Earlier this month, ComputerWorld printed an opinion piece by my colleague Jeff Ello entitled “The unspoken truth about managing geeks.” Now, I’ve been in the business a mere three years, but I can generally tell if a person has a technical or non-technical manager. Non-technical managers generally mean well, but they often fail to understand the mindset of the technical worker. It is nearly impossible to provide effective leadership of any group when you cannot see the world as they do.
For better or for worse, my boss generally leaves me to my own devices. However, I do have four students to manage. I’m not that long removed from my student days, so that helps. Leading students presents its own challenges. You have to strike a balance between their courses and their work. Projects, exams, and interviews for real jobs can make scheduling a nightmare. The talented and experienced students will often get bored with routine work, but it’s not always possible to give them increased responsibility.
The secret to leading technical staff, whether student or full-time, is to listen. You have to understand what the employees want and need. Most importantly, you have to understand how to keep your most talented and keep them happy.