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Do Nice Engineers Finish Last In Tough Times? 613

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the nice-guys-always-finish-last dept.
jammag writes "As the wave of pink slips is starting to resemble Robespierre and his guillotine, the maneuvering among tech professionals to hang on to their job is getting ugly. IT Management describes the inter-office competition between the manager of a server farm and the supervisor of networks and security. One was nice, giving his team members credit, taking responsibility when something went wrong. The other was a backstabber who spent plenty of time sucking up to the management. As the inevitable cuts came, who do you think hung on to their job?"
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Do Nice Engineers Finish Last In Tough Times?

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  • Do Nice Engineers Finish Last In Tough Times?

    Why, just the other day, a coworker was in contention for a promotion that was going to a younger engineer. My coworker found the specs to the younger engineer's car online and determined the precise rate it would have to leak coolant to completely drain the reserve tank precisely when he was leaving home to make an important customer meeting the next morning. I saw him on a crawl board attaching the regulator and a valve system in the parking lot and sure enough it overheated at precisely the right time so our customer just sat their waiting.

    It's a calculate-or-be-calculated world out there!

    • by Xoron101 (860506) on Monday January 19, 2009 @09:52PM (#26523787)
      I worked for a small company, which lived and died by the monthly sales numbers. I worked there for over 7 years and had survived over 5 major layoffs. (one of those included my direct report, leaving me the only IT person to support about 90 users, 20-30 being traveling sales guys who worked from their home offices, never coming to the office).

      The top boss was nutjob, constantly yelling at his people, belittling them and generally being an idiot. He was given a copy of the Jack Welch (the former CEO of GE) and in that book he talks about ranking his employees, and getting rid of the bottom 10% every year (the deadwood).

      So of course around this time, sales went in the toilet, and there had to be layoffs. After 10+% of the employees were let go (which sucked for me the IT guy, because I knew it was coming and who they would be before it happened, but that's another story). The survivors were called to a Town Hall meeting to discuss the layoffs. Everything was going well with the Boss's speech. You know, crap like cut off the arm to save the patient. With less people we're all going to row harder to get to the finish line. Then the jaw dropper:

      "I'm going to rank all of you, and post that list in the lunch room. You had better find someone above you on that list, get on their shoulders and push them down (using a motion like he's drowning someone in a pool)." We all were dumbfounded.

      The first thing that went through my mind was: who's tires can I slash so they don't make it to work on time :)

      I finally smartened up and got out of there.
  • What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:22PM (#26520453)

    Hot tip: not every tech professional is an "engineer," the least of which being IT professionals and "network engineers." What a diluted title.

    • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Captain Centropyge (1245886) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:38PM (#26520701)
      THIS.

      I'm a mechanical engineer by degree, and this has nothing to do with "engineers". Nor is this crap limited to just "engineers". This type of favoritism from brown-nosing happens in just about every line of work.
      • Re:What? (Score:5, Funny)

        by commodore64_love (1445365) on Monday January 19, 2009 @09:11PM (#26523419) Journal

        Unfortunately true. As for the question at the end of the article, if I was Karen I'd rather spend ~2000 hours a year with a friendly person than an asshole, and I'm sure the engineers and techs would feel the same way. I'd have fired Doug and kept Stuart. Of course it's well known that women like assholes, so I guess it's no surprise Doug won her affection.

          (ducks a spitball)

      • Re:What? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by commodore64_love (1445365) on Monday January 19, 2009 @09:14PM (#26523467) Journal

        P.S.

        I ran into this at work. I was given a completely unrealistic goal to create a schematic in ONE week, for a project that I knew nothing about. I worked 80 hours in that single week, missed the deadline (no surprise), was threatened by my boss "If you can't do the job, I'll find somebody else who can" to which I replied, "Okay." He suddenly backed down because he didn't have anybody else, and I completed the schematic.

        Long story short, I got the job done in 1.5 weeks, but the management still wanted to blame someone, so my boss took a "me first" attitude like the Doug in the article. He told everyone I was a lousy engineer and bad-mouthed him (false, HE badmouthed me), and that it was my fault the schematic did not get done in one week's time. (The fault lies with whichever idiot created the schedule, not the engineer). Anyway I got laid off on January 5. The asshole boss got to keep his job, and I, the guy thrown into a project with only one week's notice, got axed.

        Yeah. Being a nice guy at work, like dating, often means you finish last. You gotta be an ass if you want to score.

        • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Aceticon (140883) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 @09:31AM (#26527835)

          Basic rule #1 when receiving an impossible deadline:

          Send an e-mail to your manager and a bunch of people saying "In my professional opinion this deadline is impossible to achieve. The ensuing late delivery will make us look bad in the eyes of the client/business/division for whom we are doing this job and we're better getting them an appropriately revised deadline now than looking bad by delivering late"

          Then at any opportunity you have let people know (especially the above mentioned client/business/division) that the deadline is impossible and it was set/accepted by that manager without taking into account the professional opinion of the development team.

          When the impossible dully fails to materialize, observe your manager trying and failing to deflect the blame.

  • by janeuner (815461) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:23PM (#26520467)
    Ability will never catch up with the demand for it.
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:23PM (#26520471) Journal

    If the management above is unable to see which of the two in the example is worth keeping, perhaps it's not the best place to work anyway, as it looks like politics makes up more of the workload than engineering. I'm reasonably sure that engineers are engineers because they DO NOT want to be politicians.

    Of course, there is always the fix the coolant leakage rate solution, mix that with the faked IP and filesharing solution and things get entertaining while you are passing out your resume.

    • by Mishotaki (957104) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:28PM (#26520539)

      I agree with parent, if the management is good enough, they should follow well enough to know who really deserve a promotion and who is just doing enough to have enough time to ask for a promotion 10 times a week...

      Sadly, there is very few employers who can do that... so the good guy will probably lose his job, and the asshole will get a promotion for stealing someone else's hard work...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The jackass may have won that round and the promotion, but in a lot of cases, as soon as the ass gets to a position where he can't set others up for failure or take credit, that's when payback happens... that, or they end up a manager and nobody in a company notices.

        Thing is, people remember the jerks in life, and there are times when the naiive office boy that a person stole an idea from and got fired may end up a VP of a company for another idea... and will remember the dagger in the back.

        • by PCM2 (4486) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:52PM (#26520895) Homepage

          The jackass may have won that round and the promotion, but in a lot of cases, as soon as the ass gets to a position where he can't set others up for failure or take credit, that's when payback happens... that, or they end up a manager and nobody in a company notices.

          Your assessment sounds optimistic to me. In my experience, the higher up the org chart that bottom-feeders rise, the easier it is for them to do the blame-and-credit game. Because the higher up you are, the less hands-on you're expected to be, right? You are all but mandated to delegate responsibility, and that automatically puts someone in line to take the hits for you. And unfortunately these situations often take a long time to get sorted out, because the real problem is usually someone even higher up that has enough conniving/nepotistic/irrational faith in the bottom-feeder to be blind to the problem.

          • by epine (68316) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 @12:29AM (#26525031)

            And unfortunately these situations often take a long time to get sorted out, because the real problem is usually someone even higher up that has enough conniving/nepotistic/irrational faith in the bottom-feeder to be blind to the problem.

            This is the great fiction of human hierarchies: that it's nothing but Machiavellian insight and back-stabbing all the way up, then nothing but irrationality and blindness once you arrive. As quaint as it is, it doesn't wash.

            The military values discipline and aggression more than competence and fair play. If you look at ape society, the silver back has only two job responsibilities: copulating and snarling at potential mutineers.

            Once you get to a level where you have no direct input into the competence of the organization, hierarchy is all you have left. It's not surprising that those who excel at this transition look and act like baboons. It's in the genes.

            How many who campaign on "off with their heads" end up wearing the crown? It's a common story that the loudest murmuring about fair play from below ultimately proves disingenuous.

            I wish the psychologists would study this more. Unfortunately, in a world where we're still discriminating on race after sequencing the chimp genome, we're not quite ready for what we would learn.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by PCM2 (4486)

        I agree with parent, if the management is good enough, they should follow well enough to know who really deserve a promotion and who is just doing enough to have enough time to ask for a promotion 10 times a week... Sadly, there is very few employers who can do that...

        OK, so here's an idea. Maybe manager Kelly, when she was approached by Doug and heard his case for staying on, should have requested a meeting with Stuart to hear his side of the story. She could have explained that she had a decision to make and that Doug had raised certain issues with regard to his performance.

        I mean, what if Doug was out-and-out lying? And to take the word of a single subordinate as the basis for staffing decisions ... just, wow. Does this company not do annual performance reviews? I s

        • by dbIII (701233) on Monday January 19, 2009 @06:05PM (#26521059)
          When you have people that go right from graduation to very high level management these sort of things happen, sudden decisions based on very little. Sorry to break it to most US style management - the feudal system did not work once the people in charge were clueless after generations of idleness and better managed companies are going to bury you. Better management makes the quick decisions only because they have seen something like it before or because they can see how it will work out. New managers just think you can get another universal work unit from HR and that we all have the same abilities.
    • by PeanutButterBreath (1224570) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:36PM (#26520669)

      If the management above is unable to see which of the two in the example is worth keeping, perhaps it's not the best place to work anyway, as it looks like politics makes up more of the workload than engineering. I'm reasonably sure that engineers are engineers because they DO NOT want to be politicians.

      Define "worth keeping". I don't recall the article saying that Doug was inept, just that he was a ruthless jerk. His "backstabbing" was pretty insightful, IMO, and for Kelly, keeping him around was probably the right choice given the economic climate.

      Granted, that doesn't make the company the best place if you value touchy-feely more than breaking even -- especially if you are the type to infect the company network with viruses you introduce via your thumb drives and want a manager who will wipe your backside.

      There is being "nice" and there is being an ineffective pushover. Hard to be Worlds Best Boss when you are out on your ass.

      • by 0xABADC0DA (867955) on Monday January 19, 2009 @06:47PM (#26521615)

        What you guys are missing is that Kelly is the one that should have been fired. She chose to keep the guy who in a month will be trying to get her job, and fired the guy that had underlings who followed him out the door even in a bad economy (ie actually liked coming to work). On top of that, her decision was based on emotions ('too nice') instead of results.

        That's pretty much a terrible decision any way you look at it.

        • by Opportunist (166417) on Monday January 19, 2009 @10:10PM (#26523967)

          Something similar happened to me. Only that it was the other way around, a key worker quit because he couldn't work toegether with another person on the team (which, btw, nobody else really liked either). Said person had better suck-up ties with management, though, and soon the person that we all liked, loved and trusted quit (or rather, "was asked to leave because he upsets the team"). We followed. Including the CTO, CISO and a few other very important people (it was a company dealing with IT-security products and services, just to indicate why a simultanous quitting of CTO and CISO is not a good combination for it).

          Fortunately for the company it in turn sucked up quite successfully to an important client and they still buy their product. Because, well, there ain't much of a product left now...

      • by PietjeJantje (917584) on Monday January 19, 2009 @06:56PM (#26521727)

        His "backstabbing" was pretty insightful, IMO, and for Kelly, keeping him around was probably the right choice given the economic climate.

        No it is not, and that is why this story feels so fictional. Managers are not cartoon characters. For one, it's common knowledge that when someone does that, it is to hide their lower ability. It is identical to the guy walking in and saying "I'm scared shitless to lose my job, because the other guy has the better papers." A cartoon manager would hail his ability to back stab. I would pick the people manager to stay. This is an important asset in tough times when you just had to fire 50%. Nothing touchy-feely about it, just business, motivation pays out.

    • by TheMCP (121589) on Monday January 19, 2009 @06:57PM (#26521751) Homepage

      I'm sorry, but what you say is naive. Unless the origanization is a technical one for which the chairman of the board and CEO are both technical people, there will always be some level where a technical person is managed by a non-technical person who has a limited at best understanding of what the techies do. If there isn't someone at the technical group who performs the task of ensuring that the non-techie overlords understand what is going on and who is doing a good job, then the non-techies eventually tend to start to think the techies aren't doing anything and hate them.

      When the techies are infighting, things are bad. If it happens once, you need to have your finger on the pulse of the organization and know when someone is backstabbing you (This isn't so hard if you have a good relationship with management, usually they'll tell you) and go to management to demonstrate why what they're saying is false and get *them* fired. If it's happening regularly, you're in a dysfunctional organization and you should be looking for a new job.

      I have been an IT manager, and I speak from experience when I say that this sort of problem is particularly bad for IT organizations. People tend to hate IT because when things are going right they don't perceive that IT is doing anything (even if IT is working their behinds off to keep things going right) so usually they only notice IT when things go wrong, so of course they blame the problem (whatever it is) on IT, regardless of what caused it. This gives IT the image of being a bunch of lazy do-nothings who aren't doing their job of making everything work. So, IT has to work extra-hard to make it very clear to management on a regular basis that they are working hard and being responsive to company needs and being successful at solving problems.

      As annoying as it is, good help desk software or CRM software can go a long way for this, by being able to provide statistics and documentation to show non-techie overlords that IT is working hard and being responsive.

      A decent IT manager is a current or former techie with excellent language skills who is able to mediate between business people with needs and technical people who can fulfill needs. They should be able to listen to business people describe business requirements and translate those into technical requirements for technical solutions. They should also be able to direct or monitor technical work performed by technical workers and describe it in business terms to business people so they understand that progress is being made and their needs are being taken seriously. They should also be able to recognize when mediation is needed so they can perform these services to help facilitate interaction between technical and non-technical staff.

      A bad IT manager doesn't understand anything about technology and probably thinks that such understanding is not required to manage technical people. They don't understand that IT work is a creative profession which isn't always strictly quantifiable, and believe that the IT staff can be managed entirely based on statistical metrics of performance. If your IT manager's previous experience is in retail, or they use the phrase "I have a degree in management", run screaming. (A decent manager of any type will never find it necessary to mention their MBA, because they know that attempting to intimidate employees is the worst possible way to get them to do anything.)

  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:24PM (#26520479) Homepage Journal

    For wasting company time being nice.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:25PM (#26520499)

    They're about networking, social skills, and shameless self-promotion.

    People like me, and I suspect most geeks on slashdot, want to be judged on our merits, but the fact is in most cases we won't be. So yes, nice engineers do finish last.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      And occasionally, a nice engineer can't cope with it anymore and takes a shotgun to work.
    • by liquidpele (663430) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:35PM (#26520659) Journal

      They're about networking, social skills, and shameless self-promotion.

      Couldn't have said it any better. It's not about being nice or an asshole, it's about making sure people know who you are and that you're valuable. People aren't going to fire Steve who wrote that great app "Steve's Manage Utility" that helped out a lot, but they will fire that one guy what's-his-name who no one ever sees because he's always at his desk quietly working.

    • by Lord Ender (156273) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:45PM (#26520809) Homepage

      I hear this repeated over and over.

      I'm sorry, but "networking" is not the ticket to success in a technical career. In a technical career, knowing your shit is simply far more important.

      If you count "networking" as your most important skill, you probably work in management, sales, or some other NONtechnical position.

      • by cowscows (103644) on Monday January 19, 2009 @06:07PM (#26521093) Journal

        Actually, in most jobs, they're both important. There's two lessons that the "smart kids" generally have to learn later in their lives (some have to figure it out in college, some get by a little longer). One is that unlike in grade school, smarts along won't put you in the upper echelon. You have to work hard, and you have to network. It's a big world, and no matter how smart you are, there's a guy out there who's at least as is talented as you and harder working. And there's a guy out there who's at least as smart as you and better at networking.

        The point is that(especially in rough economic times) there's often more than enough smarts available to fill the demand. Being technically competent is certainly important, but unless you're in some very rare position where no one else is equally competent (or convincingly close), you've got some equally competent competition out there. Taking the time to develop some social and political business skills is not a wasteful investment in yourself.

        • by lawpoop (604919) on Monday January 19, 2009 @06:46PM (#26521599) Homepage Journal
          Can you recommend a resource for learning personal skills and politics? Books or something? How does one do this, exactly? Just show up for meetings and be nice to people?

          This kind of reminds me when a dorky buddy of mine suddenly became an expert in "The Game". He went from tolerable dork to "call the cops" creepy in a matter of weeks amongst female company. I can imagine a similar technically proficient but socially mal-adjusted IT guy making a similar transformation when they try to apply their engineering problem solving skills to office politics.
          • by cowscows (103644) on Monday January 19, 2009 @07:34PM (#26522257) Journal

            Here's a couple ways to get started.

            - Pay some attention to the people around you, and watch how they conduct themselves. Plenty of people are good at personal skills. The world is full of examples to learn from.

            - Pick up a hobby that's generally involves some social interaction, and that you have no previous talent in. Go join a bowling league or something. The fact that you're new to it will make it more likely that you'll need to seek help from other people, hopefully forcing you to be more social. And many people actually enjoy the act of teaching and helping a fellow human being improve themselves, interacting with them won't be as hard as you think.

            - Help with lots of little things around the office. Although it's sometimes annoying, it's actually a good thing to be one of the guys that people go to when they have a computer problem, or they need a ride to a meeting, or help carrying some boxes to their desk.

            Note that none of these tips are particularly geared towards helping you pick up women. That "game" is a whole different thing, and one that I know even less about.

      • Not true (Score:4, Insightful)

        by br00tus (528477) on Monday January 19, 2009 @06:59PM (#26521785)
        I have been in IT for over eleven years, and I have seen over and over that "networking" is a more important attribute than "knowing your shit". I went on a job interview recently where I was given an interview on the phone which was half technical and half non-technical, and then I was brought in and talked to about six people, only one of whom asked one directly technical question. So it was about ten minutes of showing I had a basic grasp of the technical stuff, and several hours of talking about how I handle problems and people. I've had interviews where I've been asked no direct technical questions. My resume is long enough that it's obvious I had to know something to be employed by some of these well-known companies for so many years, and for most positions there's really no reason why they would have to spend more than 10-15 minutes on my technical knowledge. We had a position which we interviewed dozens of people over a period of many months, and it was educational to me about interviewing - I discovered that within about three technical questions I could gauge 100% - not 99% - 100% of the time what their level of technical expertise was. I would go on to ask more than three questions, but anyone who hit a home run on the first three would do well on the rest, anyone who struggled with the first three would struggle with the rest.

        There is no such thing as a non-management position. Unless you have a better than normal manager, most managers want you to not only do your technical job, but want you to do their job as well. At that recent interview I mentioned, the person who would be my manager complained so many IT people just sit at their desk and do their job instead of interacting with the business units, managing their own projects etc. He said he was overburdened, and without saying so he was obviously implying he was looking for the people under him to take a lot of that burden from him. Years ago when there were layoffs at a large company I was at, one of the managers also said people who just sat at their desks and did their job as opposed to schmoozing and all of that were at risk.

        That you need some base level of technical knowledge goes without saying. But the people who brown-nose managers, who inquire what the business units want and who are held in high regard by the managers and leads of the other prominent business units etc. are who stays when there are layoffs. Within every company there is a coterie of managers, leads and top IT people who may as well be a lead or manager, and you are either in it or you are not. If you are not, you are susceptible to the ax.

        I have seen a lot of self-delusion on Slashdot and among IT people as to there being a gap between hard-working people who know their shit (which the person considering this always thinking they're part of this group) and slackers who are incompetent. Which is standard. But you are going beyond even this and saying technical knowledge is everything, and brown-nosing managers and schmoozing other managers and leads means little or nothing. You may find this is not the case the hard way. I have seen two tough times in this field - from about 2002-2003, and another one which started last year and will end in who knows. Finding out that you are wrong may be a very painful lesson.

        In some other post someone was mentioning how things work under capitalism etc. And so they were right. Someone who thinks their technical skill is all-important, and who doesn't see how those who brown-nose managers and schmooze with other managers and leads get ahead, is certainly going to be blind to the workings of the overall economic system. Because such things are intertwined with the economic system to some extent. But if someone can't see the obvious about who people who brown-nose managers get ahead of more technically competent personnel, than going into any of the broader stuff is pointless.

      • by TENTH SHOW JAM (599239) on Monday January 19, 2009 @07:08PM (#26521891) Homepage

        Networking is an important skill. This is because you are essentially dealing with people no matter what your job is. The addage that "It's not what you know but who you know." is true. There is no escaping it. You can be the bee's knees on a subject, but if you don't make the right connections, then you won't be able to pick up the next job when the time comes up.

        Being good at your job is important now. Being able to network is important when moving on.

        For example. I worked my way up from answering phones to being in charge of a 2000 seat campus by a combination of learning new skills from a range of experienced techs. Then (due in part to the smooth running of the site, and due to having made friends with the regional manager) I was asked to monitor the health of the regions equipment. Now I was in charge of 500 switches, 50 routers and 80 servers. Monitoring their general wellbeing. I was able to get the jump on around 50% of errors by watching anomalies before they became a problem. Something that takes reasonable technical skill. (Yes, any charlie can read a log, but reading 80 of them daily and filtering for weird stuff takes some perl.)

        Then sweeping changes occurred to that technical team and most of the operation was to be outsourced, my job included. I could have stayed on as a contractor working on the same system, but due to my networking skills, was able to use this to land a promotion. I am now working on a network 10 times the original size doing really cool stuff.

        The moral of the story is tech out the wazoo will only get you so far. Networking is a skill that will get you further.

  • Work is overrated (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:26PM (#26520513) Homepage Journal
    Why not make lemonade from lemons and accept a layoff? If you're financially stable with few or no obligations such as family, mortgage, etc. and you've had a reasonable work history why not just collect unemployment until you can find a decent-paying gig?

    You won't make as much money, true, but if you satisfy the above conditions you'll probably make enough to afford food and a roof. You'll be able to sleep in every day, go to the gym, work on personal projects, go out on dates, and much more! It's not like you're being lazy or anything -- "the economy" is a very acceptable excuse for not having a job, at least until the economy goes back into full swing.
    • Re:Work is overrated (Score:5, Informative)

      by berend botje (1401731) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:36PM (#26520679)
      You list a fairly impressive number of conditions. What about those that do have a family and/or mortgage? And no amount of work history will tie you over when there simply are no jobs at all.

      And those days will come, and soon. No jobs. Not even flipping burgers, not for the older engineers. Much better to get a stupid malleable kid for that, as it limits the amount of talk-back to the no-stripe franchise manager.
  • by gearloos (816828) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:28PM (#26520545)
    As an Engineer I believe my ethics are just as important as any other skill I may have. You should too. If a company I worked for didn't see that in me I would probably be working somewhere else anyway. You do have the ability to look for other employment while at your current job. If you have been at your job for any length of time, they will know you, both personally and professionally. If there is anything to worry about, they already knew it BEFORE anyone stabbed your back. A wise man told me once, "If a company wants you, they will do anything in their power to keep you. If they don't like you, they will do anything to get rid of you. This includes "bending the rules"".
  • Ummm.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Otter (3800) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:28PM (#26520547) Journal
    Is this even a supposedly true story? I'm not sure what we're supposed to conclude from n=1 cases of what appears to be a parable.
  • by homer_s (799572) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:30PM (#26520573)
    As the inevitable cuts came, who do you think hung on to their job?

    The cute receptionist?
  • by Dusty00 (1106595) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:32PM (#26520599)
    Some managers value competence, some mangers don't. Doesn't really change with the times.
  • Short sighted (Score:4, Insightful)

    by UnknowingFool (672806) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:32PM (#26520607)

    As the inevitable cuts came, who do you think hung on to their job?

    There will always be companies and individuals that favor short term gains instead of focusing on long-term goals. Letting the good manager go for a bad one can only lead to revolt. While they may not necessarily all follow the good manager when he leaves, his team will all certainly be looking for another opportunity even in this economy because they all know they will be next to go if something goes wrong regardless if it was their fault.

  • by Faizdog (243703) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:33PM (#26520627)

    I think that the whole premise of the question is false. The question being asked is whether nice guys who share credit and accept responsibility will get axed in favor of mean guys who steal credit and ID scapegoats.

    I actually RTFA (I know, a /. blasphemy) and I don't think that is a valid question. According to the article, the reason "Doug" got the job and "Staurt" the nice guy got fired is that Doug went to their boss and made a case for why it would be better for the boss and the company to retain him instead of Stuart. Now his reasoning was flawed, but Stuart never made such a case. He just assumed that he got fired because he was the nice guy.

    Being a nice guy (sharing credit, accepting responsibility) and valuable employee (recognizing your manager's needs and supporting them, being politically aware and astute) are not mutually exclusive.

    What Stuart should have done is said "that I am well respected by my team, I keep a mature and professional attitude when mistakes are made (not like Doug who yells at his team). In this uncertain time after layoffs are announced, the remaining people will be nervous and perhaps looking to leave on their own terms. Kelly, I'll make sure that the remaining team stays on target, and achieves all goals, so you look good. Doug said that I cannot make the tough decisions, but look, I've come to you with cogent and well reasoned reasons to layoff the required people in my team, as you requested. I can make the tough decisions, but in a way that keeps the remaining team morale up and productive."

    Now Stuart may have actually said that, but TFA doesn't say so. Instead we're left to assume that he just figured as a nice guy he lost his job.

    Nice or mean doesn't have much to do with it, being politically aware and understanding office dynamics is everything.

  • by mellon (7048) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:35PM (#26520657) Homepage

    Of course you can always find an anecdotal counterexample, but the one time I decided I wanted to get someone out of a management position that was interfering with my job, it wound up backfiring hugely (the situation was *worse* after I succeeded) and on a personal level it's something I regret to this day.

    On the other hand, every time I've come into a job situation and behaved with honesty and integrity, it's worked out well for me. And I get to sleep at night.

    So take your pick.

  • In the Long Run (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PineHall (206441) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:36PM (#26520667)
    I have over the years read several articles about who the most successful CEO's are, those that are humble. When things go well, they give credit to the "team". When things go bad they take the blame. I think in the long run nice guys finish first. You can not trust someone who is a backstabber.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:39PM (#26520711)

    The plural of anecdote is bullshit.

  • Nice guys finish last in all times. The "nice guy" who finishes last is very likely diffident, afraid to take risks, refuses to stand up for himself, shies from taking credit for their work, and avoids confrontation. These guys finish last. The "jerks" and "assholes" who succeed stand up for themselves, take credit for themselves, and are not shy about confronting those in their paths. The nice guys get run over by these assholes and then post on the Internet how how unfair life is.

    I got this insight from my female roommate. Men would complain about how they are nice guys but girls always go for assholes. But these nice guys either never asked girls out, or even worse, wanted to be bad guys but just did not have the guts to do it. She related the story about a self-professed nice guy who got drunk, and started to feel her up even though she made it clear she was not interested.

    So you can try to get everyone to like you or you can try to get what you think you deserve. It is very rare to be able to get what you want without stepping on any toes. You can be nice and polite, but if you are competing with someone for a job, the loser is not going to like you at all.

    Hope this helps.

    • by Hatta (162192) on Monday January 19, 2009 @06:06PM (#26521083) Journal

      I got this insight from my female roommate. Men would complain about how they are nice guys but girls always go for assholes. But these nice guys either never asked girls out, or even worse, wanted to be bad guys but just did not have the guts to do it. She related the story about a self-professed nice guy who got drunk, and started to feel her up even though she made it clear she was not interested.

      I'm not clear on the message here. Nice guy turns into jerk and feels up uninterested girl. Since chicks dig jerks, she must have liked it right? If she didn't like it, would the guy have been better off staying nice? If so, that would conflict with your major premise.

  • Stupid summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cerberusss (660701) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:48PM (#26520829) Homepage Journal

    The summary makes it out to be a choice between the evil, cold-blooded manager (Doug) and the warm, fatherly teamleader (Steve). As much as we all like to see the black-white picture, I'm frankly sick with it -- do we need to have Slashdot become the Cosmo Girl for Nerds?

    With a clear suppressor and an underdog, this can also be painted another way.

    Kelly is the manager of the above two here. She was in a very tight spot and felt very alone, with noone to rely on. When asked for employee ratings, Steve unresponsively turned his back to her, just following orders. However, when Doug came along, he offered a listening ear and offered suggestions of his own. He showed that he could think along, offer support as well as make tough decisions -- just the person she needed.

    *yawn* See how boring this black-and-white stuff gets?

  • by causality (777677) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:49PM (#26520847)
    Whether "nice" finishes last depends on your understanding of "nice". The more common usage is a people-pleaser who means well but cannot help operating out of a position of weakness because he thinks that happiness and fulfillment and completion come from other people (i.e. their approval and acceptance). To take on this nature is to be a leaf in the wind, always at the mercy of other people who themselves do not (yet) see their beliefs and full actions (with no exceptions) as choices. This is actually a form of slavery and it works because ignorance of the higher way prevents people from seeing that it is bondage. This idea taken to its full expression is unfortunately what most people think love is, when in reality its most healthy expression (which is still enslaving) is nothing more than a mutually agreed trade like those found in any market ("you're nice to me so I am nice to you").

    The less common usage is well beyond mere courtesy and is more like an act of love. This is a person who has kindness and compassion for its own sake because cultivating these is pure joy. When you have this, there is no concern for outcomes or results because you realize that all of us are equal and must come to our own understanding at our own pace and in the fullness of our own time. There is no need to control and there is no need for this type of loving-kindness to be reciprocated. Reciprocated or not, the mere expression of it is pure joy and it is complete in and of itself. Everything is filled to the brim with nothing missing and there is no need to get upset (and thus cause suffering over) the non-ideal. It is the truly pure motive, in that even the exquisite joy of it is not done for the sake of experiencing joy. This is the type of person who finds possibilities and opportunities where there are none; the one for whom all actions and all speech are expressions of an ultimately simple and self-evident Truth. With this understanding, you feel that you yourself are not doing or saying anything. It is more like you find or observe yourself saying or doing this-and-that and it happens to be the best thing you could have said or done at the time, certainly far better than the result of any kind of deductive process. An engineer or anyone else who has this need not worry about things like tough times because he or she is free of the slavery that makes someone a victim of circumstance.

    The only thing that is regrettable, or something like regrettable, is that most people live their entire lives without ever knowing the difference. It is not so complicated that most people cannot understand it. It is so incredibly utterly simple that most people overlook it out of a belief that they themselves should be doing something or seeking something or becoming something.
  • by gatkinso (15975) on Monday January 19, 2009 @05:50PM (#26520857)

    ...telling his boss that mistakes that his employees made were his mistakes was not very smart.

    Atleast that is how I read his actions.

    Stuart should have been 100% honest. Lying to his bosses about who screwed up didn't help anyone in the end.

    Well, it helped Doug.

    Not saying throw the employee under the bus. Be cool, be honest, and tell it like it is.

  • Not really... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bkr1_2k (237627) on Monday January 19, 2009 @06:11PM (#26521141)

    It's not a matter of nice or not nice, whether you're a network "engineer" or a degreed PE. The people who finish last are the people who will accept being put in last place.

    Those that can, do. Those that can't but speak up, still do. Those that don't speak up, whether they can or can't do, are the ones who get the shaft.

    Toot your own horn when it's necessary but don't overdo it. Toot other people's horns when it's necessary, but don't overdo it. Do your job and make sure at least one skip above you understand that you're a valuable member of the team and you'll be fine in most cases.

  • Incredible (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SoulRider (148285) on Monday January 19, 2009 @06:30PM (#26521387)

    "Nice Guy", "Asshole" those are all relative terms depending on which side of the layoff you are on.

    You are hired by a business to advance that business (either save more money or make more money), not to play feel good with your fellow employees. It is best to be honest and do your job with integrity, in other words do what is best for the business without compromising your ideals. Never cover up or take the blame for others, if your fellow employees are having difficulties then teach them how do to better within the context of the business. If they still have problems it could possibly mean that employee is not cut out for the position that they got or they are not a good fit for the company. It benefits no one to keep someone in a position they are not qualified to do, in fact in most cases things eventually get ugly as everyone gets more and more frustrated. Business is business, you go to work every day to do business not to socialize. That does not mean that you cannot be fair, honest and open with the people you work with though. When the cuts come I guarantee your boss is going to be looking at who in the department helped to promote the business the most, not who was the nicest or who was the biggest asshole.

  • What? (Score:5, Funny)

    by edittard (805475) on Monday January 19, 2009 @06:39PM (#26521483)

    As the wave of pink slips is starting to resemble Robespierre and his guillotine

    Reading that simile was like marinating a walnut in talcum powder.

  • So in the example, the nice guy gets fired and that back stabber gets promoted.

    Well, 5 years down the road, the backstabber is also fired, while the "nice guy" found a job through one of his former coworkers who thought he was amazing and good to work with (the guy was good but also made him look better!) The backstabber, can't find work, and has no references.

    Being nice or moral isn't generally filled with short term benefits (which is why it's contrasted with greedy!), but in the long term can yield very good results.

  • by Burgundy Advocate (313960) on Monday January 19, 2009 @07:15PM (#26521989) Homepage

    But think I started valuing *myself*.

    Look, there's quite a difference between being assertive and being an ass. Being passive and being nice is also not the same.

    Communication skills are very important in the modern company. I don't care who you are---the days of the lone wolf are long gone, if they ever truly happened in the first place.

    Be willing to stand up for yourself. Treat others with respect, and take pride in your work. Make sure others know who you are and your value.

    It's not backstabbing. It's healthy human interaction. And it'll lead to you having more respect higher up and among your peers.

    The nice vs. mean question is a false dichotomy, and being strong doesn't have to imply you're an ass.

  • by TheMCP (121589) on Monday January 19, 2009 @07:15PM (#26521991) Homepage

    One of the things ascribed to the "nice guy" that is presumed to hurt them is that they take responsibility for failures.

    A lot of organizations with political problems have a sort of "blame-oriented" culture. When something goes wrong, someone has to be blamed, and that person must be made to suffer. This is, of course, bad, because it focuses on punishing someone rather than solving the problem.

    Sometimes in such an organization, you can actually gain power by accepting blame. When a problem is brought up and the group is obviously going on the hunt for a scapegoat, sometimes you can stand up and say "I'll take responsibility for that," define the problem as you see it, and spell out what you intend to do about it. This can be so shocking to the other people that they don't know what to do about it, and thus there's no punishment. This is particularly true if you do this in a context where it's clear that you're not actually to blame for the problem, you're just accepting responsibility for it anyway.

    This can have several positive effects:
    1) You are seen as someone who isn't afraid to stand up and be responsible, a leader.
    2) You are seen as a force for positive action, a bringer of solutions.
    3) You get to be in charge of whatever it is, even if you might not normally have been in charge of it. If you want to do so, you can expand your realm of authority in this manner.

    Sometimes when you do this, one or more people who are particularly blame focused will notice you said you're "responsible", not "to blame", and start questioning you to determine if you actually caused the problem or someone else did (maybe someone who works for you) so they can try to find someone to blame and harm. When this happens, I say something like "The important thing here is not that we affix blame and punish someone, the important part is that we solve the problem for the organization so we can move on and stop suffering the consequences. If you want someone to blame, blame me. I care more about getting the job done than about my image." If they try to pursue it, it makes them look like a fool in front of everyone else. If they try to go after a member of my staff, I say something to the effect of "I am responsible for my team, so if this problem is their fault, it's my fault. If I feel that any member of my team is failing to perform adequately, I will take care of mentoring them, helping them, or firing them as necessary. It's not your responsibility, and none of your business. I don't tell you how to do your job, please stop interfering with mine." I've never had anyone stupid enough to be willing to push it beyond that.

    You can probably get away with all of this, IF:
    1) You are willing to be bold about it. Timidity will just get you stepped on.
    2) You're high enough placed in the organization that upper management knows you.
    3) You've already built some respect with some successes, so upper management knows that when you say you will do something, you mean it.
    4) Most importantly, you MUST have a solution to propose IMMEDIATELY when you say you are going to take responsibility. That solution doesn't have to be comprehensive, you can propose to have particular people study the problem to determine what the next step is, but have SOMETHING to propose right away.

  • by digitig (1056110) on Monday January 19, 2009 @07:29PM (#26522207)

    As the inevitable cuts came, who do you think hung on to their job?

    The head of human resources.

  • Well, duh. (Score:4, Funny)

    by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Monday January 19, 2009 @08:19PM (#26522861) Homepage

    As the inevitable cuts came, who do you think hung on to their job?

    It's a trick question. Neither of them did, as the entire department was outsourced. Or right-sized. Or left-screwed. Or smart-wombatted. Or wang-smacked. Or whatever they're calling it these days.

  • Not just engineers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dcavanaugh (248349) on Tuesday January 20, 2009 @12:52AM (#26525177) Homepage

    Speaking hypothetically of course, if I had to become a self-promoting back-stabber to keep my job, I would rather behave properly and let nature take its course (even if it meant getting canned). And if the company is rewarding the self-promoting back-stabbers at the expense of team players, it's better to get out and try again somewhere else.

    Not much sense in playing the game. If you decide to join the legion of self-promoting back stabbers, it's only a matter of time before someone plays the game more effectively than you do and then out you go.

    You should only work with trustworthy people. If for some reason you cannot trust the people you work with, find people you CAN trust and go work with them instead.

We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"

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