Monday, August 3, 2015

Getting inside your bosses head.

Your boss isn't that bad once you understand them.
As a software developer and scrum master, I have a unique perspective on the world of business.  I am a highly skilled and compensated professional.  I also have had the misfortune to experience the uncertainty of the gig economy, and the abusiveness of contemporary project management.  It took a serious toll on my physical and mental health.  It also pushed me to set up my own business and become part of the agile reformation.  This week, I want to talk about the pressures that our business partners are going through each day and how we techies can help them.

There are two contemporary stereotypes technology professionals have about their bosses.  One comes from the Mike Judge movie “Office Space”.  The boss is Bill Lumbergh, he went to the correct business schools and says all the right things but it is clear he has no understanding how the business works.  In addition, Lumbergh’s leadership skills are of the color by numbers variety which inspires zero confidence and undermines initiative. The other which comes to mind is British television series “The IT Crowd.”  This boss understands the business.  She also has great leadership skills and seems to be able to work with her colleagues but her major fault is that she doesn’t understand a thing about technology and the two technology professionals which work underneath her.  This makes the show very funny as her employees Roy and Moss make a mess of the corporate infrastructure.

The reason these two stereotypes are so popular in entertainment is that they are very common in the business world.  I spent many years of my career working with poor leaders.  This makes working with the good ones very inspiring.  I have noticed these people both good and bad have similar characteristics and are under similar pressures.  Fortunately, Paul Glen wrote one of the better books on technology and leadership called “Leading Geeks.”  He outlined the differences between people who work with technology and the people who lead them.  His thoughtful insight changed my perspective and made me a better developer.  It also made me a better leader.

Glen says that leaders have several characteristics:
  • Leaders get paid to influence others
  • Leaders see being likable as a key to success
  • Leaders care about the product.
  • Leaders care about the destination instead of the journey.
  • Leaders see technology as a part of commerce not as something with a value all its own.

When I saw this bit of wisdom, it changed me.  To me, the technology worker, I was judged if my code worked in production and was reliable.  My boss was judged on how they can influence others to write that reliable code.  I have known countless developers with autism spectrum disabilities or poor attitudes but they were always retained in the company because their code worked.  These people received more perks and authority because they keep the business running.  A boss is very much like a teen-ager in the high school cafeteria. They have to make friends with the right people at the right time in order to further their careers.  So being likable is a necessary survival skill.

Developers are process focused and see the creative process of writing code as rewarding.  Leaders do not.  They want to see working code in production and software products which solve particular business problems.  They are also under time and budget pressure so they are constantly asking about status updates.  Finally, technology people love technology for its own sake.  Most business leaders see technology as a tool to be used.  This is why when showing off a piece of software developers are more deferential to their peers than a business owner who would not hesitate to call something a “piece of junk.”

These are the things which make your boss different from you.  The time, money and social pressures of leadership at a major business changes people and their perspectives.  You will be a better developer and agilest if you understand these differences.  This way you can help your boss become more successful and in turn you can earn some success along the way.

Until next time.