,
    with bad French pronunciation

    • Many stock pictures

    • This talk does not purport to
    ect the opinions or views of
    my employer

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  3. ❖ Director of engineering at Mercari JP
    for search, recommendation and
    product metadata
    ❖ Deeply involved in OSS and scienti
    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 ?

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  4. What they don’t tell you
    when you become a senior
    The senior manager is not on the left

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  5. Mise en scène
    Aka setting the stage
    • Context: middle to large company, at least a few 100s engineers, and with
    product market
    t or mature business

    • A de

    • You’re not managing ICs anymore

    • You’re not a general manager: not directly accountable to execs for
    results, etc.

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  6. Loneliness

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  7. As an EM, you build a team. As a
    middle manager, you manage a set of

    • 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

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  8. Once your report line reach ~40-50
    people, whatever you decide will
    piss o
    at least one person

    • Higher probability for
    misunderstanding: impossible to
    share same context at that level

    • Some decisions may genuinely
    negatively a
    ect some people
    You can’t make everybody happy

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  9. “Only the paranoids survive”, aka politics
    and perception

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  10. What you do have visibility beyond your
    report line

    • Managing up and laterally becomes a

    • People will request you to do things you
    have no idea about

    • “Competence is like blood to upper
    management: they can smell it from

    • Corollary: don’t get good at something
    you don’t want to do
    Large “attack surface”

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  11. 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

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  12. Importance of "composure": your
    attitude matters, you will be less and
    less able to openly share concerns

    The tradeo
    vs con
    dence/inspiration becomes

    • Constantly sharing doubts will not
    inspire con

    • Your report will require a vision
    and clear direction
    Lack of confidence: reports smell fear
    Not a role model for management

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  13. Aspiration needs to be tampered
    with a sense of reality, otherwise
    your reports will
    ip the bozo bit

    flip the bozo bit v. Decide that
    someone is a clown, and stop
    listening to them.

    ip goes one way, forever: you
    can’t switch back.
    They also smell BS !

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  14. Is it worth it ?

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  15. • Positive impact on reports is

    • 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

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  16. Thanks for listening

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  17. References
    • “Only the paranoids survive”: book by Andy Grove, Intel founder

    • Con
    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

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