Todays episode is from the archives.  Michael Lopp (also known as @rands) is a Silicon Valley-based engineering leader who builds both people and product at companies such as Borland, Netscape, Palantir, Pinterest, and Apple. While he’s not worrying about staying relevant, he writes about pens, bridges, people, poker, and werewolves at the popular weblog, Rands in Repose. He works as the VP of Engineering at Slack in San Francisco where he’s furiously working on helping teams reinvent work.
Michael has written two books. His first book “Managing Humans, 3rd Edition” is a popular guide to the art of engineering leadership and clearly explains that while you be rewarded for what you build, you will only be successful because of your people. His second book “Being Geek” is a career handbook for geeks and nerds alike.

Michael plays hockey, mountain bikes, tinkers with drones, and drinks red wine in the redwoods of Northern California whenever he can because staying sane is more important than staying busy.

Favorite Quotes:

  • My manager said: “Hey Lopp, we’re going crazy here.  Can you take care of these people?”  That’s how I got into people management.
  • I got a ‘field promotion’.  No expectations were set, no understanding of the role was given.
  • People don’t understand what good management looks like.
  • Soft skills are an important part of being a good leader.  When you say “soft” though, it implies they’re not necessary.  But they’re 100% necessary.
  • Having good people skills isn’t “interesting” in the engineering sense of the world.  There’s a feedback loop where people neglect their soft skills.
  • MBA is the definitive leadership model.  What they’re building with an MBA is a business leader.  Really good at strategic thinking.
  • Watch what happened with Microsoft when the MBAs took over.  What have they built in the last year?
  • I build amazing products instead of optimizing the business.
  • The new manager death spiral is “I can do it all”.
  • You can tend to want to do things you’re weak at because they’re more interesting.  My manager had me play to my strengths
  • Make the machine run well around people, process, and the product.
  • There’s so much about a manager’s role that’s learned about the job.  There’s so much about the entropy and the chaos on the job that can’t be replicated in a leadership degree.  All of the beautiful chaotic snowflakes that show up on your desk everyday are such an important part of the job. I learn tons more by being deliberate and knowing I’m continuously learning on the job.
  • What I learned on the job was light years ahead of what they’re teaching in academia.
  • There are some principles that if you embrace them earlier you will be a better leader:
    • Delegation: we are bad at delegation. Its counter to what we know at date. Own the system, be the expert. Delegation is about giving up power to someone else.
    • 1:1s – I’m a 1:1 zealot. The rule is 1:1 every week, don’t change them. It’s a signal gathering mechanism.
    • Stop doing things that you’re bad at.
  • As a manager you need to be able to say “Here’s how we’re going to win”.
  • An important part of being a leader is knowing your skills — Miles
  • I’m a 1:1 zealot.  The rule is 1:1 every week, don’t change them.  It’s a signal gathering mechanism.
  • When I do my 1:1s we find things a little earlier.
  • The world generally tells you what you’re good at, and you have to be listening.
  • Be open to listening.  That sounds like the dumbest tweet ever, but it applies.  We’re CIOs, we’re all super busy.  You need to remember that.
  • I give myself 5 hours during the workweek to be building something.  I’m a pretty busy human being, so that’s a huge amount of investment.  That time is a reminder to go build, go think, be strategic.  If I didn’t do it, I’d burn out.
  • Busy is an insult to strategy.  Busy is an insult to work.  You’ve got to have time to be strategic.
  • I play a lot of poker because I want to get a read on the people and figure out what’s going on.  I need to understand what people want from a mountain of data.
  • One of my leadership philosophies is that I don’t want to be the dictator:  I’ve worked for dictators in the past, but I don’t think that leadership style is super effective for building great leadership fabric.
  • My default state is the “Jedi Master’ leadership archetype.  Life is complicated though, business can be hard, there is a time when it’s time to be the dictator though.
  • I’ve done 3 startups now.  The shape of the growth is similar.  If we’re on a rocket to 1,500 people.  The 3rd time through, it’s all the same problems.  They have different names and different faces but all the same things are happening because groups of humans tend to move and evolve in the same way.  I’ve become much more assertive on things where it’s hard to teach and it’s more important to be a dictator.
  • I’m on the fuzzy people side of things.  It’s often very hard to put a quantification around people.
  • The PR around getting a blog out there is only a byproduct of the act of actually writing.  It takes work to be more and more strategic.  Writing is a similar process as learning to be really good at code.
  • On Blogging: The craft of taking a thought, structuring it, thinking it through, what does it really mean, how does this fit together, what are the different components, what is the most important thing, how do I tell a good story?  Then the PR comes when you get good at that.
  • As engineers, we think in a way of problem reduction.   Writing isnt about getting it out there; it’s about getting something quality out there.  I have this thing I want to do; what are the constituent parts? How do they fit together?  How do they work well together?  Writing is the same thing, but we tend to think we’re bad at it because there’s not this compiler for it which says that it’s good or bad.  The compiler is the people who are reading it (who can be brutal), but they’re the really important part.
  • If you apply at our company, and you say “hey I have a github repo with xyz in it”, we’ll look.  What better way of getting to know if someones a good writer than by reading their writing?  Or knowing if someones a good coder by reading their code?
  • Writing is a good way to define what you believe, but also a good way to figure out what you believe.
  • My job is care & growth of humans.  If they’re there I have exactly no job.  I want the product to grow, but if I don’t have happy, talented, productive engineers, I’m screwed.  My main job is: How can I get this group to thrive?
  • It’s my great joy to constantly look at a group of humans and gaming out how to make them thrive.  Who needs to be where?  What do they need to hear?  Who needs to own what?  It’s total crack to me to look at those situations.