Thursday, July 2, 2009

Why a manager may not want you to learn

[This was originally posted at]

I'm a huge advocate of learning. And it's natural for devs to want to pick up new stuff. However, many devs don't realize that they may report to a manager that actually wants to prevent them from learning new things - even on their own personal time. I think this type of manager is rare. However, it's good to be aware in case a manager is (perhaps unintentionally) "sabotaging" your learning.

I hesitated about writing this post lest it seem to cynical or jaded, but it's worth discussing as developers should be aware of such things. Note that there is not one specific person/event/incident that I have in mind, but rather glimpses of things over the last 10 years.

  • Their control - They may want to be in control, and you learning new things that they don't know takes away from their control.
    • They may want to understand the entire architecture themselves. It's sort of a "not built here" applied to a personal level - "If I don't already know it, it must not be necessary."
    • They may not want to learn the new stuff themselves. If you're a tech manager, and all your devs learn the next wave of technologies, it pressures you to learn the new wave as well, else you look obsolete.
    • They don't want you exposing their mistakes. Say a senior developer wrote a bad messaging framework. As long as no other employee has a clue about messaging, no one knows that they made a bad mistake.
    • They want you to "suffer" just like they did. Often new techs make it easier to do something, and rather than have the easy way out, you should do it the original way so you "understand what's really going on". Think using assembly language or C++ instead of a higher-level language like C#.
  • It doesn't support the immediate work
    • They may think it's a waste of time - "We've already invested in this architecture, we don't need anything else." Even though it's your own time, they'd rather you spend overtime on "useful features", like copying and pasting tedious code.
    • It competes with your day job - If you're researching some cool XNA technology, which is a lot more fun than the drudgery of some bad architecture, it may compete. Suppose you work at home, it might "distract" you.
    • It may be misapplied. New stuff is risky, and could be buggy or applied incorrectly - which would hurt the project.
    • Their afraid that "smart" developers are hard to manage. Smart developers can sometimes be total egomaniacs to work with (because they think they're so smart), and management may not want to even think about dealing with that.
  • You may leave
    • You may outgrow your company and leave-  If your company is stuck in the dark ages, they may want to keep everyone's technical skills "in the dark" as well, lest an employee "see the light" and leave.
    • It makes your more marketable, and you may leave. If you're stuck with some niche technology on an obsolete framework, you aren't very marketable and hence can't get another job, and hence your boss has tremendous control over you.

Examples of how a manager might unintentionally discourage a developer from learning:

  • Financially reject anything (like buying new books or tools or paying for a class)
  • Undermine your confidence ("Why would you need that") or question your motives.
  • Deny you resources, such as preventing you from installing anything on your machine (open source code, tools, etc...)
  • Never affirm new learning or innovation. They tell you "good job" for getting that feature done, but won't affirm picking up new technologies.
  • Never provide their software engineers with a continuing-education plan. Ask yourself, how do developers go "to the next level" in your team? Does management help them?

It's sad, but some companies are structured where it's not in the manager's best interests for the employees to "wise up". The managers want hard-working, honest people who are easy to manage, but they don't want to deal with innovation or smart developers.

LINK: Does your Project encourage learning

No comments:

Post a Comment