Ravi Mohan's Blog

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Shining Darkly

My friend Amit Rathore wrote an excellent article on transitioning from a developer to a manager.

Richard Hamming's famous speech has excellent advice on the (similar) manager vs scientist decision that many researchers struggle with.

" ...Question: Would you compare research and management?

Hamming: If you want to be a great researcher, you won't make it being president of the company. If you want to be president of the company, that's another thing. I'm not against being president of the company. I just don't want to be. I think Ian Ross does a good job as President of Bell Labs. I'm not against it; but you have to be clear on what you want. Furthermore, when you're young, you may have picked wanting to be a great scientist, but as you live longer, you may change your mind.

For instance, I went to my boss, Bode, one day and said, ``Why did you ever become department head? Why didn't you just be a good scientist?'' He said, ``Hamming, I had a vision of what mathematics should be in Bell Laboratories. And I saw if that vision was going to be realized, I had to make it happen; I had to be department head.''

When your vision of what you want to do is what you can do single-handedly, then you should pursue it. The day your vision, what you think needs to be done, is bigger than what you can do single-handedly, then you have to move toward management. And the bigger the vision is, the farther in management you have to go. If you have a vision of what the whole laboratory should be, or the whole Bell System, you have to get there to make it happen. You can't make it happen from the bottom very easily. It depends upon what goals and what desires you have. And as they change in life, you have to be prepared to change.

I chose to avoid management because I preferred to do what I could do single-handedly. But that's the choice that I made, and it is biased. Each person is entitled to their choice. Keep an open mind. But when you do choose a path, for heaven's sake be aware of what you have done and the choice you have made.

    Don't try to do both sides.

Of course Hamming assumes that people become managers because "your vision, what you think needs to be done, is bigger than what you can do single-handedly". In the great Outsourced Software Wasteland, most people choose to become managers because it is a better shield for mediocrity than being a developer and (mostly) you can make significantly more money. Nothing wrong with that. You pays your money life and you takes your choice.

Even worse is the developer who really likes being a developer and is or can be very good at it, but chooses to become a mediocre, unhappy manager because "that is the only way to make more money". These people deserve pity, but no sympathy.


Anonymous said...

yeh..u r right.Sometimes i wonder why we should have these bloody generals and commanders in the army. can we not have a million strong force, without any hierarchy, all rushing into battle with guns in their hands? may be it will be more effective. damn these generals and bureaucracy.
It is barbaric to assume that people need to be managed, after all everyone on this earth is equally intelligent, efficient and aware of his/her responsibility. Why the heck should equals be managed. These silly corporate ideas. Look at any of the cheap companies writing outsourced software...they all have one thing in common...an army of extremely intelligent, highly paid, efficient (ofcourse, the companies can afford these people with their high billing rates). Why should such a group be managed ?
Yeah ravi...these corporate morons. when will they grow up. sigh !
-another project manager

Ravi said...


you are reading into the post things I didn't say! maybe you want to read the post again?

No one, least of all me, advocated any banning of heirarchy or management. Where did you get that idea? This post was focussed on the transition *of excellent developers* to managers and why (or why not). No more, no less.

Where did you get the idea I advocated a ban on PMs (or managers)?

Or are you saying that the average manager in one of these "cheap companies writing outsourced software" (to use your own words) choose to become managers because they have a compelling vision that involves large numbers of people?

Anonymous said...

Nonsense. Are you PMP certified ?? If not go get your PMP certification and then talk. Many programmers who become Project Managers do so after clearing tough exams like PMP.

Ravi said...

"tough exams like PMP" bwaaaa ha ha ha ha haa!!!!!!!!

"tough exams" !!!!

This is priceless.

Anyway, my friend Abey is PMP certified. He went through the books in about 3 days and scored exceptionally high. So much for "tough exam".

He explicitly told me the whole idea is a big waste of time and only useful for fooling idiots who know nothing of project mangament. Having taken a brief look at the syllabus, I can well believe it.

A PMP is on the same level as an MCSE. An essentially worthless piece of paper for people who have no other concrete achievements they can point to.

If you must talk of being a manager, at least get an MBA from a good school, get some REAL management experience(say at Toyota or even Wal mart, rather then in India's outsourced software con game) and then give us the benefit of your wisdom. I wonder if many Harvard (or even IIM) grads go in for a "PMP" certification?

Don't wave your useless "PMP certification" rag in my face!!

And anyway, I was talking about about the ***motivation*** of developers who try to become managers
and not the process.

Get the difference between "process" and "motivation"? Good! That's a start on improving your reading (and logic) skills.

If you are a sample of the PMP certified manager, God help the folks who employ you.

Anup said...

As always, another great blog from you, Ravi. I always feel sad when another developer moves into the manager role to just "move ahead" in his career, than because he is/wants to be a good manager. Frankly, I think Indians, in a very general way have an instinct to manage(in a keep things together and take forward kinda way)...though it doesn't align with what a project wants...And that is what keeps most projects from going under, I think.

Now as much as you say that it is a better hiding place for mediocrity, I am confused when you say a mediocre person is a mediocre person...I always tend to think mediocre developer turned good manager or good developer turned mediocre manager. and very very rarely, good developer turned good manager.

But I loathe the fact that people have to become managers to move ahead/make more money. Maybe it is time companies started investing more in good developers than good managers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ravi,
I really liked Amits article .... the best thing about it is I do this everyday and I could never compartmentalize it as well as he has done it ... Its beautiful., realistic and to the point. I am gonna send it out to the guys in my organization. Thank you for bringing this gem to my notice.
-another frusty middle managemnt guy ... who always felt he was kind of schizophrenic

Anonymous said...

Oh enlightened,noble, wise soul,what other advice do you have for this benighted world ?

Ravi said...

Hmm.. advice . Ok here goes... :-)

Oh worldly, dumb, foolish anonymous,

go away and do something useful :-)