Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Nothing Personal

Poor Taghead. Nobody likes him!

OK, can the sympathy. This hasn't actually happened yet. The DBAs and programmers are sufficiently dim-witted that they haven't yet recognized the obvious superiority of my managerial skills, and thus have yet to shun me from their plebeian lunches (it also helps that I am still classified union-represented technical staff employee and have yet to reap the fiduciary bounty that is a *real* management position).

And most of the managers here wouldn't flinch at going to lunch with a pleb like me. In fact, Prophead and I went to a baseball game with a manager just last week (our team, the HSU Hypotheticals, is third ranked in the country!). Of course, the Hypotheticals lost... mostly because a manager was present.

Anyway, even though this hasn't happened, I know that some of the 'technical staff' view me with suspicion because of my close relationship with some of the management.

This will be a developing theme, both in TFRL and in my keynote address.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Circular References Cannot Resolve

Sigh. See, this is the problem right here. Some people automatically assume that managers are incompetent because of our history of not giving managers the tools to be successful managers. But even if managers *do* have the right training and ability, some staff can't get past their assumption that all managers are incompetent because they are, well, managers.

They've been programmed by bad experiences in the past to assume that manager = incompetent. And they can only see the world through their confirmation bias; ignoring information that might affirm that a manager is competent and latching onto information that can be interpreted as proof of incompetence.

In the end it becomes the classic circular argument: you are a manager ergo you are incompetent ergo you are a manager.

And it ultimately becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy. Because they assume management is incompetent, they themselves become resistant and difficult to manage.

All of this is not to say that there aren't completely incompetent and even actively bad managers out there. Hell no. They're everywhere. I've worked for them. Idiots. Micro-managers. Narcissists. The chronically clueless.

And of course, we all love to make fun of management (ever read this cartoon??). After all, they are such an easy target. I'm not gainsaying that.

My beef is with people who automatically assume that all managers are stupid and ignorant and refuse to get past that despite evidence to the contrary. I bet you know a few people like this.

The real point is that these people are not aiding cultural change in IT. They are actively resisting it. And they are not helping your IT organization better serve your university and its students.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

If You Succeed at Failing, are You a Failure or a Success?

OK, I'm really not trying to beat a dead horse here about people's qualifications to manage. No, what I'm *really* trying to do is make plausible excuses for the abysmal job I've done over the past two years.

And the reality is that this situation says as much about how (given budget and resource cuts over the past several years) we've had to make do with the resources we have instead of hiring people specifically qualified to do what we need. Even if we could hire someone, there's no way we could offer enough in either salary or opportunities to complete with the outside world. Instead we have to try to make lemonade from the lemons we have for employees.

Hrm... somehow that didn't quite come out the way I wanted.

Anyway, you get my point, which is obviously "life sucks".

*Ah... FingerPoints. Two and a half years ago, when I wrote the set of cartoons about being put in charge of "FingerPoints" (here's the first cartoon in the series), I could only fantasize about how bad managing the FingerPoints project could be. The reality, it would turn out, was much, much worse. But that's the topic of another TFRL.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Reason #247

*This is my actual career pretty much in a nutshell. Except for ColdFusion. I did ASP programming. Go figure. And yes, there is a web app that I wrote in 2001 that is still running.

**OK, the first paragraph is pretty much true, but we never really got beyond that. There is no campus-wide "Web Office" here, but if there was, I guarantee it would have no actual authority.

***Back to the literal truth.

OK, OK, I'm not trying to harsh on our IT managers here. They honestly try to do their best with limited resources. I actually peeved off a couple of directors when I asked if they'd had management training, because in their case, they did have at least some training, but "lots of experience". But I think they both admitted they'd had no training here at Hypothetical State University.

Anyway, this cartoon is more a satire of myself than it is of anyone else. I'm trying to get a PMO off the ground with no effing clue of what I'm doing. But, hey, I'm as good at project management as anyone else in our IT department. Sigh.

But the serious question is this: do we really prepare people for IT management? Do we groom people to become managers? Train them? Give them the best tools possible to succeed and lead the organization? I dare anyone to answer yes.

Again, I'm not trying to apportion blame here. It's really a matter of cultural priorities and awareness. We've never focused on it before, and no one has insisted that it's an absolute must, so although we know it has value, we never quite get around to it. And anyway, there are always more "urgent" fires to put out.

The saddest thing to me is that we have technical people who *could* be prepared to be good managers, but we don't invest in them, and they either never get the opportunity to advance because they lack management qualifications (Catch-22 style) or they do advance and become poor managers because they never got the training and support they needed.

The worst thing about this whole situation is that we are on *at least* our second generation of IT managers who basically just rose up through the ranks without formal preparation to be an IT manager. The older generation is now retiring and a new generation is taking over.

Are we cluing in on the need for cultural change in IT yet?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What we Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

Man, so many notes with this one.

First, obvious movie reference... come on, you all know what it is.

Second, yes, yes, I've used this post title like three times already. So sue me. I can't say this enough times: communication is the number one problem IT faces. Internally, externally. Doesn't matter. NERDS SUCK AT COMMUNICATION.

1My team does application development.
2My team runs BlackBoard.
3My team runs the VMs.

Also, although I hope it's all too painfully obvious, I'd like to point out the difference in grammatical person used in the cartoon and in the notes. All too many administrators say "I..." when they really mean "well, I don't do any actual work, but the people for whom I write annual performance reviews...".

That's actually not as big a problem here as it was a couple of years ago. We actually have one administrator who *always* refers to "my team". It's actually quite annoying, but infinitely better than saying "I".

Friday, April 12, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole

Taghead gets a new boss...

Oh, God, I'm going to get into so much trouble for this.

Maybe not with the SuperBoss™, but probably with everyone else. And yes, I do call my boss the SuperBoss™. It's really an inside joke about another director. Long story. You had to be there. Trust me; it's hilarious. Seriously. A real knee slapper.

Anyway, this isn't quite as literally true as the other cartoon. My office actually hasn't moved, but I do 'hobnob with the big boys' a lot more than I used to. Hell, I actually lead meetings where I'm literally the lowest paid person in the room (ahem... listening there, SuperBoss™?).

Strangely, Prophead is still right there with me most of the time. And still making marginally more than I do. Curse you, Prophead, and your slightly greater financial recognition!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

This is How it Starts

So, like pretty much everything else in TFRL, this actually happened. My boss called me into the office one day for our weekly meeting, saying we were going to have a 'special guest'. That special guest turned out to be my new boss. I had no clue beforehand, and apparently my new boss wasn't aware that my old boss hadn't told me.

So, that was fun.

Actually, it was quite exciting, because I really like my new boss (who isn't really so new any more).

But it does say something about communication. That meeting could have been very awkward, and honestly, though I was very happy with the change, I kind of felt that not telling me ahead of time wasn't terribly respectful of either me or my new boss.

Since the purpose of this blog is to lay the groundwork for my keynote at HighEdWeb West in June, (hopefully) funny cartoons are going to (hopefully) address some serious issues. And communication is a big one.