Reading Gerald M Weinberg’s Books about Being a Technical Leader

I bought 3 of Gerald M. Weinberg’s books, after reading praise of him on Hacker News.  Unfortunately, I only heard of him when he died this year.  This thread was at the top of Hacker News.  I read some of the 300+ comments and saw some remarks about how “all problems are people problems” and thought “WHAT does that MEAN?

I had to find out…

Photo of sample pages from “Are your lights on? How to Figure Out What the Problem REALLY Is” by Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg. The page on the right side lists all of the possible creative solutions to the slow elevator problem. The kicker is that the right solution is no where on that page.

In “Are your lights on? How to figure out what the problem REALLY is,” the book begins with a story about a problem with a slow elevator and discusses how this causes problems for lots of people, and solutions are discussed, and the problem seems solved through some creative problem solving… Until the elevator technicians arrive and the real cause of the problem is uncovered.

It’s a funny and memorable story, and there are multiple lessons to be learned from it.  One of those things is that the problem is different for each person.

It has you asking questions like….

What is the problem?  How does your boss see the problem?  How does the user see the problem?  How do you see it?  How can you solve the problem for everyone?

Are you solving the right problem?  Patch something and the problem looks to be solved, but is it?  How can you solve the right problem?

Another photo from inside the book “Are your lights on? How to Figure out What the Problem REALLY Is.” The solution here was elegant and simple and hinges on an understanding of human psychology.

In “The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving & Getting Advice Successfully,” Weinberg lays out truisms and advice, like: “If you can’t think of three things that might go wrong with your plans, then there’s something wrong with your thinking.”

Excerpt from “The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully” by Gerald M. Weinberg

His thinking reinforces my conservative view about deploying code, about the fact that there are bugs in new code… He even has a section about how new things never work and how to deal with that.

Like the “Are your lights on?” book, this book also has has memorable stories to go along with the rules.

One emphasis is on the fact that consultants are able to discover problems and solutions because they are a consultant — the outside perspective is necessary.

Once you stay in an organization long enough, it becomes hard to see it from the outside.  As he describes it, “you get pickled.”  Read the book for more on that story.  Seeing the problem from an outside perspective is key, which is why sometimes consultants can solve problems more easily than people from within.

 

Chapter 4’s title is “Seeing What’s There” (From the book “The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully” by Gerald M. Weinberg)

I also read “Becoming a Technical Leader: An Organic Problem-Solving Approach” book, and can’t remember which book contained which advice (bad memory for books!) but in one of his books, there is the idea that for every problem you solve, you become aware of a new problem.  This helped me not despair at this very fact. This fact of life has turned into a challenge to me.  Fix one thing and celebrate when you find another issue.  There’s always going to be one more thing to fix.  Your job is not to just fix the present issue, but it’s also important for you to shed light on other potential problems, and then take appropriate action (discuss with your team, write out some tickets, etc).

He also talks about how we all want to imagine ourselves as the heroes, but better to let others take the credit.  There’s nothing wrong with the hero fantasy; but don’t present that fantasy as reality.  Keep it to yourself.

His stories show the complexities of tech problems; and, indeed they are all people problems as well.

In his tech leadership book, he recommends keeping a diary and discusses mindfulness.  Somehow I thought I’d learn about the things I should be doing as a tech leader… But instead, I am instructed to pay more attention to my own mind!

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