When Developers Work Late, Should Manager Stay or Go?

A veteran developer sees project management in a different light now that he has been on both sides of the fence.


You Can't Detect What You Can't See: Illuminating the Entire Kill Chain

On-Demand Webinar

Posted December 20, 2009

Eric Spiegel

Eric Spiegel

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It was well after 10 PM and I was furiously writing code in my cubicle when I heard the footsteps behind me. My heart sank and I even felt a tingling of dread creep up my spine.

An intruder?

No. Much worse

My manager.

Let’s turn the clock back to earlier that morning. I was writing software for a major payroll conversion that was supposed to take place that coming weekend. We had tested and tested and were continuing to test in preparation for the big conversion that would impact over one hundred thousand employees.

I was feeling pretty confident and very well prepared. Then that all changed in an instant. Our business analysts had mistakenly mapped a bunch of fields incorrectly and the logic was much more complex than what we were already doing.

It was agreed that this shouldn’t stop the conversion and that we needed to code the changes immediately so we could run one full test cycle.

Let me be more clear. My manager agreed. I was simply told.

He sauntered into my cube and said “I have a challenge for you.”

Uh oh.

He proceeded to explain the wonderful challenge ahead of me for the rest of the day, and likely night. I had already racked up so much comp time with this project, I’d never be able to take it all. So the idea of extra work wasn’t exciting.

But it was my job, so I half-heartedly smiled and said “Sure, whatever you need. Let’s get to work.”

As everyone was filing out of the office as dusk set in, my manager came back over.

“Is it working yet?,” he asked, using the smart alack tone that he was famous for. Of course it wasn’t.

He continued, “Hey, don’t worry. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

Those were words I really didn’t want to hear. I wanted to focus on getting this code done and didn’t want my manager popping in every hour with some smart alack quip.

I said, “You know, I think I got this. You don’t have to stay.”

“Sure I do!” he said with sincere enthusiasm. “If you run into a road block, I’ll be here to make sure you get an answer. And I’ll order in pizza.”

Great. I would be annoyed, but not hungry.

Sure enough, every hour on the hour, he would pop in and say something he thought was very witty. Did this help me code faster with better quality?


I just wanted to be left alone to concentrate on the task at hand.

So back to the 10 PM visit from my omnipresent manager. This time he just sat in my cube and didn’t leave. He kept peppering me with questions that I’m sure he thought were very helpful.

Here is the thing: If he was somewhat technical, he could have asked relevant questions or maybe even offered helpful suggestions. But he hadn’t written code in years – and never in the language I was using.

Therefore, every question just slowed me down. I came close to asking him to go home again, but knew he wouldn’t leave. So I just kept coding while he rambled on or just sat behind me reading the newspaper. Maybe I was supposed to feel comforted that he was there to provide moral support.

Finally at 3 AM my tests were all successfully completed. I got a pat on the back and he told me how much he appreciated me staying. I was so bleary-eyed, I could not have cared less if he had told me aliens had landed.

The next day my manager sang my praises to the team and the business users. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate the recognition. And it was very rewarding when the conversion went off without a hitch.

But man, I was still perturbed any time my manager stayed late with me because I felt my stay was inevitably being extended by his presence.

Now I’m the Developer’s Manager

Now fast forward about ten years. I’m now a manager for a team of developers. It’s getting late one afternoon and a customer calls me up and starts yelling in my ear. Some system we sold them was down and they had to produce reports by the following morning or there would be hell to pay.

Next Page: "I hadn't coded in years and never in the language he had to work with..."

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