Profiles in Management: The Protector


Cast of Characters

Manager, the leader of a software project that is floundering because his needlessly complex design cannot actually be implemented.

Programmer, a programmer on the project.


Manager: Keep working hard, and I will protect you should things break down.

Programmer: Protect me from what? That sounds kind of ominous.

Manager: Some people may be worried that if the project fails, they may get a bad review, or not get a bonus. But I’m looking at whether or not people are working hard, even if the project isn’t going well. So as long as you’re not goofing off, and you don’t have a bad attitude, you should be all right.


A “bad attitude” in these cases is defined as pointing out that 20 people have been working on the project for two months without producing a single working line of code, because they’ve been asked to yoke together a set of incompatible products and technologies selected by people who are not qualified or interested in assessing the technical implications of their decisions.

This, unfortunately, has become an increasingly common scenario in our business.

I should also mention that, in my experience, people are highly demotivated by opportunities to work hard in situations where they are predestined to fail.

But don’t worry! As long as you’re willing to keep beating your head against a stone wall of incompetent management, you’ll be as safe as Humpty Dumpty . . .

‘Why if ever I did fall off — which there’s no chance of — but if I did … Here he pursed up his lips, and looked so solemn and grand that Alice could hardly help laughing. ‘If I did fall,’ he went on, ‘the King has promised me — ah, you may turn pale, if you like! You didn’t think I was going to say that, did you? The King has promised me — with his very own mouth … to … to … ‘To send all his horses and all his men,’ Alice interrupted, rather unwisely.

— Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Thus spoke The Programmer.

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