Tuesday, September 27, 2005


"It's hard to get good help these days."

"If you want to get something done, you have to do it yourself."

There are the cliches of the fictional evil overlord. He raises an army of minions to take over the world (or whatever), and then his plans are undone because someone beneath him messed up. The overlord then foists the failure on the peon, sighs exasperatedly while killing off the offender (if still alive), and attempts to finish off the hero him/herself.

I've felt like that overlord sometimes recently. I often feel that, if I do a piece of work, it would be done faster and probably better than if I gave it to someone else. If I'm responsible for meeting a schedule, it's frustrating to have to budget 2-5 times what I would need so that someone else has a reasonable amount of time to do the work. Even then, it often seems like substandard work. If I just did it quickly, it would be over and done with the way I want it done, and I wouldn't have to deal with the bureaucracy of giving to someone else.

Of course, it's not that simple. Besides the fact that I'm not that much faster/better than _everyone_ on my team, it's just not feasible for one person to do all the work. The project would never get done. I'm just not good at giving the right work to other people. There's real skill involved in figuring out who can do what, and helping them to have the right set of tasks to work efficiently.

However, it can be very reassuring to be able to hand things off to someone else. Just knowing that's one more thing you don't have to do yourself can take a lot of stress off. Once everything is split (roughly) evenly among everyone involved, the whole project becomes much more manageable. You just need people to work competently on each job.

Evil overlords everywhere make the mistake of killing off every minion who frustrates or fails them. It really sounds cathartic, doesn't it? But even setting aside the moral, ethical, and morale issues, they just guarantee themselves that the next minion will be even less competent. Nobody learns, nobody improves, and nobody learns to lead. (Anyone who's too worried by this, just translate 'killing' as 'firing' above).

I've been pushed towards taking management courses to learn these things (plus the whole realm of other management lore I don't have) before making the mistakes, but it always sounds like a boring waste of time. Someone just needs to write a management course using the greatest fictional villains as the examples. Find out what Darth Vader, Sauron, and every James Bond villain did wrong. Roleplay an evil overlord to learn management skills. I'd take that class a lot sooner.

Of course, what I really need to do is to manage less and program more. I didn't really want to be a manager, but it was necessary, and seemed like a good thing for the resume. It's just not always feasible to not lead, especially if you're the best programmer and manager on a team. In any case, I just have a couple more months of managing, and then I'll be working just as a team member again for a while.


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