Software engineers (geeks, propeller heads, rulers of the free world, and whatever other moniker chosen to affectionately label this highly selective subspecies of the generic public) live by certain truths.

 As any successful manager (e.g. head geek) has discovered in their experiences, there is one and only one way to earn the respect of direct reports of this particular ilk. It is not possible to succeed if you barge in and thrust dictatorial rule or enlighten with Deming-like philosophies. No. You earn respect by proving you have a deep competency from within any of the many software gospels.

It does not really matter – and sometimes even preferable – if a manager’s expertise is something slightly different than those managed: an enterprise architect to Java programmers or an orchestration expert to web developers. This reduces the competitive chest thumping too often seen among a battle of equals. Often this diversity will result in a simple, yet smug, nod of respect.

Realize, engineers make their living from intellectual achievement. They represent that true “knowledge worker” that was so grandiosely highlighted during the conclusion of the previous century; and, they make a good living – if not very good. Most have been rewarded and promoted for having vast amounts of knowledge – the same knowledge necessary to move business forward. It is simply an example of supply and demand.

And, this very well might be their Achilles Heel!

Success Hidden in Engineering Truths

Today’s systems are complex and require the coordination and skills of an elite team of perspectives and not the caricature of the singular “software hero”. There are simply too many distributed parts for any single person to know it all. Therefore, the answer lies among those who can readily collaborate.

The best person to partner with any gifted software engineer is the one who can look past the blood, sweat, and tears and gently proclaim, “Your baby is ugly!” – only then will the true dialog begin. As brilliant as an idea might be… without aligning with a specific business objective, it could prove worthless to the organization.  Throw away all organizational hierarchy and work collaboratively towards the best solution from the minds of many – which will drive a company’s success.

Be gentle though if you choose to be this good soldier. Those you seek to tame have made a career out of being the one in the room that was seen as “the answer guy”. Now they must transition from waxing proficiently in the foreign language of class diagrams and UML charts to actively listening to business process, strategic objectives, and marketing priorities. Everybody must calmly embrace the gifts of the other to arrive at the perfect system; including but not limited to the ever so important rule breaker, “well, almost always except when…”