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A slightly silly history of leading programmers – Part 1

Long, long ago in a place far, far away the Managers told people what to do. This seemed perfectly natural because the Managers were smarter and knew more than the Workers. Few Workers contested this, having been trained since infants by the “domestic managers” (aka ‘parents’), at school by the “classroom managers” (aka ‘Teachers’), and through various kinds of low-wage jobs (aka ‘Taco Bell Managers’.) Though Managers went through similar conditioning when they become managers these ideas were quickly replaced with a sense that they were the “cream of the crop” and had “risen above” the average worker.

In time, those who occupied the highest levels of companies decided they needed to call themselves by a different name, to show they were superior to the managers. They chose for themselves the term “Executives”, which used the root word “execute”, a particularly violent form of killing. This word was not chosen by accident and helped to strike appropriate fear into the hearts of Managers and Workers alike.

(Of course, some Workers needed to feel superior to someone, so management invented titles for the least important Workers: “intern” (another word for military prisoner), “trainee” (a novice in training), and the ever-popular “junior” (synonym for younger or smaller) were common choices. This allowed Workers without these titles to feel good, even though they still weren’t cut out to be Managers. But I digress.)

When Managers graduated out of the ranks of Workers they were provided training about how to arrange people, measure performance, correct behavior, and fire people. Many managers were surprised they received training, assuming that knowing how to do these was innate, not learned. New managers suspected that they weren’t so different from Workers and that anyone could learn to be a manager. The smart ones kept their mouth shut, lest they appear less managerial.

New Managers quickly figured out they must adopt two distinct stances to be successful, often at the same time. This required a bit of contorting at times. In front of their team, they adopted a “we’re all the same here” stance, so people would like them. This made their team feel like they were “one of the gang.”

But with their boss, the Managers adopted a “we’re different from the workers” stance, so their boss would feel they were cut-out for the job. If one was not seen as cut-out for being a Manager, they could expect to be demoted or fired, or in some weird instances, promoted to be an Executive. The rules were unclear but generally risky.

It was stressful to dance between these two stances but necessary for survival. Abandoning either stance or forgetting which one to use put the Manager at great risk.

In time, some of these Mangers continued up through the ranks, finding the “we’re all the same” stance with the Workers was no longer needed, since they only associated with Managers now. This was a relief because all that contorting, dancing, and posing was exhausting. Managers could focus on their “we’re different from the workers” stance, as long as they remembered that they were also different from the Executives.

For hundreds of years, this system continued: Managers knew best, Workers did as they were told, and everyone feared the Executives.

But then, something changed. Computers entered the scene, throwing everything into chaos…

Part 2, tomorrow. 🙂

Best,

Marcus

About Marcus Blankenship

Where other technical coaches focus on process or tools, I focus on the human aspects of your Programmer to Manager transition. I help you hire the right people, create the right culture, and setup the right process which achieves your goals. Managing your team isn't something you learned in college. In fact, my clients often tell me "I never prepared for this role, I always focused on doing the work". If you're ready to improve your leadership, process and team, find out how I can help you.

1 Comment

  1. Jessica Erasmus on April 10, 2019 at 12:30 am

    What a fun read! Waiting for part 2… 😉

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