When Developers Work for a Scrooge

Monday Dec 17th 2012 by Eric Spiegel
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A mean-spirited development manager taught a veteran developer the practices to avoid when he himself became a manager.

“He is a bleeping Scrooge!”

I was complaining to my cube-mate Stan about our manager – only I didn’t use “bleeping.” There was never much of a doubt about our manager’s unfair disposition, but suddenly he had gone too far.

Way too far.

It was the week before Christmas and all vacation requests had been denied. All of the developers on my team were working long hours trying to meet our mid-December deliverable dates.

But because the business team kept changing their requirements, the scope of the development work kept increasing – and therefore, the deliverable dates kept being pushed back.

The problem was that the system go-live date wasn’t moving, only the interim development and testing dates where being pushed back. And the go-live date was – get this – New Years Day.

How the heck management could even agree to such a date is beyond me – something to do with accounting and taxes, where the new system had to go live the first day of the year.

So the development team was already reluctantly resigned to have to work New Years Day. Now our manager, Steve, was canceling Christmas vacations.

Thus I felt no doubt in calling him a Scrooge. I thought about calling him a Grinch for this article, but Scrooge seems to more appropriately describe his selfish, unfeeling ways.

Besides, the Grinch is somewhat likable with his cute and loyal dog. I’m pretty sure Steve would have kicked his dog if he had one.

Stan had planned on visiting his out-of-town parents for a couple days. He had just gotten off the phone telling them he couldn’t make it. He was ticked.

“The guy has no heart. Why doesn’t he push back on the business team?”

I replied, “You got it wrong buddy – he is not heartless, he is gutless.”

Steve could not have cared less about his team. And he didn’t save his terribleness for the holidays – he was a pain in the butt all year round.

The ghost of Christmas Past would have had a field day with all of his transgressions. With inspiration from many of Steve’s management actions and style, I can honestly say you know your boss is a Scrooge when....

1. He approves time off for the holidays, only to revoke it with little warning. Steve actually said “You can have Christmas Day off, and you should be thankful for that!”

He didn’t let anyone off early Christmas Eve and even sent an email stating, “Reminder - day after Christmas meeting starts at 9 AM sharp.” Oh, he did end the email with “Happy Holidays.” What a guy!

2. He leaves to “run errands” while the team works late at night. As we worked into the night to turn around bug fixes to the testing team for the next day’s quality assurance review, Steve would say he had some things to do and would return shortly.

When he returned (and not shortly) he would saunter up to the cube area and ask us all “So have you fixed all the bugs, because I’m getting tired.” Based on the smell of beer, I’m guessing he was tired from hanging out at the bar down the street.

3. He ignores the positives and focuses on the negatives. I had spent weeks working on one challenging module and finally got it to work. I was genuinely proud of the work and popped into Steve’s office to give him a demo.

He looked up from his desk and grunted “What do you want Spiegel?” (He called us all by our last names to go the extra mile to show he was our superior.) I told him I finally got a difficult function to work and wanted to show him. “So show me” was his non-enthusiastic response.

The function worked perfectly. As I beamed waiting for the kudos, he went off about misspelled words, incorrect color schemes and other minor bugs – which would be easily fixed. “That is sloppy work Spiegel. You have an hour to get it fixed for the testing team.” Deflated, I mechanically fixed the bugs and couldn’t wait for the day to end.

4. He takes credit for your work. The system designers had underestimated the volume of transactions for a key batch component, causing the overnight processing to run too long. As a result, there was much consternation among the business team about the developers screwing up – even though it was the designers.

Stan bounced some ideas off of Steve, who discounted them. Undaunted, Stan implemented some new coding techniques and found a way to overcome the bottlenecks.

Yet when Steve presented the new solution to the business team, he actually boasted “You’ll see I led my team to an innovative solution to avoid any overnight processing slowdowns.” He was the one who told Stan it would never work! Stan, furious, turned red, but never said a word.

5. He monitors everything you do and then uses your seemingly innocuous, everyday actions against you. It was common knowledge that company equipment is supposed to be used for company business. But it was also commonly understood that people had to make personal phone calls from time to time, and everyone took breaks to surf the Internet.

What wasn’t commonly known was that Big Brother (i.e. Steve) was watching. Did it really matter if I would check fantasy football scores during a break after coding hours on end? I found it most certainly did when I was up for a promotion and Steve’s favorite Angela got the promotion instead of me.

When I confronted Steve with all of my accomplishments, he acknowledged them. Then said with a wry smile – “but you goof off too much Spiegel.” He went on to cite how many minutes I spent not working each day. “Angela is a workaholic – she is made for management.”

There you have it. You must be a workaholic robot to be a manager. After all the late nights (where he was the one that disappeared) and cancelled vacations, that was the worst dagger of them all.

Sometimes it seems you can never work hard enough!

I can easily guessed what the Ghost of Christmas Future would have showed Steve. In darker moments, I could see him being thrown under the bus by some other greedy manager and he’d come begging to me for a job. Or maybe he would see the error of his ways and start giving credit to those who deserve it.

In reality?

Well, reality bites. Steve is a CIO. We have all learned over time that life isn’t fair. If you want a happy ending, read A Christmas Carol or watch The Grinch.

Bah humbug!

No, no – WAIT! I can’t end on such a dour note this time of year. Steve gave me the greatest present of all which was how NOT to act as a manager. Sometimes we learn more from bad things that happen to us than the good things.

Now, happy holidays to all and to all a good night!

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