Thursday, April 9, 2015

How To: Develop Good Managers

"people don’t quit companies—they quit managers" - Chris Loux
In my anecdotal experience, the above is often true.

Technically, I want the freedom to determine the best solution to a problem, even the freedom to figure out what the problem actually is. But career-wise, I want a manager who cares about my development and helps me identify and achieve my goals. If those aren't happening? I'm probably going to have a wandering eye, looking for better opportunities.

It's long been a quest of mine to figure out what a great manager looks like. I don't know if I want to be a manager yet, but I have pretty strong feelings about how I want people who manage me to behave.

While on that quest, I recently (re-)discovered a 2013 report by HBR on how Google researched and analyzed management to make Google a place top notch engineers want to work. I think the key takeaways are their top 8 behaviors of good managers:
A good manager:
1. Is a good coach
2. Empowers the team and does not micromanage
3. Expresses interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being
4. Is productive and results-oriented
5. Is a good communicator—listens and shares information
6. Helps with career development
7. Has a clear vision and strategy for the team
8. Has key technical skills that help him or her advise the team
The other key takeaway is that in order to make sure managers knew what they needed to improve on they instituted a regular "Upward Feedback Survey" that would allow reports to provide numeric feedback about their managers in those 8 key areas. That feedback was then aggregated and reported back to each manager, so that they could improve.

Plus, this feedback loop was outside of the normal performance reviews. It was confidential and allowed managers to improve themselves. It's a development tool, not a performance metric.

Then on top of that Google provided optional management training courses, for managers to improve in the areas their feedback suggested.

It's really that simple.
  1. Create a feedback loop
  2. Analyze and report the metrics
  3. Allow people to improve on personal areas of weakness without threat to their job
People want to improve. If they don't, you hired the wrong people.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

TDD Is a Tool, Not a Religion

Catching Up

The internet is abuzz since DHH's blog post: TDD is Dead.
There have been many responses, including many by Bob Martin.

Breaking News

The latest new entry to the saga is a video conversation on YouTube where DHH, Martin Fowler and Kent Beck discuss the virtues and pains of test driven development. Definitely worth watching.

Subjective Summary

  1. TDD scratches an itch. It's one way to make you feel good about your work, confident that it works as intended, every step of the way. 
  2. TDD does not work well for all problems, like when the output is unknown or unquantifiable.
  3. Self-testing code (programmatic & repeatable) is highly desirable, but TDD is not the only way to get there.
  4. Heavy use of reflective mocking can tightly couple tests to implementations, counteracting one of the primary reasons to have tests: to enable refactoring. (Bob Martin has some thoughts on when and how to mock.)
  5. Programming has many trade offs (testability, maintainability, usability, speed, etc.), and it is important to keep them all in perspective, re-prioritizing as needed, without becoming myopic.


Just because writing unit tests and making them pass is easier and provides faster feedback than end-to-end tests doesn't mean unit testing is more important. It's critical that good unit design doesn't come at the cost of good system design.

I'll leave you with my favorite list of Object Oriented Design Principles. As with most sets of goals, it's impossible to satisfy them all all the time, but it's important to keep them all in mind, and know when to apply them.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Capitalism + Socialism = America 2.0

Anthony Bourdain wrote a nice perspective piece on gun culture in America. It made me think.

Guns may not be a part of your culture, they're not part of mine, but they're definitely part of America's culture, past present and future. They are definitely deadly weapons, but so are cars. Neither are going away anytime soon.

Guns may not be what congress is fighting over today, but different cultures are definitely clashing. Do we individually pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps or do we collectively pull each other up? Do you spend your hard earned money to help some stranger you don't even know? Are people in need fellow humans down on their luck or mooching free loaders? That's what the fight is over.

If you're the mathematical type you might even recognize both issues from game theory, the study of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers. We could jest about congressional intelligence and rationality, but lets not miss the wide ranging implications. Eight game-theorists have won the Nobel prize, including John Nash for his idea of Nash equilibrium, the idea that the optimal solution for multiple competing game players is not just to play your own strategy but to adapt your strategy to the strategies of your competitors. If you ignore everyone else's priorities and goals and strategies you will lose.

I've applied this to corporate politics already, but it also applies to national politics. Granted, there are many complexities, like Bayes-Nash equilibrium, differing belief systems, random chance, incomplete information, risk avoidance or corruption. The core concept is still intuitive enough to apply (obviously the details are non-trivial). In general tho, we can't just think of ourselves and we can't just think of the collective. We need to think about what's best for us AND our community, me AND my neighbor, the state AND the country.

Our constitution may be a great document, but it's woefully lacking in these kinds of mixed-strategy incentives. It relies primarily on checks and balances, a strategy for combating the aggregation of power, but checks and balances are mostly disincentives, not incentives to do the right thing. Our constitution is great at stopping any one person or branch of government from becoming too powerful, but it's pretty terrible at motivating optimal behavior or continual improvement. What feedback loop is there to motivate your congressional representative to think about what's best for the country? If they please their constituents they get elected again, but where's the motivation to come to the table and do what's best for the other 99%+ of the people in the country? Instead of multiple incentives and enlightened thinking we have a government run on head butting competition that enables and glorifies pure selfish greed.

"Screw you, got mine" selfishness is poison the same way utopianaltruism is. Cooperation is nothing without a little self-interest, but too much self-interest unbalances the system so that everyone loses. Romanticized Capitalism is just as flawed as utopian Socialism. It's time for a new -ism; one where we think about us AND them.