Ravi Mohan's Blog

Monday, January 05, 2004


I am beginning to despair of serious design level software development work ever coming to India. The (profit = number of bodies * x $$) paradigm ensures that most work coming to India is of the "here is a framework and here is how you do X. Now do 100 of these. Thank you " type .Of course the framework design happens in the USA .

The same for management . Except a few people who run their own companies or are the CTO/CFO level, most "project management" in India seems to consist of taking orders from higher ups in the USA and "motivating" the technical folks.

So amidst all the rising euphoria about India being the next software destination I am pretty cynical about the whole "our jobs are going to India" clamor i hear from my American friends.

Believe me you folks are better off without these jobs. Go do something interesting with your lives ...

It is not that we don't have talented people in India. But most people i know work at a fraction of their potential. I would guess the reasons are a combination of the Great Indian Laidback Attitude and a lack of opportunity and initiative.

i'm depressed . :-(


Anonymous said...

I agree with you and feel sad about this too - hence i always feel that i would rather stick to dirty programming rather than sick management. :)

Ravi said...

well, I think if you area talented at and enjoy management you should become a mnager asap. We desperately need good managers!

Anonymous said...

Ravi....innocent question..i give you a problem statement and a laptop and ask you to write a piece of code and looking at that, i gauge your worth. Thats an excellent/good/bad programmer?
What is a good manager ?

Ravi said...

That is a very good question.

There is a lot mor to judging programming skill than handing a laptop + a problem statement to someone .
But I digress .
The gist of your question of your question seems to be "is there an objective, externally verifiable way fo judging a manager's ability ? "

Except in the case of frontline managers like ceo's and marketing/sales managers or operational managers on afactory plant, who can be judged by numbers attached to their performance (market share, eps, operational efficiency ) , the answer is no, there is no externally verifiable measure . In other words there is no "laptop" you can give someone and ask them to display their skills.

This is precisely why a lot of people can get away with what , in Thoughtworks India jargon was called "PM giri" as in "PM giri is no big deal".

Having said that ,there are a few heuristics(by definition a heuristic is not infallible) that I look for when I judge managers.

1.Is he/she extremely good at any activity beyond "managing" ? Of the truly excellent managers I have met, all of them without fail were skilled in somethings besides "managing people " (as in the movie "Office Space" :-) )

One is decorated Combat Helicopter Pilot. Another is a world class writer and athlete. One is changing the model of how charitable organisations work .Another is an excellent musician . Somehow the habit of excellence and the consequent ability to recognize it in other fields seems to make a difference.

Some examples from the outside world.
Larry Ellsion is probably an excellent manger .He is a world class yachtsman.

Krishna Bharat (India CEO Google) is probably an excellent manager . He wrote Google News.

Now this doesn't always apply. Linus is good at coding but by his own account he tried "managing" a project and was a big failure.BUt then he "manages" the kernel devlopment effort very well. hmmm...

This is why this is just a rule of thumb.

2.They are highly spoken of *by the people they manage* .
Invariably the best managers are those whose *subordinates* worship the ground they walk on . This is not about popularity but about respect .

If a programmer rolls his eyes and looks heavenward when speaking about his manager, that is a strong warning sign . The age of the "command" paradigm in management is over. Nowadays , to effectively manage, People have to willingly give you their best . Again using my Thoughtworks experience there were managers who were so effectively that the team thought of them as "one of their own" and others abouot whom people would make snide comments when they were not around .

3. In the *software * industry , most (but not all) of the best managers are ex hackers /people who like technology .The top grade managers who are not techincal genuinely respect the wisdom of the technical people

4. Good managers *always* protect their team from the politicking that goes on .If a manager being added to the team *decreases* the politics , that is a good sign.

5. Not a single good manager in the software industry I know likes ISO/CMM style processes. If someone likes and enjoys these processes *I* would be *very* wary of hiring him .

I could think of a few more charactersitics but you get the idea . There is no sure fire way of determinig the worth of a non frontline manager but in any industry or company there are thngs to look for .

I am interested in your heuristics for judging managers .What do you think ? what are teh characteristics of the best managers you know?

Anonymous said...

That was an excellent analysis. In my experience, i have worked with 11 project managers, out of which all but one were perfect charlatans or incompetent.
Few things i have noticed in the one person whom i would rate as "very good" were,
1. As you said his subordinates "worshipped the ground" he walked.
2.If anything was slipping out of our hands we could always call him and he wud run to us in a jiffy.
3. The place he hated the most was his cabin. He could be seen walking around, sitting with developers and in some cases even testing the application.
4. He made the strict hierarchy look very fluid.
5. I worked with him for 3 months ( he came in to replace a PM when the project was in crisis and left after 3 months when the project was delivered successfully.)
6. We were never in the firing line. He was the shield.
7. He even used to participate in the technical meetings and showed a keen interest there in.
One thing that is common to the worse managers i have seen is that they remain cloistered in their cabins and always try to impose the feeling that he is the boss.