Brett R Huff

Advice for aspiring managers

I’m a manager because I find joy in fixing things.  As a developer I always felt a little odd.  I would cruise through bug fix after bug fix but would stutter and drag when working on new projects.  I know that the typical attitude is that developers always want to work on the new and the cool.  They want to explore and do things that no one else has done.  But I always felt backwards because I was so much happier fixing a bug that took a week to track down than if I worked on the new hotness for a month.

Early in my career I came to understand that I have skill in working with people in addition to code.  I took the time to cultivate those skills and to find how best to apply them.  That’s when I found out that management is so misunderstood by so many people.  Some believe it’s all about power.  Others believe it’s an achievement.  The cynic will tell you that managers don’t do anything; that only the individual contributors do “real work.”  When you take that argument to it’s logical conclusion then it’s easy to say that all CEO salaries are too high.  In reality, good managers are just people who like to fix things.

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Managers deal with problems.  Most issues don’t get moved up the chain unless they are too difficult or messy to deal with lower down.  A manager is never going to help decide whether you should use an insertion sort or a bubble sort.  It’s only when things aren’t working that the manager adds value to the process.  And that value can be immense.

Managers have power because they are trusted to make the right decision when no one below them has known it.  A high title represents knowledge of how to make things better.  As soon as things are good then there is no reason for a manager to be involved any more.  A good CEO’s pay is high because he is dealing with issues so difficult that no one else in the organization has been able to solve them.

My advice to aspiring managers is to play to your strengths.  If you want to work on new fancy things then do that, but remember that managers don’t work on new fancy.  Managers take busted things and fix them.  You should try to find joy in your career.  If you find the most joy in fixing the hardest bugs, then welcome to management.