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Tech Expertise Not Important In Google Managers 298

Posted by samzenpus
from the we-don't-need-to-talk-about-your-tps-reports dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "For much of its 13-year history, Google has taken a pretty simple approach to management: Leave people alone but if employees become stuck, they should ask their bosses, whose deep technical expertise propelled them into management in the first place. Now the Economic Times reports that statisticians at Google looking for characteristics that define good managers have gathered more than 10,000 observations about managers — across more than 100 variables, from various performance reviews, feedback surveys and other reports and found that technical expertise ranks dead last among Google's eight most important characteristics of good managers. What Google employees value most are even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees' lives and careers."
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Tech Expertise Not Important In Google Managers

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  • most of the time I wish this wasn't true.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Starteck81 (917280)

      most of the time I wish this wasn't true.

      The real trick is to fhttp://tech.slashdot.org/story/11/03/13/1856240/Tech-Expertise-Not-Important-In-Google-Managers?from=fb#ind someone technically skill who is also good with people. Admittedly this is a very rare combination.

    • by petes_PoV (912422) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @04:18PM (#35473920)
      Why denigrate people skills, they're much rarer than technical skills. Just look at the number of people with good technical skills - compare with the number of good managers. IME there are plenty of good developers, testers, coders, designers, tech authors, sysadmins, dbas. There are many fewer worthwhile team leaders and managers. Plus, most of the techies who do get promoted into management are pretty terrible at it.

      The biggest problem is that you can't test for management skills. Either you have it or you don't. It doesn't appear to be something you can take a class in, or get a qualification in. Even worse: it doesn't show up at interview. It does appear to grow (or sometimes diminish) with experience: a poor manager can grow into a half-decent one, given the right supervision and advice (presuming they're willing to take advice) but you can't measure it or compare two managers to see which one's best - not without extensive and time consuming field trials.

      So if you find a good one, keep hold of them.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There is no surplus of good technical people and there is no surplus of good managers. You can test for both skills (what do you think Google is doing? and both categories have their fair share of posers. Both skills are necessary for success. The only difference is that managers set the salaries of both groups, because people with people skills will always rise above other people. That's also why techs get fired when they screw up and managers get a promotion if their mistakes become evident late enough (

      • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @04:59PM (#35474266) Homepage Journal

        The US Navy, and the rest of the military, would disagree with you. Uncle Sam taught me that few, if any, people are "born leaders". More, I was taught that "born leaders" seldom fit into a cohesive unit, being more interested in their own goals, than the unit or corporate goals. Leadership and/or management are learned skills, and the military spends a great deal of effort teaching men and women to be effective leaders and managers. And, yes, you can test for leadership skills. Put a person into a real life complex stressful situation, and see how they perform. Oh, wait - you meant a test that you can sit down, and fill in the answers with a pencil? No, not really - but it might be a start if you bother to ask your victim or subject if he can even define leadership or management. I've often found that merely defining a problem or a goal gets me a long way toward solving the problem.

        Freebie for you: My leadership training defined leadership as the art of motivating people to do what they should be doing anyway. Does that help you at all?

        BTW - my training wasn't strictly military. The courses that I took were jointly developed by the US Navy and Princeton University. Everything that I learned is readily available to people in the corporate and industrial world, if they bother to look for it.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I actually know an Academy grad who got canned from the Navy because he just couldn't learn to be a leader. Technically, he is brilliant but he just couldn't get it. The Navy sent him to all those leadership classes you spoke of but when his second promotion came up, he was denied and subsequently booted.

          You can teach and even learn the outer actions and speech of a leader, but I've seen too many times folks who did what they were taught and couldn't lead a thirsty crew to a water fountain.

          Leadership is a

          • by magarity (164372)

            A manager says,"Men we have to go and take out the machine gun nest. Jones, you go first."

            So the ultimate manager is the Hindmost?

          • by Gorobei (127755) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @08:38PM (#35475468)

            A manager says,"Men we have to go and take out the machine gun nest. Jones, you go first."

            A leader says, "Men, we have to take out that machine gun nest. Follow me!"

            That's all there is too it. Anyone tells you there's more, well, they're selling you a "leadership program" for mega-bucks.

            A real leader says "This is how we take out a machine gun nest." Then he does it, training this guys.

            By machine nest 4, his guys just say "oh, we took out the machine gun nest on the left flank that was annoying us."

        • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Sunday March 13, 2011 @08:26PM (#35475400)

          I wasn't in the Navy. I was in the Army. Same basis, different implementation.

          The problem in the corporate world is primarily semantic.
          Everyone wants to be called a "leader". Even when the situation requires a competent clerk.

          1. Leaders will lead you into new fields.

          2. Managers will make manage the people, equipment and time to achieve the goals of the leader (or the manager above them).

          3. Clerks process the paperwork needed to acquire the people and equipment requested by the managers.

          4. And then you have the individuals (aka "the talent").

          A task that requires a competent clerk will be a complete mess when handled by a competent leader with a deficiency in clerk skills.

          On the other hand, an extremely capable clerk can perform almost as well as a competent manager.

          Too often, corporations claim "leardership" by trying to "manage" through emphasizing paperwork (clerk skills) and records.

        • by awyeah (70462) *

          I've often found that merely defining a problem or a goal gets me a long way toward solving the problem.

          On a (tangentially) related note... This is one of the tenets of David Allen's Getting Things done. I believe the phrase he uses is "desired outcome."

          I'm not a manager, but in meetings, when I've asked the question "What is the desired outcome?" People really seem stunned - as if they simply hadn't thought about it. That's weird to me.

          But when you finally answer that question, the steps you need to take to get there seem to reveal themselves.

          Then again, I'm the kind of geek who enjoys reading self-help pr

        • by hey! (33014)

          Freebie for you: My leadership training defined leadership as the art of motivating people to do what they should be doing anyway. Does that help you at all?

          That's not just leadership. That's what it takes to be a truly successful person. The humorist Will Rogers once said, "It ain't so much what a man doesn't know that causes him so many problems, but what he knows that ain't so." I'd take it step further and say that the real problem are the things we know but choose to ignore "just this once", over and over again. There's always some compelling reason to cut corners, but heeding those reasons leads to habitual corner cutting. On the other hand, you don't

      • by Snaller (147050)

        He doesn't have people skills, and that makes him sad.

    • by rolfwind (528248)

      Just think of it as a kind of hacking.

    • You're in luck (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MarkusQ (450076)

      most of the time I wish this wasn't true.

      You're in luck. This is another case of #statisticsfail.

      If all of their managers are selected to have deep technical expertise, it isn't going to correlate with success any more than "having two ears" will. This is a well known phenomenon called "sample bias" and is dearly beloved by everyone who wants to lie with statistics.

      -- MarkusQ

      • You're in luck. This is another case of #statisticsfail.

        Can we please, please, please leave out the #topic notation from slashdot? It has no relevance here.

        If all of their managers are selected to have deep technical expertise, it isn't going to correlate with success any more than "having two ears" will. This is a well known phenomenon called "sample bias" and is dearly beloved by everyone who wants to lie with statistics.

        Statistics are data; their interpretation is information, and that information can be spun in many ways, like the fact that you didn't RTFA at all. The tl;dr version is that Google's HR "analytics" team reviewed the data of performance reviews, feedback surveys etc and found that technical expertise in a boss was not ranked highly by the people reporting to them. Given that the manager is one of three key rea

        • Re:You're in luck (Score:5, Informative)

          by MarkusQ (450076) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:38PM (#35476072) Journal

          *sigh*

          Let me walk you through this:

          • Google made a major point of ensuring that managers had technical expertise
          • If we assume that they (Google) were honest in reporting this priority, competent in executing it, etc., we can conclude that given an individual who was a manager at Google it's highly likely that they had technical expertise; that is, to a good first approximation, HasTechnicalExpertise(X) is true for all X for which IsManagerAtGoogle(X) is true.
          • Google then took a survey of the people being managed, and asked them what was important to them about their manager.
          • The resulting list of features was presumably finite, as they completed the survey in a finite amount of time.
          • This might at first seem surprising, since there are an infinite number of things that might be said about a manager. However, a little thought shows that the most probable cause is that predicates that were true of (almost) all or (almost) none of the managers did not make a serious contribution to the data. Note that this filtering could have occurred at any part of the process (if it was a "pick the most important" list, neither "drinks water" or "can fly" were likely to be included; if by chance they were, they would be unlikely to be chosen; likewise, if it was a free-form question most respondents would be unlikely to volunteer such observations).
          • Therefore we should not expect to see common traits shared by all the managers as a strong component of the data.
          • Specifically, we should not expect "has technical expertise" to be a strong component of the data.
          • It was not. No story here.

          -- MarkusQ

          • Re:You're in luck (Score:5, Informative)

            by dakameleon (1126377) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @11:54PM (#35476450)

            Again, if you actually read TFA:

            • No survey was taken directly asking that question; the data being analysed was the usual performance reviews and management feedback surveys, which Google apparently conducts quarterly
            • An attempt was made to quantify statements which were presumably qualitative, in order for it to be usable data
            • If you strip away the spin of the summary, what the article reads to me is that while the managers may have gotten to where they were based on their technical expertise, that is not what is valued by those that report to the manager.
            • What was valued was the "soft skills" - this is not to remove technical skill as a requirement for success, but that it is not perceived as a key component.
            • I agree there's no story here, but for different reasons - the conclusion was that soft skills are perceived as more valuable in a manager than technical expertise. To me, that's something that's stupendously obvious.

            Most importantly, I think the following demonstrates a rather mature attitude from Google:

            Google executives say they aren't crunching all this data to develop some algorithm of successful management. The point, they say, is to provide the data and to make people aware of it, so that managers can understand what works and, just as important, what doesn't. ...
            For now, Bock says he is particularly struck by the simplicity of the rules, and the fact that applying them doesn?t require a personality transplant for a manager.

            "You don't actually need to change who the person is," he says. "What it means is, if I'm a manager and I want to get better, and I want more out of my people and I want them to be happier, two of the most important things I can do is just make sure I have some time for them and to be consistent. And that's more important than doing the rest of the stuff."

            They're sticking to their policies, but making sure the managers understand what areas need focus.

    • by epyT-R (613989)

      no they don't.. in theory, google has been benefiting from this first-generation crop of technically minded management.. if this study means they're going to move away from that, then expect to see a lot of the reasons to work for google over say, microsoft, fade away real quick. while a certain amount of people skill is important, what really gets the job done at the end of the day is someone who can code algorithms. those types tend NOT to be people people, and a management that cannot tolerate or under

      • by Daniel Phillips (238627) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @05:09PM (#35474336)

        Laszlo just demonstrates that by selling the value of technical expertise short, he is part of the problem. But I already knew that. In all fairness, Laszlo is really the reason for the majority of management dysfunctionality at Google because he spent way too many years looking the other way as frontline managers make a mockery of the systems that were put in place. Eric having his head in the clouds didn't help.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 13, 2011 @05:14PM (#35474372)

        I think you're totally missing the point. Of course, as a first-level manager at a tech company, I've got my own biases here :)

        I assume we can agree that in the end, progress is made by individual contributors -- in programming, these would be the people who can code algorithms; in my field (systems engineering) it's the people who can figure out how to, say, manage systems well and efficiently. Basically, really smart individual contributors.

        All other things being equal, one could make a pretty convincing case then that, basically, managers don't directly contribute to a company's bottom line. I think so far it sounds like we generally agree.

        However, saying that the people who make progress are the code writers doesn't mean that progress is measured purely in your ability to go into your desk/cubicle/office/palace and write code by your lonesome. Your stuff has to work with other people's stuff.

        At its most unstructured, then, a reasonably complex environment requires engineers to work with other engineers to figure out how their stuff will work together. In the worst case, this is ad-hoc and tactical; at the best case, this is how SOAs are designed and APIs are agreed upon. You could argue, of course, that this sort of negotiation work should be done by managers -- and I'd then argue you're wrong because this is the core of what being really good technical engineers is all about.

        As I see it, my job as a manager is very simple:
        1. I get to deal with people problems, so engineers don't have to. Our (internal) customers are sometimes as prone to peopleskill deficiencies as our own engineers are, and this sometimes leads to a situation where an interaction leads one (or, typically, both) sides feeling like something's not quite working. I get to help;
        2. When an engineer is stuck on what the best way to solve a given problem is, they may (but don't have to) ask me for an opinion (not directive or decision, unless that's how they want to see it). I can probably express an opinion without knowing the very lowest level technical details of how a particular solution would be implemented (at least, in my experience). If I come up with something useful, they'll use it. Otherwise, they won't;
        3. When there's a question about priorities and what direction fits with our overall larger goals, they can ask me.

        But it's important to note that:
        A) Me having people skills doesn't mean I have a problem working with people who don't have the same level of people skills (I don't agree with the standard logical fallacy that you can either be technically brilliant or socially adept. That's one of the reasons I love working in a company with a "no brilliant jerks" rule);
        B) If I hired people whose knowledge was a subset of my own, the smartest we'd be able to be is as smart as I am, and these people would essentially just be extensions of my own capabilities. Pardon the language, but fuck that -- I want to hire people who are way, way, way smarter than I am.

        • As I see it, my job as a manager is very simple:
          1. I get to deal with people problems, so engineers don't have to. Our (internal) customers are sometimes as prone to peopleskill deficiencies as our own engineers are, and this sometimes leads to a situation where an interaction leads one (or, typically, both) sides feeling like something's not quite working. I get to help;
          2. When an engineer is stuck on what the best way to solve a given problem is, they may (but don't have to) ask me for an opinion (not directive or decision, unless that's how they want to see it). I can probably express an opinion without knowing the very lowest level technical details of how a particular solution would be implemented (at least, in my experience). If I come up with something useful, they'll use it. Otherwise, they won't;
          3. When there's a question about priorities and what direction fits with our overall larger goals, they can ask me.

          As a software developer, I can agree with all of the above. I've worked under both very good and spectacularly bad managers in my time, and the difference for productivity is really night-and-day. It's all about knowing what, exactly, you're doing, and being able to do it without hindrances due to inefficient process, or due to being blocked on other people or teams.

          As well, a perfect manager is, in many ways, like a perfect sysadmin - if he does the job really well, arranging the work process such that his

        • ... to add one more thing - there is a separate position for "guy who is a tech expert, oversees that team uses best practices, and gives specific advise on how to do such-and-such" - it's a tech lead. Not all teams need that, but for those who do, it's beneficial when this person is separate from manager proper. For one thing, because it requires a very different skillset, and I've yet to see a person who had both at the same time; and for another, because the manager can contain lead's overreaching into w

        • by epyT-R (613989)

          I assume we can agree that in the end, progress is made by individual contributors -- in programming, these would be the people who can code algorithms; in my field (systems engineering) it's the people who can figure out how to, say, manage systems well and efficiently. Basically, really smart individual contributors.

          ok, agreed.

          All other things being equal, one could make a pretty convincing case then that, basically, managers don't directly contribute to a company's bottom line. I think so far it sounds like we generally agree.

          well actually not quite.. GOOD managers do contribute. though, a lot of times, I don't think their contributions justify the often HUGE salary differences between them and the people who work for them. we reward upper management too much, to the point where fields like engineering barely pay for the schooling required, never mind reward. In the case of google, a technically minded first generation management created a low resistance path from directive to result because those in charge understoo

    • You call it people skills; I call it style without substance.

      Managers relying on it have sunk and wrecked most great companies in the western world. We have people at the helm of many companies who don't understand even the most fundamental principles of what their company does or provides.

      Why have most western companies off shored and effectively sold all their secrets, techniques and futures to China and more? Because their management simply did not understand what it was doing; their time was spent conc

  • No shit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drsmack1 (698392) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @03:55PM (#35473746)

    News Flash: Non-Autistic spectrum people better at dealing with people!

    Be honest with yourselves Slashdot - would you *really* want the average slashdot commenter managing *you*? An autocrat who only can see things in black or white and cannot work with other people - well, that is last on my list of wanted bosses.

    Also, I would not want to be "modded down" in the workplace for my political views. Slashdot people love free speech - as long as it agrees with theirs.

    • Re:No shit (Score:5, Funny)

      by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @04:08PM (#35473854) Homepage Journal

      would you *really* want the average slashdot commenter managing *you*?

      "Finish by 3pm or I'll make Goatse your desktop wallpaper!"

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by hduff (570443)

      Also, I would not want to be "modded down" in the workplace for my political views. Slashdot people love free speech - as long as it agrees with theirs.

      You are wrong again.

      -1

    • by mangu (126918) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @04:15PM (#35473890)

      Be honest with yourselves Slashdot - would you *really* want the average slashdot commenter managing *you*? An autocrat who only can see things in black or white and cannot work with other people - well, that is last on my list of wanted bosses.

      I've worked with both kinds, and I'd rather have a boss that understand how the business works than a boss who has a great ability to manipulate people.

      The absolutely worst type of boss is one who's always demanding I do something in the most ineffective way because that's the consensus that was reached by everyone in the meeting, a meeting where no one understood what it's all about but a smooth talker convinced everyone that it must be done that way.

      The best kind of boss is one that was promoted due to his technical skills and hates managing people, so he lets everyone work the way they know how to.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        Typically if you run a business where the managers set the course and standards and the employees are free to go about it however they like to finish their piece you don't have much trouble getting things done. Provided the manager has the sense to actually ask about how realistic the plans are from a technical standpoint.

        There's no reason why a manager needs to understand the industry, provided he's smart enough to recognize when subordinates are more informed and can focus on getting things coordinated so

        • by mikael_j (106439) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @04:53PM (#35474194)

          There's no reason why a manager needs to understand the industry, provided he's smart enough to recognize when subordinates are more informed and can focus on getting things coordinated so that things run smoothly.

          Well, this is generally the thing that people who manage IT or development teams fail at.

          My suspicion is that it's especially common in managers used to environments where there is always a bit of "flexibility" (if an employee says "it can't be done" it means "it will be hard to do", if an employee says "three weeks" it means "two weeks with less time in the break room") who end up managing developers and IT people and don't understand that when their "The decision has already been made by management, we will [foo]" gets a "That's not possible, not just with the current state of computing but most likely not with our current understanding of the laws of physics" that's generally not negotiable, it really means that it's impossible.

          I've heard outright demands that developers figure out a way to write code that computed things that can't be computed, that they somehow invent a report for a backend system that can't be generated because there's no way to get the data without involving actual magic and of course the order to build a website that could do XSS by exploiting browser bugs in IE, Firefox, Safari and Chrome (no, that last one never got completed, and this was a perfectly legit company, it was just that management had decided they wanted things to work a certain way and they just couldn't work that way without exploiting XSS bugs).

          • by LetterRip (30937)

            My suspicion is that it's especially common in managers used to environments where there is always a bit of "flexibility" (if an employee says "it can't be done" it means "it will be hard to do", if an employee says "three weeks" it means "two weeks with less time in the break room") who end up managing developers and IT people and don't understand that when their "The decision has already been made by management, we will [foo]" gets a "That's not possible, not just with the current state of computing but most likely not with our current understanding of the laws of physics" that's generally not negotiable, it really means that it's impossible.

            Well sometimes 'that's impossible' just means that they don't know how to do it or misunderstood the request or they track their mind went down when they tried to think of a solution was the wrong track. I've had three or four times where programmers I've been working with have told me something is 'impossible' then I give a few hours thought and provide them with an algorithm for it. (These are highly skilled programmers too, not html monkeys but top 1% C and python programmers).

          • by microbox (704317)
            I have some sympathy for what you are saying. Bad managers say "We should implement sharepoint to share documents", not knowing the technical details, but knowing something about sharepoint because they chat to their friends and MS sales drones. Good managers say: "Put together a proposal for a document management system that can do XYZ", and then listen to what their more technically gifted and trustworthy staff put together.

            I have seen a lot of the "sharepoint"! mentality, and it is disappointing, but u
      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @05:12PM (#35474362) Journal
        You seem to be equating 'having interpersonal skills' with 'being good at manipulating people', which probably says more about you than about any managers that you've worked with. Interpersonal skills are very important for a manager, because a big part of their job is ensuring that their subordinates are communicating effectively with each other, not working against each other. In any project involving more than half a dozen people, it's very easy for communication between the workers to become the bottleneck. The point of management is to avoid this, to ensure that all of the employees have what they need to maximise their productivity (including things that need to be delivered by other employees).
      • The absolutely worst type of boss is one who's always demanding I do something in the most ineffective way because that's the consensus that was reached by everyone in the meeting, a meeting where no one understood what it's all about but a smooth talker convinced everyone that it must be done that way.

        Translation: I couldn't convince anyone that my proposal was better but I refuse to acknowledge the possibility it was not, in fact better. Instead, I'm going to blame others for not understanding the brilliance of my suggestion.

      • by artor3 (1344997) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @07:14PM (#35474992)

        The best kind of boss is one that was promoted due to his technical skills and hates managing people, so he lets everyone work the way they know how to.

        What you just described is the worst type of boss imaginable. He hates his job, so he just doesn't do it. You end up with massive duplication of effort, parts not fitting together, engineers fighting with each other for months because there's no one to make an executive decision, and whoops you just missed your market window, some other company has released first, and your department is getting shut down.

        Either you've never actually worked on a team project outside of college, or you just judge management based on how much fun they let you have, paying no attention to how it affects the company as a whole.

      • Maybe, and I don't know for sure, Google is a well-run company. My experience is that most large entities are not, and the manager's job is not primarily to manage people, but to figure out what the hell the group should be doing so that he/she won't get in trouble for going against the poobahs while still producing the vaguely-defined deliverables (those being defined as "that which the director determines you should have done in hindsight" or "that which they needed, not what they asked for"). If Google's

    • by Damek (515688)

      This isn't biological. When you have a society where people think money defines who you are, and all social studies are basically done on white, educated folks, no wonder all our conclusions on "human nature" are f*#@ed up.

      Slashdot can't be "honest" with "itself." That'st just too much to ask.

    • by Beuno (740018)

      Also, I would not want to be "modded down" in the workplace for my political views. Slashdot people love free speech - as long as it agrees with theirs.

      I don't think they meant it in a "Democrat vs Republican" sense, but rather internal company politics (ie, focusing on certain aspects of the project because it's good for a promotion).

    • by Kjella (173770)

      Black and white isn't so much the issue, what you don't want to be managed by is a manager who'd like to be an engineer again but felt he had to get promoted that way to get any career progress and benefits. It happens far too often that people don't get enough seniority for "just" being a doer. The job of a manager - at least in terms of what I want as an employee - is run interference for me. You don't bring a building engineer to a discussion of whether this should be commercial or residential area, mean

  • Duh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @03:55PM (#35473752)

    Well, yes. Being a good manager is like being a good engineer--you help people solve problems they come across, encourage good work, discourage shirking by inspiration and competitiveness more than by punishment and threats of recrimination, etc...

    It's good to have an expert to go to when I have a problem. It's better to have someone who knows ten experts and can understand or walk through the general problem.

    • Re:Duh. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Daniel Phillips (238627) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @04:25PM (#35473980)

      And I can tell you that the general quality of Google managers is very poor in spite of supposed systems for filtering, training and guiding them. This is in fact the worst thing about working at Google: self important, self absorbed managers who only care about milking their own situation for everything they can get. Often nonexistent or weak technical skills just pours salt on this bleeding wound.

      The few guidelines that Google puts in place tend to be unmonitored by anyone who matters and are widely and cynically ignored. Peer review is very much one of those. There are of course good managers at Google, I know a few. But they are badly outnumbered by facetimers and soulless climbers.

      • Re:Duh. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Daniel Phillips (238627) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @04:32PM (#35474040)

        Another thing: managers at Google widely believe that they are better than engineers simply because they are managers, in spite of a supposed explicit ban on this attitude. For that matter, so do the sysops, because they are in control of the facilities engineers need to do their work, and because they get first dibs on any shiny new equipment that arrives. I got the distinct impression that Google sysops think of themselves as managers, or at least, very important people, and in particular, more important than engineers. By the way, I was a Google sysop before I moved to engineering so I saw this from the inside.

      • Not limited to Google.

  • by starfishsystems (834319) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @03:57PM (#35473766) Homepage
    Given the choice between (A) a manager who listens to me and takes care of all the organizational overhead so that I can focus on my work, and (B) a manager who challenges me or competes with me on every technical decision, I'll take (A) any day.

    Yeah, sure, I'd like the best of both worlds, of course I would. A mentor would be very nice. But we're talking about a list of priorities. If I really wanted to be in a mentoring environment, I'd be back in academic research. You don't find people of that calibre in industry, not most places, and if you do, they're narcissistic jerks most of the time. That's been my experience, anyway. Maybe a few of you have been luckier. If so, count your blessings!
    • For my first five years or so in IT I had managers, not team leads. So I was not in competition with my boss in any real way, and I was more or less the technical lead for things.

      From five years on, I have been under a lot of team leads. As they are the lead, and I am not, it is usually "their way or the highway". They ask me to do something, I spend hours (or days) on it, then I comeback and they want it done in a completely different way. Which makes me wonder why they didn't just say so to begin wit

    • by mooingyak (720677)

      Completely agreed. I've got one of those right now. While he's not clueless on the tech end, it's not what he spends most of his time on. I go to him when the requirements from finance don't make any sense, he comes to me when he can't remember exactly which shell command does what he wants. His lack of technical expertise hasn't lessened my respect for him. It's simply not what he's there for. In exchange, he doesn't argue with my design decisions. He may sometimes question or make suggestions, but

  • Google is maturing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 13, 2011 @03:59PM (#35473780)
    Just like the maturation phase of every other technology focused corporation in history...

    1. Founded by engineers
    2. Rapid growth
    3. Founding engineers become wealthy and retire early
    4. Sales, marketing and management folks take over
    5. Bureaucratic creativity sucking shithole
    • Just like the maturation phase of every other technology focused corporation in history...

      1. Founded by engineers
      2. Rapid growth
      3. Founding engineers become wealthy and retire early
      4. Sales, marketing and management folks take over
      5. Bureaucratic creativity sucking shithole

      You nailed it precisely. So sad, I expected better of Google.

      • by Blymie (231220)

        I might add, just because I have to (my angst and anger requires it). You've just described Volkswagen.

        Prime example: most modern Volks don't even have a real hardware differential. Do you really think any engineer would ever design a car that way?

        Yes, there is EDL (electronic differential lock). It is absolutely not the same as a real diff. I've seen people unable to get out of a steep grade, gravel driveway, because of EDL.

        Pfft. EDL is only one example of the sadness of modern VW. I'm not going to s

        • by tweak13 (1171627) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @06:08PM (#35474684)
          I think you fail to understand what a differential does. These cars absolutely have a "hardware" differential. What they do not have is a locking differential. Almost no vehicles have locking differentials except vehicles intended for severe off-road conditions or racing vehicles. The reason is, locking differentials are clunky as hell, and most people would never understand how or why they work and complain when they locked up in turns.

          I'm not going to go into a full explanation here, because explaining the operation of a differential is beyond this comment. EDL is a completely valid way to transfer torque through a standard differential to whatever wheel is not spinning. If both wheels spin, the wheel with the highest torque gets to apply that torque without being limited by the low torque wheel.

          As to your question if engineers would build a car this way, the answer is obviously yes. I am an engineer, and although I don't design cars, I do understand what these systems actually do. The design concept is sound, and it absolutely provides benefits over a non-locking differential without this system. There are various other systems to combat this problem. So called "selectable" systems, that are mechanical lockers with some sort of manual actuator to actually perform the lockup. Limited-slip systems, which are clutch based or fluid based. However most vehicles have none of these. I encourage you to do some more reading about differentials to understand why and how these systems do what they do.
          • by roman_mir (125474)

            I'm not going to go into a full explanation here, because explaining the operation of a differential is beyond this comment.

            - however it can be explained in a video [youtube.com]

  • It has taken Google ten years, a huge study, and suffering under what is their #1 cause of employee turnover, to learn something that is in nearly every good book on management? Most other companies can't do it because they are too stupid to be wise. Google can't do it because they think they are too smart...

  • I didn't RTFA but if google is known for hiring some very smart, technical people, perhaps when they run into a problem, its not purely a technical issue. Probably the individual workers know their field pretty good (and are capable of simply googling for answers if they need a technical answer). I would think they need a manager for the other stuff that isn't just finding the best algorithm for a given problem.

    • by Daniel Phillips (238627) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @04:40PM (#35474106)

      Google is known for hiring very smart, very technical people, then abusing and humiliating them. There are exceptions, if you are one of them then count your blessings, but this is the prevailing climate at Google today. I don't know how many truly awe inspiring, highly educated people I saw stuck in crap jobs there doing things like rebooting servers while their managers are off running around the countryside getting drunk at offsites and stroking each other about what smart people they are.

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @05:20PM (#35474408) Journal

        Google is known for hiring very smart, very technical people, then abusing and humiliating them

        You've posted something similar a few times in this story, but that doesn't reflect my experiences with them. Admittedly, I've not worked there, but I know a few people that do and I've visited their London and Zurich offices a few times. I'd definitely say that Google has problems, but those are not the ones that I've seen. Their biggest problem is that their hiring process is focussed entirely on finding people who are good at solving problems, but doesn't find enough people who are good at determining which problems are worth solving. Their second problem is that they're falling into the same trap as Netscape, and hiring people who are there because it's a great place to work, not because they want to build something exciting. Netscape and Google both started with employees from the second category, but gradually became filled with ones from the first. We all know what happened to Netscape after that...

        • ...Admittedly, I've not worked there...

          Nuff said.

          • Sorry about that, your thoughtful comment deserved better. To put it simply, the Google you see from the outside and the Google that actually is are two different things. Even when you visit, you don't really see inside. Google is indeed falling into a number of traps, which you would think that as certified smart people they would recognize and avoid. But that's where the Google myth is already kicking in. You see, Google isn't really full of smart people, it's actually full of entirely typical schmucks li

  • Plagiarized (Score:4, Informative)

    by jbrodkin (1054964) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @04:12PM (#35473874)
    Looks like the article was ripped out (i.e. plagiarized) from the NY Times. original article, with better formatting, is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/business/13hire.html?hp [nytimes.com]
    • Plagarism is taking credit for something someone else has written and claiming to have written it yourself. But this cannot be plagarism because the article clearly states that it comes from the NY Times and credits the original authors of the article. Perhaps it is infringment, but plagarism it is not.

      BTW, the reason the link isn't to the original story in the NY Times is that registration is sometimes required to access articles in the Times and slashdotters don't like it when they have to register to r

      • by jbrodkin (1054964)
        Yes, you're right. It is copyright infringement, not plagiarism. Unless the site is owned by NY Times.
        • It is possible that the two newspaper have some sort of reciprocal agreement. Maybe the India Times provides the NY Times with reporting from Central Asia.

          But it's not the first time I have seen articles from the Times posted on this web site, and if they did it consistently without permission I think the Times would go after them.

          Best Regards,

          Hugh Pickens

          • by jbrodkin (1054964)
            Sure, that's possible. It does look unauthorized to me, though. All the time I see my articles reprinted on sites we have no agreement with, and they put the whole text with a mention of my website's name, but no byline, no link back to the original article, and the formatting is screwed up. I could be wrong but that's what this one looks like to me.
  • Managing people requires a different skill set than writing code. News at 11...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 13, 2011 @04:20PM (#35473936)

    Posting as a coward since I've worked as a full time engineer for a few years. And I've had the worst manager of my career over there. I've had a few managers, some good, some bad but the incredibly horrible one was at Google.

    I've seen managers with over 40 direct reports. I do not care how 'good' the manager is there is no way the manager can have a clue what his employees are doing or how much hard work they are putting. Every quarter the manager has to put them on a scale for an 'anonymous committee' to rate the employee (just 'meeting expectations' is quite an accomplishment), which is later used as a base for a potential promotion or raise. I think the average raise was probably less than 1% per year for the average employee. No wonder they had to do the +25% 3 months ago (10% + 15% of bonus converted to raise).

    Moving from one team to an other is completely at the whim of your manager, they've even added a rule that you should not even dare to ask until you've spend 18 months in the team. Then you basically have to find your own replacement: you can't leave until you find an other engineer that is as good as you and willing to work in the team you are trying to run away from !!! Managers rarely get the boot because it is very hard to find a manager willing to manage indecent amounts of direct reports.

    Complaining to HR is useless and will just antagonize your manager further. You will get managed to quit over a very long time, and once you do quit being honest about why you leave will put you on a black list (say an other team find your resume and wants you in, HR will stop the interviews). I've heard of experienced employees crying in the upper managers offices about how badly they were treated. I have seen several coworkers skipping on vacation and maxing out they vacation allowance and still not taking vacation since. HR does not see any problem with this, if you are sick and dare to take sick days your performance should be lowered because you performed less work. This situation of fear is not good and lead to many resignations for greener, better paid, pastures in the past few years. Add to that a founder (Sergey) saying that employees should pay for the privilege of working at Google, and not as a joke (there at least one internal video about it).

    Note that the above is not the 'rule' and plenty of Software Engineers will have had much better experiences. Some have just a reputation of doing amazing work on a project years ago and only need to show up to work once in a while. The aura is not rubbing off and if you criticize them it is bad for your own reputation.

    I am very happy where I work nowadays, if you get an offer from Google take it if the salary cut is not too bad, hang on for a year or two. It will be a big plus for your resume, you will learn a lot of technical good practices, but do not expect to have a long good career over there unless you are a very skilled politician.

  • by Anonymous Cowar (1608865) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @04:21PM (#35473938)
    The hardest transition that most techies have to make is being bumped up into management. A good manager will absorb and deflect politics, paperwork, issues, and other items that will get in the way of a tech doing a technical job. When you first get pushed up into management, it's a surprise just how little your technical skills are valued. Even if a "technical" answer is asked by your new bosses, having a big picture view is more important than being able to click your way through aduc. A general technical knowledge is important because managers need to support the needs of those under them, but knowing how long and what it will take to create the right piece of code is more important than being able to do it. If you can get your people the time and resources they need, you are doing a far better job than if you're doing their jobs for them.
  • If your boss does not understand what it is that you do, then that can work out fine, but it requires much more of his leadership skills and of your professionalism to make it work well. If either side is lacking, it'll be a disaster. For one thing, it is difficult for him to know what he can reasonably expect of you, or when you have performed better than could be expected. If both sides of that are excellent, then sure you can have a captain of a ship who doesn't know what a sail is, and it can even work
    • by khasim (1285)

      Let's abstract it into a continuum with 0 in the middle.

      Now, beating the crew is -5.
      Knowing how the sails work is +5.

      So having both characteristics put you at 0. Essentially the same as someone who doesn't know anything, but doesn't abuse the crew.

      Beating the crew and not knowing the sails gives you a -5. You can move up to 0 without any increase in knowledge just by removing that negative factor.

      But that is just for that instance at that time.
      It does nothing to address the capabilities of that team when co

  • Good Coaching (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Frightened_Turtle (592418) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @04:46PM (#35474150)

    Essentially what is being described in the article is good coaching. A good coach doesn't necessarily have the skills or abilities of a star athlete, but he knows how to manage his players to get the best performance out of them. The best manager I ever worked for summed it up in one glorious line: "You're the expert, that's why I hired you." He would basically tell us what he needed done, and then would get out of our way so we could do it. He was technically savvy enough to understand the basics of what we were trying to do, so we could discuss a given project with him if we were stuck. He would simply ask questions on various aspects until we began to bring light on why things were stuck. He also had a great attitude that went with "Do what it takes to get the job done." As long as we were getting the work done, he had no problems with us sitting around and shooting the breeze when things were slow. To be quite frank, some of the best ideas that went on to become products came out of those bullshit sessions. For the record, his background was Marketing.

    Another company where I was employed, Lechmere, originally had a great management style. The mantra of managers was, "It's my job to manage the environment in which you make money for the company." The company was doing great. So well, that a buyer popped up and bought them. Well, the new management's mantra was, "You are mindless, idiot drones are a bunch of pions who are only good enough for boxing or selling the crap this company sells, and you clearly aren't as qualified as we are—being MBAs—for the pittance we are paying you." That company is now out of business. They went out of business after two years of doing everything they could to get rid of long term employees with expertise whom they thought were overpaid. By the time they were done with the company, it was so worthless it wasn't even worth trying to sell it—not that they could have found any buyers for it. If anyone came to my company and their resume showed they had mid- or upper-level management experience with Lechmere, I would drop their resume into the shredder.

  • One of the biggest problems I have ever run into is the Manager who came from a technical background and tries to retain some kind of technical information lead over the staff. Often they can't be across day to day things so they become an information hider or feel threatened by technical staff around them.

    In IT, information hiders in a team are pain, when they are the manager they are a nightmare. The best managers I have had were people managers who used to team and what it achieved to make themsel

  • In other words....

    Technical expertise ranks among the top ten most important qualities to look for in good Google managers.

    Statisticians, eh?

  • Yale School of Management [yale.edu]: "Laszlo Bock leads Google's people function globally...Laszlo earned a bachelor's degree in international relations from Pomona College and an MBA from the Yale School of Management."

  • by br00tus (528477) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @05:13PM (#35474364)
    From the eight rules:

    "Empower your team and don't micromanage" and "Don't be a sissy...help the team prioritize work and use seniority to remove roadblocks".

    This is all I need. As far as micromanaging - the two best managers I had, one I would talk to twice a day about work-related stuff - at the beginning of the day and the end of the day, the other I would talk to every few weeks about work-related stuff - the latter one was so hands-off that I would pop in of my own accord once a month and tell him what I was up to. Of course, for both of them, if something came up on their end or my end, we would talk about it. They did not micromanage, and they were the two best bosses I've had.

    The other rule is more political - help us prioritize work. What, in the office politics of the company (aside from the needs to protect ourselves, and make our stuff stable) is the most important work to do? I expect managers to run interference for me. I don't want them to be insecure, incompetent boobs who get pressure from their manager, and then come in and yell at us to do whatever their manager, or some powerful manager in another group wants. They should not be a sissy. They should be confident of themselves and their abilities, and not get to be a nervous wreck by a little management pressure or small bumps along the road. As there are only 24 hours in a day, a manager's main resource is his team's time - 24 hours times the number of their team members. You can not schedule more time than that, and humans have the need to sleep and the like. A manager who says "yes" to everything his manager, and powerful managers in other groups want, and where every request is a priority, eventually can run into a situation where he has promised more than the 24*x number of hours he has to give away. People will keep asking as long as he keeps saying yes. I myself am unhappy if I'm required to work more than 40 hours a week, unless there is a crunch time or emergency or the like, which is fine from time to time. But if I am consistently working crazy hours, and where emergencies and everything becoming a priority is the norm, I'm soon looking for another job. Bad, weak managers say yes to everything, the good managers who help a company in the long terms are the ones who have the confidence to sometimes say no.

    • One of the best bosses I ever had once told me, "A manager's job is to take everything off your desk that isn't your job." And what he meant, if it's not clear enough, was that if you're an engineer, then you should spend your day working as an engineer. If there's politicking and excessive paperwork and stuff like that, and it's not part of your job, then it's your manager's job to make sure you don't have to do that stuff.

  • by rosciol (925673) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @05:23PM (#35474430)

    What everyone seems to be forgetting is that this is Google's data. What I mean by that is that the data does not even remotely imply that you do not need technical expertise to be a good manager. All of the managers at Google had good technical expertise, or they wouldn't have gotten there (because, remember, Google valued technical expertise in their managers). There are no pointy-haired bosses at Google.

    What the data is really saying is that after you have passed a threshold level of technical competence, how you manage becomes more important than how good you are at coding. In other words, if you're technically competent enough to apprehend what's going on and make informed decisions, it matters more what decisions you make and how you arrive at those decisions, not that you're the best coder in the room.

    How is that surprising? As soon as you start hiring hundreds of pointy-haired bosses, then the data will rank technical competence as the first priority. The data is only a reflection of existing conditions. People are saying, "technical competence is good enough, but here's what isn't". Don't take this as a sign that technical competence is not important.

  • Nice job posting to an article that is 100% (poorly formatted) copy of a NY times article, with 0% attribution.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/business/13hire.html [nytimes.com]

  • by hobo sapiens (893427) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @05:44PM (#35474540) Journal

    This headline is disingenuous.

    I read what this "story" was probably based on here: http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/03/11/business/20110313_sbn_GOOGLE-HIRES-graphic.html?ref=business [nytimes.com]

    This is actually brilliant stuff. I wish all managers would read this.

    The website linked in the summary cannot even get character encoding correct for en_US.

  • by skywire (469351) * on Sunday March 13, 2011 @05:46PM (#35474548)

    If technical expertise is the 8th most important among a large number of traits, it is hardly "not important". It is, well, one of the most important.

  • by mewsenews (251487) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @06:00PM (#35474628) Homepage

    I'm a tech guy. The best manager I've ever had was a guy with very limited technical ability -- but he knew it. He won me over by apologizing about an offhand comment he made, some joke about paying me too much if I remember correctly. The fact that he was sensitive enough to realize that he may have hurt my feelings -- and then took steps to make sure he fixed it.. I haven't had a manager since then that cared that much about the people he managed.

    I brushed it off at the time but it's obviously stuck with me.

    • I'm a tech guy. The best manager I've ever had was a guy with very limited technical ability -- but he knew it. He won me over by apologizing about an offhand comment he made, some joke about paying me too much if I remember correctly. The fact that he was sensitive enough to realize that he may have hurt my feelings -- and then took steps to make sure he fixed it.. >

      Those are certainly good qualities and there's no denying that "people skills" are very important and, unfortunately, sadly lacking in many (most?) managers. However, technical ability must come first. You can't lead an organization, solve problems and make important decisions if you aren't an expert in the technology involved.

      Regardless of your excellent "people skills", if you aren't smarter than me then you have no business being my boss and probably got the job by being a schmoozer and suckass.

  • And it only took 100 independent variables to do it. Is there anything Google can't engineer?
  • by binaryseraph (955557) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @06:28PM (#35474778)
    A couple years ago google bought a company that produces software my company uses. They almost over-night fired a vast majority of the mid-level and upper management and replaced them with 'google quality' managers (mostly master degree and doctorate holders who had very little knowledge of the product they were now managing). The absolute downfall in the quality of the support, product and resources was immediately felt. All in all, Google really needs to overhaul who and what they hire. A "strong accademic record" is not an indicator of intelligence or ability to think outside the box. It cirtianly doesn't show off management and technical skills.
  • Probably almost all the leadership at Google has some kind of technical knowledge. So the difference in their technical knowledge is also less, meaning that other attributes become more important. The comparison might have been quite different if Google had a bunch of leaders that were completely ignorant of what a computer is, but those kinds of people aren't in the study.
  • I'm not saying the findings are not true, but to verify them they will have to do the same research in another company where tech expertise is completely absent from managers and cannot be relied on by employees. In other words, it may be that at Google it's taken for granted and as such is not noticeable. (even so, it will probably never enter the top 5 characteristics, it just won't be the last one).

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Sunday March 13, 2011 @10:40PM (#35476080)

    I'll probably piss off a lot of management types, but this is what I observed my during years working with corporate IT America. The pure management types are almost viral in corporate culture. Once you get enough of them, they tend to take over because much of the office politicking, style over substance brand of leadership gets you moved up bigger, faster, and longer. As long as a company has enough gearheads in leadership positions to call BS on John "Paradigm for technology change" Doe, you can keep the ship on the right course. But, once a company goes public, you're now dealing with the pressure of PR over performance which behooves CEOs to recruit more slick salesmen in suits than bureaucrats.

    It's just like politics. A guy spewing easy-to-digest bumper sticker slogans gets his point across (however inaccurate it might be) faster than a guy trying to explain the issue to you in depth. The slick sales type who knows how to schmooze with the execs at the holiday party puts himself in a better light than Mary Busybee down in networking who actually *knows* how to best upgrade your servers. Look at how many worthless CEOs in the mold of Carly Fiorina there are endless being promoted up regardless of failure (including one recent President, ahem!).

    And, it's a stereotype that techies are a bunch of socially-underdeveloped goofballs. Look at all the techie founders who've turned over billion-dollar enterprises to the suits after they cash in. It's a cultural problem. We've somehow lost the patience to listen long enough for the right answer instead of the easiest answer.

  • by evilviper (135110) on Monday March 14, 2011 @12:33AM (#35476618) Journal

    I wonder if all the complaints about "micro-managing" are just because of big egos and perhaps a short-sighted view of things.

    I've worked at both extremes. Places where trivial decisions require multiple meetings, and start-ups where it's a complete free-for-all. While both extremes are bad, I'd lean towards the former, not the later.

    What do you get with hands-off management? The inmates running the asylum. The best example I can give is finding a single server that was running 4 completely different databases at the same time... Why? Because person 1 likes Postges, person 2 likes Oracle, and person 3 just happened to find a howto to setup syslog/snort/etc. which uses MySQL. Like it or not, this is where managers can and do help. In everyone's short term view, their favorite way is quiker and easier. In the long term, it's a maintenance nightmare.

    As an extreme example, how about everyone getting to pick their own programming language? After all, I'll be quicker to do this bit in perl, this other bit in python, this bit in java, etc. If your manager is hands off, who's to stop you, or your coworkers from deciding to do just that?

    The company is going to last considerably longer than the employee is going to be there. Each will bring their own biases, and it's management that needs to bring them into the fold, and in-line with how the rest of the company does things, and an eye towards the long term implications of any decision.

    Yeah, I hated being micro-managed, but I can see past my own nose and tell that being completely unmanaged has vastly worse side-effects.

  • Statistical Artefact (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bap (75675) on Monday March 14, 2011 @07:14AM (#35477708) Homepage

    People (and even Google) are taking the wrong lesson from this.

    The sample used in this study was managers *at Google*. This is a biased sample, in that almost all of them will have high technical competence. So the statistical power of the study in determining how technical competence affects management performance will be low. In some other setting, where managers have much wider variability in technical competence, that factor would very likely show up much higher on the list.

    (Analogy: if you conducted a study of how wealth affects cancer survival rates and only admitted millionaires to the study, you might get a very different result than if you also included people with very little money. The classic example of this effect in the statistics literature is a study of wages as a function of height, whose result changes if the sample includes only circus midgets.)

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