x-post'ing my comment from HN, because this topic is really interesting to me:
For the tl;dr crowd, here’s the key takeaway from the article: “Most companies promote workers into managerial positions because they seemingly deserve it, rather than because they have the talent for it. This practice doesn’t work.”
Before I started a startup, I was a software engineer at a large firm, and it was clear they were grooming me for management because I was a strong individual contributor and had “put in my time”: 3 years as an engineer. Advancement at this firm was measured by “how many reports” you had, as in “direct reports”, or people managed by you, and if you just did superior individual work but had no one “under you”, you weren’t advancing. So they sent me to a couple of training courses about management and started prepping me for the path.
This was one of the many reasons I quit this BigCo to start my own startup.
I am now the co-founder & CTO of Parse.ly (http://parse.ly). In our first two years after starting up, I spent all my time building stuff – which is exactly what I wanted. Ironically, because the company has grown and now has a 13-person product team, I am now technically “managing” my engineering team with 13 “direct reports”. But at our company, we have completely decoupled management from individual contribution – certainly, if a strong individual contributor shows an interest in management, we’ll consider it. But becoming a “manager” is not how you “advance” here – you advance by doing great work.
Our first employee who joined in 2009 is a great programmer and he is still with the company, but he’s still doing what he loves: building & shipping stuff. Based on our frank conversations on the topic, I think he would quit if I forced him to be a manager. The appropriate reward for doing great work isn’t a “promotion to management” – that’s actually a punishment for a great individual contributor. The right reward is to ensure you continue to provide an environment where that great work can continue for that contributor, and where they can continue to grow their skills and apply themselves productively in the role.
It’s interesting that you point out your experience at a BigCo, since there are often career tracks there for ambitious engineers who want to remain engineers - IBM Fellow, for example - that startups generally lack. It seems a lot of engineers join startups and see two major ways “up”:
Start a company and be the CTO
Get promoted to VP of Engineering
Success in either of those roles means you’re not engineering anymore. They’re both career changes, not promotions. I don’t think there’s any easy solution to this problem with regard to startups, but the industry needs something better than “Work at BigCo”.
As software engineering matures I hope we gain a deeper understanding of what it means to grow as an individual engineer. Widespread ability to perceive the differences between a mature engineer and an immature one seems like a good place to start.
We don’t need no stinkin managers! As demonstrated, they do more harm than good.
Not sure if this was sarcasm or not, so I’ll take the bait :)
The problem isn’t managers per se, it’s bad managers. A good manager enables an all-around good environment and workflow, and bad one actively hinders it and can ruin a team. So the problem, as identified in the article, is how do we select and train the right people?
People who are good at doing X aren’t necessarily good at leading others who do X. Prototypical example would be a software engineer who is fantastic at writing code but terrible at at managing people. This is the Peter Principle.
Managers are an instrument of capital owners to make sure the workers are doing what they want. They are instruments of control. If you happen to be a capitalist, this isn’t difficult to understand and isn’t problematic. If you are a worker, this is clear every day and very problematic.
I happen to be a worker, not a capitalist, and from my perspective, I do not want people telling me what to do day in and day out. So no, I don’t need a stinkin manager.
a good manager is like a good prison guard. So what?
Is the problem that I am bringing up social and economic issues in an article about middle managers? Or are there managers downvoting me because their sensativities got bruised. Or worse, are there capital owners downvoting me because I am right? Or do you people think it doesn’t matter.
do managers have power or not? If they do, do they exercise it in their interest, in the workers interest, or the business interest? I am curious what people think. I believe I made my opinion clear.