Yishan Wong is the new CEO at Reddit, an excellent social media site I have written about previously. In looking at his background I found some interesting articles he wrote on engineering management based on his experience at Facebook engineering.
He starts with “make hiring your number one priority, always.” To me this is a specific knowledge worker issue. Hiring is always important but the importance in knowledge worker settings (especially when there is quite a bit of poaching good people going on) is elevated. The system thinking affects are obvious from his article including: “Succesfully hiring the best people at all levels means that down the road, your internal promotion pipeline is strong.” This is especially important given his emphasis on promotion from within – of course he wasn’t hired from within for the CEO job at Reddit :-).
Of course as a Deming management advocate I appreciate his article stating process should be implemented by those who do the work. I do strongly disagree with his seeming desire for unformed processes. I strongly believe making processes clear and consistent is critical as is an effective culture of continual improvement.
He further writes: “All external management hires must be able to write code and show a high level of technical proficiency, up to and including the head of the technical department. If the company is a technology company, this should also include the CEO.” I disagree with this idea. I do agree it is preferable. My belief is that one reason (there are many others) we have done so poorly at improving management over the years is we treat it as the promotion path for technical experts (programers, accountants, production, sales…). They often end up focused not on the management of the system but mucking around in details others should take care of. I do believe in the value of a long history of dealing with the company. It is very valuable to know how to write excellent code, I just don’t see that as the top requirement.
Related: Learn to Code to Help Your Career – Productivity Improvement for Entrepreneurs (and Everybody Else Really) – Involve IT Staff in Business Process Improvement – The Myth of the Genius Programmer – Management sub-reddit
Excellent management skills plus high level of technical proficiency will bring great benefits to the organization, mainly because those employees that look up management with such skills will feel deeply motivated. It’s so great having a manager that you can consult on technical as well as managerial aspects, however, I agreed with you, John, this is not a must.
I’ve been working in Canada for around 8 years (came from South America), and it’s curious to me that the view I had from there was that Managers were technical people that got into that position as promotion path (exactly as you mention that we’ve been doing poorly at improving management!).
I remember, when I was working there and there was an organizational change, in which a new manager was brought on board, the expectations among the employees was that “this new person had to be very good technically”, when that was not the case… it was a real challenge for both parts. Of course that was years ago… I was fresh from University.
This is a very interesting topic and one that I have thought long and hard about. While I see the benefits of advancing technically able people to upper level management, I also see a glaring flaw. Management in the best sense is able to see the big picture, make sense of the voice of the customer, and align the capabilities of the company to address the internal process issues so that the customer is better served.
To often hiring from within a company or even the same industry incentivizes doing the same things that have always been done regardless of the historical ramifications. I think it is very important for management to have a different type of eye, one that can recognize the capabilities available and create the environment to best utilize them toward satisfying the customer. This issue has pigeon-holed many a manager looking to venture into new industries or opportunities, but has difficulty finding a new home due to the lack of industry specific knowledge.
I would be inclined to disagree. Technical skills are a great benefit, but so are communication skills, leadership and the countless other factors that make a good manager.
On technical skills alone, I think most business would fall over very quickly due to the lack of even the most rudimentary verbal and written skills.
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