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Über dieses Buch

Read hilarious stories with serious lessons that Michael Lopp extracts from his varied and sometimes bizarre experiences as a manager at Apple, Pinterest, Palantir, Netscape, Symantec, Slack, and Borland. Many of the stories first appeared in primitive form in Lopp’s perennially popular blog, Rands in Repose. The Third Edition of Managing Humans contains a whole new season of episodes from the ongoing saga of Lopp's adventures in Silicon Valley, together with classic episodes remastered for high fidelity and freshness.

Whether you're an aspiring manager, a current manager, or just wondering what the heck a manager does all day, there is a story in this book that will speak to you—and help you survive and prosper amid the general craziness of dysfunctional bright people caught up in the chase of riches and power. Scattered in repose among these manic misfits are managers, an even stranger breed of people who, through a mystical organizational ritual, have been given power over the futures and the bank accounts of many others.

Lopp's straight-from-the-hip style is unlike that of any other writer on management and leadership. He pulls no punches and tells stories he probably shouldn't. But they are magically instructive and yield Lopp’s trenchant insights on leadership that cut to the heart of the matter—whether it's dealing with your boss, handling a slacker, hiring top guns, or seeing a knotty project through to completion.

Writing code is easy. Managing humans is not. You need a book to help you do it, and this is it.

What You'll Learn

How teams work

How to lead engineers

How to handle conflict

How to hire well

How to motivate employees

How to manage your boss

How to say no

How to understand different engineering personalities

How to build effective teams

<How to handle stressed people freaking outHow to run a meeting wellHow to scale teamsWho This Book Is For

This book is designed for managers and would-be managers staring at the role of a manager wondering why they would ever leave the safe world of bits and bytes for the messy world of managing humans. The book covers handling conflict, managing wildly differing personality types, infusing innovation into insane product schedules, and figuring out how to build a lasting and useful engineering culture.



The Management Quiver


Chapter 1. Don’t Be a Prick

Be a human

The beauty of writing for the web is that there really is no plan.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 2. Managers Are Not Evil

Start with a basic understanding of where managers come from and what they do

A trusted employee, who has been working in my group at the startup for years, asks, “What, exactly, do you do?”

Michael Lopp

Chapter 3. Stables and Volatiles

There are two builders you need in the build

Stephen was a hired gun at my first startup. His contract started a year before I arrived, but he was long gone before I walked in the door. The story goes that when Stephen started, he found a small, solid team of five engineers, a QA lead, and a project manager. They were slowly and steadily going . . . nowhere. After two weeks of watching the team’s slug-like pace, Stephen was fed up.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 4. The Rands Test

Take a brief test to understand the health of your team

It’s his own, highly irresponsible, sloppy test to rate the quality of software, and when anyone asks me what is wrong with their team, I usually start by pointing the questioner at the test.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 5. How to Run a Meeting

Tips for developing your meeting culture

I bag on meetings.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 6. The Twinge

Listen all the time and use your experience to detect disasters before they occur

You know this meeting, and you know it the second you hear the attendee list. Something is up: a product is at risk, a strategy is being redefined, or a decision of magnitude is being considered.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 7. The Update, the Vent, and the Disaster

The rules for a good 1:1 and the types of 1:1s that show up on your doorstep

Business is noisy.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 8. The Monday Freakout

Strategies for dealing with the unexpected

Mondays start on Sunday. It’s the moment you realize that the weekend is over and you begin staring at the endless list of things to do that you began to ignore early Friday as the sweet, sweet smell of the weekend filled your office.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 9. Lost in Translation

Communication strategies for disconnected personalities

Early on in your mastery of a complex thing, you are going to catastrophically overestimate your ability.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 10. Agenda Detection

The first step in getting out of a meeting is understanding why it exists

I hate meetings.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 11. Dissecting the Mandate

Understanding when and how to insist on strategy

In your quiver of management skills, you’ve got a couple of powerful arrows. There’s the annual review, where you take the time to really explain, in detail, what a given employee needs to do to grow. That’s huge. That can be life changing. That’s a big arrow. How about the layoff? That’s when you get asked who stays and who goes. You’re going to lose some sleep when you’ve got to pull the bow back on that one.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 12. Information Starvation

Each piece of information that arrives has a proper home or homes

There’s someone standing outside your office, and he’s not saying a thing.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 13. Subtlety, Subterfuge, and Silence

Three leadership approaches for traversing complexity and making progress

Managers, wannabe managers, and folks who want to understand managers simply need to read The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 14. Managementese

The language you use defines your leadership

One of my teams is facing a big, fat decision regarding future product direction, and the process has split the team in half: the Yes We Shoulds and the No Way in Hells. The manager of the team is facing a rebellion and is spending much of his time trying to drive the team toward a decision.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 15. You’re Not Listening

Look them straight in the eye and never look at the clock

I don’t want to write this chapter. I believe there is no way to provide advice about listening without sounding like a touchy-feely douchebag. But I’m going to write this chapter because there is a good chance that your definition of listening is incomplete, and what I consider to be obvious and simple ways to listen are not obvious at all.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 16. Fred Hates the Off-Site

A meeting designed to help you set or reset strategy

The world of management has a set of power words that it has appropriated as a means of giving itself a sense of identity. This list is endless and entertaining. When these words are spoken, they are said in such a way that you are meant to wonder in awe, “What does that mean?” but you don’t ask for fear of looking like an idiot.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 17. A Different Kind of DNA

A design and architecture meeting with teeth

Flat. It’s an organizational meme in rapidly growing teams in Silicon Valley, and it contains a couple of noble ideas. Simply put, a flat organization is one with as little hierarchy as possible to encourage the individual voice. What’s not to love?

Michael Lopp

Chapter 18. An Engineering Mindset

On the topic of whether you should still code

There’s a very short list of new manager “must-dos” in the Rands Management Rule Book. The brevity of this list comes from the fact that a must is an absolute and, when it comes to people, there are very few absolutes. A clever way to manage one person is a disaster when applied to another. This makes the first item on the management must-do list

Michael Lopp

Chapter 19. Tear It Down

There are three leadership roles

When I do speaking gigs, I open with a few questions to get to know the audience. I’m looking for a couple of key demographic numbers to gauge how much to focus on and tune different themes in any given talk.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 20. Titles Are Toxic

Titles place an unfortunate absolute professional value on individuals

You have a job and it has a name—a name of convenience. It exists so that when someone asks, “What do you do?” you can simply say, “I am a software engineer” rather than saying, “Well, there are these things called computers and computers run software and humans write software and I am one of those humans.”.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 21. Saying No

The single most powerful arrow in your professional quiver

Somewhere in your third year of being a manager, the Management pixies will appear in your office in a puff of sweet-smelling black smoke. There will be three of them, and one will be carrying a gorgeous black top hat.

Michael Lopp

The Process is the Product


Chapter 22. 1.0

The hardest thing to build

Max was a mess. We were on our third mojito at the Basin in Saratoga when it just came pouring out of him. The last 72 hours involved this:

Michael Lopp

Chapter 23. The Process Myth

Process is a seven-letter word that begins with P that engineers hate

On the list of ways to generate a guaranteed negative knee-jerk reaction from an engineer, I offer a single word: process.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 24. How to Start

A nuts and bolts analysis of the time before you start

When I wrote this chapter, it’d been almost seven years since I’d updated the design for the Rands in Repose web site. In that time, I'd done multiple designs, learned an entirely different publishing platform, and migrated the existing content over to that platform many times. What has always remained is an ever-growing list of details supplied by the act of starting.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 25. Taking Time to Think

Are you reacting or are you thinking?

Lunch at Don Giovanni’s with Phillip. He’s amped. We haven’t even seen our waiter and he’s already cleared the table and is scribbling furiously on the white paper tablecloth.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 26. The Value of the Soak

Let your mind stumble and strike out in random directions

In 2006, I gave a presentation at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. My pitch was this: in creating a startup, you’re going to be faced with a thousand seemingly inconsequential decisions. Tucked among those thousands of decisions are five decisions that actually matter. These decisions will change the face of your company. What I didn’t say was that I believe it’s next to impossible to figure out which decisions matter and which ones do not.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 27. Capturing Context

Storing the thoughts that made your ideas bright

Each organization in a company has its Favorite Application. It’s not truly their favorite application; it’s just the application they must use in their particular capacity in the organization. Stand up right now and walk into an unfamiliar part of your building and stalk your coworkers. If someone stops and asks you what you’re doing, tell them, “Rands sent me,” and vigorously nod your head. That always works.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 28. Trickle Theory

Stop. Go do one thing. Now.


Michael Lopp

Chapter 29. When the Sky Falls

Concrete steps to prop up the sky

A few years ago I wrote a piece that romanticized the state of the sky falling. The article is not about fixing disasters, it’s about preventing them—but no matter how much you prepare, disasters happen.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 30. Hacking Is Important

Encouraging disruptive acts

Back in the early 1990s, Borland International was the place to be an engineer. Coming off the purchase of Ashton-Tate, Borland was the third-largest software company, but, more importantly, it was a legitimate competitor of Microsoft. Philippe Kahn, the CEO at the time, was fond of motorcycles, saxophones, and brash statements at all-hands meetings: “We’re barbarians, not bureaucrats!”

Michael Lopp

Chapter 31. Entropy Crushers

Chaos-destroying machines

When it was five of you sitting in the same room, it was easy. When someone needed to know something, they stood up in the middle of the room and asked, “Who broke the build?” When a decision needed to be made, you looked up at Phil and said, “Phil, this needs to scale from day one, right?” and Phil nodded. In a nod, you defined the entirety of your product performance plan. When someone was struggling or was blocked, you could tell because they were swearing profusely at the monitor—directly across from you.

Michael Lopp

Versions of You


Chapter 32. Bored People Quit

How to detect and fix boredom before it’s a resignation

Much has been written about employee motivation and retention. It’s written by folks who actively use words like motivation and retention and generally don’t have a clue about the daily necessity of keeping your team professionally content, because they’ve either never done the work or have forgotten how it’s done. These are the people who show up when your single best engineer casually and unexpectedly announces, “I’m quitting. I’m joining my good friend to found a start-up. This is my two-weeks’ notice.”

Michael Lopp

Chapter 33. Bellwethers

Defining an interview beyond the technical

Let’s start by not deluding ourselves. Hiring anyone is a risk. Google is famous for the intense and lengthy scrutiny they put their candidates under. The Google interview might be intense, but when they decide to hire, they’re rolling the dice.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 34. The Ninety-Day Interview

Eight steps to following during your first ninety days

When you accept a new job, you don’t know who you are going to work with, what you are going to be doing, and how much (or little) you’re going to like it. Call everyone you want. Ask their opinions. Trust the fact that a good friend referred you for the gig. Revel in the idea that the company has a good pedigree, but don’t delude yourself that in a smattering of interview hours you’re going to have anything more than a vague hint of your new life.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 35. Managing Nerds

A leadership checklist for those who build

The idea was that when innumerable software-driven clocks flipped at midnight from 1999 to 2000, the digital shit was going to hit the fan.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 36. NADD

Multitasking as art

The gist of the book Guns of the South is straightforward yet odd.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 37. A Nerd in a Cave

The purpose of a cave is not to insulate, but germinate

The first few days of any significant overseas trip, I’m a jerk. It’s not just the jetlag that’s poisoning my attitude; it’s the lack of context. I get twitchy when I don’t know where my stuff is. Combine that with the fact that no one is speaking English, there are two toilets in the bathroom, and I have no idea what time it is, and you can begin to understand why I’m in such a foul mood.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 38. Meeting Creatures

The humans you will meet

Worst meeting ever.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 39. Incrementalists and Completionists

Realists at war with the dreamers

I recently got into a war of words with a coworker regarding the proper solution to a problem with one of our products. As an aside, let me say that e-mail is never ever ever never ever the right way to resolve controversy. Too much subtlety is lost when you’re YELLING IN ALL CAPS at your program manager. Don’t waste your time solving problems in e-mail. Stand up. Walk down the hall. And look the person in the eye. You’ll live longer.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 40. Organics and Mechanics

Moving forward methodically or simply all over the place

Stop. Grab a pencil and write down the first and last names of your past three managers. Stare at those names for a bit and relive those months or years of reporting to this person. I want your off-the-cuff opinion about each one. My guess is your opinion falls into one of three buckets

Michael Lopp

Chapter 41. Inwards, Outwards, and Holistics

Flavors of leadership

There are all sorts of intimidating titles surrounding the management caste. Engineering manager, senior engineering manager, director of engineering, vice president of engineering, chief technology officer. While these names are useful in determining where an individual lies in the organizational chart, the names are merely hints as to what that person actually cares about. And you should care what they care about whether you’re a manager or an individual contributor.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 42. The Wolf

The single most productive engineer you’ll meet

You’ve heard of the 10x engineer, but I am here to tell you about the Wolf. They are engineers, and they consistently exhibit the following characteristics.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 43. Free Electrons

Care and feeding of the highly productive

Back in my Borland days, we were working hard on Paradox for Windows. I was a QA engineer testing the database creation and modification functionality. Jerry, my counterpart in engineering, was working hard, but getting absolutely nowhere.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 44. The Old Guard

The cultural bellwether of the company

Dunbar’s Number is a favorite blunt diagnosis for the pains that affect rapidly growing teams. The number, which is somewhere between 100 and 250, describes a point at which a group of people can no longer effectively maintain social connections in their respective heads. What was simple from a communication perspective becomes costly. What was a familiar family that you saw wandering the hallway becomes Stranger Town.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 45. Rules for the Reorg

Traversing massive change

You’ve been here.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 46. An Unexpected Connection

The act of obsessively understanding in order to find connections

Blue whales.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 47. Avoiding the Fez

Investments in avoiding irrelevance


Michael Lopp

Chapter 48. A Glimpse and a Hook

Design your resume to be a consumable glimpse

The terrifying reality regarding your résumé is that for all the many hours you put into fine-tuning, you’ve got 30 seconds to make an impression on me. Maybe less.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 49. Nailing the Phone Screen

How to prepare for an important 30 minutes

As we discovered in last chapter, it’s almost a miracle when the phone rings and a recruiter wants to set up a phone screen. The fact is, someone, somewhere in the organization has successfully mapped you to an open position. This is a really big deal because, in my experience, the chance that you’ll get this job has improved logarithmically. It’s not 50/50, but it’s vastly better than when you were a random résumé sitting on my desk.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 50. Your Resignation Checklist

A checklist for the final days

Borland was tanking. I’d survived three rounds of layoffs primarily because my project was still generating quite a bit of revenue, but at every meeting I attended, everyone kept using the word if.

Michael Lopp

Chapter 51. Shields Down

A glimpse of a potential different future

Resignations happen in a moment, and it’s not when you declare, “I’m resigning.” The moment happened a long time ago when you received a random email from a good friend who asked, “I know you’re really happy with your current gig because you’ve been raving about it for a year, but would you like to come visit Our Company? No commitment. Just coffee.”

Michael Lopp

Chapter 52. Chaotic, Beautiful Snowflakes

On the necessity of leadership

You arrive at work. You sit down at your desk and scan your inbox for potential disasters. Two emails pique your interest. You write brief responses to nudge the engineers in the right direction. Nothing else is urgent, so you walk to the kitchen to get breakfast. You sit down with three fellow engineers who are also working on your product. During conversation over the course of breakfast, you discover that you and Phil are working on exactly the same problem, so you decide that Phil is going to take point and you two will chat once he’s done.

Michael Lopp


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