Chapter 19. Don’t Be the S--- Umbrella

Jeff Foster

When I first became an engineering manager, I saw my goal as protecting the team. I’d heroically take the flak from more senior managers, disgruntled salespeople, and field angry questions from support. I’d do everything I could to ensure that the team spent as much time as possible coding. I’d insulate the team from reality, protect them from outside harmful intent and basically just be a s--- umbrella. It’s not glamorous work, but it’s what a manager does, right?

Not right at all. This is not what an engineering manager should do!

By insulating the team, I was putting myself under tremendous amounts of stress. After a few months, this job wasn’t enjoyable any more. There’s only so many calls you can take late at night before it takes its toll. It’s easy to accept that this is the only way—that’s why managers get paid the big bucks, isn’t it?

So, what’s wrong with being an umbrella?

First, it fails for you, the manager, because you are putting yourself under unnecessary stress. You are not a superhero and eventually all that external pressure is going to adversely affect you.

Second (and far more important), it fails for every single person on your team. By being the umbrella, you are actively harming the team’s development. You are shielding the team from the reality of the project and stifling the personal development of ...

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