I know it’s not fashionable to look at things from the enemy’s perspective, but has it ever occurred to you folks that the reason there are so few good managers is that managing people is hard? Let’s try looking at this from a couple of different perspectives.

  • Look around you, right here on slashdot. Pick a half-dozen messages from this very thread. Would you want to manage a group consisting of the people who wrote those messages? Well, I know I sure as hell wouldn’t. “Herding cats” doesn’t tell half of it. Most cats are at least a little bit predictable, sleep a lot, occasionally show affection or at least look cute, etc. Maybe herding really smelly ill-tempered cats who miss the litterbox regularly and have a tendency to use your legs as scratching posts at every opportunity is getting close.
  • Managers get to spend a lot of time cooped up in small windowless rooms all day with other managers. Sounds like a working definition of hell to me. It’s like No Exit. Every organization has people who will try to screw you and who are good at it. Even if such people are only 10% of the managers, that’s enough to keep the other 90% going to the meetings and making sure they and their people don’t get totally worked over.
  • Most managers get next to no training. Trying to keep a non-trivial project, particularly one that involves new technology, on track takes some doing. Trying to juggle the desire of everyone in the group to go off and do the Next Cool Thing while you still have products to ship is tricky. Dealing with the conflicts between the two would-be Top Guns in your group, or between the Process Weenie and the Cowboy, or between the NT bigots and the UNIX zealots, could drive anyone insane. And then someone comes along with a patent issue or a sexual harassment lawsuit and your goose is truly cooked.

Where are you going to find good people to do all this? Where do you find someone who can keep both the technical details and the corporate goals in mind, who’s reasonably intelligent and has a decent set of ethics and yet doesn’t mind sitting in rooms full of Machiavelli wannabes and Just Plain Dumb people, and who’s willing – all to often – to do all that for less money than some of the people “under” them get paid? There really is a shortage of quality people in the industry, but it’s not a shortage of hands-on techies; it’s a shortage of managers who aren’t scum or morons or both.

I whine about my job as much as anyone, but I honestly don’t think there’s anything I could find myself doing in my prized role as an individual contributor that would be worse than being a manager. It is necessary to have someone else to do all that stuff, but I’m damn glad it’s not me. Next time you feel like a few minutes of manager-bashing, spare yourself at least one second to give thanks that you have a better job than they do.