Monday, October 3, 2016

Being a Manager is Hard

Early in my career I really wanted to move into management, partially for the money of course, but also because I saw my boss doing seemingly irrational things, and thought if I was in charge I'd streamline everything, make better decisions, and get to the core of the job which is doing good IT stuff.

I had some fairly crappy bosses, but I also had good bosses. It wasn't until I got into an IT management role where I saw it from both sides. Being a technical manager I still do sysadmin work every single day, and I want nothing more than to do the best damn work possible. But instead I find myself pulled into other situations. These are situations where a typical sysadmin would say "This is a waste of time. While you're doing a bunch of stupid stuff we're not doing sysadmin work. You are a horrible manager."

So I want to try to provide some insight. Everything I'm typing below is completely made up, but is based on real events, so resist the urge to tell me that I suck, since none of this stuff happened exactly as written.

I get into the office on Monday morning, and see Mary sitting there, playing solitaire at her desk, for the 400th time. Mary is an absolutely horrible sysadmin. Words can not fully express how much she sucks, and the rest of the team is resentful she is there. Mary is a mid level sysadmin who was hired by previous management. Ben, a junior admin basically runs circles around her and is getting increasingly annoyed he does the same work as her yet she's mid level and makes more. I'm actively trying to get rid of Mary and if I do, I'll give her slot to Ben and pay him more.

The problem with Mary is that she is from an underrepresented race, and HR found out she sued her previous employer for discrimination, so even though she's horrible, we have to do this by the book. That means coaching, then a verbal warning, then a written warning, then a second written warning, and then finally termination. Each of these steps has a number of days associated with them, and if she manages to improve enough, the process restarts back to zero.

Mary has pissed off a huge number of customers so I had been holding her back, having her do less customer facing work and had her re-organize the storage room at once point. HR told me because I did that we have to start the process over again because she could claim in a lawsuit that I prevented her from doing her job. They understood why I did it, but I have to actually let her fail because that's the only way I can build a case against her. But if I let her fail, she's going to make a mess of things, break things, hurt IT's reputation, upset other departments, etc, so for the moment I'm just going to pretend I don't see her playing solitaire.

I've overheard water cooler discussion about how I suck since I can't deal with the Mary problem and I don't like hearing that, but I obviously can't lay all this stuff out for the whole team. They think I'm doing nothing, meanwhile I'm devoting a lot of time to trying to get rid of Mary. Time that could be spent doing good IT stuff.

Later that morning I have a 1 on 1 meeting with Rich. He's one of my best people. One of Rich's problems is that he never seems to take vacation time even though he really needs it. He seems to love working too much, but then complains about it later. Take some fucking vacation Rich. This particular Monday Rich comes to me saying he needs to take Friday off since last minute his wife has decided they're going to her cousin's wedding they weren't going to go to. Rich is in a predicament since he doesn't want to piss off his wife. I tell him the only problem is that he's scheduled to do an upgrade on Saturday (that we planned 3 months ago) and the prep work was going to be Friday. I want to help him out sine he never takes time off, but this is absolutely less than convenient.

I tell him I'll talk to Ben and see if he can do it but I'm a little nervous about it since Ben is still kind of junior. I obviously can't have Mary do it.

So I ask Ben and he complains he's already worked two Saturdays this month, and he's right, he has, but this upgrade has to happen. I manage to ply him by saying if he does this, I'll give him an extra night and meals in Vegas when he goes to the conference next month since we didn't make the reservations yet. He's excited about that.

He thinks I have so much power. I actually don't. That's against company policy, but if I say that there were no reasonably priced flights after the conference ends at noon on Friday and I found a deal on Saturday afternoon, the CFO's office isn't going to question me since I'm straight with money, and I'm not doing anything special to get him meals since you just automatically get meals if you're on a trip. So nobody knows what I'm doing and I get away with it.

Later that afternoon the CIO stops by my office. he's a good guy and cares about people but he can't tell what's going on from his high vantage point. He doesn't try to deliberately fuck us over, but it happens anyway. Turns out he and the CEO picked out some software, and somehow misunderstood the sales guys that it required no IT support. It actually requires 2 app servers, 2 web servers and a SQL database, and a load balancer. Some project marketing is doing requires it be set up by mid next week. Fuckity fuck fuck. I tell the CIO this is a problem, and he's very apologetic. I said I really should have been at the meetings. he said he was trying to save me time since he knew I was so busy and the sales guys insisted no IT support was needed. Turns out that's if you buy the "cloud" version...

So I talk to Rich about this. We can use VMs (we have capacity) and the existing F5 but this means the VMware upgrades Rich was going to work on will have to be pushed out until next month. He works miracles and gets all this stuff done in like 2 days and I'm appreciative.

Meanwhile he bitches to everyone later how I'm a shitty manager since I need to somehow lay down the law to the CIO/CEO. Never mind that the CIO is not someone I can control, and the CIO can't control the CEO even though he'd love to since he wants to personally strangle the CEO on a weekly basis.

Meanwhile John is off site working on a complex migration. He's at one of our branch offices set up with 2 laptops and some other equipment in a conference room. There is a very important marketing meeting in that room at 4 pm with outside people, but he's assured everyone he'll be out of there by 1:30, 2 at the latest. They're hesitant but let him use the room.

He's an amazing sysadmin but somehow finds himself in bad situations due to getting so focused on problems he misses out on everything else. He forgot to charge his iPhone last night and gets to work with it at about 50%, and makes a bunch of phone calls in the morning, and is now down to 2%. During a huge file copy at about 11 am, he decides to go grab lunch real quick.

Just his luck, the car breaks down. His phone is now dead. He's stranded somewhere and can't call since he took a country road to go find a wendy's.

At noon the marketing director calls me and says my guy went MIA. I said I'm sure he's at lunch don't worry he said he'd be back.

I call him. Phone is dead. Fuck. This is one of his big problems. We've discussed this a few times. I bought him a charger for his car. He doesn't use it.

I get increasingly irate phone calls from the marketing director at 1, at 2, at 2:30. This guy is missing off the face of the earth and she needs the room. At 2:30 I tell her she's just going to have to unplug everything and move it. This is going to piss off John but what else can we do right now?

He finally shows up at 3 pm having hitchhiked (that's so John) and becomes irate she unplugged his stuff since he had a script running on one of the laptops. She tells him to get out.

I then get this whole story the next day. I've got a guy (John) who expertly pulled off a migration we used to pay 30k to a consultant to do and he did it flawlessly, but he also pissed off someone 3 rungs higher on the food chain than him and yelled at her in front of an office of people. He thinks he should be given a bonus for the migration, but meanwhile I have to deal with the fact he let his phone go dead 3 times, and he yelled at someone. he thinks this woman deserved to be yelled at for her poor treatment and I'm required to defend him or I'm a weak manager. So this is going to be a fun conversation...

Meanwhile we've got a desktop support tech, Robert, who people suspect is drunk. They also complain he's slow and doesn't keep up with the workload. Well Robert has a possibly terminal disease but has chosen not to tell anyone. he has to get treatment twice a week. I'm not even fully aware of his situation since it's confidential but I've been told just a little bit. I can't legally tell anyone anything about this.

Not to mention the woman who is upset because Jason the sysadmin said to her "If you scratch my back I'll scratch yours" just meaning if she does him a favor he'll get to her problem sooner. He meant nothing. But for some reason she's upset now and that still has to be discussed with him even though he meant nothing.

There's no right answer to any of this stuff. In this fictional situation my main goal walking in Monday morning was the plan a vSphere upgrade, but that just didn't happen did it?

Sysadmins are people. Upper management is all people. Somehow we have to get all these people working together, and it's an interesting challenge every single day.

It's very easy to say someone sucks when you are missing a lot of the information. Even people who are doing a very good job are going to have issues you have to deal with. Some of the things your manager "deals" with you are things you don't even know were dealt with if he/she does a good job.

by crankysysadmin, Reddit | Read more:
Image: Flickr / Richard Masoner via: