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Leaders Aren't Being Made At Tech Firms 135

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-cylons dept.
theodp writes "In this article Vivek Wadhwa laments that short shrift is paid to management training these days at many high-tech firms. You can't be born with the skills needed to plan projects, adhere to EEOC guidelines, prepare budgets and manage finances, or to know the intricacies of business and IP law, says Wadhwa. All this has to be learned. Stepping up to address the problems of 'engineering without leadership,' which may include morale problems, missed deadlines, customer-support disasters, and high turnover, are programs like UC Berkeley's Engineering Leadership Program and Duke's Masters of Engineering Management Program, which aim to teach product management, entrepreneurial thinking, leadership, finance, team building, business management, and motivation to techies."
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Leaders Aren't Being Made At Tech Firms

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  • MBA's (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ProfBooty (172603) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @07:16AM (#33480892)

    Wasn't this what MBA's were originally intended for? Training engineers to be managers?

  • It's not necessary (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 05, 2010 @07:21AM (#33480904)

    Sociopathy ftw!

  • by AmazinglySmooth (1668735) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @07:23AM (#33480906)
    Why should a company care? Someone else in your position is going to grad school right now and can fill it when needed.
  • by barzok (26681) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @07:35AM (#33480932)

    This is it. Why promote from within when you can hire someone to be an asshole manager from outside the company?

  • Re:MBA's (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Ironhandx (1762146) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @07:47AM (#33480968)

    You're making a case here that MBAs are actually supposed to have a purpose besides attempting to further their own career and screwing over anyone and everyone in their path to do so. Said case does not exist. An MBA for training focuses almost entirely on skills required for those two above goals, there is no technical skill imparted and no technical skills tested. Therefore your MBA's come out of their programs with very little value for actually knowing something about the jobs of the people they are managing and end up either looking good enough on an interview to start making colossal mistakes in a management position somewhere, or inept enough that the interview is actually at McDonalds.

    The really good MBAs can manage to blame all mistakes on someone else while making themselves look good at the same time. These are what usually rise the ranks into CEO territory, and are all largely responsible for the utter mess that the economy is in right now.

    Now, there are the select few that don't fit that description. Those people either end up being one of the very few stellar CEO's or are too good at their jobs and not good enough at politicking and work in middle management somewhere for the duration of their careers.

  • Leaders (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 05, 2010 @07:55AM (#33480992)
    Leaders! pft! My place is like a Dilbert comic
  • Re:MBA's (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jcr (53032) <(jcr) (at) (> on Sunday September 05, 2010 @07:58AM (#33481000) Journal

    Careful with the broad brush, there. I've met MBAs who were well-trained to run a business, and I've met others who just got their ticket punched from a "name brand" school who were somewhat worse than useless.


  • Re:MBA's (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hedwards (940851) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @08:12AM (#33481028)
    Or perhaps we ought to go back to the system where you didn't need extra letters behind your name to get a promotion. Just evidence that you could do your job and the next one up. That's ultimately where we went wrong. No MBA or degree program in and of itself is a replacement for industry experience and knowledge. The fact that people see an MBA and assume that a person has any knowledge or capability at all on that basis is extremely terrifying to me. The evidence I've seen over the last decade or so is that it would be wise to put those applicants to the bottom of the pile if we're doing anything without a full thorough investigation.

    The fact that businesses so routinely run themselves out of business and do great harm to themselves with ill conceived business strategies ought to be evidence that perhaps something is going horribly, horribly wrong as the status quo at business school.
  • by hedwards (940851) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @08:15AM (#33481040)
    Actually those 11% are too busy trying to figure out how to loot the Picasso from their office without people noticing before crashing the entire business and collecting a gold parachute to send the jobs overseas to care about corporate leadership.
  • by Bucc5062 (856482) < minus language> on Sunday September 05, 2010 @08:24AM (#33481054)

    My God, how did we ever survive, much less built some amazing technology before this great mind discovered we are not "making leaders" today. We are not making leaders, or are the leaders focused in the wrong direction. IBM, HP, Wang, Dec, Microsoft, Apple, yes even Google started small and grew because their "leaders" did not focus on the next month, the next quarter, but on a long term vision of what they wanted their company to be in the market. In my thirty years in this IT industry I know of only two managers that understand that if you manage the people, they will manage the project. The rest managed the budget, the project and never took time to understand the resources they had. Whet these new classes should re-teach is the art of managing people so they become a positive, motived work force and not indentured labor.

  • Re:MBA's (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 05, 2010 @08:31AM (#33481084)

    Yes, there are some. In my observations, while not first, they tend to be very high up on the list when lay-offs come around. They also typically do not get promoted past their entry position. They are also often entrusted with doing the tasks of multiple management positions when other managers are out or the positions unfilled. If they want a shot at actually going up the corporate ladder, they have to change companies. They do get bonuses though, but not like the PHBs, despite stellar reviews and results. This is often a token bonus for covering multiple positions (as stated above) that doesn't come near to compensating them for the additional work. They will be passed over if they attempt to get promoted by applying for the position they are already doing the work for.

    It doesn't help when the MBA major is one people join when their GPA is in the crapper, compulsive partiers, jocks, failed would be science/engineering students, would be liberal arts majors, etc...

  • Re:MBA's (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jellomizer (103300) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @08:45AM (#33481124)

    Actually a lot of MBA don't flaunt it. I myself worked for an MBA not to help me get promoted per say. But it makes it easier as it says I want to be promoted and I am serious about it and it makes sure I am not just type casted as a techie, but that I have other ambitions in life. There ae a lot of people who don't want to be managers that is fine and good. But how to weed out the ones you should put on a management track and the ones on a different track. Companies of any signigant size finding talent within the company is hard. The fact you took those classes helps the search.

    Now there are many different ways to get an MBA.

    1. Mail order degree. These are usually the scummy MBA who know nothing but how to talk themselves to a jab as your boss.

    2. Full time - no work experience just academia. These are the know nothings but at least they have the fundamental which they can get experience with.

    3. Fast Track - weekend programs covering a full class in 2 days. You get a lot of people who just needs the paper to look good for #1 and #2. They will pick up a lot of stuff. And they have real work experience but they miss out on the fundamentals.

    4. Part time - dedicating 3 - 4 years with a full time job and family. They usually produce the good ones who are not in it thinking they will get rich quick. But to help the company and themselves grow. They are usually the bosses who knows what they are talking about

  • Leadership? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @09:39AM (#33481332) Homepage Journal

    adhere to EEOC guidelines, prepare budgets and manage finances, or to know the intricacies of business and IP law

    That's not leadership. That's memorizing a bunch of artificially imposed minituae that is not very interesting. That is a role suited for an assistant trained in law.

    The budget part is relevant, but only to the extent that every human being ought to know how to manage their resources. The rest is suited for an assistant trained in accounting.

  • by munitor (1632747) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @09:46AM (#33481358)
    What you describe is the difference between leadership and management. You can teach people to manage projects, meet regulations, take care of HR housekeeping, etc., but it's hard to teach leadership (building a shared vision, developing people, personal effectiveness, etc.) unless the student already has the capacity and the drive.
  • Re:MBA's (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Americano (920576) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @10:01AM (#33481412)

    You are correct, sir! It just requires a few all-nighters hacking on the org chart, dintchoo know?

  • Re:MBA's (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @10:27AM (#33481528) Journal
    The purpose of an MBA course is not to make strong leaders... or at least it shouldn't aspire to be. Looking at the curriculum, most of what it does is teach business administration tools and skills. Leadership skills? Not really. The sad thing is that a lot of MBA graduates do precisely that: they go into middle and upper management, often with little or no real experience at leading.

    Managers, not MBAs [] offers a good insight into the MBA program and into all the things wrong with it today. The thing is, the MBA is not a bad course to take in itself... except that it reinforces bad behaviour in some cases, like making uninformed snap decisions. One of the bigger problems, according to the author, is that most MBA courses focus on the "science" side (analysis), and more or less completely avoid the "art" (vision) and "craft" (experience) aspects. And isn't this exacly what we most often see when we look at all the lousy managers in our own places of work? Making snap decisions on a whim, lacking a coherent vision and instead always reading up on the latest management techniques. They are often very poor at managing people and teams, but oh, they are good with numbers and spreadsheets. And numbers and spreadsheets is what is driving many companies today, rather than vision and insight.

    The skills taught in an MBA can be very useful, and an MBA can offer a valuable additional set of skills to managers, consultants and even techies. But an MBA alone is insufficient to become a good manager, just like an engineering master's degree doesn't make one a good engineer.
  • Re:Leadership? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wagadog (545179) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @10:52AM (#33481640) Journal

    "'adhere to EEOC guidelines'" is not leadership because it's "memorizing a bunch of artificially imposed minutia that is not very interesting"?

    Well, you're right. Leadership that promotes objectivity and fairness regardless of gender, race, childbearing status or age will simply not have to worry about adherence to EEOC guidelines--because the leader will have made it very clear how people are to be treated and evaluated by both their peers, their reports, and by management.

    Instead of playing "divide and conquer" along race, religious, gender, and age lines in order to maintain his own petty authority by keeping his charges fighting with each other instead of *him* (and bad leaders like this are almost always insecure unqualified white males promoted beyond their actual abilities because of their lame white maleness), a *real* leader can motivate everyone to do their best work by making it clear that good work -- not good looks -- is what's noticed and rewarded.

    Interestingly, because women, African-Americans, Latinos and particularly Latinas have to be grossly overqualified and between two and three times harder working than their white male counterparts, and since they are so used to never getting a fair shake -- simply BEING FAIR is a big surprise to us.

  • honesty and wisdom (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bzipitidoo (647217) <> on Sunday September 05, 2010 @10:52AM (#33481642) Journal

    Once again, I'm seeing a focus on technical competence, and the usual ragging on managers who don't know anything that way. And also on competence in the technical aspects of business such as budgeting and knowing the ropes of IP law.

    Managers and financial wizards are worse than useless if they are damned fools and aren't honest. They think they're telling little white lies that don't cause any harm when they mislead investors and employees. And they have funny ideas about how to motivate people. They want everyone on hot seats, all the time, thinking that's how to get the most out of people. They prowl around with the micromanagement, thinking that's how they're going to ferret out the slackers, and making it so the rest won't dare slack. They treat underlings like mushrooms, in an insulting, patronizing manner, not seeing how that can be self-fulfilling, and how it can blow back at them. As if that's not bad enough, they gratuitously indulge their fears, jealousies, petty spitefulnesses, bullying ways, and dominance gaming on the employees they've done all they can to make captive.

    Where is the "leadership" training that covers such issues? Are people just supposed to instinctively know not to treat with their fellows so? I've seen enough of that kind of foolishness in RL to know it cannot be just swept under the rug.

  • Re:MBA's (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 05, 2010 @10:57AM (#33481668)

    Have gone threw an MBA myself at least at my college

    Oh yeah? Which college?

  • Re:MBA's (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 05, 2010 @11:22AM (#33481796)

    Wasn't this what MBA's were originally intended for? Training engineers to be managers?

    I've never met a good engineer who even wanted to be a manager. I've met many people with engineering degrees who were hoping to be king of the nerd-pen though. MBAs have become essentially meaningless, since you can't be in a tech company and not understand tech, even if you're a suit. This appears to be some way of appealing to that belief.

    The problem is the same as always, you can't stay on top of tech if you're not doing tech. Regardless of whether you get an MBA or some specialized engineering management degree, you're always about 5 years away from being the clueless PHB, unless you can demote yourself and spend a few years doing engineering again.

    I'm not sure that tech firms need "leaders", tech became successful without them, at least here in the US what we're lacking presently are tech firms that produce good tech that aren't so encrusted with marketing or business acumen that they suck. If you ask me we need our nerds back, or at least to have our nerds to stop submitting to the "queer eye for the straight guy" treatment to pretend they're leaders to hang on to their jobs, and just be nerds again.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 05, 2010 @11:36AM (#33481882)

    It's a _NON_THESIS_ (as in you don't have to write a big difficult paper) "Masters" degree. The "highly ranked" schools of business within college XYZ that run these programs are may have more challenging entry requirements but even then there's a level of name recognition & ass kissing that sets students up to play the "it's not what you know, it's who you know" game for the rest of their lives. It's not like the course material is SOOO much better at B-School Ivy vs. B-School State, it a questions of which alumni are associated and what doors will open for you.

    And as far as not getting an MBA because you're a "jock", I call bullshit. The way the "high end" of the business world works, it's all about popularity & networking. Have you been paying attention to the corporate corruption & insane salary levels in the news for the past decade or two? That shit doesn't happen to an entire so-called profession by accident - it's fucking structural! There's a few bits of some simple subjects to learn compared to real Masters programs (where they make you write a REAL master's thesis, by the way, but otherwise - yes. It is EXACTLY like fucking high school. That's why when we honest, hard-working engineering students were grinding through Comp. Sci. & Electrical Engineering going to study groups 5 days a week we'd go past Greek row and see the frats stocked with the "let's skate through life on our good looks & connections" types partying while we studied our asses off since 90% of them were there for either Business or Communications degrees.

    Yes, you could flunk a bunch of stuff in your undergrad and still get into an MBA school (since there's so fucking many of them). They'll be happy to take your money so you can skate through another two or even only _ONE_ year (there are "5 year MBA programs": google it.). Will it open as many doors? Probably not. But you probably also won't starve and (as with most college degrees) the dirty little secret is that after you've gone out and done something 10 years later, nobody cares about your GPA or what college you went to any more than you high school teachers cared about your finger painting and what kindergarten you went to. So long as there's a degree on your resume, you'll generally pass the corporate HR bullshit - but then again, nobody in their right mind goes through the front door hiring process if they can help it, so you're back to "who you know".

  • by pandrijeczko (588093) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @11:40AM (#33481898)

    I'm in my 40s, as a kid I grew up watching my dad & other male relatives build furniture out of wood, decorate houses, build brick walls, mend washing machines, etc. etc.

    I grew up in a house where I had enough free reign to take stuff apart to see how it worked and try and fix it - yes, sometimes I broke it for good or couldn't get it back together again.

    Then when I got into my teens, I built electronic circuits, learnt to program Z80 CPUs in assembly and took bicycles or mower engines apart to clean and fix them - again, sometimes what I did made it worse.

    Since then, I've spent 30 years in telecoms, computers and IT and done a good job over those years. Not once have I considered entering management, the closest I've ever got is writing and presenting training courses, along with some technical mentoring as necessary.

    It's impossible to be trained as an expert in every piece of hardware, operating system, telecoms principle, etc. that I come across but most of the time I get by using my engineering brain and knowing my limits - so if I need to know something more about something, I ask someone or go read a book. I'm not afraid to tell anyone "I'm sorry, I don't know the answer but give me a day or two and I think I can find one."

    In IT especially, there are a lot of people who are afraid to admit their limitations or even believe themselves to always be right - and on some occasions, I've taken great joy in taking them down a step or two.

    The point is that logic, intuition and self-motivation are disappearing in business - sorry, but as I'm over here in the UK I blame it entirely on American-style management techniques (although we're not blameless for accepting it so readily) where everything is performance and statistically based, and as long as you achieve your targets, it doesn't matter if you can think outside the box or not.

    I know that being a good engineer is not about necessarily having the answer there and then but knowing how to get towards getting the answer in a logical fashion. That is a skill that comes from real-world experience, it cannot be trained into you.

    And whilst I lack management skills, I expect that the same is true for a good manager - leadership & motivation skills are not something you can be taught, they're skills you pick up as you progress through life.

  • Re:MBA's (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 05, 2010 @11:51AM (#33481950)
    Come on now. You really think an MBA could successfully navigate the web, register, read text thats more than a few words long and post a reply on slashdot?

    I think you're being generous.

    There's a certain unintentional irony in your comment when you consider the number of people here who post on subjects that they know nothing about, along with the number of moderators who will happily mod those posts right up because they assume the poster has a clue.
  • by hedwards (940851) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @11:53AM (#33481958)
    In my experience, leadership isn't something which can be taught, anymore than integrity and strength can. Sure you can help somebody develop those skills, but at the end of the day, it comes from someplace within.

    People tend to follow me for the simple reason that I'm not scared of really anything, but haven't lost my respect for the dangers out there. I'm willing to take responsibility for the people that are following my orders and willing to tell people to screw off when I have the need to do so.

    The absolute worst thing that a leader can do is flip flop and fold on a subordinate following orders.

    The technical skills can all be taught, pretty much anybody willing to put in the time and effort can learn them, same goes for the laws applicable to the situation.
  • Re:MBA's (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GrumblyStuff (870046) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @12:25PM (#33482074)

    It would be appropriate certification for someone who could bullshit their way through high school and college.

  • Re:Leadership? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Call Me Black Cloud (616282) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @12:36PM (#33482142)

    You're absolutely right. There's a difference between management and leadership, and the skills are generally mutually exclusive. Force a leader to take on management tasks and he will likely be unhappy and not do well. Force a manager to be a leader and you'll end up with a lot of unhappy subordinates.
  • by Newer Guy (520108) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @02:21PM (#33482632)
    Agreed! I had a boss who was General Manager of a Boston radio station. He didn't know much about engineering or sales-but he was a great judge of people-and creative people WANTED to work for him! He hired the best people, gave them the tools they needed to do their jobs and then LET THEM! He didn't micromange. He knew that creative people occasionally pushed the barriers and let them-but was always there to pull back gently on their leashes if necessary. I enjoyed working for him-and let me assure you it was hard work. BUT you felt like you were part of a team-and he also shared the credit/spoils with all of the people who worked for him. One summer week the Tall Ships were coming to Boston, and it was my job to not only facilitate a weeks broadcasts from a pier on the waterfront, but also make sure the talent got there for their broadcasts-when half the streets were closed down. So I hired a reliable friend as station driver for the week-dressed in his best suit and with a daily freshly washed and cleaned station Jeep just to drive talent, clients and management back and forth. He had full press credentials so he could drive everywhere and since he kneew the area (and knew how to make friends with the Boston Police officers) got priority treatment from them. At the end of the week my boss told me: "when you came up with this idea I didn't like it, but decided to give you a shot-and it turned out it was one of the best ideas you have ever had". THAT'S the kind of boss he was-he made you feel great!
  • by hitmark (640295) on Monday September 06, 2010 @03:59AM (#33487020) Journal []

    "Three percent compound growth (generally considered the minimum satisfactory growth rate for a healthy capitalist economy) is becoming less and less feasible to sustain without resort to all manner of fictions (such as those that have characterized asset markets and financial affairs over the last two decades)."

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