Friday, December 1, 2000

Effective management in the Nerd economy


By Steve Niles

Any student of eighties' cinema knows what folly it can be to upset a Nerd. They're liable to plant hidden cameras in your shower or completely disrupt your elaborately planned fraternity mixer. If it's your job to manage software developers, or Nerds as Cal Evans affectionately refers to them in his ebook, Nerd Herding, you no doubt understand the great importance of keeping your team happy. However, Nerds, also known as Geeks, can't be treated in exactly the same way you might treat other members of your staff. According to Cal Evans:

By its very nature, software development is a cross between the rigorous detail of engineering and the craftsman pursuits like fine carpentry. Because Nerds have to be equally at home in both halves of the brain, they are different and must be treated so.

Drawing upon his experience as a developer who made the conscious decision to move into management, Evans provides five helpful tips on the more effective administration of Nerds. The ebook version of Nerd Herding is available from MemoWare at It's an incredibly useful resource for anyone in management to keep close at hand. If you've never been a developer yourself, yet you suddenly find yourself in charge of this most unique group, Nerd Herding is a definite must-read.

Neither in software development nor management myself, I approached this ebook from an outsider's perspective, but from observations I've made in a variety of corporate environments, I can attest to the importance of the insights Evans provides. But a number of years ago, I was an administrative assistant in a major industrial centrifuge company. I ended up performing clerical duties for both managers and engineers, and their differences were exceptionally clear. For example, managers wear tastefully coordinated ties with suits. Engineers wear striped ties, plaid shirts. Managers' desks and offices are often adorned with crystal plaques, "I'd rather be golfing" figurines, and pictures of the family. Engineers' cubicles are likely to be festooned with Taz dolls, soda-can pyramids, and pictures of Seven of Nine. My current boss is both a manager and an engineer and that scares the crap out of all of us.

I found the fact that these two camps had to work together endlessly amusing. The managers were probably in the most difficult position. They would be imposed upon from above with ridiculous deadlines, and it would be their unenviable job to approach the engineers with the news and face the belligerent wrath.