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estherschindler
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Loc: Scottsdale, AZ USA
What three skills does a tech manager need?
      #509669 - 08/19/08 09:30 AM

My colleague and friend Shawna McLearney (smcalearney@cxo.com) is writing an article about managing tech workers for CIO.com. Could you help her out?

"How tech-savvy does your manager need to be to manage you effectively? For example, does s/he need actual development knowledge? What top 3 skills MUST s/he have to be effective?"

You can reply to me publicly or privately, but it'd also help if you cc'ed Shawna.


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canetti
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: estherschindler]
      #509763 - 08/19/08 01:57 PM

I think the three skills a technical manager most needs, are not necessarily technical:

1) Communication

2) A strong knowledge of SDLC

3) A working knowledge of the current and emerging technologies

A good technical manager does not need to know how to develop, but he/she needs to understand the terminology and concepts used in the development process.

--------------------
Sandy Canetti



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alexxusz1980
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: canetti]
      #509873 - 08/20/08 01:43 AM

I can basically just second what Sandy is saying.

A manager doesn't have to know how to write code as long as he understands the methodology, processes and terminology around it as that's sufficient for the manager to support it throughout the organization. That leads to

Communication / argumentation / people skills. This is important towards the other managers and upper management as well as towards the associates the manager has in his reporting line.

In regards to knowledge of the SDLC: I'd like to add to that that any manager should have the ability to take a step back and look at the SDLC from a 20000 feet perspective, taking all phases and processes into account, and not try to add benefits to his/her own. i.e. the manager should be able to decide on something that is of disadvantage for his department but of benefit for the overall processes / organization.
That again links back to communication skills as his associates will end up challenging his decision.

Hope this helps.

-alex

edit: corrected layout

--------------------
Nobody's perfect.

Edited by alexxusz1980 (08/20/08 01:50 AM)


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DSquared
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: alexxusz1980]
      #509950 - 08/20/08 04:58 AM

I'm going to diverge a bit from the responses so far. I think that there is a tendency to read into the statement and change the "What three skills does a tech manager need" to "What three (technical) skills does a tech manager need". Thought not really true, the answers tend in that direction.

To me, there are really two top skills any manager, let alone a tech manager, needs.

First - the ability (skill?) to trust the people working under them. Maybe the real skill there is being able to identify people that can get the work done and put them in the right position to get it done. Then, get out of their way, or better yet, be the point person who's job it is to knock down the walls so that the person you chose can have a clear path to get the work done.

Second - the ability to delegate. If, as a manager, you choose to micromanage everything, then you do a number things. You kill yourself with overwork because you are trying to do the work of everyone under you. You foster a "defensive" attitude in the team, since they will always be looking over their shoulder to see what little bugaboo the manager will glom onto next. Third, you actively discourage any people with skills and management ability from trying to rise.

I will add the third that has already been raised - skill in communications. This includes knowing that communication is a two way street, not just the ability to compose emails or make presentations. It also includes knowing the limitations of the media you choose to communicate in - e.g. email loses any sort of visual feedback that may soften an otherwise harshly worded message.


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michaeljf
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: DSquared]
      #510042 - 08/20/08 06:42 AM

I'm with D^2 here, in some ways a Tech Manager doesn't need that many more skills than a regular manager does - assuming that the Manager understands the environment that they are managing then everything else is pretty generic. You can't take a person who manages Software Developers and have them manage Accountants, the environments are different, but the communication and people skills are pertty much the same after that. I say pretty much, with the caveat, that you could poke holes into specific things but I will maintain they either fall under environment or people/communication skills.

--------------------
- M

Nothing learns better than experience.

"So as I struggle with this issue I am confronted with the reality that noting is perfect."
- Unknown

Now wasting blog space at QAForums Blogs - The Lookout


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estherschindler
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: michaeljf]
      #510055 - 08/20/08 06:59 AM

::listening raptly::

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kiranbadi1991
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: michaeljf]
      #510065 - 08/20/08 07:06 AM

I would say technical creativity in doing the things,good analysing skills and good technical understanding of technologies involved.I would say that if a guys desires to be good technical manager, he needs to be creative,strong enough to analyse the code sometimes written by others or by his team,so that he can suggest still better way for doing it,and of course all these requires a very strong understanding of technologies involved.
As per me a good technical manager is one who does,or implements something which is unique in nature.
All the above comments stands for product based companies and for service oriented companies,technical managers needs to have,excellent communication skills,good working knowledge of technolgoies involved along with strong troubleshooting skills and leadership skills.


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tonybruce
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: DSquared]
      #510069 - 08/20/08 07:15 AM

Agree with D.
Also add (although it falls under communication and trust) listening skills. I never thought 'listening' would be classified as a skill but it's amazing how many people just don't listen.
And I'll throw common sense in there as well, that seems to be lacking in life in general.

--------------------
We live in the dumbest world on the planet and there's no colour the sky can't be at any given time. Remember that!
http://dancedwiththetester.blogspot.co.uk/
http://twitter.com/tonybruce77


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Drewman
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: tonybruce]
      #510163 - 08/20/08 10:46 AM

1. Ability to set & manage expectations (manage up & manage down).
2. Technical competency in their field
3. Collaborates with their team to solve problems & execute on projects v. ivory-tower management.

--------------------
Drew

Actual quote from an email I received from a product manager:
"I want to tell all our customers to go to it (site) on Monday next week. I especially want to make sure the forums work right. Can you test every feature you can find?"


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estherschindler
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: kiranbadi1991]
      #510234 - 08/20/08 01:54 PM

Quote:

I would say technical creativity in doing the things,good analysing skills and good technical understanding of technologies involved.. . .




The sticking point is in #1. Does the manager need to be a better programmer than you? How much "doing the things" experience is necessary?


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Eric_P
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: estherschindler]
      #510254 - 08/20/08 02:50 PM

Quote:

The sticking point is in #1. Does the manager need to be a better programmer than you? How much "doing the things" experience is necessary?




I am lucky enough to have strong technical mentorship, but most won't. I don't think it is a requirement for the manager to be a better programmer than the staff members, and it is perfectly fine if they are not. I do think that to manage developers, the manager should have some development experience, and have some skill in this area.

There is the basic problem of being able to make any sense out of the work that is performed. You don't have to know a specific language to follow programming logic and be able to discuss algorithms, but you probably needed to learn at least a couple to be able to meaningfully participate in those conversations.

I think it is more important that the manager have enough experience with programming and/or testing to understand the context of a development process. For example, I observed a manager get inserted into a QA department without experience in the SDLC area. The manager examined new software bugs every day, and tried to reproduce them himself to learn testing techniques. He was reasonably intelligent, and trying to learn.

He still made the mistake of believing that the Developer that "created" the highest number of defects was not a good programmer. In fact, that programmer was a star performer, writing several times more code on a daily basis than other developers. Another factor was that he was writing new functionality a good portion of the time, which is likely to result in a larger number of defects being logged as the code is broken in.

Another factor that could have been at play is the way a developer prefers bugs to be written. Many want one report for an entire area of software not working as expected, while others might want each occurance of test failure documented separately.

In any case, when the new manager suggested that someone speak with the Developer that was "writing all these bugs", his credibility seriously suffered, and it took time before he was taken seriously again. I think there is domain-specific knowledge that is not immediately obvious to a newcomer. Without it, they could diminish their credibility pretty quickly, and start out behind.

Serious Answer over, Quality Flamebait/Rant begin: When I see someone attempting to apply manufacturing quality principles to a creative process like writing software, I think I'm seeing someone without the background we're talking about. My guess is that this person googled "Quality", found some useless information about analyzing defect rates, and tried to force it to fit a software development context...or someone already did it for them.

Another symptom of the unprepared tech manager is belief that some snake-oil salesman or another's "Best Practices"/"Best of Breed Processes" are guiding principles for how they will remake an existing SDLC. Again, without context, how can you evaluate anything?

Rant over, hope it helps.

--------------------
Eric Proegler
Performance Lead
Hyland Software


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Peter Ruscoe
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: Eric_P]
      #510259 - 08/20/08 03:10 PM

Quote:

Does the manager need to be a better programmer than you?



That is patently absurd (in any walk of life).

A manager need to be a manager, not a techie. Obviously he/she has to understand the terminology, but as far as being a better techie? Nonsense.

I have never worked anywhere where I expected my boss to be able to do my job better than I could (though some were able to, it's true).

Quote:

There is the basic problem of being able to make any sense out of the work that is performed. You don't have to know a specific language to follow programming logic and be able to discuss algorithms, but you probably needed to learn at least a couple to be able to meaningfully participate in those conversations.




I disagree, Eric. Granted the manager should at least be able to talk on the topic intelligently, but his/her job is to direct the technical people's work, not help them to solve technical problems.

I would be comfortable directing a group of Java or C++ developers, even though I couldn't write a line of either to save my life.

The "work that is performed" is that which does the job - accurately and produced in a timely manner. As soon as a manager starts to get into digging into the code to see if it fits his or her idea of how it should be written, you'll start to have a group of very unhappy developers.

I once worked under a highly (technically) knowledgeable VP of a small software company. She couldn't manage her way out of a paper bag. In my (unofficial) exit interview (I was leaving because of a better offer) with the president of the company, I said "look, if you make [insert name] lead programmer (that's what we called them in those days) and make me the manager, I'll guarantee you the products will improve. His reaction? I understand, Peter, but I couldn't do that to [insert above name]. (She was a founder of the company).


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Peter Ruscoe
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: Peter Ruscoe]
      #510261 - 08/20/08 03:19 PM

Quote:

Another factor that could have been at play is the way a developer prefers bugs to be written. Many want one report for an entire area of software not working as expected, while others might want each occurance of test failure documented separately.




That is a management issue. You can't expect testers to try and second-guess which developer is going to fix which bugs (it is often not the one that created the bug), and attempt to tailor the bug report to one person's personal preferences.

I understand your concerns, Eric. And generally yhry make a lot of sense. But they appear to be related to a fairly narrow personal experience. Not all companies work in the way you described. And many thrive nevertheless.


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darkage
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: Peter Ruscoe]
      #510395 - 08/21/08 02:02 AM

I was talking to my Business Unit Head (Testing Head) yesterday who is handling a team of 300+ people. He is a successful manager and has high standing among management and the team. Somehow the question came up what was really required to be good (tech) manager. He said he believes in three things, which, I believe is what we are looking at in this post. These three things are:

1. He keeps his people happy. (Good People Management,that is, trusting employees, ability to improve their capabilities, keeping a good & fun-filled, open environment/ work culture).
2. He keeps client happy by delivering what they want and when they want (Business Skills)
3. He keeps his bosses happy (again business skills)

All of the points above include an important factor which is communication skills.

Personally, I don't think being technical is required to be a successful tech manager. But yes, one must have a common sense to understand the technicalities so that his subordinates do not take undue advantage (for example, giving a misleading estimation).


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kiranbadi1991
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: darkage]
      #510482 - 08/21/08 06:01 AM

Quote:

Does the manager need to be a better programmer than you? How much "doing the things" experience is necessary?



I would not expect my boss to be better than me in coding,but would definitely expect that when I am struck at some point ,he should show me the right direction to move forward.Its real mess out there when one talk of technologies.Its all about team work here.

Now thinking of "doing the things",it all depends on project/product/technologies one is involved,some are new,and it requires that one should pick the skills very fast,but again I would stress the importance of having strong foundation in basic skillsets which remains the same irrespective of technologies.I know concept of OOPS remains the same whether you use it in Java or .net.I know SQL concepts are same irrespective of database one is using.I know performance testing concepts are same irrespective of tools we use.I would say a good coder can always be a good technical manager.I am saying good coder and not just coder.
Creativity comes when one has sufficient experiences.
I am also assuming that being a technical manager,one will definitely have good knowledge of SDLC and other processes by virture of his previous work experiences therby limiting my thoughts on technical issues.
Most Good programmers will never prefer to work with technical managers who does not know anything about technical stuff.Creativity could be anything right from writing the piece of code,using the right technologies for doing the job in shortest time,in judging the technical risks etc.
Creativity is something which is keeping Google always ahead of others.


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brentpaine
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: DSquared]
      #510483 - 08/21/08 06:02 AM

Quote:

First - the ability (skill?) to trust the people working under them.
.
.
.
Second - the ability to delegate.
.
.
I will add the third that has already been raised - skill in communications.




There are great examples of skills for a manager. I'm with you, though, I don't know if they're skills or not. They might not be.

One point on each and every one of these types attributes, though, is that they need to be backed up by skill and industry knowledge, and even product knowledge sometimes.

Imagine you have no clue what the product that you're managing does. How easy is it going to be for someone to tell you that they're doing X, Y, Z and not actually doing anything? You can delegate until you're blue in the face, but if you don't have the foggiest idea what it is you're delegating, then how can you tell when it's done?

I'd love to sit in a big cushy office and play with those clicky balls all day, too, but I have this problem that I want to know that stuff is actually getting done. Damn work ethic! Oh yeah, and don't micro-manage. The only thing worse than someone sitting in their office playing with the little clicky balls is people who stop playing with their clicky balls every 15 minutes to come and check and see how you're doing with something.

So, and this might be another learned skill opposed to one that you just have, but that's knowledge or domain expertise. You can gain the respect of your workers by being friendly, giving responsibility to them, and creating a team environment that is second to none in the software industry, but you also need to know when stuff SHOULD be done. It might not even be that they're taking advantage of you, they could be drowning and don't want to disappoint you, too.

Also, with this knowledge you can lead by example. Pick up the application once and a while. Shoot, I'm actually helping with a bit of testing right now because we're short-staffed at the moment and we're in a little crunch. That isn't to say you need to act in some holier-than-thou manner, but I think being in the trenches once and a while not only enforces the idea that you're here for your team, but it also shows that when I say to do something a particular way, there is probably good reason. If you have a problem, ask me why. Or I'll gut ya and toss your entrails to the vultures, ya slimy varmin. (That's the best western-type I could think of. I also don't know why I needed to put it there).

Respect isn't a skill, but I think it could be one of the most important aspects of managing effectively. Maybe gaining the respect of your co-workers would be a skill. While not technical, it could be one of the most important skills a manager has.

I managed at the last place I was at for 3 years and the only person that quit on me quit because there were a couple people at the company who were throwing me under the bus. She, actually, then left and offered me a position working with her, underneath her. I accepted, even though I lost my dear, dear management position. It did mean a hefty pay increase though, so I think it was worth it. Now I'm back to managing while she's on maternity leave and I still haven't had anyone ever quit on me. Obviously there are X-Factors like a better offer, more money, more opportunities that can contribute to someone leaving a position, but if you can create a genuine respect with that person, that is a HUGE reason to stay.

--------------------
Brent
--------------------
9 out of 10 people I prove wrong agree that I'm right. The other person is my wife.
--------------------

Edited by brentpaine (08/21/08 06:17 AM)


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PeterNairn
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Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: estherschindler]
      #510871 - 08/22/08 04:43 AM

The top three skills a tech manager needs?

1) Communication
2) Communication
3) Communication

“Communication”, however, is a very wide subject and good communication consists of a number of facets:

Can you communicate what you need your team to do to the team?
Can you communicate status to higher management?
Can you communicate with your stakeholders?
Can you communicate with your suppliers?
Can you communicate with your customers?
Can you communicate one to one with the team members?
Can you listen well?
Can you write well?
Can you speak well?
Can you question thoroughly?
Can you use the most appropriate means of communication at the right time with the right people?

I do not believe that any manager needs to know how to do the work of the people in the team. Sometimes it helps, but it is not necessary. A short example from my own career. I was asked to take over the project management of a small project, with 4 team members as the project was in crisis. We had a very volatile customer who was getting very upset (and abusive) as he could see no prospect of this key project completing in anything like the timeframe he needed. I knew nothing of the technology behind the project or indeed the business problem that was trying to be solved and the software was being written in a language I had never looked at (RPG II). I delivered that project two weeks late when it had looked like it was going to be 4 months late when I took over. At the end of the project I had a better idea of the business problem, but still had no idea of the technology or the language. I succeeded because I communicated well, not because I knew what the team were doing in detail.

The principal role of a technical manager is to be able to manage people and the skill you need to do that is good communication.

--------------------
See my blog http://www.sqablogs.com/PeteNairn


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estherschindler
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Posts: 128
Loc: Scottsdale, AZ USA
Re: What three skills does a tech manager need? [Re: estherschindler]
      #514675 - 09/05/08 09:31 AM

And hey... Shawna's article just went up. You'll see some familiar names here, and a couple of plugs for SQA forums.

Does a Tech Manager Need to Be Tech-Savvy?

To listen to the techies, any IT manager ought to have deep technical knowledge about everything in the knowledge domain, whether it's network performance or code optimization. Or so the prevailing wisdom goes. When push comes to shove, though, your techies would far prefer that you fine-tune your management skills than compete with them on technical know-how.

http://www.cio.com/article/447783


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