Sharp Programmers Like To Kick Butt

When you are working around sharp programmers, one of the biggest challenges can be staying out of their way.

What is even more counter-intuitive is that staying out of their way can mean challenging them to the maximum, and seeing to it that they stay challenged on a consistent basis.

Never realized until this week, how much harder that makes a manager's job.


The film Seabiscuit showed this trainer who brought back a race horse who had been written off by it's previous owner. The trainer claimed this horse was great, but nobody knew it because he had been trained to fail by it's previous owners. This "trained to fail" thing is what hit me between the eyes, though I think the phrase he used was worded differently.

What I have seen in other jobs is brilliant guys will always find a way to be brilliant. So if they aren't tasked, it's not a problem, they'll just build their own little domain where they are tasked to the maximum. Open source projects, API research, side jobs, political forums, something soaks up all the extra time. In that sense, it's just like Seabisquit, they're gonna do whatever their habits lead them to do.

Being Worked Hard

The best places I ever worked were always the most challenging, and always the most focused. I'd go in early just to get in the groove and get something knocked out before anyone got there. Everyone was working to the same end. We all pushed like hell, and it was fun.

The worst places have always been strangely what I might dream about, plenty of time to do research, very few demands placed on my time. But when they really asked me to do something it's almost like "What's up with this ?" Kinda funny when I get that attitude, and they're paying me..... But in those kinds of contracts, I never get that juice going, and I don't get in the flow. Just not as fun.

Setting a Strong Pace

Once I even got a job managing software and somehow talked the owner into letting someone else do it just because I enjoyed coding more. They pulled a great guy out of support and he became my boss, we kicked some serious butt too.  But even then, I didn't think about how hard it was to manage developers, especially really good developers.

But that was then, and this is now. And here I am managing developers again. And these guys are good, and smart, and energetic too. And I am learning how challenging it can be to keep the best guys really cranking. I give them tasks and they are done two hours later. Hokey smokes, bullwinkle, I barely got time to read through all the email and bug reports much less carve out another task.

Think of it from their side though. "The guy wants me to work, so where are the tasks ? Let's get it going here..."

I'm committed. These guys deserve the best. Somehow I need to keep pulling a rabbit out of a hat until I can get enough domain specific knowledge to line them up for weeks at a time. And they don't need to be told to "just go test software for a while" which is as boring a job as a developer could have.

Wish me luck. Wish the guys under me luck, that's probably what I should be thinking about.