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Businesses IT Technology

The Case Against Non-technical Managers 152

Kelerei writes: Lorraine Steyn, owner of a small software development company in Cape Town, has published an opinion piece that may hit too close to home for some: making a case against non-technical managers. She writes about the all too common disconnect between IT staff and the boardroom table and states that 'one of the ways to solve this, is to bring managers closer to the coal face. Technical training programs are critical for your development team to keep apace with change, and investing the time for IT management to do the training too can pay dividends... [if a manager feels he doesn't] have enough time to get that close to the detail of what your department does, think about whether you would appoint a non-financial manager to handle your money'.
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The Case Against Non-technical Managers

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  • Can I get the icon in cornflower blue?
  • It's not just IT (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Duckman5 ( 665208 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @11:43AM (#50607797)
    I work in pharmacy and I can't tell you the number of people over me who aren't even certified as a pharmacy technician. They either came up through the retail division or through some MBA pathway and they sit there and make decisions about how a retail pharmacy should run without having worked in any sort of pharmacy. It's how you get stupid stuff like a 15 minute guarantee [modernmedicine.com] that prioritizes speed over patient safety.
    It's difficult because the executives at the top don't understand why it's a problem. How are you supposed to bring your issues to someone who has no idea how those issues impact your daily life? I mean, how long does it take to put a sticker on a bottle and fill it with pills? I can imagine it's the same in IT. In a previous life I'd fallen into a couple of IT positions (by virtue of "knowing computers" better than the other people at the small business) and trying to explain security to them is like trying to explain an egg shell to a brick wall. I can only imagine what IT people in a dedicated department must go through trying to justify themselves to 20 layers of management. Good luck.
    • by garcia ( 6573 )

      I agree with you, just not your example. Pharmacy Techs are on-the-job trained in a few days and get paid just north of minimum wage. The technical skills required to do that job aren't complex and those leading the area should have to do the same on-the-job training as the staff. Comparing that world to most IT specializations is a HUGE leap.

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        I think his point is that these people don't even have the minimal training of a pharmacy technician, something that takes little time to get but can probably be any eye-opener for the day-to-day procedures of the job. Getting training and spending a little bit of time working might actually give the decision maker some kind of knowledge as to how the workflow in the pharmacy actually functions, so that they're better able to make informed decisions as to how to change or improve, or what kinds of negative
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 27, 2015 @12:22PM (#50607965)

        How about an example with Mechanical Engineers? I've had both technical and non-technical managers. In both cases I've had good luck and bad luck. A good manager doesn't have to be a technical person, they have to listen to their subordinates. When you tell your manager that something can't be reasonably fine or shouldn't be done their job requires them to listen to the technical experts on the project. No one person can be an expert on the whole project, so you might get a guy that is a good medical engineer, but no experience in industrial design.

        In my opinion, a good manger is one who knows he isn't the expert. Listen to your people. A technical guy full of preconceptions of how things should be done is a huge hindrance. While a non-technical guy that can bring multiple ideas together and just make a decision, at the end if the day, is invaluable to a project.

        • by NeoMorphy ( 576507 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @02:38PM (#50608727)

          There are a couple of problems with that.

          A company, especially a large one, would have multiple levels of management. A vice president has meeting with his directors, they can't answer until they talk to their direct reports who can't answer until they talk to their direct reports who actually know something. You end up with high latency for even simple topics.

          If the intermediate managers have no technical background, you will end up with a grapevine effect. If you don't understand what you are getting from your direct reports how can you effectively write it down in preparation for the upcoming meeting?

          "The application has a high turn rate and the high latency on the network is causing it to be slow"

          "He said the network was too slow."

          "I was told that we doubled the bandwidth on the network. What are you talking about?

          "Upper management said it can't be the network, they had the bandwidth doubled."

          "It's not a bandwidth problem, it's a high latency problem.

          "I don't understand. Should we have networking check to see if there is a problem with the network? I''l setup a meeting with the networking group."

          They have to understand the technology, otherwise the grapevine effect will kill you. The bigger the company, the worse it will get.

          Finally, if you have multiple direct reports, how do you resolve a conflict of ideas when you have no idea what they are talking about? Put it to a vote? An experienced manager with a technical background would be able to ask the right questions to determine the pros and cons of each idea.

          • by chipschap ( 1444407 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @03:13PM (#50608883)

            When I was managing multiple groups and couldn't possibly understand everything about everything that everyone did, I handled the "grapevine" problem in a very simple way. When I had a meeting with my bosses, I brought along the person on staff who knew the topic. Sometimes I had to do a little coaching, reminding them that the next level up really had no background in his or her area, but it nearly always worked out and we avoided the delays and miscommunications otherwise encountered.

            Generally, the staffer liked the idea of being trusted and getting positive exposure with executive management. And in giving a voice and giving credit to the people who actually knew the topic, I definitely looked good in front of my bosses. It was almost always a win-win.

        • by mopower70 ( 250015 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @02:59PM (#50608813) Homepage

          A good manager doesn't have to be a technical person, they have to listen to their subordinates. When you tell your manager that something can't be reasonably fine or shouldn't be done their job requires them to listen to the technical experts on the project.

          I've been on both sides of the managerial fence, and in my experience, you can't have one without the other. A good manager can't listen to their subordinates if they can't understand what they're hearing. It's like explaining color to a blind man. One of the primary responsibilities of a manager is communication. He or she has to be technically savvy enough to not only understand the decisions his direct reports are making, but be able to translate those decisions into the appropriate level of technical detail to the people he or she reports to. And that coin has two sides: a manager must also have enough business savvy to understand the decisions of his superiors and be able to translate them to his direct reports.

          A manager who makes decisions on the say-so of his subordinates without being technically conversant enough to actually understand and explain why it's a good decision, isn't a manager at all: she's a proxy. The same goes for a manager who just tells his reports what to do without understanding why his own managers want him to do it.

        • I work as a software developer on industrial systems where there are a lot of mechanical engineers (I do the touch screen controls and such stuff).

          Sure, the manager is technical but he is a mechanical engineer. Really nice guy. But the end result is just as much chaos.

        • I've had both technical and non-technical managers. In both cases I've had good luck and bad luck.

          This. It seems to me that there's an awful lot of confirmation bias at play in the comments here, when the fact is that many of us can think of counterexamples that disprove the notion that non-technical managers are always a bad idea. Just because a woman cuts you off in traffic, it doesn't mean that women, as a rule, are incompetent drivers, and just because a non-technical boss does a lousy job, it doesn't mean that non-technical folks are bad managers. It could just be that the one person was a lousy dr

      • Re:It's not just IT (Score:5, Informative)

        by Njorthbiatr ( 3776975 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @12:50PM (#50608123)

        You're about half-right.

        A noncertified tech does as you describe, but these people don't touch pills at all.

        A certified technician has to pass an exam. You've got to know more than how to read labels, since they're the ones often filling prescriptions. It's important they know how drugs work, their mechanism for action, the routes of administration, not to mention the test requires you to memorize around 200 of the top drugs used (and all of their properties, naturally). Some pharmacy techs do not even work in a retail pharmacy and will be preparing IV and other kinds of medication in a more laboratory like setting in a hospital (or otherwise).

        It's far from the unskilled labor you're making it out to be. A lot of people even go to school to become a pharmacy tech.

        • by Duckman5 ( 665208 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @01:18PM (#50608271)
          It depends on the state. Neither Ohio or PA required anything back in 2008 (not sure about now). Here in Florida, we just started registering the technicians a few years ago. Prior to that, there were national certifications like the ExCPT [nhanow.com] and the PTCB [ptcb.org] which could help you land a job (and hopefully get payed better) but was NOT required. You literally just had to have a high school diploma and some semblance of competence. Now you either got grandfathered in (with like 1000+ hours) or you complete a board approved training program (which can be completed on the job as long as it's done within 6 months of hire).
          But when I started many years ago as a pharmacy tech, I spent two days in a computer room doing training then I was counting pills and helping patients.
          You are right, however, about IV compounding. In most hospitals it's done by a tech. The FDA has gotten crazy strict about it lately after a lot of mishaps, so now you need to take a lot of training in USP 797 before they will even let you in the clean room.
        • In Australia the people who fill prescriptions are called "Chemists", they're degree qualified and need a license from the state to operate as a pharmacy. They usually know more about the drugs than the doctor does.
          • by dbIII ( 701233 )
            All of the above is correct, but I'll add that while they are called "Chemists" they have a science degree in pharmacy. Typically there are a several counter staff and one or two qualified pharmacists in an area behind them. The counter staff ring up the sales etc.
    • Re:It's not just IT (Score:4, Interesting)

      by creimer ( 824291 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @12:03PM (#50607891) Homepage

      I can only imagine what IT people in a dedicated department must go through trying to justify themselves to 20 layers of management.

      The path of least resistance is to change jobs while still employed. Maybe 20 layers of management can get a clue by the high turnover in the I.T. department. Or maybe not. Great I.T. techs walk in the face of insurmountable B.S., leaving behind the lousy I.T. techs who should be wearing red shirts.

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        Or if the money / benefits are good enough with a lot of layers between upper management and the IT staff, the layers essentially insulate the end-workers from scrutiny and blame and no matter what the upper management calls for, procedures at the bottom do not change in the slightest.

        Scott Adams in one of his Dilbert compilation books wrote of a quality initiative instituted by the upper management of Pacific Bell. By the time it trickled-down to him as an engineer the only change he saw was, "Quality!
        • by creimer ( 824291 )
          With my current government job for a special project, I'm doing remote I.T. work at the regional level, which sits between the national level and local level. The facility I.T. managers were told that they would get a new desktop tech to help reduce the facility workload. Not exactly. The new desktop tech got assigned to remotely fix desktops at the facility and whatever else at the regional level to reduce the regional workload. That pissed off many facility I.T. managers that they tried to get the new des
          • by KGIII ( 973947 )

            So you're saying you don't bathe, wear clean clothing, and are an asshole?

            • by TWX ( 665546 )

              So you're saying you don't bathe, wear clean clothing, and are an asshole?

              I think I work with that guy.

            • by creimer ( 824291 )
              Nope. That was the I.T. intern that they fired. We started work at the same time and the facility I.T. manager got us confused when he called up the contracting agency to complain. I'm still on the job. I smell like roses, dress business causal, and the nicest guy around.
              • We started work at the same time and the facility I.T. manager got us confused when he called up the contracting agency to complain.

                I can just picture it. On Friday, a guy is fired for no apparent reason.

                On Monday, the boss is yelling "What the hell is HE doing here! Call security! Call the police! Call my mom!".

                It's such a ridiculously stupidly unfeasible thing that it must have happened dozens of times. I guess lawyers have done OK out of it.

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )

          A lot of it is perception. Intermediate managers choose what to report up and down the chain, and depending on how they feel about themselves

          One epic failure along those lines that I noticed (from close proximity) was a steelworks where the metric reported was "tons of steel per man-hour" where a "man-hour" was defined as an hour of work by a steelworks employee. Contractors did not count in that metric. Thus large numbers of contractors were employed at once, requiring an attractive offer, blowing out pa

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I have a wonderful manager. I'm lucky. In a company of over 2000 people (full IT company) the turnover isn't that high but it's significant, except for my area and specially my project team. Why? Because of my manager.

        This summer I broke the news to him, that I was planing to move from the company. The first thing he asked was if it was something with him, with the team, if something had happened, if he could work it out. Broke my heart. I told him that it had anything to do with his management or the team,

      • The path of least resistance is to change jobs while still employed.

        If I could mod+ you a million, I would.

    • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

      .. trying to explain security to them is like trying to explain an egg shell to a brick wall.

      Devil's advocate here. Have you considered the possibility that you just plain out suck at being able to explain things in terms that other people will understand?

      The flip side of the non-technical manager stereotype is the nerdy technical genius stereotype who is so embedded in his/her own domain that he can't comprehend why other people can't understand what he/she does, and as a result consider everyone else but him/her to be stupid.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        .. trying to explain security to them is like trying to explain an egg shell to a brick wall.

        Devil's advocate here. Have you considered the possibility that you just plain out suck at being able to explain things in terms that other people will understand?

        He is neither trained nor paid to be a management consultant. Managers are paid humongous salaries not least because they are supposed to put in the work required for making qualified decisions. If they don't have the brains to pick that up on the job by talking to people in their language, they need to acquire that knowledge in courses catering to them. They don't get 10 times the salary of others for rolling dice.

        • He is neither trained nor paid to be a management consultant. Managers are paid humongous salaries not least because they are supposed to put in the work required for making qualified decisions. If they don't have the brains to pick that up on the job by talking to people in their language, they need to acquire that knowledge in courses catering to them. They don't get 10 times the salary of others for rolling dice.

          If you're reporting to someone who gets 10 times the salary you do, either you or your company is fundamentally broken. And if you are incapable of explaining the reasoning behind the decisions you make in your position so that the person you report to can understand it, either you or your manager is seriously challenged in the communications arena. If you're capable, but just unwilling because you can't see past that massive chip on your shoulder, then you need to be replaced by someone who will. Either wa

        • 10 times the salary? Do you report to the CEO or something?

          I'm a manager and am suddenly feeling very underpaid :)

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        Devil's advocate here. Have you considered the possibility that you just plain out suck at being able to explain things in terms that other people will understand?

        Not everything is simple. When something is four steps outside of someone's understanding it can be difficult to explain things in terms that other people will understand and they may not wish to commit the time to do so. Think back to your time as a student and how much time it took for people who were teaching you to build up to some of the mo

    • Serious question here, why does it seem to take so long to put pills into a bottle? Why wouldn't standard doses of standard medicine be pre-packaged at the factory? I really want to know.

      • Exactly. I find that if I go to a big store with an in-store pharmacy here in the UK, say a city centre branch of Boots, I invariably get told to come back for my prescription after $SIGNIFICANT_DELAY. And yet if I go to a small local pharmacy to collect exactly the same product with exactly the same regulatory regime dispensed by people with exactly the same qualifications, they can manage to pick the product off the shelf and get a colleague to check it just fine in exactly the amount of time you'd think

        • I might be cynical, but maybe the small local pharmacy doesn't sell anything else that you might buy on impulse while you have 20 minutes to kill.

          • I don't think that's cynical, just realistic. I'm quite sure that's why they do it, and it's why I have no sympathy with them when they bleat about how terrible it would be for the health and safety of patients if they had to actually do things at a normal speed. For one thing, I don't believe them. For another, screw anyone who tries to play the health and safety card without justification, because there are enough genuine H&S issues worth thinking about and trying to fix that distracting from them by

      • I'm not a pharmacist so I'm just guessing. Part of it might be to lower shipping and storage costs. A whole lot of smaller container take up a lot more room than one larger bottle. Inventory control becomes more complicated since you have to check the expiry date on every container. There's also the expense to the drug manufacturer for the extra packaging. Also not every prescription is given for the same length of time. You might be given an antibiotic for 7 days while I might be given it for 10. Do

      • What your asking about is called "Unit of Use" in the industry and quite a few companies offer them. If they don't and it's a popular drug, other companies called pharmacy repackagers will do it for them. For the most part, I love them. I just grab your drug off the shelf and slap a label on it. No counting, no verifying that the right pill just came out of the open bottle, nothing. Just labeling. That's the easy part, though. The reason it takes so long are the myriad of other distractions: the phone, insu
    • I am not a pharmacist, but I can compare service across many countries.

      I know that at a German or Swiss pharmacy I can get a prescription at a fraction of time compared to USA or Canadian stores.

      • Honestly, as far as the US is concerned, that's probably the result of socialized healthcare. When you only have one insurance company and one formulary to deal with, it's a lot easier for the doctors to write for something that's going to be payed for. And, if they know it won't be payed for, they don't need to wait for the pharmacy to let them know before they start the paperwork for a prior authorization.
        A LOT of what slows down your prescription here in the states is third party rejections. Even if it's
        • I always pay out of pocket including for drugs, not only doctor visits.

          • Right, and that probably speeds up the process for you by a LOT. Like I said, though, it's not just you. Other people's meds can hold up your order. Most systems in retail pharmacy prioritize on a first-come-first-served basis. There are other priorities in there (like if you won't be back until tomorrow or if you just had 4 teeth pulled and you're bleeding on my counter), but there's little manual prioritizing. So when I'm trying to type up your prescription, but I keep getting a reject for someone who's b
    • Why do you need someone who needs to be at least a certified pharmacy technician? I'm not and I can see the need for putting the patient's safety first. Maybe what we need is business leaders that don't put their stock options first. Would you complain if you had someone in upper management come down and learn about what you do? There seems to be a wall dividing management from the workers, upper management especially.

      I think you don't need a technical person to be in upper management but that person ha

    • Yes, it would seem logical that every manager should come up through the ranks in the business they wish to manage. Unfortunately... politics, whaddya gonna do?

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      15 minutes guarantee? I rarely spent more than 5 minutes in a pharmacy from the time I get in to the time I leave with my medicine. And it didn't seem like there was any kind of pressure on the personnel.
      Is it normal in the US to wait for 15 minutes to get your drugs? Maybe it has to do with the "sticker on a bottle and fill it with pills" part? We get our pills in small boxes, no filling nor labelling done by the pharmacist.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        I was wondering the same thing. I once waited about 10 minutes and that was because they had to call several people to get updated information on my patient-card and they apologized for the delay and felt the need to explain. Otherwise, below 5 minutes is standard.

      • 15 minutes guarantee? I rarely spent more than 5 minutes in a pharmacy ...

        I think for a healthy, younger person filling a single prescription for a single medication doesn't take more than a couple of minutes. But when you have older people on multiple medications from multiple doctors, the Pharmacist is the last line of defence in preventing injury or death from incompatible drugs being taken together. In that case, I would want my pharmacist to take an extra few minutes to do a sanity check.

    • by Pikoro ( 844299 )

      About 5 years back I transitioned from IT to a construction site manager / safety officer position. The set of other site supervisors would show up on site, look around, and then file reports because things were not running according to schedule and such. The crews that worked for me loved me as their supervisor. Since I didn't have any experience in doing actual on-site construction, I decided to get out there and grab a shovel, spread asphalt, run a backhoe, drive a dump truck, pour concrete, build fra

    • As someone who is not a pharmacist it's hard to understand why things can't be done more efficiently. What's wrong with the system that this can't happen? As an example my experience in the USA (maybe this has changed) was that a doctor scribbles some illegible prescription which I then had over to a pharmacy and have to wait 20+ mins. In other countries the doctor orders the prescription on the computer. At that point a robot at the pharmacy could give me the prescription. So what's the real problem? Too m

      • Insurance companies have squeezed nearly all the profit out of the pharmacy. So, even for a high volume store a lot of the corporate people are loathe to allow more than one pharmacist to be working at any one time. Pharmacists aren't cheap at around $1/minute. And when you're only making $1-2 per script, that's even more expensive. The problem, though, is that, by law (and for good reason), nearly everything that happens in the pharmacy needs to go through the pharmacist. Best cough med? Only the pharmacis
        • When I was a kid I asked why the doctor doesn't have a medicine shop in his office. I was told the reason for having it go via a second person was so there was a check in case the doctor made an error.

          Can robots do that?

          • Some states allow doctors to give you medication directly (besides those little sample bottles). Those are called dispensing practitioners and they often need another special certification on their license.
            Can a robot do the job of a pharmacist? No more than they can do the job of a doctor. Ever try one of those online diagnosis things? Exactly. It's not just about facts and observations. It's about clinical insight and experience, too. There exist today programs that attempt to stop the errors and they're
  • by Craig Cruden ( 3592465 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @11:52AM (#50607831)
    I see this as a wider problem, not just with managers.

    It is no different than the problem I have seen with many developers/programmers who are unwilling to learn (to the point of fighting it) the business that they are developing software for. Most developers develop software for some business other than for other developers and refusing to educate yourself about the business that you are developing for limits the usefulness of those resources.

    Similarly, Managers managing technical people should learn what they are managing - though they don't necessarily have to worry about the details of it. Of course the smaller the company the more knowledge technically that manager should have since there is less room for specialization.
    • I see this as a wider problem, not just with managers. It is no different than the problem I have seen with many developers/programmers who are unwilling to learn (to the point of fighting it) the business that they are developing software for. Most developers develop software for some business other than for other developers and refusing to educate yourself about the business that you are developing for limits the usefulness of those resources. Similarly, Managers managing technical people should learn what they are managing - though they don't necessarily have to worry about the details of it. Of course the smaller the company the more knowledge technically that manager should have since there is less room for specialization.

      Exactly. It's not about having mangers who are great programmers/admins/etc., rather it is the ability to understand the concepts and thus be able to talk intelligently with their staff and explain what they are doing to more senior leadership. Your point about programmers understanding the business needs of their customers is spot on, although many programmers will decry the need to so do. I recently got involved in yet another iT project, despite my great desire to avoid them at any cost, and after explai

    • Fundamentally, the issue is greater than the hiring decision of one person.

      It really depends on the structure of your organization.
      I'm a developer who really needs to understand the domain of what I'm working in. But that takes a lot of time and effort. Party it is my personality. Partly, it is that I come from a history of small companies.

      Today I work at a bank. While I'm valued for my need to know the domain. The truth it, I don't need to know. They have a BA for this. An architect for that. Separate team

    • That's probably because most businesses are so incredibly boooring that it constantly amazes me that capitalism appears to work to some extent.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @11:56AM (#50607847) Homepage

    The non-technical manager who understands his job is the best, they stay out of the decision-making while getting the necessary high level information they need.
    The technical manager who understands his job is second best, he can get too involved in low level design and decisions but overall he'll make sound decisions and play his part in office politics.
    The technical manager who doesn't understand his job can be a pretty terrible manager of budgets, estimates, schedules, deadlines and that short of thing but at least the results are technically sound. The non-technical manager who doesn't understand his job is absolutely worst. You get management by some silly theory with metrics that don't make sense and estimates that don't exist with the accuracy they want.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      i disagree. a technical manager is in a much better position to manage risks, understand the
      weaknesses and strengths of the team, and ultimately manage budgets, schedules, and
      deadlines bar better than someone who is assigning abstract blobs of work to workers
      they may know personally, but not technically.

      if you're building a shuttle engine, do you trust the testing schedule of someone who
      has built several engines before, or someone who says 'it'll take 4 months, why does it
      need to take longer than 4 months?

    • IMHO, there's room for the first and the second, in a sufficiently large structure. Lorraine Steyn is the owner of a small software company, there isn't much room for a non-technical manager in such a context. In general, at least: some successful companies started with the association of a good manager and a tech genius, but they were usually friends.
    • by Pieroxy ( 222434 )

      A manager with absolutely no knowledge of the field will at best do a good planning and organisational job. Usually, you expect more from a manager, such as leading. I don't believe a manager completely disconnected can do a more than adequate job.

    • IMHO the perfect managment structure would seperate business management and technical managment similar to how power is split between two houses of congress. You would have the business people that should be experts on the market. (As much as can be known). What product or services a company should investigate and what price the market can bear. The technical people of the same status in the company should be give inputs on how much things will cost and how long it would take to meet the deadlines. Executiv

  • by quintessencesluglord ( 652360 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @11:57AM (#50607853)

    Does anyone believe that VW didn't have technical managers? In the end, did it really make a difference?

    I'd also argue requiring manager to come up from the ranks, while helpful in some respects, precludes the idea non-technical managers shouldn't have been attending bootcamps and the like in the first place. I'm expected to keep current in my field. Why should the bar be set so low for management not to learn about the department they are managing from day one?

    That this is even under discussion highlights how utterly worthless most management is.

    And in a even grander scheme of things, it makes me question the very notion of meritocracy. This is not the best and the brightest. This is barnacles on the engine of progress.

    • Does anyone believe that VW didn't have technical managers?

      Corruption exists across discipline. I don't know where the buck stopped at VW (unlikely at the CEO level) but I really doubt it would have changed much whether there were technical or non technical people making this decision at the top.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      Does anyone believe that VW didn't have technical managers? In the end, did it really make a difference?

      Very few governments take emissions standards seriously other than trusting a number from the manufacturer. A policy of deception was seen as very low risk by Falsewagen. Technical versus non-technical managers has nothing to do with it.

  • in a heartbeat. most 'financial managers' i have dealt with want to sell insurance or annuities since they are not legally required (in the US) to have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients.
    • by pla ( 258480 )
      Wrong kind of "financial manager".

      TFA doesn't mean that as some sort of investment advisor, but rather, a manager over an accounting department (or a subspecialty thereof, for a large enough company).

      In fairness, though, I do agree that makes a bad example, because in accounting, you have the skill levels across the corporate food-chain almost entirely inverted from IT - Companies tend to hire unskilled minimum wage people for the "boots on the ground" accounting functions, and trust a handful of people
  • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @11:59AM (#50607871)

    I think the logic is: thanks to the Peter Principle, managers will always be incompetent. So why not just hire incompetent people from the get-go?

    • Just because a manager was not able to get promoted to a director does not mean that she cannot be a good manager.

      By your logic, anyone working as a programmer for more than a couple of years has to be a moron.

    • It takes time to rise to your level of incompetence.

      That is why the older an organization is the more of it's leadership is incompetent.

      In other words, you just have to burn it down every decade or two. Biggest problem with government is no regular burn downs of the bureaucracy.

  • I dislike over generalizations, and while i agree with the theme of the article, this is my objection.

    Take the flip side. If you have a programmer developing software in a business area that she or he has no prior training or formal education in or kniwledge of, would you consider that programmer to be useless and worthless?

    I suspect the true answer lies somewhere in between, and is also subjective. In a given project team, the effectiveness of an individual (manager or otherwise) is dependant on how well t

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Take the flip side. If you have a programmer developing software in a business area that she or he has no prior training or formal education in or kniwledge of, would you consider that programmer to be useless and worthless?

      For the task in hand, yes, that is a fair description. Even worse, he or she is quite likely to be a liability, because their lack of domain knowledge means that they could (with a very high degree of programming competence) implement entirely the wrong thing, creating a perfectly worki

  • think about whether you would appoint a non-financial manager to handle your money'

    Management is about cost, schedule, and sales. The person in charge who understands the technical end is called an architect, not a manager.

  • by Corporate T00l ( 244210 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @12:23PM (#50607969) Journal

    I think we need to be more precise about the terms used when describing "manager". To a large extent, financial managers or portfolio managers don't manage people, they manage the finance or portfolio. Somehow, in the IT industry, we've developed a different terminology around the term "manager", where IT managers are people who manage IT "workers" rather than managing IT itself.

    If we go all the way up to CIOs and CFOs, we see a similarity in usage. A non-financial CFO would be kind of a joke, a non-IT CIO would be the same. However, these "C" suite officers don't necessarily then have the entirety of IT or finance reporting into them. Sometimes they only manage small teams to provide "guidance" and "leadership" and the bulk of the workers report up to a COO or CEO.

    I think across all industries, you do have conflicting notions as to whether people managers should be more skilled in the task that their people are doing, or more skilled in managing people and organizations. These are different types of specialty skills and while it would be great to want all managers to have it all, there are availability constraints that would make it difficult to source omniscient intellect for every position.

  • Most managerial material are practically incompetent. What they are good at is taking credit for other peoples work, manipulating people and projecting a general air of infallibility. That's why they're managers and you aren't.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I worked at a company where the promotion path was from IT engineering positions to managers.

    That gave us micromanagement, "I'm the boss and i did your job so i am always right", and zero soft skills.

    I left, technical managers make a workplace toxic.

  • ... and neither should anybody else.

    Managers don't need to now tech beyond basic principal levels.
    They just should do their job properly, which actually does include just freaking come to me when there's a techical issue at hand or a deal with technical details to sign or the technical part of a project that needs evaluating. And all that has nothing to do wether a maneging position is techie or not, it has to do wether the manager is a good one or a bad one.
    If management sells something to the customer that tech can't deliver within the set parameters and managers havn't ask tech before, then they've screwed up and aren't worth the salary they're raking in.

    I don't care wether my boss can do PHP, MySQL or Linux CLI. I can show him some good parts whenever those may be useful, but heaven forbid that he wastes his time with PHP LDAP or some strange MySQL bug or something else. That's my frickin job! I'm the one doing those extra hours to make it work - he's supposed to put in those extra hours to get a hold of new customers and sell them gigs ... and *then* ask me how the margins are and what hours we have to expect to put into the project.

    My 2 cents.

    • Unfortunately when you try to explain WHY I'm the one doing those extra hours it'll take 2 more hours of explaining to a nontechie.

    • I think a manager needs to understand enough of the technology to make good decisions, and to know if their employees are technically competent.

      I manage a small RF group. We recently had to decide on doing and I/Q or DDC based system for a high channel count receiver. I feel that I need to know enough about both of those to understand the trade-offs. Since this is an unusual application; a sensor system, not a data system, its important to know if the most commonly used solution for most applications applie

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Boy are you confused. Managers aren't supposed to "get a hold of new customers and sell them gigs". That is what sales people (and sales engineers) are supposed to do. Managers are supposed to manage their team. If they are managing a technical team, and aren't grounded in technology then they can't be effective. It is like a architect who knows nothing about the construction process.

    • by rastos1 ( 601318 )
      How about a manager who has no idea why data redundancy in database for no good reason is a bad thing? Or management that insists on having 3k configuration options with 5 levels of overriding?
  • ...but that's the one that gets hired.

    Proving yet again: Don't you just hate using the subject line as part of anything?

  • Sure, sure, another article about how the technicians know better than the managers. Half the time the conclusion is "Doggone it they should let US run the company!" whereas this one falls in the other half, namely "Those guys would run the company so much better if they just understood us!"

    Bit of hubris there. People need to be aware of the limitations of their knowledge. The Dunning-Kruger effect is in full force, both for a manager looking at technical tasks, AND for a technician looking at management

  • A manager does not need technical knowledge, but what he does need is the correct team and the correct management style to use that team effectively.

    i.e. If you're not a technical manager and you try to micro-manage, you will fail. If you have more than one overarching job or more than one technical discipline and you try to micro-manage, you will fail. If you don't have trust in the capabilities of your team to do the work then you either need a new team or need to train them to the appropriate level. At n

  • by Kokuyo ( 549451 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @01:55PM (#50608415) Journal

    As others have mentioned, whether a manager is technically inclined or not doesn't have all that much impact on whether he's good.

    As a German psychologist and management trainer once said, most people either have people skills or organizational/technical skills. A good manager/boss needs both. And guess what, only about 10% of the population have an affinity for both.

    This basically means that for every nine employees, you can have only one manager! And since you usually have more than one layer of management, you need beyond nine people per lowest management body to make that cut. I don't know about the US but in Switzerland, we sometimes designate a teamleader to a two man team.

    There are just not enough competent people in existence to fill that many management roles. Simple as that. Simplify management structures. Use only those managers who actually can manage and weed out the donkey droppings. But seeing as, obviously, 50% of people are below average and some of those suck massively, that's going to be hard.

  • Here is a technical specification written by a schoolboy for further development by the engineering team. The genius is in the response from the developers.

    http://www.lettersofnote.com/2... [lettersofnote.com]

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Sunday September 27, 2015 @02:09PM (#50608519)
    to protect me from other non-technical managers so I can get work done. It's just the way things are and they way people are. I need someone watching out for me and my departments well being (and the well being of the company as a whole). That's a full time and surprisingly difficult job. It'd be nice if it wasn't. It would also be nice if we lived in a Star Trek style socialist Utopia. We don't.
  • When I attempted to skip the mandatory ad, I got redirected to a porn site.

    So memeburn has either been pwned, or it's just not a very reputable site.

  • There are good and bad managers. Good manager would know something about the area where s/he manages - how else can they do what they are supposed to. Their view and tasks are different from the crew at the floor. The same is true for the requirements on their skillset.
  • Personally, I have had more crap managers who were actually brilliant technical people with no management skills than good managers.
    If a person has good management skills but no technical ability, they will still be a much better manager than a technical person who is promoted to management because the company "wants to reward their loyalty/performance".
    Sadly, I have also met a lot of managers who were crap managers and who also had no technical knowledge. But in almost all cases, the bad managers were good

  • At one place of employment, we got a new manager who had a technical background. He took rather too much interest in our day-to-day details. Didn't like the CMS we were using, didn't like the language we were using, etc. Primary reason for the dislike was that they weren't technologies he was familiar with. He did eventually back off, but there was a lot of stress for a while. There are always tradeoffs.
  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Monday September 28, 2015 @12:39AM (#50611011)

    It's too bad this reply is going to get buried, but this hits pretty close to home. I work for a medium size multinational in an engineering/architecture capacity. Everyone within our division works very well together, and the problems only happen when things move outside that boundary. Especially at the first level of management, where you interface with individual contributors, knowing the job is essential. I've been on both sides of the fence as both a manager of a few junior engineers and the lead architect for our team. I've also had experience with horrible managers that have had no clue what happens on a daily basis, yet they have the MBAs and the power to make multimillion dollar decisions.

    If your boss doesn't know at least in broad strokes what you do, you're bound to have a bad experience. When your boss has done your job in the past or is doing a share of the team's work, they will be able to talk intelligently with both their reports and their managers, and be the "group champion" that is needed at the first layer of management. Bosses who don't know anything about the work are the ones that agree to unrealistic deadlines or dumb design decisions, and whip their subordinates to get what they want done.

    Nontechnical bosses drive technical people nuts. Remember I said everyone in our division works fine together? The next layer up from that in our company might as well be political appointees for all they know about the actual work performed. Unfortunately for everyone below, this is the level where key decisions are made, like offshoring vs. in-house development, hiring permatemps vs. FTEs, etc. Stuff that looks good in MBA-land and on spreadsheets, but doesn't work out in the real world. This is why the management consulting firms target the upper-middle management layer -- none of them have a clue about anything and need consultants to back decisions that they should have just asked their lower-level managers about.

  • I can't count the number of times I've been handed deadlines or requirements by managers / directors who have absolutely no clue about software development. The first thing you always do is to read the requirements, this in 99.999% of all cases cause them to be thrown back across the table because they're lacking anything actual requirements, the second thing you do is to throw out the deadline and set your own.

    My rule is that the software will take how ever long it will take and that's it. It's the sam
  • WHAT you know is useful just to clear the Interview stage; Rest of your career depends on WHO you know.

Do you suffer painful recrimination? -- Nancy Boxer, "Structured Programming with Come-froms"

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