back to article How to spot a terrible tech boss within SECONDS

Having been an occasionally competent manager I know that nowhere in the spectrum from micromanagement to management-by-email suits everyone. In fact, you people don’t even know what sort of boss you want. Your imaginary “manager I like” is really just the opposite of your most hated real-life superior, but what's missing is …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Pen-y-gors

    'outward facing'

    Had a boss a few years back (department of a couple of hundred developers), nice enough bloke, but everyone was complaining that we never saw him, and it was many months since he had actually spoken to any of his department. This was raised with him and his comment was that he saw his role as "more of an outward-facing one". Or, to put it another way, he'd turned his back on his staff.

    Not good...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 'outward facing'

      And it's just waiting to be stabbed. Et tu, Brute?

  2. KitD


    I went to an interview with a manager who didn't show up. I was given the usual test by a couple of the techies and went away. Later I got asked back for a second interview. Again he wasn't there so I gave up and said 'No thanks'.

    The firm arranged corporate entertainment freebies. Hmm ...

  3. Rufus McDufus

    I had a manager in my first job, in the compsci dept at a top UK University. There was quite a lot of unaccounted cash at the end of the year. He asked me to fake some invoices.

    This and a few other events led me to conclude things weren't quite as they should be.

    1. Brezhnev's Shadow

      Gosh, I thought Uni IT bosses were simply self-aggrandising out-of-touch tweed-wearing buffoons.

      I had no idea they had a commercial streak as well! ;)

    2. Anonymous C0ward

      The money was

      just resting in my account.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "You got a raise because your boss feared you would leave "

    Yes,! And thanks for the reminder that a/ I need an up to date copy of my CV on my work laptop, b/ I'll have to start booking a couple of seemingly random days off starting from Jan.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "You got a raise because your boss feared you would leave "

      The old "tour of the car park" we used to call it at my last place.

      Homepage set to local IT jobs site / recruiter.

      Taking random phone calls that require you to leave the office and pace about outside (in view of management).

      And of course random half days off, including coming in wearing surprisingly smart clothes / shoes / shaved for once.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "You got a raise because your boss feared you would leave "

      w/ i/ w/ a/ t/ s/?

      i/ m/ i/ h/ t/ r/

      p/ s/ y/ c/?

  5. Belgarion
    Thumb Up

    Sarcastic or not...

    ...there are some damn good tips in there. What was the previous article?

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Sarcastic or not...

      I'll add a link. Oops.


  6. Ian K

    "You may have heard that Lehman has had issues but clearing up the mess is a good gig."

    Erm, I may be completely missing a joke here, but isn't the most significant issue in getting an IT job with Lehman Brothers the fact that it went bust in 2008? And in doing so started the ball rolling on the economic slump we've had ever since?

    I'll grant you that that does leave a lot of opportunities for clearing up the mess, if you can find someone to pay you for the job.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "You may have heard that Lehman has had issues but clearing up the mess is a good gig."

      Indeed, though a small part of it, Lehman Brothers Holding Inc looks like it still exists.

      In fact not only have many of them ended up at Nomura as part if the takeover (handilly also running their equities into the ground too) but some of them may be getting a third(!) bite at the cherry as some of the equities stuff is offloaded to Instinet (a Nomura subsiduary). Anon as all this is giving me more work to do!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "You may have heard that Lehman has had issues but clearing up the mess is a good gig."

        Nomura, the alleged lengendary non-PC funsters? ;)

  7. Chris Miller

    Outsourced HR

    The first time I encountered this it was truly weird. A large telco had outsourced both the basic HR admin and recruitment to the same outfit. I never understood how paying commission to a third party both to recruit your staff and then to manage their pay wasn't a huge conflict of interest. But no doubt it looked good to the beancounters (for a while, anyway).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Outsourced HR

      I find some HR and recruiting people get very confused about their roles anyway. They probably don''t fully grasp the client-customer divide, and/or don't care as long as it doesn''t come back to bite them.

      I was once in a very confused little startup where the boss's wife was both the recruitment consultant and the customer,. She swapped herself interchangeably with a person who was working 100% for an outside recruitment company, presumably for the times when her Balmer-esque man (the boss) wasn't too busy chasing suspiciously young skirt, so maybe she had to make him a sandwich or something and appear a little less like Ann Widdecombe..... they were operating nearly 100% on VC capital so they probably didn't give a damn about who was the HR customer really.

      Most of the recruitment folks I have met recently, ominously refer to themselves as "sales executives" i.e., if you are looking for a job, and think you are the customer, or matter in some way, you are dead wrong... the only thing that matters to them is "sales targets", i.e. you are a product to be sold like a can of beans. They don't even consider themselves to be recruitment and may not have a background in it. If you think these ones don't really read your CV and purposely misunderstand it, you are probably entirely correct .. these are probably the ones where you have to stuff your CV with all the acronyms you know :P

  8. Pete 2 Silver badge

    A one-legged man goes to the doctor ...

    As he enters the surgery, the doctor, still looking at his screen, says "Good morning Mr. Jones, how are you today?" and gets the reply "I'm very well doctor, thank you for asking". At which point the doctor finally looks up, looks him up and down and remarks "But you've only got one leg - how can you say you're 'very well'?".

    Well, doctor I've always only had one leg, so to me this is entirely normal. So by my account, I'm fine."

    The moral being that if all you've ever known was one situation (whether one-leggedness, or a string of ghastly managers) you can't imagine what anything else would be - so you judge that to be the normal state of affairs which cannot be improved.

    Most people go through their working lives being "managed" by truly awful managers: ones who have no talent, less enthusiasm and hate being a manager, but have no skills to move out of that career - until someone finally makes them redundant. So when we do change jobs, we;re just trading the crap for the crappier on the basis that a change is as good as a rest.

    Occasionally you will meet up with a good manager. Personally, I've seen two - one of whom I worked for. They are a revelation and as perks go, are so much better than a corner office that words cannot describe it. The tragedy is that the people who judge "good managership" are, themselves so completely unqualified to do so that having the skills: empathy, vision and motivational magic counts for naught - as their bosses, in turn, have no clue what makes a good boss. To them it's just a case of assessing how an individual's numbers are doing.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: A one-legged man goes to the doctor ...

      Technical areas are a big problem. Having had a couple of accountants as managers has shown me this (I'm not in IT), as well as knowing quite a few IT people. Both these managers were good accountants, who got promoted because of it, both of them were nice people, but neither had a clue how to be managers.

      This is also true for certain types of sales people. Hard-chargers who always make their numbers often aren't too scrupulous, and so make horrific managers. On the other hand, some sales guys are brilliant analysts of people, which is how they sell so well, and they often make brilliant managers.

      Of course, you do have to wonder how much we're the problem? Having ended up with some management responsibilities a couple of times (not really one of my skills) - some people are easier to manage than others. So a barely competent manager who knows their limitations should be able to do a decent job, with goodwill on both sides.

      1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

        Re: A one-legged man goes to the doctor ...

        You're starting with the wrong word, which highlights the root cause of what you may have seen.

        In my opinion, you do not MANAGE people, you LEAD them. This implies two critical things:

        - a working spine: leadership requires some strength and courage. That doesn't mean you have to be Conan, but you must be able to direct a team. If you're charisma and knowledge-challenged, avoid leading people.

        - a goal. Kinda hard to lead people if you're only going around in circles. This can sometimes be a challenge as leadership skills may lack higher up the tree. I that case you'll have to define a goal and get it ratified (politics matter).

        Just my opinion..

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: A one-legged man goes to the doctor ...

          While there's something in what you say, I wouldn't totally agree with you. There are some roles where inspiring leadership is needed/helpful, along with goal-setting. But some jobs are pretty mundane, and the goal is simply to keep x process working with a minimum of fuss, or to process y paperwork in a correct manner.

          This is all quite dull, and there's nothing to get inspired about. But a bit of honesty and common sense tells us that this stuff needs to get done, we're all being paid to get it done, so let's do that with as little fuss and stress as we can. I don't think that we're helping matters by trying to 'inspire' people, because we all know this is fundamentally dull. A bit of humour and reasonable expectations should do the trick, without resorting to the military metaphors so beloved of some management types.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lehman Bros?

    I assumed Lehman Bros disappeared off the face of the earth when it went bust?

    1. Jody

      Re: Lehman Bros?

      A bank that is in administration will actually employ many people to work out who owes what to who and pay the creditors back from money that trickles in from its own debtors.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Only 1 problem with EDS

    It no longer exists.

    AFAIK the HP division it is now a part of is a *very* different* beast.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "your performance is evaluated depending on how much your manager understands what you do". Well said. If I ever find a manager who understands what I do I'll grow a second head out of shock.

    I know I'd be a crap manager, because I've no interest in it. This is why I've turned down several offers of team leadership posts. Managers treat me oddly because they can't understand why I'd prefer to do something I like and that I'm good at in preference to doing something I hate and that I'm bad at. They only see their BMW parked next to my Fiesta, and that's the only thing they can understand.

    1. I think so I am?

      Is it only a British thing

      In the UK there seems to be a Pay wall at around £45-50k where tech people don't get payed any more money.

      The only way to get passed this pay wall is to become a consultant working for yourself or become a manager?

      Always confused me why Managers get payed more than people who can and do add more value to the company.

      Why cant a manager earn 20-30% less than the tech'ys below him?

      1. Uncle Slacky

        Re: Is it only a British thing

        Maybe the paywall is scaled according to your spelling & grammar capabilities?

      2. SoaG

        Re: Is it only a British thing

        For the most part lower and middle management are crap jobs. Salaried crap jobs at that, so lots of unpaid overtime so often 25% works out the same. If they didn't pay more, nobody would ever want a promotion. I've known people given an up or out choice for the same money, and every one of them as taken the package and gone to another tech job. Can't say I blame them, it would take a pretty big chunk to tempt me, and I actually enjoy leadership roles.

  12. Christian Berger

    Mr. Connor You are a beacon of quality on this site

    Your articles are insightful and non-obvious, yet entertaining.

    From what I've seen with recruiters you even seem to be a beacon among them. So far most recruiters seem to see themselves as a shield between me and the company they are recruiting for, keeping me from getting relevant information.

    Other than that, the more I read such "jobs from hell" articles, the more I realize that I'm correct in assuming that I have one of those jobs.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...if they are moving to Notes that is a deeply bad sign..."

    Oh crap...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What is a source of pride for me..

    .. is that I can lift up the phone and call *any* of the people that worked for me and ask them to join me somewhere new, and I know they would come.

    I have a few simple principles:

    1 - no BS. No, sorry, which part of "no" was unclear? Anyone who needs political message massaging is not having me work with them for long. Granted, I mostly get called in because of a panic or a project gone off the rails so I get away with being brutally direct despite the blame flying low and thick, but especially when leading a team I want facts, and respect for each other (it takes a little while to tune a good team, but as with everything, the effort pays off). OK, granted, maybe I enjoy upsetting people playing politics because I have a seriously evil sense of humour (which is why I'm good at criss and security work).

    2 - praise in public, discuss in private. Anyone who manages with an ego is playing a losing game. I have no problem with acknowledging a good idea or contribution, and I will happily fight for getting it rewarded in some form or another (I tend to always set up a budget for that if I can). Mistakes do happen, however, but I find a quiet chat with someone is so much better. In a well managed team, human error becomes the butt of good natured humour for a while - much better, less stress and FAR more effective. And you gain someone with more experience. Of course, there are limits. I do expect people to use their brain.

    3 - lead, not manage. I don't see the point in recruiting people with outstanding skills, honing them to a good working team and then micro managing them to death. You manage kit, you lead people. You have to be open for different opinions (that what you pay people for), and have enough own skills to recognise ideas and opinions for what they are because the end decision remains yours. In my opinion, the most pleasant and efficient team is one that has a clear goal, and knows it has leadership support to get there. It take s a blend of diplomacy, democracy and benign dictatorship to point your team in the right direction, doing it right creates exceptional performance.

    4 - HR merely supports, it does not choose, Where I could build my own team, I was actively involved in the recruitment process, with HR and agents doing the bare minimum of filtering. I know what a CV tells between the lines because I have been on both sides myself, and software can still not do that. As a matter of fact, I once took on a guy whose CV I got by accident after HR clipped a big "no" to it. It was a *perfect* fit.

    Incidentally, recruitment agents should keep in mind that today's candidate they do not bother to get back to can become tomorrow's project leader or business owner seeking staff. If you cannot be bothered to close an enquiry (even if it's automated), don't expect a positive response when bidding for a staff acquisition project. I think everyone is entitled to normal basic politeness..

  15. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    I wish

    I'd read this 15 years ago when I took up what looked like a decent job offer, with lots of perks and the route to promotion and more pay

    Only to find out the perks did'nt exist, the promotion had already gone to someone else and nobody who'd been there less than 18 months had got a rise.....oh and the manager was an arse, and good at lying out of his.

    But then I'd only ever spotted one bad manager to work for, when he used the big book of engineering 101 in order to get some questions for me during the interview... kept looking down and reading the piece of paper they were written on.

    That was a government job involving nuclear weapons !!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The only 2 "good places to work"... no longer exist.

    Lehman Brothers = LBIA, I interviewed there a couple of years back. Totally weird set up. But agreed, it probably would have been interesting work. @Ian K "if you can find someone to pay you for the job."... well, that would be the administrators (that's the IA part - In Administration) which is going on for a few more years yet.

    EDS = HP. This is *not* a good place to work any more! You must have spoken to the wrong people, as most are leaving or are working out how to leave.

    Good article though.

    Personally I'd have thought Google would be a good place to work.

  17. C Phillips

    Good Management

    This is a good article for anyone looking for a job, not just IT. I am convinced there are no good jobs out there anymore. Seems to me most companies are looking for the employee that doesn't exists which forces people to become something they really are not in the interview to begin with, that is, someone who they are not in real life. It is an act on both parties, the hiring manager who pretends to hide his weaknesses and the prospective hired who tries to act like the person they think the company wants. Companies have gotten away from being real people so to keep a job one must get on the stage and dance if asked to. Skill are important but all of business revolves around people and contact with them. Companies have just stopped being 'good people' and it is all about business. Companies no longer care, if they ever did, about people. As long as companies try to dissect their people with and toss them to the lions attitude they will never be a good companies. The mom and pop business knows the truth to this. They build their client base from people they come to know and like and who likes them. Perhaps they aren't as interested in the bottom line as much as big companies, but they are real people and often truly happy.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Matrix Managemenr

    Ah, matrix management. Used at a previous employer.

    The standing joke was "If my boss calls, take his name and number and tell him I'll get back to him".

  19. JaitcH

    I remember an IT manager, now dead, who worked for Rubbermaid ...

    and he had a full head of hair except his sideburns and temples were bare (bald) as he tugged at the hair when was tense.

    And a service manager for a scientific instrumentation company, in Toronto, who lectured service job applicants on integrity and honesty (equipment was used for forensics). I declined the paltry pay offer.

    Last thing I heard he was arrested for theft of platinum wire used for servicing the instruments!

  20. Zilla

    5 years?

    >You are in effect trusting him or her with your earnings for the next five years...

    Forget that. If you want to make money you got to jump ship. I've had 6 IT jobs in 10 years and I'm making 400% more than I did when I first started. Might not work for everyone but I've found it's the quickest way to build up a vast amount of experience and understanding.

    Don't be put off by people who tell you that it will look bad on your C.V. There is no point sticking around a dead end job simply to satisfy some imaginary arsehole who might take exception to your work history.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 5 years?

      I tend to agree and some people might otherwise start to assume you didn't move because you couldn't.

    2. SoaG

      Re: 5 years?

      I never have, and never will, recommend hiring anyone who hasn't had at least 1 employer for 4-5 years. Even if just part-time while they were in school. Why would an employer invest in someone who's already looking for the exit before they start?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 5 years?

        "I never have, and never will, recommend hiring anyone who hasn't had at least 1 employer for 4-5 years. Even if just part-time while they were in school. Why would an employer invest in someone who's already looking for the exit before they start?"

        That's absolutely not the way to get good people in IT. A good developer will come in, do a great job and get bored at around the 1.5 - 2 year mark, then leave for their next challenge (granted this may be at the same company, e.g. through promotion). That's the kind of person you want, not the kind that hangs around, never really doing an outstanding job but treading water for 5 years because they haven't got the get up and go to err ... get up and go I suppose!

        1. Cris E

          Re: 5 years?

          Did you read the post? He said "at some point", meaning that the candidate is capable of settling in if he likes the gig. Some people can't get along and portray constantly moving as some sort of positive. I like folks that CAN stay when they choose to, though my threshold is closer to 3-4 years.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: 5 years?

          there's a line. i knew a guy with fuck all career.

          15+ years he spent maintaining a missmash of code written by an almost clown-like sequence of fresh n00bs.

      2. Zilla

        Re: 5 years?

        That is a seriously pathetic self imposed blocker to hiring the best person and frankly you are the type of person this article is poking fun at.

        It's one of the reasons I contract now because the permanent marketplace is full of people like you who think long term loyalty is the most important thing. It's not. I'd rather have someone who came in for 2 years and worked at a high pace before getting bored, than someone who just plods along playing the long game.

        I keep getting offered long term permanent positions in my contract roles because they see the pace and passion I have for the job, what they don't realize is that I am that way precisely because I'm not gonna be sticking around for 5 years.

    3. Christian Berger

      Leaving is not always simple

      For example I live in Germany. Engineering jobs (outside of weapons manufacture) are rare and spread around the country. So to get a new job, I need to move. Moving is not something you can afford every few months, unless you plan your life around moving.

  21. Paul A. Clayton

    A better answer for interview question?

    “Which one of the five principles of software engineering is the most important?”

    A better answer might have been: The one that is least treated as important by the team.

    Such an answer would have affirmed the idea that they are all important (while providing a singular answer--not that a tie for "most" is not possible) and established that the interviewee understands that complacency is a significant danger and that there are team responsibilities. Such an answer may even jar (and perhaps impress) the interviewer if he was complacently hoping for the canned answer of "all of them".

    Of course, getting snotty because of a weak answer to something of a trick question does demonstrate poor interviewing skills. Outsmarting such an interviewer would probably also keep one from being inflicted with that interviewer's work environment; such a person is more likely to be annoyed than impressed by an answer that is better than the one being sought.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A better answer for interview question?

      You know you're getting old when these '5 principles' came and went and you never noticed. ;-) Ironically, I just googled and the top two hits are 'Seven Basic Principles of Software Engineering" and "Fifteen Principles of Software Engineering".

  22. jake Silver badge

    I stopped dealing with HR and headhunters a couple decades ago.

    Clueless, the lot of 'em. Manglement, and people making pacts with manglement, usually have no actual clue about how the technology in the trenches actually works.

    Today, I only talk with members of the technical staff ...

    Hasn't seemed to affect my income negatively. Quite the opposite, actually :-)

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Beware the first time manager.

    Unless it's a fluke, first time managers often feel the need to prove how much 'management' they are doing. This ultimately means micro-managing the crap out of every situation and having no spine when it come to the boss as (s)he wants to ingratiate themselves with the upper levels of management. A recipe for suffering.

  24. The Alpha Klutz
    IT Angle

    The depressing conclusion to draw

    is that there really is no good IT company, from the developers point of view. It is almost certain no one will understand you or give a shit about you. You might get nice pay if you are lucky, you wont have to sit in an unfurnished flat looking at the bare lightbulb swinging, but even so the bimmer on your drive won't bring you any happiness either. you will never be allowed to do anything fulfilling or even morally acceptable. your job will be to stare into the abyss a little bit deeper every day and in the end you will find that you have no soul

    1. Dominic Connor, Quant Headhunter

      Re: The depressing conclusion to draw

      It certainly is a one conclusion that can be drawn all too easily.

This topic is closed for new posts.