#102 - 26 Feb 2022
Rules were meant to be broken (if necessary); You're not wasting your mentor's time
We start off with three very different articles which drive home an important common point.
There are a lot of really, really good rules of thumb in management. New managers would do well to adopt them wholesale when starting out, and even experienced managers should default to them.
But. These rules are tools in the toolbox, used in service of larger goals. The purpose is to have an effective team of satisfied, productive, and growing team members. If you find that the usual best practices don’t work in some case, you shouldn’t hesitate to put that tool aside, and reach for another. New managers should require more convincing than experienced managers that something different is needed! But if something isn’t working, then change it.
In the first article, Schellhas talks about jettisoning the usually important best practices - agenda, minutes, etc - for his meetings. In his situation, the meetings are generally to decide on a specific singular thing, like solving a problem or getting to a next step. So he sets a clear purpose for the meeting, has someone at arms length from the problem involved in running the meeting, and that’s enough to focus the meeting successfully for his teams’ needs.
In the second, Fournier discusses another excellent rule of thumb - managers should have something like 7 ± 3 directs, maybe a bit more of fewer depending on the type of work - but points out either the rigidity or absurd levels of organizational churn that produces if it’s enforced too rigidly. It’s good to aim for, variations should be looked askance at. But hardcoding rules, even good rules, into as complex a system as human organizations can cause its own problems.
Finally, Goldberg points out that some rules should be followed but one has to be careful taking them too literally. We’ve talked here more than once about the importance of communicating the same idea repeatedly, to the team or stakeholders, especially about change. But that doesn’t mean repeating yourself the same way over and over again. The purpose of communications is to update the internal state of the people you’re communicating with. If the first communication didn’t “take”, doing it the same way again may not, either. So communicate the same idea repeatedly, yes, but use various approaches and methods.
Employees Are Sick of Being Asked to Make Moral Compromises - Ron Carucci and Ludmila Praslova, HBR
The last few years have made a lot of people question a lot of things in their day to day. This HBR article by Carucci and Praslova reports on a pretty widespread phenomenon that we can take advantage of. There are a lot of very talented technical personnel who are starting to be dissatisfied with improving click rates for online ads, or other lucrative but deadening activities common in tech firms.
The advice Carucci and Praslova offer isn’t really relevant to us. Whatever the various challenges of employment in research, we already offer meaningful work that people can be proud of. As long as we can keep our workplaces and team behaviours consistent with the open-minded discovery we want to support, we’re in good shape and have a lot of potential job satisfaction to offer.
Managing Your Own Career
Don’t Worry, You’re Not Wasting Your Mentor’s Time - Lara Hogan
Can’t agree with Hogan’s post enough. It’s worth finding mentors (multiple mentors, who have different areas of expertise) and consulting them often. I have a few semi-regular calls with research computing team leads, mentors, and others who sometimes have questions or are looking for advice. It’s a joy to speak with them. I sometimes offer perspectives or insights, and some fraction of what I share ends up being useful, but I get at least as much from these exchanges as I give.
We’re part of a wide, multidisciplinary community with diverse expertise and experience. Make use of it! Talk to local institutional or regional colleagues, send questions to the community by replying here, or join #reseach-computing-and-data in the Rands Leadership Slack. Leadership can get lonely, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
A video from 1989 from Thinking Machines on data parallel supercomputing.
Explaining Gödel’s incompleteness theorem with bash scripts.
Want to play wordle natively, but you’re stuck on Windows 3.1? We got you.
Or you want to develop for the Sinclair ZX-Spectrum, but with VS Code and a modern devopsy CI environment? We got you there, too.
Oh, you’re all modern and fancy and want a state-of-the-art Windows 95-looking dev environment? Alright, there you go.
And that’s it for another week. Let me know what you thought, or if you have anything you’d like to share about the newsletter or management. Just email me or reply to this newsletter if you get it in your inbox.
Have a great weekend, and good luck in the coming week with your research computing team,