The Good Manager, and other Fairytales
I still remember the Blonde Bombshell with affectionate nostalgia. It’s not because of her technical abilities, although she certainly had them, or because of her looks, although she was equally gifted there as well. It’s simply that she was that rare bird, a good manager.
She wasn’t exactly politically correct about it. Her usual tactic was to give us lads a big smile, and ask us if we write a driver module for her. She didn’t try to come over as a dumb blonde batting her eyelashes, she just asked us nicely, and then when we’d done the work, came and thanked us personally. It made you feel really macho.
She could fight though, when needed. When a departmental swap resulted in my losing a year’s pay review, she was the one who spotted what was about to happen, and went in to tackle the group manager on my behalf. No one mistreated her lads and got away with it.
She only chickened out once. That was the day when Caskie came back from drinking a rather enthusiastic meal. We worked in a tower block, with ladies and gents toilets on alternative floors. Caskie was in something of a hurry, and not frankly up to remembering complicated details, like whether he was on an even number floor or an odd. He disappeared into the Ladies.
There was a emergency departmental meeting, which rapidly moved into deadlock. Management (the Blonde Bombshell) tried to insist that one of Caskies male collegues went into the Ladies to extricate him. The workers were adament that it was a management responsibility.
Fortunately before matters could come to a head, the door to the Ladies opened and Caskie emerged, with the nonchalant air of one who knows he’s dropped one, and is desperately hoping no one has noticed. The emergency meeting sudddenly evaporated. Half an hour, and several cups of coffee later, the Bombshell had a short talk with Caskie.
I wish I’d had more managers like her, in fact even one would have been nice. Too many of the people I’ve worked for (as permie and as con) have been either incompetent, so tied down by higher management restrictions that they might as well be incompetent, or downright objectionable.
The saddest cases are the incompetant ones, because often they are actually quite nice people themselves. Jim was like that. He was the one who decided to save money on the project to convert the existing system to a Unix platform. He had discovered that students often take a year out in industry. Foreign students are especially keen to come to Britain and improve their English. He hired, cut-rate, five Spaniards, a Basque, half a dozen French, and a bier-keller of Germans, this was in addition to the two Gaelic speakers already there.
The results were truly amazing. The project overran by about 200% in both time and cost, and it still didn’t work when I left. The only good side to the experiment was that nobody had any problems understanding the original project documentation. It had either been lost, or he’d saved a bit more money by not having any. I’m not actually sure which. (There was one other hidden advantage to not having documentation. To quote Sir Humphrey Appleby, “If no one knows what you’re doing, then no one knows what you’re doing wrong”.)
The only bit of the project which ever worked was the tea rota, which was implemented in five languages, excluding English, just to annoy the Sassenachs. About two months after I left the project, Jim was escorted off the premises. A few months later the entire project was scrapped, and the whole system rewritten, using new staff, and new software. It was done in half the time and half the cost of the original estimates for the old one.
The most damaging managers to your morale are the bullies. Golfie was like that. He was single, and his only out of hours activities were whisky and golf, preferably at the same club as the directors.
His usual tactic was to cut project deadlines in half, and then insist all his underlings worked longer hours than a junior doctor to get the job done. It worked, the job got done, but I saw the cost, especially on the families of the married men. I don’t think it was worth it.
The worst place though was the site where the DPM was involved in a certain society with secret rituals concerning rolled up trousers, leather aprons, and obscure passwords based on the names of the doorposts of Solomon’s temple (Jachin and Boaz if you have to know). I couldn’t understand how one of the junior proggies had ever got his job, let alone kept it. His main skills seemed to be in the fields of Disco-Dancing and reading the Chief Programmer’s supply of magazines on amateur gynacology and young ladies with clothing allergies. Then I found out that Disco-Dancer’s daddy was “on the square” as well. I had no evidence of anything illegal, and in fairness the society concerned officially deplores nepotism and old-boy-network favours, but it was interesting that shortly after I left Disco-Dancer got the job of DPM at one of the other companies in the group.
That wasn’t the only thing that irritated me at that site. There was the attitude to women for example. I normally count feminists among my list of people to avoid, but a few sessions with the Leather Apron manager began to make me feel they might have a point.
“I wouldn’t even give a woman an interview,” he said, “Let’s be honest, they simply can’t do jobs like this. It’s men’s work, isn’t it lads?”
One of the senior programmers was married to a rather sucessfull systems analyst. Not wishing to actually disagree with the boss, he pointed out politely, that if the women were all so useless, then surely the best thing to do would be to give them an equal chance at an interview and a job, since they would obviously fail anyway, wouldn’t they, thus proving the manager’s point.
This seemed a fairly reasonable proposal to me, but Leather Apron didn’t seem too keen on the idea.
The last straw though was when I caught him out in two cases of lieing, once to me, and once to one of his best mates. The one to me wasn’t too bad, it was more to save face, than anything else, but the lie to his mate was simply so that he could sell him some redundant hardware at rather more than it was worth.
It’s not just some abstract moral principle that’s at stake when you lie like that. Real moral principles are based on the real world. If your manager lies in that kind of deliberate way, then how can you ever believe anything he says.
I’m still searching for the perfect manager, perhaps I’l find one one day. Until then I’ll just keep looking back to my days with the Blond Bombshell.