Differences between managers and programmers


If you find yourself in a meeting with a mix of managers and programmers, here's one way to tell the difference between them: Look at what they brough to the meeting.

Did they bring a laptop computer? Score bonus points if the laptop computer is actually turned on during the meeting or if the laptop is special in some way (e.g., it has a wireless card or it's a Tablet PC). If so, then that person is probably a manager.

Did they come to the meeting empty-handed or with a spiral-bound notebook? If so, then that person is probably a programmer.

It's not an infallible test, but it works with surprisingly high accuracy.

Comments (50)
  1. Kim Gräsman says:

    "Look at what they brough to the meeting."

    "brough" needs another "t", there.

    And you’re right – at least I prefer notebooks to tech gadgets for meetings.

  2. Raymond,

    over here, its like this:

    if you’re in a meeting and you’re looking at anyone – its most certainly a manager.

    the engineers simply don’t show up. :)

    (uh, well, ok, at least they try hard and it works quite often… )

    WM_CHEERS

    thomas woelfer

  3. megan says:

    What are they if they brought their lunch??

    And hey, I used to bring my laptop occasionally so I could stay current on IRC conversations.

    -megan

  4. -If they have a notebook and it has an IDE fullscreen, they are a developer. If they then IM each other across the table then they are engineers in a long meeting

    -If they have a notebook with outlook fullscreen, PPT behind it they are a manager.

    I have empirical data to back up my opinions, as linked to above: "the secret life of notebooks"

  5. matthew says:

    don’t you feel bad if you come empty-handed to a meeting?

    I sometimes do, but I feel like I am being lazy, as the perception is that you don’t care and won’t remember if you are not at least pretending to take notes.

  6. Kevin R says:

    Interesting observation – I’ve seen the same. But I started wondering why. I’d consider myself in the techie crowd, and not a manager.

    I’ve tried using PDAs before (both Palm and PocketPC) and never really found them to my liking, though I don’t necessarily know exactly why…

    Wouldn’t you think techies would be more capable of figuring out and using these devices to manage their contacts/calendar/todo/notes/etc than a less-techie manager type? That’s why this observation seems backwards to me…

  7. Tom Seddon says:

    Maybe the programmers have used computers enough to know that sometimes they’re not very useful?

    Maybe the programmers don’t as often get given toys?

  8. Hey, at least Microsoft’s stopped buying PM’s better kit than developers :)

    For the longest while, the stock PM laptop in Exchange was better than the stock developer machine (same CPU speed, bigger hard disk, more RAM).

    Now my dev machine’s as good as the PM for my group (although he has a pretty tricked out laptop).

    My laptop’s a piece of junk, but I love it :)

  9. jeffdav says:

    If I had a laptop worth lugging around, I would.

  10. Aaron Junod says:

    With the advent of onenote I have seen more developers with lappys (myself included). I like that electronic record of the meetings if I need it. Here the managers carry treo’s, which makes them easy to find (walking, driving, or in a meeting, they are in email).

  11. Keith Moore [exmsft] says:

    One other thing — If they look like they just stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch commercial, they’re a GPM.

  12. Merle says:

    Kevin R: "I’ve tried using PDAs before (both Palm and PocketPC) and never really found them to my liking, though I don’t necessarily know exactly why…"

    Ditto.

    For me, it’s that I expect so much more than they provide. Palm has a pathetically low amount of memory.

    I used to be big on notebooks as well… back in the pre-Win95 days. I had an old Zenith whose battery life was 14 hours! They just don’t make them like that anymore.

    I did finally go out and buy an Archos. Ostensibly for listening to music while I walk home (or to drown out coworkers), but mostly it’s so I have a 20G portable hard drive for transferring files…

  13. Miles Archer says:

    Hmm, by your test, I’m a programmer. But most of the time I pretend to be a manager. I wonder if I should start bringing a laptop to meetings just too look the part…

    The funny thing is that, I use a green steno pad which I got in the habit of using when I was in sales. Those days you ran from pay phone to pay phone to check messages and call customers back. The steno pad was big enough to write a decent amount on, but small enough to be useable at a pay phone.

  14. Keith, obviously you’ve never worked with GordM…

    The only time he wears anything but shorts is when he’s meeting with customers.

  15. Mat Hall says:

    I tend to take a notepad and pen with me to meetings, and sit doodling pictures of various managers being ripped to small pieces by a giant beast of some description. The managers all bring laptops, but I suspect that less than 50% of them can do anything more than turn it on and play Solitaire…

    Never once have I learned anything in a meeting that could not have been covered in a short email, and normally waste hours driving there and back. Man, I hate work!

  16. True even for Russia, becaus? most programmers here don’t have laptops. (Many of the PMs don’t have them too.)

    BTW, what would you think about me? I always have a digital camera as one and the only item with me.

  17. ATZ Man says:

    I don’t even know where my pen IS. One place where I used to work, everyone travelling to a meeting (travelling between offices of a single corp) had a laptop, engineers, managers and even artistic people. I believe there was IM’ing across the table. Certain individuals who were at the top of the technical track would answer email from meetings, yet still participate in the meeting (effectively).

    I think it pays to either use a pad of paper or keep the laptop closed as much as possible when dealing with customers or others who might be sensitive about how you are listening to them. A tablet used with its electronic pen might not present the problem (visual barrier) that a laptop screen does.

    In pondering what other people are doing, there are so many things to consider that this laptop thing could only be a starting point. If someone has coffee in a disposable cup, it might mean they are on travel, or the meeting room might be so far from their office as to make bringing a mug of coffee from there impractical. Did they bring the laptop in a bag (travelling) or was did they carry it into the room powered on in the open state? Where’s the Blackberry?

    I’ve been on projects where the DailyMeeting pattern was followed, and on at least one of those projects the meeting was the heart of the collaboration, instead of the complete waste of time it usually is. Every situation is its own.

  18. David Stone says:

    Hmmm…I would say that’s generally true. However, I like to bring my laptop to classes and meetings so that when things get boring, I can open up the IDE and start working on my project while listening on a background thread. :)

  19. Tim Scarfe says:

    That was uncanny! I felt like big brother was watching when I glanced down at my spiral note book.

  20. JamesNT says:

    Does anyone here besides me feel that one reason why managers have laptops and other gizmos in the meeting is so:

    a – They can feel important amongst the developers.

    b – Most managers are spoiled pinheads who don’t add any real value to the company.

    James

  21. Ulrich E. says:

    Very true, up to the spiral notebook. Impressive that this seems so widespread. I noticed that some time ago and just assumed my current company was slightly stange in that respect (as they are in other areas).

  22. gnegg says:

    When I read this blog entry I could not resist to post a big warm ACK! The theory works quite well here in Switzerland too….

  23. Keith Moore [exmsft] says:

    Larry – Ah yes, GordM… A&F sell shorts, don’t they?

  24. My God… I’ve become… a manager!

  25. Good observation.

    Around here, the managers bring: personal organizers (electronic and leather-bound stuff that you go to seminars to learn how to use), laptops, and stacks of copies of stuff (that could have been glanced at and passed around).

    The techies bring something to drink (always), a small notepad and/or a sheet of paper (half the time), and a writing tool (about 1/3 of the time) — some prefer pens to disassemble/reassemble during the meeting, personally I like pencils as they provide a snack food as well. Mmm… fiber.

    The *only* time I bring a computing device to a meeting is when I get suckered into an all-day marathon meeting about stuff that I’m only tangentially involved with. And if you look carefully, I’m actually surfing Slashdot, Amazon, and wikipedia.

  26. Phil says:

    I carry a pen and a small notebook. I never bring a laptop since work hasn’t given me one yet… In addition, there are things you can do better on a notebook that you cannot do well with a laptop (or tablet): quick and dirty diagrams and lay the notebook in the middle of the table for everyone to see. Basically anything quick.

  27. Mike says:

    Around here, the techies show up with handhelds and the managers show up with nada.

  28. Haha, I laughed out loud when I read that. Where I used to work (as a programmer) I most of the time only brought a can of Coke and so did most of the programmers. Some brought a spiral-bound notebook though. It did make me feel a bit lazy though, not bringing anything to write on…

    In general I’ve found that most programmers seem less tech-hyped (uses less new and cool gadgets) than non-programmers.

  29. Andreas, that is so true – the PM’s seem to have all the kit, but the developers will maybe have a cell phone.

    And I know a lot of developers (myself included) that don’t have cell phones. Or PDAs.

  30. Robert Waugh says:

    Possible theories:

    1) Programmers don’t think of laptops as serious firepower. Real computers are too heavy to move.

    2) Programmers prefer to do things in the most primal fashion possible… if they could, they would memorize code and compile it directly from their brains.

    3) Managers are accustomed to having things done for them by other objects or people/objects.

    4) Managers are the ones who call meetings — that’s what they do — so they need to look like they’re "on the ball."

    5) Managers have no souls when they’re on the job… which has nothing to do with gadgets, but I thought I’d mention that.

  31. I guess I’m not a manger.

  32. Joe Cheng says:

    I don’t take notes often enough to keep a spiral bound notebook. If I think like I’ll need to take notes, I take a piece of paper out of the laser printer. How ghetto is that!?

  33. Ian Nowland says:

    I’ve always thought that there is something about the managing of layer upon layer of often tedious technical detail (all the leaks in Joel on Software’s Leaky Abstractions(www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/LeakyAbstractions.html)) that turns computer programmers into technology minimalists.

    I have no cell phone, laptop or PDA. I would get rid of my sole home PC if I could find a better way to do internet and word processing. To me the utility of these things is not matched by the overhead of having to manage and administer them. To me they just scream frustration.

    I find it hard to understand the mindset of people who not only use them but seem to love them. But maybe if you spend most of your day dealing with fuzzy "human" problems the way managers do, then you might start looking forward to the more logical problems presented by a technical toy.

  34. Ry Jones says:

    I bring my laptop with wireless so I can keep developing software while in a meeting.

  35. Brian says:

    heh, too funny, too true. I would always just bring a can of something fizzy. I find that If you have nothing to show and nothing to write on, the meetings tend to end more quickly.

  36. Gloria Ho says:

    I won’t be empty-handed.

    At least I’d bring a piece of paper and a pen.

  37. Ron says:

    I only bring a pencil [Pentel P225 – best mechanical pencil made] in the slight off-chance I have to write something down. ~80% of the meetings I attend provide something to write on. Most times I can remember the little bit of info I need (out of the rest of the drivel). In the event I forget something, I almost always get an email reminding.

  38. Digital cameras are good for taking a picture of that UML someone is drawing on a whiteboard (I must admit, most of my meeting are rather technical).

    Pen & Paper for me.

  39. John Goewert says:

    A Digital camera to take picture of board drawings. What an ingenious idea!

    I have got to try that out. It would save me a ton of time and possible bad notes and allow me to pay more attention to the meeting.

    We have a few boards here that photocopy the written stuff, but they are expensive and always in use.

    So, now my meeting tools are:

    A notepad

    A pencil

    A camera

  40. Sean says:

    "I don’t take notes often enough to keep a spiral bound notebook. If I think like I’ll need to take notes, I take a piece of paper out of the laser printer. How ghetto is that!?"

    Ditto! And I then steal a pen from a coworkers desk on my way in to the meeting. (With the full intention of returning said pen after the meeting. Of course the best laid plans of managers and programmers….)

  41. Ron says:

    Wasn’t it one of the Dilbert cartoons where two engineers had a Wild-West style showdown in a corridor, to see which of their beltful of portable appliances was the most able to override the other’s?

  42. David Stone says:

    "Digital cameras are good for taking a picture of that UML someone is drawing on a whiteboard (I must admit, most of my meeting are rather technical). "

    Shweet! I thought I was the only one. I do that when I go to class. Saves me writing down the extraneous info I know I won’t need.

  43. Phil says:

    Digital Camera is a sweet idea! I wish that I had one of those when I went to college…

  44. AlisdairM says:

    Ian Nowland:"maybe if you spend most of your day dealing with fuzzy "human" problems the way managers do, then you might start looking forward to the more logical problems presented by a technical toy."

    Actually, that has far more than a grain of truth in it. It hadn’t occurred to me before but makes a lot of sense.

    As developers we spend all our time taking the resources in our PC and trying to make something better. We understand what lies behind the tools we use, and are always aware of the limits we believe should not be there. Tools are often restrictive to us.

    To the manager, the PC is a simple tool with a limitted functionality that makes organising their day much simpler. It may be a litte more awkward to get the info in, but once there it is far more valuable to them, repaying the effort of getting it in there.

    So we look at the hassle of getting the thing to work and see problems, rest-of-the-world looks at the benefits, and thinks of all the stuff they can do with it.

  45. Mike says:

    "As developers we spend all our time taking the resources in our PC and trying to make something better. We understand what lies behind the tools we use, and are always aware of the limits we believe should not be there. Tools are often restrictive to us."

    That’s why I always bring my handheld and why 95% of the software I use is software I write. Are other software developers just too lazy to write their own tools?

  46. AlisdairM says:

    "Are other software developers just too lazy to write their own tools?"

    I’d say busy, rather than lazy.

    When you are working 100 hour weeks just to keep up with demand, it is very hard to explain to management that taking time out now to write better tools to support ourselves will pay off in a few months time…

    And while I doubt everyone reading here does 100 hours, I suspect most developers are working close to their comfort limit short of burnout. That seems to be the expectation of the industry.

    [Luckily for me, after 3 years my working week has finally come back down! I averaged around and 85 hour week in that time, without vacations!]

  47. Prabhakar says:

    I just came out of a discussion with our client, and you’re right.

    The only guys who got laptops with excel sheets are my Program manager and Team Leaders?.

    Its the same here in Bangalore, too.

  48. alexr says:

    But what if the persons comes in with knitting needles? What does it say then? ;)

  49. Ian says:

    For programmers, a meeting is a break from their real work, so they leave their tools at their workplace.

    For managers, a meeting is their work, and they’re also worried that people will discover they don’t really do very much, so they assemble as much supporting technology as possible.

  50. Years ago, Raymond showed us how to tell who is what role in a meeting with a mix of managers and programmers. And now I think I got a better approach. If at least 8 out of 10 sentences coming from their mouth are questions, then the person is probably

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