e-Talk Radio: Derby, Esther, 4 January 2001


to the show, Esther.

Esther Derby: Thank you.

Carol Dekkers: What do you think? How do you think that we're hiring our managers or selecting our managers and what do you think are some of the problems that are going on with the current way that we hire or select our managers in the software arena?

Esther Derby: Well, I'm sure there are many, many places that are doing an excellent job of identifying and promoting and selecting people into management positions. And I think for many people the experience is that they are promoted into management because they have excellent technical skills. They're doing a great job as a developer or a great job as a tester or engineer and because they show that talent, someone decides to give them a chance at being a manager. And the very skills that made them good at their technical job aren't necessarily going to help them a lot in their management job.

Carol Dekkers: Do you see that a lot? There was a book written about fifteen to twenty years ago called The Peter Principle, and it really focused on that very thing, the things that you were very very very good at, if you become an excellent technical manager you are just the best programmer, the best tester, the best technical person, that very quickly you will gain the eyes of management and you will get promoted into a position where you may or may not excel, and you'll keep getting promoted until you reach your, what The Peter Principle book calls, highest level of incompetence.

Esther Derby: Yes, that's the way The Peter Principle talked about it, and I think that in some ways that isn't a real useful way to look at it. I truly believe that everyone is doing the best job they can given the situation which includes their skills, their backgrounds, and their ability. And I think people promote people into positions where they don't necessarily have the skills, not out of malice or incompetence but because they want to give someone a chance. What's really lacking is some thought and some mechanism to develop the kind of self management, self mastery in interpersonal skills, that are really necessary if you want to manage software development or other people, because really if you can't manage yourself you don't stand much chance of managing anything else.

Carol Dekkers: Right, I think not only in, when you get elevated to management as a technical person, managing technical people is a little bit different an animal. I think in a lot of cases as compared to managing business people, that there's some differences there in terms of the types of motivation, the types of things that will work, and I've seen managers who were hired from outside the technical arena, be brought in as manager, this wonderful manager, who has no technical skills and no idea of the systems development process...and that kind of wreaks havoc almost as much as having somebody that's elevated from the technical field and then is expected to get their management skills through osmosis or walk into the manager's office or something like that.

Esther Derby: I think, I just lost my thought--where did it go…

Carol Dekkers: My twelve-year-old son calls that a brain fart, and I keep telling him that he's too young to be having those, he must be at least thirty before he has those start happening.

Esther Derby: Ah, well, then I qualify.

Carol Dekkers: (laughing) Along with the rest of us. The managers that I've seen...and I

About the author

Esther Derby's picture Esther Derby

A regular StickyMinds.com and Better Software magazine contributor, Esther Derby is one of the rare breed of consultants who blends the technical issues and managerial issues with the people-side issues. She is well known for helping teams grow to new levels of productivity. Project retrospectives and project assessments are two of Esther's key practices that serve as effective tools to start a team's transformation. Recognized as one of the world's leaders in retrospective facilitation, she often receives requests asking her to work with struggling teams. Esther is one of the founders of the AYE Conference. She co-author of Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great. She has presented at STAREAST, STARWEST and the Better Software Conference & EXPO. You can read more of Esther's musings on the wonderful world of software at www.estherderby.com and on her weblog at www.estherderby.com/weblog/blogger.html. Her email is derby@estherderby.com.

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