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Getting Real about Managing up



Kellan Elliott-McCrea talks about what to do when "put your head down and do your work" isn't getting the results we want.


Kellan Elliott-McCrea built and led Etsy's engineering organization as CTO for 5 years up through the IPO. He spent 5 years scaling Flickr while navigating the bureaucracies of Yahoo. He led Engineering, Product, and Design at Blink Health. He consults on and teaches engineering leadership for startups.

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Elliot-McCrea: Today we're going to talk about a couple of things. We're going to talk about who I am, why we're talking about managing up at a technology conference, the basics of managing up, some advanced techniques, some things that don't work.

My name is Kellan Elliot-McCrea. I tend to manage large groups of engineers. Cards on the table, I am the person you are managing up to. Five years running the team at Etsy, five years running a team at Flickr through the acquisition. A couple of startups, I've been known to manage product and design. If things are really grim, I might manage HR. That's a little bit about who I am. I also do a fair amount of coaching and advising. I've worked with 30 different startups over the last few years. This talk draws on both of those experiences. When Jean asked me, "Hey, do you want to do a talk on non-technical skills for technical folks?" I said, "Yes, I know exactly what I want to talk about."

Managing up in Tech

Why are we talking about managing up in tech? You all came, so I'm going to believe that you have some interest in this topic, but I don't want to assume too much. You might just be here taking a break, using the Wi-Fi. Roi [Ben-Yehuda] is going to be speaking next, better ask him better questions. I've done some coaching with Roi [Ben-Yehuda], that will be a killer talk. If for no other reason, you should stick around for that talk. My theory about managing up in tech is a little bit like my theory about engineering management in general. It is a distinct discipline, it has a different set of skills in managing generic humans. Managing up in technical organizations has a different set of characteristics than what you're going to learn from the million articles that you can find on the web about managing up.

There are three key contributors to that distinct characteristic. Modern software development is deeply entangled. The myth of the apolitical engineer, and the growing expectation engineering manager skill gap. Modern software development is deeply entangled. Yes, it's complex, it's fast moving, it's high paced. There's a lot of experimentation, we have small cross-functional teams, we're building on deep abstractions that are moving underneath us. The days of, put your headphones on, code for six months, throw it over the wall to the release manager, which, by the way, were not the good old days, I promise you, those are long gone. Modern software development is incredibly complex, and that means you need to be good at collaboration, good at communication, good at coordination, planning, prioritization, focus - management skills. It's one of the reasons we're talking about it at a technology conference. It's key to building software today.

The other thing is the myth of the apolitical engineer, this is the thing that we do to ourselves. She's talking about Jean a little bit before the talk, "Yes, this whole track is a little bit about things you were supposed to have learned in kindergarten." The fact of the matter is, you did learn all of this in kindergarten and then you spent the rest of your career being told that you didn't actually have to know it. Again, this is going back to, "We're just hyper rational beings here. I don't want to engage in politics, I just want to be allowed to do my work. Let the work speak for itself, let the data speak for itself. This technology is clearly superior. Why are we even having this conversation? I'll just build a prototype to prove the point."

Good news, bad news - bad news first. This is not how groups of humans make decisions, sorry. The good news is, if any of these tactics have ever worked for you, and for many of us they have, you've experienced competent management. You had a manager who was out there breaking ground for you, so good on you.

The third key contributing factor: we have a growing gap in our expectations of management skill and how many good managers we have available. Again, this is a good news, bad news situation. The good news is, we have more talented engineering leaders than we've ever had. We've figured out a few things about managing software development teams, there are a few good books on the topic. We're investing in training, conferences like this one are actually putting some focus on these skills.

The bad news - the demand's never been higher. There are more teams, there's more need for management skills on software development teams. Frankly, our expectations that work should be a place that is both well-run and fulfilling are going up over time. I don't know what we can do about that, I think we should try to bring that bar down again. Whatever it is, our need for management is going up. We have a problem, it's going up much faster than our available supply. We've come up with a solution as an industry, or at least there's a trend as an industry – influence-based leadership.

Influence-Based Leadership

If you've spent any of the last few years hanging around career ladders or promotion committees - who doesn't do that for fun? - you've heard a phrase like influence-based leadership. Influence-based leadership is leading without authority, mentoring and coaching, all of these great sorts of words that you might have heard, they tend to be highly correlated with senior ICs. How many people are managers versus ICs in the audience? Yes, managers. For the rest of you, you're ICs, that's management speak for you don't manage. It stands for individual contributor.

What does influenced-based leadership mean? It's a trap. It means, I, as your manager, am totally overwhelmed by the accelerating demands of my job, and I'm going to shift some of that load to you. You're welcome, you've been deputized. Good news, it means I'm giving you some control over your destiny. This is good news, right? This is totally what you’ve got into doing this work. That's the context that I want to talk about managing up at a tech conference, that the real story is to be a senior contributor, to do great work in tech, you have to take on some of these management responsibilities. Good news, you probably don't need to do one-on-ones, though you might, or you probably don't need to work on compensation conversations, though you might. You almost certainly don't need to fire anybody. That's the line.

In that context, what we mean by managing up is making it easier for your manager to support you in doing great work. That's our definition of managing up. There are other definitions of managing up out there, but for our context in tech, that's what I'm talking about. Your manager is overwhelmed and stretched to the limit and barely coping, and you're going to make that a little bit better so you can get back to doing your work. That's our conversation today. The basics is we're going to talk about four skills: getting curious, understanding your manager and their job, building a positive relationship, and making your manager look good.

Get Curious

First, get curious. This is your core foundational skill for managing up, also managing down, managing sideways, managing backwards. Another word for it is asking questions, but being sincere in those questions. One of the things that I encounter a lot, both as a leader and as a coach, "That jerk committed to a new deadline again without talking to me. Why are they doing that?" "They're talking about how the new architecture is going to solve our performance problems and we're not even focused on performance in this release. Why are they doing that?" My answer in almost all of those cases is, "What did they say when you ask them that question?"

Surprise, people have never actually asked the person in question. They just want me to read their mind somehow. I can read their mind, but I choose to make it a teaching moment instead. I say, "You should go ask them that question." - no, obviously I can't read their mind. Curiosity is a really powerful tool for two reasons, some of which may not be obvious. The first really powerful tool that curiosity brings to bear, the effect that it changes in the world, as it is relevant to managing up is, curiosity says, "I care about you, I care about your opinions. I want you to succeed, I want you to be successful." There's also a small chance that you might learn something you didn't know. Really, we're doing it for that first thing: "I care about you." Managing up, get curious.

Understanding Your Manager and Their Job

Understanding your manager and their job - the single most important thing to know about your manager is that they are not thinking about you. Science has showed us that humans spend about 85% to 90% of the time thinking about themselves, understanding the world in relationship to their emotions, their actions. That leaves about 10% left over and at least half of that is thinking about their boss. You're getting a very narrow time slice here. We're going to come back to this a lot, because this is really one of the core insights when you think about managing up, and shifting load, and creating an environment where you will be able to more successfully do work.

There is great news though. When I piss you off, you should know it's not personal because I'm not even thinking about you - I’m just saying. One example of how this plays out is thinking about your manager's different perception of time. This is a typical manager schedule, I particularly like the no-meeting Wednesday there in the middle. It's a concrete example of the asymmetry that we're experiencing. As a manager, I'm split between a lot of different people and a lot of different things and I'm thinking about different things. Two weeks ago, you asked me for help on a hard problem. You know what? It's two weeks later, and that's our one-on-one, you're, "What is the deal? You told me to bring you problems, I brought you problems an eternity ago and you have done nothing." I'm, "What? I've thought about this twice for 15 minutes in the last two weeks. I don't know what you're talking about. Why are you so impatient?" These sorts of asymmetries show up in the relationship all the time. That's just probably one of the most concrete, but it's a thing to really be thinking about as you approach this work.

Questions Regarding Your Manager

Let's dig into understanding your manager's job. First, what exactly is their job? If you've never done their job, I actually really recommend getting a book on it, like Camille Fournier's, "The Managers Path." It's a great book, it takes you through the ”I have a manager,” to “I am CTO” and that kind of whole arc. It's a good cheat sheet for understanding what your boss is actually supposed to be doing with their day, whether or not they're doing it.

What do they value? Again, managers are humans, it comes as a surprise sometimes. They value different things; some of them really value technology, some of them really value product, some of them really value the business, learning. I really like operational excellence, I tend to give a little extra energy and focus for people who frame their problems in that phrase for me. Learning what your manager values can be really important for communicating with them. As distinct from what they value, how are they being evaluated? Does your organization have goals? Does your organization care what its goals are? Are they actually being held to those? Are they being held to something else? Are they being evaluated on success in hiring, or success in shipping new features, or meeting the OKRs, or saying yes to the CEO? There are a lot of different ways someone can be evaluated, and understanding how your manager is being evaluated is a really key piece of building that relationship.

Then, finally, what are they particularly good at? Again, everyone's good at different things. Maybe they're good at organizational politics, maybe they're good at running meetings, or getting you promoted, or thinking through architectural roadmaps, or whatever it is. Really start to understand what are the things that you should go to your manager for help on and what are the things that maybe you should go to somebody else for help on. Because they exist.

Finally, don't be surprised if your manager doesn't actually know the answers to any of these questions, because if this stuff was easy, they'd already be doing it. That was understand your manager and their job. The most important takeaway was, they're not thinking about you.

Establish a Positive Relationship

Second, establish a positive relationship. You're getting to know them, you want to keep this conversation mostly constructive. In particular, in the beginning, keep it actionable. We are a new relationship here; you're going to bring your challenges and problems and frustrations to me? I really want to be able to help - helping makes people feel good, people like to be able to help - on the flip side, if I can't help, I'm going to feel bad. I'm not really going to enjoy our relationship. Just think about that. One of the things that is strange to me, and maybe it's strange to me because I've been a manager for so long, but I find that there is an implicit rule against giving your manager compliments. I'm saying, it works great as long as it's genuine. The reason it's important that it's genuine is, it's going to call forward that behavior in them.

I can think of an example where I was working with the CEO, and I'm, "Look, the team just really needs to hear from you what the strategy is." She got up and she gave a long, very detailed presentation on the strategy. The team was, "Great, we've got it. That was amazing." Then she did it the next week and the next week, because you know what? She got a lot of positive feedback on it. At some point, the team was, "Please tell her to talk about something else." My favorite compliments to give people by the way in this managing up and trying to call behavior forward, tell them about something they've taught you. People like hearing that, and they might teach you some new things - just a thought.

Make Your Boss Look Good

Final skill and the basics of managing up - make your boss look good. There are a few things to do to make this possible. You want to align yourself with your team's mission. That might sound obvious, but that is a huge percentage of how people are being evaluated. It's a huge percentage of how success is going to be evaluated for both you and your boss. It's going to determine whether or not you get resources to do great work, which is really one of the major points of what we're talking about here. If you don't have the same priorities as your boss, this is one of those great opportunities for these constructive conversations we were just talking about. Do great work, relatively straightforward. Who needs help doing great work?

Equip them to speak fluently about your work. You may not know this if you've not been a manager, but at least half the job is being in a meeting and somebody says, "What's the status of Project X?" and you've got to be able to answer that question. There are two things that are going to happen in that situation. I'm either going to use the answer that you've prepared me with or I'm going to make something up. It's going to work better for both of us if I'm prepared.

Translate into their frame - this is an interesting one, and this is where we really are starting to get collaborative about this, it's a two-way street. I have a project this quarter to figure out why the connection pool is thrashing the database to death. You have a project this quarter to deal with site reliability. These are the same projects, but we're using different language to talk about them. One of us is going to have to translate across that barrier. If you can do that work of translating across that barrier, my job just got a little bit easier. Think about talking about why is the connection pool thrashing the database to death project in terms of site reliability.

Help Them See Around Blindspots

Finally, this is probably the most important skill of the whole section of making your boss look good and managing up, help them see around blind spots. Management breeds blind spots; it is the nature of the work that we don't know what we don't know. We are divided, we are scattered, we're the boss, we make snap decisions all the time, we are often the least-informed people in the room, and we don't know it. Our job requires us to go on making those decisions. This is one of the frames that I really like to use when I think about managing up. The best managers need to be managed up. One of the things we often talk about is managing up to bad managers. We'll talk about bad managers briefly a little bit later.

The best managers are the ones that are inviting you to manage up to them. They're the ones who know they have blind spots, who need help. One of the phrases that someone said to me at one point that I really liked, it has been echoing in my head now for 20 years, "It's my job to be pushing. I need you to tell me if I'm pushing us off a cliff." That's a blind spot. "I am the technical expert here; you are the person who has been given the strategic marching orders. We should collaborate." Something that's really useful for me, a blind spot that I have is, I could really use you telling me who is killing it. Who is just doing an awesome job? Because my sample set is limited. I know who speaks up in meetings. This is going to come as a shock, but there is not a one-to-one correlation between who speaks at the meetings and who is doing great work - I know, just wild. "I need your help on that. I need your help on lots of other things, about what the lived experience on the ground is as a software developer." This is a two-way relationship. This is really where managing up becomes a collaborative thing that the best managers are seeking.

Another great example that's happened to me a few times is, you saw that calendar. If I'm eating lunch, I'm eating lunch in a meeting. I don't have time to go wander around the company being curious, talking to the marketing department. They have a totally different theory of how we're going to increase conversion this quarter and maybe we should get aligned. Help me see around blind spots.

Is it working? Good question. You never really know. There was supposed to be a build here, which is not building, so I'm just going to do it from memory. There are some things that you can look for to know whether or not your managing up to your manager is working. Are they asking you for your opinion more often? Are they sending you to speak in their stead at meetings? Do they seem a lot calmer when they come into one-on-ones with you? These are all clues that you are applying the basics of managing up successfully, congratulations. Let's move on to advanced techniques.

Ask for Advice

We have at least five advanced techniques. I'm going to tell you don't try these until you've mastered the basics, they are advanced. Ask for advice, not feedback. Your boss dreads the question, "Do you have any feedback for me?" "No, you're doing great. Keep it up." It's because they're not thinking about you. In the best case, they're thinking about the project you're working on. They don't have any feedback for you. The standard advice is, ask for specific feedback. I don't know, maybe your boss is a bit better than my boss is, even that seems like a major stretch. I like to ask for advice, people like to be asked for advice. Advice puts the attention back on them not on you. "Do you have any suggestions for working with that PM? Because I'm really having trouble about how we negotiate around deadlines" "Sure. I've got lots of suggestions about that." Nothing about you, it's all about me. Ask for advice, not feedback.

Closed Loop Communication

What do I mean by closed loop communication? I actually think this is something I learned from Roi [Ben-Yehuda]. There's something in the psychological literature called the Zeigarnik Effect. This is that thing that we've all experienced; projects which aren't done, which are incomplete, which we may forget about, those are the ones we obsess about. Our brains are in a tight loop constantly, "Don't forget to do that. Don't forget to do it. Don't forget." This is the fundamental insight behind some of the productivity systems like getting things done. Write it down and forget about it, free up that brainpower to think about something else.

That also works for managing up. If I make a contract with my manager where I'm going to push them the information they need, consistently and reliably, they can stop worrying about me. If they're spending all their time worrying about how my project is going, they're going to want to solve that problem, and they're going to want to solve that problem by coming down and doing my job for me. That is not going to go well for either of us. If they know that they don't have to worry, not because things are going to go well, they aren’t going to be hiccups or there's not going to be any surprises, but they know that I'm going to make sure that they hear about the surprise first, then they can take that deep breath and think about something else and let me do my job.

Again, this is advanced skills, there's a super pro move in here. This is one of those things where if you're a senior leader, maybe a CTO, and there's an outage, the cadence of a closed loop can change a lot based on how much adrenaline there is in the room. My job as a CTO, when the site is down, is to sit on the CEO. You are going to know the site is down from me and I'm going to give you updates every 10 minutes, and I really need you to stay out of the slack war room. As long as I keep that contract with him, he mostly stays out of the war room. I say "him" because I'm thinking about a particular one, but you know, "them." That's closed loop communication. Closed loop communication can be over the span of months, or a weekly update that I've asked you for that you're actually sending every Friday morning like I asked for it, or every 10 minutes depending on how much adrenaline there is in the room.

Your Boss is Repeating Themselves, Listen

Here's another pro move - your boss is repeating themselves, you may want to listen. This one actually took me a long time to figure out. Maybe you are all smarter than I am. "The best boss I've ever had left me alone to do my work." "That's interesting. Can we get back to the part where I'm asking you to help me?" "It seems like we aren't firing fast enough." "Nah, we're hiring fast enough, it's great. We don't want lower the bar." "I'm worried about our July deadline." "Don't worry about our July deadline." None of those are the right responses. If your boss is repeating themselves, they are trying to tell you something whether or not they're conscious of it. One of those key managing up techniques is figuring out what they aren't actually telling you.

Dealing with unreasonable requests for detail, this is one of those things that you run into more and more as you go up, either up as a senior IC or up as a manager. "Why is X running late?" "The spec changed, and we had that other thing, and there was a security thing, and GDPR." "Great. Just tell me what everyone's working on and I will help them re-prioritize their work so we can hit our deadline." "Yes, that's not going to happen," but you're not going to say, "That's not going to happen," to the CEO, for example, who wants to lay out everybody on the engineering team and is later in Reese's Pieces cups, to pick out an entirely hypothetical example.

What you're going to say is something like, "Great, I can do that. I can get you that information. It's going to take a little time. Do you have any advice for me in the meantime? I am curious about what you think we could be doing better. Are there any particular problems that you see that you'd like to tell me about? Is there a particular format to the state that would be super useful?" Then just get them the summary that they asked for. Curious, got to understand your job, go to try close the loop. Putting it all together to deal with this thing where someone is trying to pierce past the appropriate level of abstraction in the organization.

Give Them Something to Talk about

My final pro move is, give them something to talk about. This is a picture at Etsy, me when I was much younger, some other folks, and two of our board members, Danny Rimmer and Fred Wilson. One day, instead of having the board meeting, because we didn't want to have the board meeting because the slides weren't ready, we're, "You know what? We're just going to teach you how to plug the site. Come on over, we're going to make a little code change. You're going to deploy, it's going to be amazing." We got a couple of things out of that that I have since rolled forward into my practice throughout.

One, it just increased the empathy. They had a little bit more sense of what we were talking about when we talked about deploying the site, but much more importantly, if you are very senior- you're a CEO, you're a board member, you're a VC, maybe you're a director at a major company - your currency is graphs, insights, stories, and people can be really happy for a long time on one story to keep them busy while you go back to doing good work. Just say it: it's a great, advanced technique.

Things That Don’t Work

Let's talk about a few things that don't work. "I got this," drown them in detail, catastrophizing, "They should just appreciate me for me" and "That's not my job."

"I got this." I hear you're worried about the July deadline. "I got it. It's under control." That doesn't work, it's good to talk about your challenges. Not, "I'm so stressed out and I don't know how to solve these. This is unreasonable," but "Yes, there are challenges." Because you know what? If you don't talk about your challenges, your boss just assumes you don't know about them and you're clueless, and then you're going to start losing authority and losing the ability to do that great work that we're all aspiring to do.

Similarly, drowning them in details. I seem to provoke this in people, I don't know why. If someone wants to take me aside afterwards and tell me what I'm doing wrong, I would love to know. "But why are they micromanaging me? If they really want to know, I'm just going to send them the change log, as it happens, and all the PRs, and all the notifications, and then they'll stop asking me." Like, "I got this," your boss just assumes you have no idea what's important. By the way, this is a really great thing when your boss decides you have no idea what's important, they're going to tell you you're thinking tactically, not strategically. If anyone ever tells you you're thinking tactically, not strategically, what they're saying is, "You're not talking my language." Now you know.

Catastrophizing, "Oh my God, everything is broken. This sucks, this is awful. No one is writing tests, the database is on fire. What are we even doing here?" All I'm hearing is, "I can't be transparent with you. I'm only going to tell you what's going on when it's set in stone." By the way, it's never set in stone; it's always changing. You're now going to be the last person to know. I figured none of us needed to see another picture of Jack Nicholson, so just imagine that you can't handle the truth image there.

"Appreciate me for me." Being loved and appreciated for who we are is a basic human need, we all have it. That's not what work is for, unfortunately. I'm not thinking about you - going back to our original point. I see a lot of people run into this, it's really hard. We think we're worth something, we think we're special. We think that we know something about the world and our unique values and contribution. That's true.

I don't mean to say that you will never be able to talk to your boss or other people at your company about your values, and about what's special to you, and about the change you want to set. The relationship is supposed to be in give and take. You're not going to be able to demand it. You're not going to be able to get there if you don't understand the asymmetry in the relationship and the asymmetry in the level of focus. This is what I've struggled with personally, and most other people I know struggle with this one. This is a very real thing. You need to find that validation somewhere, just maybe not your boss.

"That's not my job." I've had somebody who's worked for me twice now. They've also quit on me twice, so I don't know if that means they like working for me or don't like working for me. I'm still trying to figure that one out. I was constantly asking them, "I need you, as the area expert, you are the expert on this topic, I need you to help us think about strategy here. I need you to step in and make sure that we're planning and you don't just come to me and complain after-the-fact that we're doing the wrong thing." They said a lot, "Sounds like you're asking me to manage the team and that's not my job." I think it's probably telling that they ended up quitting on me a couple of times because this was just a frustrating back and forth. Neither one of us ever figured out how to get past it. But if someone is asking you to do this thing, what they're telling you is, "This is part of your job" to a certain extent. They are asking you to be a leader. It's a trap, admittedly, but they are asking you to do that influence-based leadership and just saying "no" is not going to work.

A couple of year later, this particular person, a very senior woman back-end engineer - I realized that part of our disconnect might have been that she was working really hard not to be labeled as non-technical, and was very sensitive to being asked to do sort of the emotional labor of managing, so that's a thing. But in general, you need to find a way to talk about that. I wish I had been smarter to figure it out faster, but, that's real. It doesn't mean you can just say "no", unfortunately.

A Stressed Boss vs. a Bad Boss

Bad bosses absolutely exist. This talk, so far, we've mostly assumed the bosses are doing their best. Their best may not be very good, they're stretched thin, they're probably doing work they were never trained to do, but they are trying. Even good bosses have bad days, and good bosses are under pressure. Let's not say good bosses, there are bosses under pressure and there are bad bosses. When you start managing up, it's not always going to be appreciated. They're going to bark some days, they're going to snap at you. You know what I'm going to say next: they're not thinking about you. It has nothing to do with you, they're under pressure. That doesn't excuse bad behavior, but that's just what's happening.

The difference between a stressed boss and a bad boss, is does it ever work? Does it ever feel like you're getting what you need out of the relationship? Are they ever taking your feedback? Are they ever enabling you to do great work? Do the managing up techniques ever lay out? In which case, you have some hope. There is no way to manage up to bad bosses. Bad bosses you survive and leave, it's not your job to try to fix them, but most of us who have had bosses who we didn't click with, they weren't bad bosses. They were stressed bosses, they were bosses trying to play a game above their level. That is a situation where managing up can really enable both you and them to do your best work.

I want to throw out a bunch of people who I've talked to about managing up over the years who I really appreciated giving their insights into this. Julie Evans, Doreti, Maggie, D.B. Smasher, Allison, a bunch of others. Two really good follow-up resources on this [slide]. Julia Evans' "Help! I have a manager" is a great zean on the topic. Then, like I said, Camille Fournier's, "The Manager's Path." A great book on what exactly is it that you say you do here?

Questions and Answers

Participant 1: How do you know if a manager is an upward manageable boss? For example, I know a manager who is currently managing 30 people.

Elliot-McCrea: The question is, how do you know if someone is on an upward trajectory, is an upward manageable boss, with the caveat, they currently know is somebody who is managing 30 people. The first thing I'd say is, do they know they have a problem or are they in denial still? That's their first clue about how supportable this person might be. Then the other thing, even though this whole talk I just gave was about how to help your boss do their job better, it's not really your job. That's your responsibility in the context of your trying to do great work.

One of the things that you should know is, don't take it on if you don't want to take it on. My general trend line is, when I try to give them feedback, when I try to use these techniques, when I try to connect with them about things that I know that they care about, how well does that land? Is it getting better over time? Micro. But if someone is managing 30 people, the only signal I'd be looking for is how quickly they're trying to shed that. If they're not trying to shed it, they're a little bit delusional, probably.

Participant 2: I've used some of these techniques before. I find them sometimes effective and always exhausting, if you get what I mean. How do you stay resilient in the face of that?

Elliot-McCrea: It's supposed to be exhausting, because you've been drafted into being a manager, and managing is exhausting. Part of it is just acknowledging that. You also can't do it as a full-time job and also be a software engineer as a full-time job. You have to understand that there is a tradeoff there. Once you're stepping into that ring of being a manager for some percentage of your day, then you have to start using manager survival techniques. The manager survival techniques are having people to talk to outside of work about just how nuts it's going. Ideally, maybe a coach, a therapist, and a drinking club. All three of them are solid.

Having things that you do that actually make you feel like, "I'm good at this. Because the things that I spend most of my day doing right now I'm bad at." Then exercise is the other one. That's how I survived doing this work semi full-time. Some version of that for a reduced set of doing it full-time.

Participant 3: Any advice on hiring manageable managers? We have a good process of hiring manageable people, or under managers, but we don't have a good process for hiring managers and so on.

Elliot-McCrea: Hiring managers is really hard. I don't know if I necessarily have advice on how to hire manageable ones particularly. Some of the things I like to do when I'm hiring managers full stop, there are a few things that are high pass filters. You ask someone about a project that's went well, why did it go well, if it's all about them, they're out. Then the next one is creating role play-like situations, either explicitly, "We’re going to do a role play about this," or sending a junior engineer in to ask some questions and see how well they do with it, which is like a role play-like situation. You're really looking for people to actually demonstrate some of those skills.

But it's also high false positives, high false negatives. It's a thing. One of the things that you need to be doing as the person who is the hiring manager for those managers is making sure that they don't create a new blind spot for you. A new manager in your organization is likely to create a new blind spot where they can control access to information for you about how good or bad they are at their job, and you need to make sure to put systems in place to avoid that.


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Recorded at:

Sep 09, 2019