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Are those "Techies" driving you crazy?

How to manage those technical people.

Face it, trying to manage technical people can be an exercise in frustration.  I know.  I have managed computer programmers (and still do).  And I have been a programmer, so I know the challenges from both sides.

An effective manager thinks differently than a "techie".  (And we all know that managers and technical people alike call them "techies", "geeks", "nerds", "computer-heads" and some less-than-desireable names.  I personally put "nerds" in the less-than-desireable category, but not everyone does.)

By the way, technical people encompass scientists, mathematicians, programmers, testers/quality assurance personnel, computer scientists, engineers, and any number of detail-oriented folks.

There is a reason why it can be difficult to manage techies.  They think differently.  (That is not bad.  It is what makes them so good as techs.)

A manager is required to think in a different way and from a different perspective than a techie.  This often causes misunderstandings and friction.  Okay, sometimes close to all-out war.  The differences can be wide enough to make the "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" divide look like a meeting of the minds.

I wil not get into which is better as they are both necessary.  But that doesn't make them any easier to deal with (from either side). 

There isn't enough space in this article to go very deep or very comprehensively.  But I do want to first make you aware of the very different mindsets.

The techie mindset is orderly and logical.  His/her (and yes, women can be just as techie as men) thought process is orderly, rational, and cause-effect driven.  In the (now outdated) model of left-brain, right-brain techies are decidedly left-brain. 

Techies tend to favor meritocracies.  They respect those who can do, those with technical skills and rational thought.  As a general rule, they think that the world would be a better place if logic and reason ruled (think Spock from Star Trek).  And perhaps it might.  But until human nature changes significantly, we live in a different world.  In the meantime, techies tend to downplay the importance of non-technical abilites and skills.

There is an implication to the above thinking that might not be obvious.  There is a serious personality conflict within techies.  They like left-brain thinking but still have right-brain sides.  In terms of human interactions, this seems to come out most often as an apparent double-standard.  They tend to act as if you should accept whatever they say and how they say it (which is usually in a less-than-sensitive fashion) in a logical and reasonable way.  Don't take offense at it.  On the flip side, your comments to them or disagreement with them will often result in a right-brain, emotional reaction.  And often, they don't even realize they are acting this way!

No wonder techies have clashes with management (especially management who have not come from the ranks of techies.) 

As a manager, one thing you cannot do (effectively) with techies is to pull the "because I said so and I am the boss" routine.  You might win the immediate battle when you do, but you have just lost the war.  Techies will require all your people-handling skills, but once you begin to understand them and work with them (rather than against them), you will find them incredible allies who can do amazing things for you and for your company.

A really good resource for learning more about managing technical people is the book Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead the People Who Deliver Technology by Paul Glen.  He really makes the technical mindset accessible and shows how to work with it rather than against it.  As a "recovering geek" I can tell you that he speaks what he knows and that he lives what he teaches.  I only wish some of my earlier bosses had read the book.

 

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