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Bollocks

The Tosser has misunderstood what was said:

In an email sent just before Thanksgiving, Musk told employees that “all managers are expected to write a meaningful amount of software themselves” and equated one’s inability to code as an engineering manager to not being able to ride a horse as a cavalry captain. Musk’s point is salient, and one I’ve made before: Managers need to be able to do the same work as those they are managing.

Managers have become alarmingly distanced from the average worker, making calls based on guesses that aren’t informed by actual labor. This frustrating separation has poisoned most of modern management, creating a class system within organizations where a bloated sect of detached traffic cops extract labor without participating in or properly valuing it.

The next level up of the line management needs to be able to do it, yes. But note that Musk said “engineering” managers and code. There’s no reason that those who manage engineering managers need to be able to code. There’s good reason for a welding manager to be able to weld – but the guy who manages welding managers doesn’t need to be able to.

20 thoughts on “Bollocks”

  1. ” There’s no reason that those who manage engineering managers need to be able to code. ”

    Wrong. The idea that ‘management’ is a skill completely separate from whatever process is being managed is the lie sold by all those MBA twats. You end up with some sharp suited ‘manager’ who hasn’t got a f*cking clue about what goes on on the factory floor, comes in with all their ‘management techniques’ and generally f*cks everything up. See Boeing.

  2. Even at higher levels, there can be benefits…
    In many ways, managing a large computer programming project is like managing any other large undertaking – in more ways than most programmers believe. But in other ways it is different – in more ways than most professional managers expect.
    … opening paragraph of The Mythical Man-Month by Fred Brooks.

    If there is a well known classic on management specific to an industry, then any manager in that industry who has failed to read it is plain unprofessional.

    I think the odds are that Musk has read TMMM.

  3. @Jim “You end up with some sharp suited ‘manager’ who hasn’t got a f*cking clue about what goes on on the factory floor, comes in with all their ‘management techniques’ and generally f*cks everything up.”

    Don’t worry about the snafu, there’ll be a PRINCE qualified manager appointed to f*ck it up some more.

  4. You’re both rather missing the point I was making. The tosser is not Musk, it’s the guy commenting upon him. He’s missed the subtlety of what Musk was saying. Line managers do need to know, those at higher levels of abstraction not so much. Musk said “engineering”. This guy has taken it to mean any manager.

  5. It was rare enough to have first level management who’d got coding experience, managers managers? Unicorn! Even then it didn’t stop nonsensical decisions being pushed down the chain to the minions…

  6. Works the other way around, sometimes. I’ve seen two very good teachers promoted to head teacher on the back of their teaching skills and frankly make an absolute Horlicks of the job. In one case costing the school a very expensive legal settlement. Just because you’re a good welder doesn’t make you a good welding manager.

  7. “There’s no reason that those who manage engineering managers need to be able to code.”

    Modern engineering requires being able to at least understand how to code, the underlying electronics, structure , logic, and (im)possibilities. And who to nab to do the actual keyboard fondling, and how to explain what it exactly is you want done.

    At a certain level other competencies come into play. Dealing with humans, which we Nerds are notoriously ill suited for. Budgets. Sales Managers.. ( urgh!). Stuff.
    But the basic requirement of management at any level in any technical field is that you know the technology you’re working with.
    Because else you’re a Manager without a Clue. Like the famed, exchangeable, and oft-defenestrated examples in the BOFH stories. And those are a stereotypical meme for a damn good reason.

    So Musk is completely right in his stance. And as touched on above.. No doubt he is also very familiar with Simon’s stories…

  8. D.D.Harriman didn’t know how to build a moon rocket. He even didn’t know how to recruit people who knew how to build a moon rocket. But he did know how to recruit people who knew how to recruit people who knew how to build a moon rocket. And that’s the whole point of both Fred Brooks and the section Fred quoted as an example of management structures.

    * Sorry boss, I just fell asleep, I’ve just got so much paperwork to deal with.
    * I’ve got you Bob as your admin manager, he’s your slave, he will do all the grunt work of your paperwork, you just manage Bob and review his management of the engineering team. Also, I’m getting you a couch for your office. If ever you feel too tired, just lock the door and have a nap. Now, get on with building me a rocket!

  9. There is a reason for a hierarchy to exist.

    The folks who make decisions are beholden to the folks who inform them. The best decision makers understand the limits of the info before them…doesn’t mean for a second that they know how to process an expense claim. What fuckwit expects the £200k Exec to be competent at the £25k processing task?

    And that is by no means disrespectful to the processing folks – that’s a needed skill.

  10. “Wrong. The idea that ‘management’ is a skill completely separate from whatever process is being managed is the lie sold by all those MBA twats. ”

    That’s not the same thing as managers not knowing how to code.

    You’ve shifted up one level in the product. You aren’t asking down at the specification of the code, you’re at the level of the specification of requirements for the software. You need a broad idea about what computers are capable of, and whether software managers are bullshitting you, and who is sound, but that’s about your limit.

    Like I had to get a company to make some changes to an iPad app. I don’t do iPad development. I have a general idea about iPads, how to develop it, how the app store works. I know enough to know if my requirements are feasible and a vague idea of whether a supplier is bullshitting me.

  11. ” I know enough to know if my requirements are feasible and a vague idea of whether a supplier is bullshitting me.”

    Hence my point. Managers who know SFA about the basics of the product they are supposed to be managing the production of are flying blind. They have no idea who is feeding them BS.

    There is a common idea that ‘management skills’ are applicable to any process. Its why we see the same old names doing the rounds of senior corporate, Quango and civil service jobs – they think because they have ‘management skills’ they can manage anything. When in reality they can manage FA.

    Take the Royal Mail scandal. A CEO who knew something about IT might have nipped it in the bud. Instead the whole thing trundled ever forward into catastrophe, because the big boss didn’t have clue whether those underneath her were full of BS or not.

  12. It’s not that “management skills are applicable to any process”, it’s that competent managers don’t necessarily need to be able to actually carry out every task performed by their staff.

  13. There is a good argument that this awareness should go in both directions. That the managed should have an idea of what’s involved in management. Because they’ll then be more effective to manage. Any oganisation shouldn’t be distinct strata. It should be fuzzy.

  14. A manager doesn’t need to be able to do the job of the people he’s managing, let alone be expert in it. But he does need to know how the job is done, how long it should take, what FUs can be avoided or not… It’s juggling time, money, quality, people, emergency works when the shit hits the fan, the customer complains about something that was never in the spec, etc, etc.
    That’s just a good manager. Most firms get away with worse. The supermanager will develop and motivate his team so well that he can install a four poster bed in his office and all will be well. As a bonus he has made all the HR girls, most of the QC dept, external consultants and the rest of the hangers on redundant.
    (BTW, I don’t for a minute believe Musk’s propaganda about only needing three hours sleep a night. Unless he makes up for it in the day.)

  15. This is why startups are a completely different environment from an established company. There tends to be minimal bureaucracy and a flat heirarchy, where everyone knows their place and their purpose.
    After time you end up like Twitter, with multiple thousands of employees who do essentially nothing, and a cadre of managers so out of touch that they forget what their purpose is. See also NHS et al.

  16. “Managers who know SFA about the basics of the product they are supposed to be managing the production of are flying blind. They have no idea who is feeding them BS”

    Having worked for the GPO/British Telecom/BT I’ve seen both sides – from engineers with no managerial skills to managers with no engineering knowledge. In my later years I used to get some satisfaction by putting senior managers on the spot. I even asked one why he didn’t know about the subject I was raising, and when he couldn’t answer I told him it was because someone between us was more concerned about his pension than telling the truth (or words to that effect). After they started advertising for “Trainee field managers – No experience necessary” I could see the writing on the wall. When a carrot was dangled in front of me I took it…

  17. Jim,

    “There is a common idea that ‘management skills’ are applicable to any process. Its why we see the same old names doing the rounds of senior corporate, Quango and civil service jobs – they think because they have ‘management skills’ they can manage anything. When in reality they can manage FA.

    Take the Royal Mail scandal. A CEO who knew something about IT might have nipped it in the bud. Instead the whole thing trundled ever forward into catastrophe, because the big boss didn’t have clue whether those underneath her were full of BS or not.”

    I find the Royal Mail scandal troubling, because I worked for a building society that had to do the whole thing of branches being unable to connect, did a transaction already get sent or not etc. I think they implemented it in the mid-80s. In many ways the cause of their problems weren’t just not understanding IT, but also not having good audit/control. They generally had a situation of the branches not matching head office. Which would be considered as a cardinal sin where I worked, Finance department going to IT and half a dozen people working on finding the discrepancy, working on it until it was worked out.

    But it matches your point. I do IT work for lots of different companies and I often think about their general culture. Like building societies are very much about audit and control. It’s a real slog to deliver software in them because there’s like a gazillion checks. They look after other people’s money and that’s a serious thing. l’Oreal, where Vennells works isn’t. It’s about conning gullible women that some sciencey-sounding shampoo is going to make them hotter. And she worked at Dixons, who were like timeshare salesmen but for electronics. And these things take skills, a certain mindset, but it’s different skills and mindset to running a post office or a drug testing company.

  18. As a bonus he has made all the HR girls, most of the QC dept, external consultants and the rest of the hangers on redundant.

    Sound like philip has read “Up the Organization” (Bob Townsend), another must-read management text (and I bet Elon has read it, too).

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