Understanding How to Manage Geeks

The unspoken truth about managing geeks [the broken link was removed] by Jeff Ello

IT pros are sensitive to logic — that’s what you pay them for. When things don’t add up, they are prone to express their opinions on the matter, and the level of response will be proportional to the absurdity of the event. The more things that occur that make no sense, the more cynical IT pros will become… Presuming this is a trait that must be disciplined out of them is a huge management mistake. IT pros complain primarily about logic, and primarily to people they respect. If you are dismissive of complaints, fail to recognize an illogical event or behave in deceptive ways, IT pros will likely stop complaining to you. You might mistake this as a behavioral improvement, when it’s actually a show of disrespect. It means you are no longer worth talking to, which leads to insubordination.

Good IT pros are not anti-bureaucracy, as many observers think. They are anti-stupidity. The difference is both subjective and subtle.

The primary task of any IT group is to teach people how to work. That’s may sound authoritarian, but it’s not. IT’s job at the most fundamental level is to build, maintain and improve frameworks within which to accomplish tasks.

it’s all about respect. If you can identify and cultivate those individuals and processes that earn genuine respect from IT pros, you’ll have a great IT team. Taking an honest interest in helping your IT group help you is probably the smartest business move an organization can make. It also makes for happy, completely non-geek-like geeks.

The article makes very good points. As I have said before software developers expect more of management than most staff do. And I would say software developers are seen as more cynical than most staff because they accurately evaluate management’s failures (and are more willing to speak up about problems).

Pretending software bugs don’t exist doesn’t work. Pretending management bugs don’t exist doesn’t work either, but most are willing to pretend management bugs don’t exit. Programmers often figure bugs should be acknowledged and dealt with, rather than pretending they don’t exist. But they are called cynical when they mention management bugs – which only makes them less confident in the ability of management to preform their responsibilities.

There will also be some who are cynical by any measure, but often what is seen as cynical is instead a good prediction of the likely result. The way to fix this cynical attitude is to succeed in management improvement not hope people fail to accurate assess the likely results based on the available evidence.

I was sent this quote yesterday by my friend, Dave Nave: “The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.” George Bernard Shaw (attributed)

Related: Explaining Managers to ProgrammersTop 10 Reasons Why Employees Leave in ITWhat Motivates Programmers?Respect for People – Understanding PsychologyDell, Reddit and Customer Focus

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6 Responses to Understanding How to Manage Geeks

  1. jfbauer says:

    The comments about IT pros complaining about logic is spot on. In my experience, if you break down illogical work situations that are causing your IT pros angst into a logical flow – even if you arrive at a string of smaller illogical events – the sequencing is akin to programming structures and they will better be able to process the situation. If you can repeat this with the same individuals over a few of these work situations, you can increase the level of test with your staff. Your IT Pros will be a bit less distracted by the overall chaos and begin to process the smaller chunks in a more calm manner … thus able to get back to more productive work sooner.

  2. Jeff Santini says:


    I think the point of the post was about finding the flaw in the illogical situation and fixing it, not convincing people to accomodate the illogical situation.

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