Putt's Law

My manager recently quit and it's time to interview for a replacement.  Whenever a manager quits it's common to hear the requisite, "I guess we'll have to train a new one" comments, but I'm going to take the process a little more seriously this time.  

Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand.  --Putt's Law

If you are in IT and are not familiar with Archibald Putt, I suggest you stop reading this blog post, RIGHT NOW, and go buy the book Putt's Law and the Successful Technocrat.  How to Win in the Information Age.  Putt's Law, for short, is a combination of Dilbert and The Mythical Man-Month.  It shows you exactly how managers of technologists think, how they got to where they are, and how they stay there.  Just like Dilbert, you'll initially laugh, then you'll cry, because you'll realize just how true Putt's Law really is.  But, unlike Dilbert, whose technologist-fans tend to have a revulsion for management, Putt tries to show the technologist how to become one of the despised.  Now granted, not all of us technologists have a desire to be management, it is still useful to "know one's enemy."  

Two amazing facts:

  1. Archibald Putt is a pseudonym and his true identity has yet to be revealed.  A true "Deep Throat" for us IT guys.  
  2. Putt's Law was written back in 1981.  It amazes me how the Old IT Classics (Putt's Law, Mythical Man-Month, anything by Knuth) are even more relevant today than ever.  

Every technical hierarchy, in time, develops a competence inversion.  --Putt's Corollary

Putt's Corollary says that in a corporate technocracy, the more technically competent people will remain in charge of the technology, whereas the less competent will be promoted to management.  That sounds a lot like The Peter Principle (another timeless classic written in 1969).  

People rise to their level of incompetence.  --Dave's Summary of the Peter Principle

I can tell you that managers have the least information about technical issues and they should be the last people making technical decisions.  Period.  I've often heard that managers are used as the arbiters of technical debates.  Bad idea.  Arbiters should always be the [[benevolent dictators]] (the most admired/revered technologist you have).  The exception is when your manager is also your benevolent dictator, which is rare.  Few humans have the capability, or time, for both.

I see more and more hit-and-run managers where I work.  They feel as though they are the technical decision-makers.  They attend technical meetings they were not invited to.  Then they ask pointless, irrelevant questions that suck the energy out of the team.  Then they want status updates hourly.  Eventually after they have totally derailed the process they move along to some other, sexier problem with more management visibility.  

I really admire managers who follow the MBWA (management by walking around) principle.  This management philosophy is very simple...the best managers are those who leave their offices and observe.  By observing they learn what the challenges are for their teams and how to help them better.  

So, what I am looking for in a manager

  1. He knows he is the least qualified person to make a technical decision. 
  2. He is a facilitator.  He knows how to help his technologists succeed.  
  3. MBWA