Author: Michael Lopp
Audience: Aspiring managers
Reviewed by: Sue Gee
Billed as "Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager". Does it live up to expectations?
This book is a made up of over forty short essays and is described as a work of semi-fiction. The names of the characters we meet in real-life scenarios are fictitious and they are stereotypes, based on a pick-and-mix sampling of the people author Michael Lopp has worked with in a career that now spans at least three decades. While the incidents described are fictitious they are set in the real world and are often set in companies Lopp worked for including Apple, Netscape, Symantec and Borland.
Lopp is an established blogger and the material in both Managing Humans and in Being Geek: The Software Developer's Career Handbook can be found on his Rands In Repose blog. . For this second edition he has added several new stories which can be recognized by references to newer technologies such as IE9 and by lack of mentions of Borland, which is a hallmark of the original set.
The book is split into three parts. Part I is called "The Management Quiver" and considers the tools that a manager has at his disposal as arrows in a quiver. There are eighteen chapters in this section and as there isn't a narrative going through the book you can dip into ones that sound interesting - such as The Monday Freakout, Lost in Translation and Saying No.
Part II takes as its theme "The Process Is The Product" and it includes chapters on How to Start, Taking Time to Think and Capturing Context. Although little, if any, of the wisdom in these chapters is remarkable or ground-breaking, it is still helpful to have it distilled and presented.
The final section of the book is called "Versions of You" and starts from the premise that everyone is a slightly different version of you. It starts with some straightforward advice, "Bored People Quit" and several of its chapters are to do with the hiring process and moving on to a new job, something that Loop himself has a lot of experience of. The section also looks at different personality types, in particular nerds. Lopp also confesses to having a disability he labels as NADD, nerd attention deficiency disorder. Other types are examined in the chapters on Incrementalists and Completionists; Organics and Mechanics and Inwards, Outwards and Holistics.
If you expect all Loop's stories to be funny you are likely to be disappointed - yes there is some humor and there is definitely tension - but you are unlikely to laugh out loud. However, they are generally thought provoking, and offer insights into what it is like to take on the roles of software engineering team leader and of Manager.
Overall, I find myself in agreement with this conclusion from our review of the previous edition:
If you consider the purpose of the book as encouraging you to reflect on interacting with other people and read the book with this in mind, then it probably will help you become a better manager. However, you could equally well achieve the same result just by reflecting on what you’ve done today at work: the key is in being self-critical, not the content of a book. Ironically, the back cover makes claims about what you will learn by reading this book, only to then immediately contradict itself by stating that you can only learn by doing. And this is truly the point. No book on management will make you a better manager, and if you’re looking for quick answers, not only will you not find them here but you’re probably doomed as a manager to boot!