Developer on Fire – Interview with Eric Brechner aka I.M.Wright
Every manager should be listening to this interview which is packed with useful insights and life experiences.
I found the Podcast channel “Developer on Fire” to be a series of interesting conversations that Mr Dave Rael has with his guests from the Software Industry. This week, I listened to the one with Mr Eric Brechner (@ericbrechner), who is a Software Engineering Manager at Microsoft Corporation and has over three decades of experience in managing software development. Eric is well known by his pen name I.M.Wright and has authored two well-researched books on managing Software Projects and the teams – Hard Code and Agile Project Management with Kanban.
- Dave Rael had a book recommendation – Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Malone Scott.
- I have bought in Kindle both the books that Eric recommended in the Interview – Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too by Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish, and, Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and Devops: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations by Nicole Forsgren. The first book is a parenting book but Eric feels it has helped him a lot in managing teams as well.
- People are human beings, they have real lives, real aspirations and families – no one gets to isolate their lives when they come to work. You have to meet them where they are, treat them with respect so that you can get the best from them and they can get the same from you.
- All said you are an authoritarian figure to your team when you are a manager, just like when you are a parent to your child, the relationship isn’t exactly balanced. Obviously, your employees are adults, they need to be treated as adults and respected as adults, and they are paid for the work they do. But there a lot of similarity to raising kids to treat employees – a lot of the dynamics, a lot of the expectation setting, being there for them and making most of their lives are all similar. I am fascinated by those dynamics.
Sure, software development is in the design and technology, but a huge amount of software development is in human interaction, in the team work, getting along with different personalities.
- On why he opted to be a manager after being a successful engineer, he says “I wanted to study and learn how to coordinate and lead a team. Because computers do exactly what you tell it to do; computers don’t get any interesting after that. But people don’t do what you tell them to do, they are interesting everyday and hence fascinating to observe“
- For anyone joining his team new, Eric has a shortlist of do’s and don’ts – I view my employees as well trained, grown-up adults. I tell them what is okay here, the things that I expect from you, lastly, these are the boundaries. Other than this, you can do whatever you want and you will be safe with me. This way, they know what is expected of them. They can fail, it will not be the end of the world. They can tell the truth and be sure that they are not going to be punished.
- There are lots of ways of being a bad manager – the first one will be comparing people, we need to realise that every individual is different, they bring different strengths. Going from being a ‘worst’ manager to a ‘good’ one boils down to a few things – Enabling your team to do their work. As a parent for kids, you need to give them a safe environment, where they can grow and learn. Very similar is as a manager, you need to give your employees a safe environment, give them the sense that nothing bad is going to happen, you need care about your employees (being there for them) and lastly how are you handling the situation (s), did you give your best when it comes to treating/helping them?
- Everyone makes mistakes, it is how you respond to your mistake which is important.
It is my employees who build great things directly for customers, my job is to help them to be great in their job, to break through barriers, to handle escalations and to have their back. I serve them!
Responding Honorably after a mistake is important
Eric gave a true example of what happened during the release of Clipart feature in Microsoft Office 98, that he was managing. The issue was – when users typed the word “monkey” into the clip-art search, they were getting an image of a black couple – a totally unacceptable behaviour. Of course, this was unintended, it resulted due to the photo having the keyword “Monkey bar” and the search engine parsing it as a single word(s) and as two words. Microsoft couldn’t stop the release as the production workflow (those were still physical disk days) had progressed so much. As expected this quickly turned into a lawsuit for Microsoft. Eric explains how he handled the bug when it was found before the release and he decided to log everything, every detail of it, and, how they found it. This detailed written report got the court to rule in favour of Microsoft. Though legitimately it hurt feelings, the court understood that it was incidental and threw out the case.
Even when there are a lot of tension:
Doing the right thing matters,
Having the right intent matters,
Bringing it to the front of people matters,
Documenting everything matters!
– Eric Brechner