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-
- Linux kernel management style
-
-This is a short document describing the preferred (or made up, depending
-on who you ask) management style for the linux kernel. It's meant to
-mirror the CodingStyle document to some degree, and mainly written to
-avoid answering (*) the same (or similar) questions over and over again.
-
-Management style is very personal and much harder to quantify than
-simple coding style rules, so this document may or may not have anything
-to do with reality. It started as a lark, but that doesn't mean that it
-might not actually be true. You'll have to decide for yourself.
-
-Btw, when talking about "kernel manager", it's all about the technical
-lead persons, not the people who do traditional management inside
-companies. If you sign purchase orders or you have any clue about the
-budget of your group, you're almost certainly not a kernel manager.
-These suggestions may or may not apply to you.
-
-First off, I'd suggest buying "Seven Habits of Highly Effective
-People", and NOT read it. Burn it, it's a great symbolic gesture.
-
-(*) This document does so not so much by answering the question, but by
-making it painfully obvious to the questioner that we don't have a clue
-to what the answer is.
-
-Anyway, here goes:
-
-
- Chapter 1: Decisions
-
-Everybody thinks managers make decisions, and that decision-making is
-important. The bigger and more painful the decision, the bigger the
-manager must be to make it. That's very deep and obvious, but it's not
-actually true.
-
-The name of the game is to _avoid_ having to make a decision. In
-particular, if somebody tells you "choose (a) or (b), we really need you
-to decide on this", you're in trouble as a manager. The people you
-manage had better know the details better than you, so if they come to
-you for a technical decision, you're screwed. You're clearly not
-competent to make that decision for them.
-
-(Corollary:if the people you manage don't know the details better than
-you, you're also screwed, although for a totally different reason.
-Namely that you are in the wrong job, and that _they_ should be managing
-your brilliance instead).
-
-So the name of the game is to _avoid_ decisions, at least the big and
-painful ones. Making small and non-consequential decisions is fine, and
-makes you look like you know what you're doing, so what a kernel manager
-needs to do is to turn the big and painful ones into small things where
-nobody really cares.
-
-It helps to realize that the key difference between a big decision and a
-small one is whether you can fix your decision afterwards. Any decision
-can be made small by just always making sure that if you were wrong (and
-you _will_ be wrong), you can always undo the damage later by
-backtracking. Suddenly, you get to be doubly managerial for making
-_two_ inconsequential decisions - the wrong one _and_ the right one.
-
-And people will even see that as true leadership (*cough* bullshit
-*cough*).
-
-Thus the key to avoiding big decisions becomes to just avoiding to do
-things that can't be undone. Don't get ushered into a corner from which
-you cannot escape. A cornered rat may be dangerous - a cornered manager
-is just pitiful.
-
-It turns out that since nobody would be stupid enough to ever really let
-a kernel manager have huge fiscal responsibility _anyway_, it's usually
-fairly easy to backtrack. Since you're not going to be able to waste
-huge amounts of money that you might not be able to repay, the only
-thing you can backtrack on is a technical decision, and there
-back-tracking is very easy: just tell everybody that you were an
-incompetent nincompoop, say you're sorry, and undo all the worthless
-work you had people work on for the last year. Suddenly the decision
-you made a year ago wasn't a big decision after all, since it could be
-easily undone.
-
-It turns out that some people have trouble with this approach, for two
-reasons:
- - admitting you were an idiot is harder than it looks. We all like to
- maintain appearances, and coming out in public to say that you were
- wrong is sometimes very hard indeed.
- - having somebody tell you that what you worked on for the last year
- wasn't worthwhile after all can be hard on the poor lowly engineers
- too, and while the actual _work_ was easy enough to undo by just
- deleting it, you may have irrevocably lost the trust of that
- engineer. And remember: "irrevocable" was what we tried to avoid in
- the first place, and your decision ended up being a big one after
- all.
-
-Happily, both of these reasons can be mitigated effectively by just
-admitting up-front that you don't have a friggin' clue, and telling
-people ahead of the fact that your decision is purely preliminary, and
-might be the wrong thing. You should always reserve the right to change
-your mind, and make people very _aware_ of that. And it's much easier
-to admit that you are stupid when you haven't _yet_ done the really
-stupid thing.
-
-Then, when it really does turn out to be stupid, people just roll their
-eyes and say "Oops, he did it again".
-
-This preemptive admission of incompetence might also make the people who
-actually do the work also think twice about whether it's worth doing or
-not. After all, if _they_ aren't certain whether it's a good idea, you
-sure as hell shouldn't encourage them by promising them that what they
-work on will be included. Make them at least think twice before they
-embark on a big endeavor.
-
-Remember: they'd better know more about the details than you do, and
-they usually already think they have the answer to everything. The best
-thing you can do as a manager is not to instill confidence, but rather a
-healthy dose of critical thinking on what they do.
-
-Btw, another way to avoid a decision is to plaintively just whine "can't
-we just do both?" and look pitiful. Trust me, it works. If it's not
-clear which approach is better, they'll eventually figure it out. The
-answer may end up being that both teams get so frustrated by the
-situation that they just give up.
-
-That may sound like a failure, but it's usually a sign that there was
-something wrong with both projects, and the reason the people involved
-couldn't decide was that they were both wrong. You end up coming up
-smelling like roses, and you avoided yet another decision that you could
-have screwed up on.
-
-
- Chapter 2: People
-
-Most people are idiots, and being a manager means you'll have to deal
-with it, and perhaps more importantly, that _they_ have to deal with
-_you_.
-
-It turns out that while it's easy to undo technical mistakes, it's not
-as easy to undo personality disorders. You just have to live with
-theirs - and yours.
-
-However, in order to prepare yourself as a kernel manager, it's best to
-remember not to burn any bridges, bomb any innocent villagers, or
-alienate too many kernel developers. It turns out that alienating people
-is fairly easy, and un-alienating them is hard. Thus "alienating"
-immediately falls under the heading of "not reversible", and becomes a
-no-no according to Chapter 1.
-
-There's just a few simple rules here:
- (1) don't call people d*ckheads (at least not in public)
- (2) learn how to apologize when you forgot rule (1)
-
-The problem with #1 is that it's very easy to do, since you can say
-"you're a d*ckhead" in millions of different ways (*), sometimes without
-even realizing it, and almost always with a white-hot conviction that
-you are right.
-
-And the more convinced you are that you are right (and let's face it,
-you can call just about _anybody_ a d*ckhead, and you often _will_ be
-right), the harder it ends up being to apologize afterwards.
-
-To solve this problem, you really only have two options:
- - get really good at apologies
- - spread the "love" out so evenly that nobody really ends up feeling
- like they get unfairly targeted. Make it inventive enough, and they
- might even be amused.
-
-The option of being unfailingly polite really doesn't exist. Nobody will
-trust somebody who is so clearly hiding his true character.
-
-(*) Paul Simon sang "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover", because quite
-frankly, "A Million Ways to Tell a Developer He Is a D*ckhead" doesn't
-scan nearly as well. But I'm sure he thought about it.
-
-
- Chapter 3: People II - the Good Kind
-
-While it turns out that most people are idiots, the corollary to that is
-sadly that you are one too, and that while we can all bask in the secure
-knowledge that we're better than the average person (let's face it,
-nobody ever believes that they're average or below-average), we should
-also admit that we're not the sharpest knife around, and there will be
-other people that are less of an idiot that you are.
-
-Some people react badly to smart people. Others take advantage of them.
-
-Make sure that you, as a kernel maintainer, are in the second group.
-Suck up to them, because they are the people who will make your job
-easier. In particular, they'll be able to make your decisions for you,
-which is what the game is all about.
-
-So when you find somebody smarter than you are, just coast along. Your
-management responsibilities largely become ones of saying "Sounds like a
-good idea - go wild", or "That sounds good, but what about xxx?". The
-second version in particular is a great way to either learn something
-new about "xxx" or seem _extra_ managerial by pointing out something the
-smarter person hadn't thought about. In either case, you win.
-
-One thing to look out for is to realize that greatness in one area does
-not necessarily translate to other areas. So you might prod people in
-specific directions, but let's face it, they might be good at what they
-do, and suck at everything else. The good news is that people tend to
-naturally gravitate back to what they are good at, so it's not like you
-are doing something irreversible when you _do_ prod them in some
-direction, just don't push too hard.
-
-
- Chapter 4: Placing blame
-
-Things will go wrong, and people want somebody to blame. Tag, you're it.
-
-It's not actually that hard to accept the blame, especially if people
-kind of realize that it wasn't _all_ your fault. Which brings us to the
-best way of taking the blame: do it for another guy. You'll feel good
-for taking the fall, he'll feel good about not getting blamed, and the
-guy who lost his whole 36GB porn-collection because of your incompetence
-will grudgingly admit that you at least didn't try to weasel out of it.
-
-Then make the developer who really screwed up (if you can find him) know
-_in_private_ that he screwed up. Not just so he can avoid it in the
-future, but so that he knows he owes you one. And, perhaps even more
-importantly, he's also likely the person who can fix it. Because, let's
-face it, it sure ain't you.
-
-Taking the blame is also why you get to be manager in the first place.
-It's part of what makes people trust you, and allow you the potential
-glory, because you're the one who gets to say "I screwed up". And if
-you've followed the previous rules, you'll be pretty good at saying that
-by now.
-
-
- Chapter 5: Things to avoid
-
-There's one thing people hate even more than being called "d*ckhead",
-and that is being called a "d*ckhead" in a sanctimonious voice. The
-first you can apologize for, the second one you won't really get the
-chance. They likely will no longer be listening even if you otherwise
-do a good job.
-
-We all think we're better than anybody else, which means that when
-somebody else puts on airs, it _really_ rubs us the wrong way. You may
-be morally and intellectually superior to everybody around you, but
-don't try to make it too obvious unless you really _intend_ to irritate
-somebody (*).
-
-Similarly, don't be too polite or subtle about things. Politeness easily
-ends up going overboard and hiding the problem, and as they say, "On the
-internet, nobody can hear you being subtle". Use a big blunt object to
-hammer the point in, because you can't really depend on people getting
-your point otherwise.
-
-Some humor can help pad both the bluntness and the moralizing. Going
-overboard to the point of being ridiculous can drive a point home
-without making it painful to the recipient, who just thinks you're being
-silly. It can thus help get through the personal mental block we all
-have about criticism.
-
-(*) Hint: internet newsgroups that are not directly related to your work
-are great ways to take out your frustrations at other people. Write
-insulting posts with a sneer just to get into a good flame every once in
-a while, and you'll feel cleansed. Just don't crap too close to home.
-
-
- Chapter 6: Why me?
-
-Since your main responsibility seems to be to take the blame for other
-peoples mistakes, and make it painfully obvious to everybody else that
-you're incompetent, the obvious question becomes one of why do it in the
-first place?
-
-First off, while you may or may not get screaming teenage girls (or
-boys, let's not be judgmental or sexist here) knocking on your dressing
-room door, you _will_ get an immense feeling of personal accomplishment
-for being "in charge". Never mind the fact that you're really leading
-by trying to keep up with everybody else and running after them as fast
-as you can. Everybody will still think you're the person in charge.
-
-It's a great job if you can hack it.