Gabriel Conroy’s Rules of Work

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  1. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


    that one who has not them doesn’t understand

    should be

    that one who has not done them doesn’t understandReport

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The current bugbear that I am trying to slay is the enthusiastic owner of the company who is pushing me to be better.

    And, by “better”, I mean “move me from engineering to management”.

    So I’m showing up to work in a tie and going to meetings and discussing the wordsmithing of documents that will eventually be read by Upper (apparently, my big problem currently is “overcommunication”).

    Dude. I just want to administer these boxes and keep up with these logs.Report

    • Avatar dhex in reply to Jaybird says:

      have you tried telling him that? nicely, and with a sense of appreciation for being appreciated, of course.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to dhex says:

        Kinda. He said something like “don’t you want to make six figures someday?” and I said “I’m pretty sure inflation will get me there…” and he laughed like I said something funny.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      “Dude, I am in management. That’s pretty much all I do. Just don’t ask me to manage (ugh) people.”Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird says:

      I don’t think I would want to manage people. I’m not sure I’d like to tell people what to do.Report

      • Avatar Boegiboe in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        It is psychically draining, for sure. On the other hand, someone (usually) has to do it. The problem is that in some organizations, if you become a people manager, you will not be allowed to go back to being a direct producer without leaving the organization. In my org, I can be a manager until it no longer makes sense for me to be a manager, and then go back to being a full-time engineer. I don’t know how rare that is.Report

      • Avatar gingergene in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        @Boegiboe My company is like that. The guy who was my manager when I hired in is now a “Principal Engineer” which is a much better fit for his skills- he likes the technical side and always hated/was bad at the managing side.

        He was given several opportunities to try to improve his management style before that transition was decided on- I don’t know whether it was his idea or our Director’s, but it was nice to see that a) you can transition from technical to management and back, and b) that there is a promotion path for the technically inclined- there are two more job levels above where he’s at, though not every one gets them (just as not everyone gets to be a vice president on the management side).Report

      • My company has a whole tier of people who do not manage anyone but still have a little M on our ID badges because they need us to have some of the perks that come with being in management. Since I travel I fell in that bucket because they need me to have a company phone and company expense card and a laptop. Our IE group, our IT folks, various specialists, etc. It’s pretty silly, especially when we have some kind of potential disaster going on and they suddenly ask us all to start supervising people for some crazy weekend project. Managing employees is an art IMO and it’s not one I am good at.Report

      • @boegiboe

        My wife recently stepped down from a position where she was something like a manger and went back to her older position, and you’re right. Although she was allowed to do it–and she seems really happy with her decision–there was a sense of “you’re never going to be management again” from her employer.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jaybird says:

      Engineering is relatively simple compared to managing people. The number of variables engineers have to pay attention to is miniscule compared to the number of variables at play when dealing with real live non-modeled humans.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James Hanley says:


        I am sorry sir, but you have no clue what you are talking about! I’m an engineer, I solve massively complex engineering problems with hundreds of variables. I’ve also been a manager of people, and let me tell you, people are soOoOoOo much easiers.

        There are only two variables, W & C*, or Whip & Cake. When they do what you want, you give them Cake. When they fail to do what you want, or do something you don’t want, you crack out the Whip.

        Easy peasy.

        *If you are managing college students, C is actually expressed as C_p, or C sub p (Cake substituted with pizza).Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        Probably I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I’ll argue anyway. There are people immune to the whip, and people who are suspicious of cake. There are thise who desire to get others whipped, and those who see a conspiracy in any situation where others get cake, even those who want all the cake fir themselves. There are those for whom everything is a continual game of trying to maximize rewards while minimizing effort. There are those who have no awareness of the effects they have on others. There are those who will sabotage if they are unhappy.

        If you found managing people easy, then either 1) you have mad skilz, 2) you got lucky with your people, or 3) you don’t know all the shit you missed (not saying that’s you, just that I’ve had that boss, confident about their great people skills while everyone hates them with a whitehot rage). In general, if people in general were so readily manageable, public policy would be a lot easier.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

        yeah, there are some people who will set the world on fire to be free.
        Whip’s probably not a good choice for them…

        Smart folks (one who don’t want to manage people) hire folks that don’t need to be managed (much easier to do if you’re running a charity, mind).Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

        but most of the people what got a whip don’t use it. It’s bad policy, in general, unless you need something — real bad.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

        I didn’t think MRS was being serious. I could be wrong, of course.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James Hanley says:

        (Please tell me you got that I was joking, right?)

        Actually, I am just good at managing people, as long as I have a PA who has mad skillz at dealing with the HR/Admin crap. If I am distracted by that, my ability to focus on the people aspect of it is degraded.

        My theory of people management is simple:

        Clear expectations
        Clear duties
        Make sure everyone knows to talk me about what they need (and that I will do my best to get it to them, or at least explain why I can’t)
        Leave them the hell alone & trust them to get the job done.

        I can’t micromanage, I’m too easi… ooooh, SHINY!Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

        in short, sounds like you’ve been hired as a Project Manager.
        Managers suck when they forget that they really work for their employees.
        Managers’ job is to get people what they need (preferably before they need it),
        smooth over hurt feelings, and stop other rampaging managers.Report

      • @mad-rocket-scientist

        I got that you were joking, but I wasn’t sure.

        I’m not saying I could never manage people, but it’s not my aptitude and I don’t think I would ever seek it out. I’m much better, and happier, as a worker bee. For one thing, I don’t think I could resist the temptation to micro-manage. For another, I’d want too much for those I manage to like me.

        At my current job, I’m not a manager, but I do oversee a few undergraduate students. They don’t report directly to me on most things, but there’s a series of projects that I’m supposed to have them do. And I’m afraid I’m not too good at it.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James Hanley says:


        Perhaps it’s a remnant of youth spent as an outcast, or something from my time in the service, but I’ve never had a need for people to like me. Work with me as a professional, sure, but you can call me bad names all you want when you are at home, I don’t care.

        I never had a problem being the bad guy.

        As my old man used to say, “I’d like your respect, but I’ll settle for fear.”Report

      • @mad-rocket-scientist

        For me, the strange thing is that I don’t (for the most part) care if, for example, my coworkers or my bosses like me. I mean, I guess I prefer that they do–and I’d like my bosses to like me enough to keep me on–but when I come home, I usually don’t worry about it.

        But for some reason, it’s different if I have people who report to me.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


        Whoosh! The joke went right over my head.

        I’m pathetic, I know.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        Leave them the hell alone & trust them to get the job done.

        My wife’s boss recently told her to send out an email to certain people that actually should have come from the boss. But then she required my wife to submit the email to her for approval before sending it out.

        My wife would prefer you as a boss.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James Hanley says:


        Then you should probably avoid people management. Although project management might be doable. I’ve seen places where people & project managers were essentially co-managers, or managers & project leads.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James Hanley says:


        No worries, sarcasm doesn’t always translate in text without some context. Although I was hoping my comment about college students & C_p would be a dead giveaway.

        As for the letter, if I want to review a communique, I may have someone write it, then I will review & send it myself, but I would never tell someone to write a letter that is coming from them & then insist I review it. That’s silly. Either you trust them to write the letter, or you don’t (& you do it yourself).Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Thanks for the shout out.

    I think the issue with honest work is that honest is a value term and like all value terms highly subjective and influenced by all sorts of socio-cultural factors.

    What counts as “honest” labor often seems to be about whether someone is actually working or producing something that they themselves value. I think my labor as a plaintiff’s lawyer is honest but I am sure many people would disagree and call me an ambulance chaser. Likewise I’ve made my own snarky comments on marketing and PR and branders.Report

  4. Avatar j r says:

    A few random thoughts.

    #1 is right on, but we might as well expand it and replace the word “job” with the word “life.”

    #3 is such a basic idea, but at the same time, something that can be incredibly difficult to grok.

    #4 is a reminder of one of the things that makes for good management. Good management puts in place a process, or a series of processes, that facilitates their employees in dealing with the problem of scarce resources, both internally and externally. Bad management turns the workplace into Thunderdome.Report

  5. Avatar Damon says:

    “Rule #4: There’s nothing wrong with honest work. But while some jobs are more honest than others, there probably doesn’t exist a job that is completely honest, that doesn’t involve either screwing someone over or taking a resource that others need.”

    This is partially false. One does not “take a resource that others need”. No, likely you’d not have obtained (note that there is a difference between “take” and “obtain”) that resource unless you needed it as well, or were preventing them from accessing that resource by locking up the supply. Additionally, “screwing over” people, as in with malice and intention, isn’t really dishonest…it’s just plain shitty behavior, not isolated to “business”.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon says:

      Screwing people over completely unintentionally is loads more fun anyway.
      “How could you NOT notice I sent in my plan on the first of the Quarter? April First!”Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Damon says:


      After reading your, @saul-degraw ‘s, and @j-r ‘s interpretation of #4, I was going to partially retract the “taking resources part” and the “screwing someone over” part, on the ground that I was unclear, etc. But I think I’ll stick to my guns

      For the record, I don’t think screwing people over necessarily requires malice. If I’m in a job where I’m more or less supposed to refuse to refund overdraft fees, but yet am still empowered to do so, I’m in some senses screwing over the person who made an addition error and now has about $100 in fees if I refuse. True, the customer is at fault, but true, the punishment is sometimes worse than the error.

      What I should have been clearer about in #4 is that I sincerely believe that no job is ever truly just, that we all are doing something bad or wrong even if we do mostly right. I’ve never had a job that I can safely say never involved harming someone in some way, and I’ve had the pretty standard run of jobs (i.e., I’ve never had what some consider to be harmful job or jobs that exploit people, like, for example, a payday loan teller, but I don’t think I’m completely off the hook).

      Maybe it’s some ineradicable puritanism (pace Saul) in me, but I don’t believe that on this earth there exists any sheerly good thing. All good has a tinge of bad in it, and the good we do comes with some evil, or so I believe.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        Well, on a total philosophical level, I’ve never believed in pure good or pure evil, although humanity tends to lean towards the dark side 🙂

        I’d disagree with your example, but I understand your point. For my part, if they terms were clearly disclosed, I wouldn’t have any problem or take any guilt. It’s your own damn fault. And yes, I’m been on the other side of that equation, although not specifically the example.Report

      • @damon

        I do find it hard to come up with examples that actually prove my point to someone who doesn’t already agree. I guess I’m just trying to offer an example not really for proof, but to demonstrate a certain sensibility. (I realize that way of putting it is probably even more confused than my “example”!)Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:


        Nah, we’re good. I understand your point.Report

      • Avatar gingergene in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        The first job I had after graduating college was in raw material manufacturing. One thing I struggled with was the feeling that there was a lot of energy spent on something that wasn’t that important. We argued and fought (I saw people very nearly come to blows) and in the end, all we made was coils of steel.

        The next job I had was making automotive safety equipment, and I thought, “finally, a purpose! I’ll put my engineering to use saving people’s lives!” I found out that it was actually worse, because we had the same dang arguments, only now the stakes were much higher.

        That was my lesson in business, where everything has to be quantified- and so you end up putting a price on a human life, and factoring that into your calculations. So maybe you spend the money changing the design if 20 people in a million will die, but maybe you don’t if it’s only 2 people.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:


        That was my lesson in business, where everything has to be quantified- and so you end up putting a price on a human life, and factoring that into your calculations.

        This lesson was not imparted to you by your professors at Engineering School?

        Also, the same lesson applies in government as well, they just get to enjoy a higher degree of immunity from lawsuits when people die.Report

      • Avatar gingergene in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist To clarify, that was my lesson in how some people make that calculation in real life, as opposed to what I was taught (FTR, it was one assignment in the one 10-week course we took. Which I thought was exceptionally short, but is evidently pretty typical.)

        It was clear to me that no one sat down and really did the math. Also, it was in direct conflict with what we said our failure rate was. It turns out I was right to be skeptical of their methods, as they are dealing with some very serious fallout from them. I’m just glad not to be around, and that my current company takes a much more rigorous approach.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:


        Ah, OK, I get that.

        And yeah, we’ve all been at that company that has some manager/executive who really likes to test that engineering safety edge. I get out of such places as fast as I can. I like to be able to live with myself.Report

  6. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I’m sure I’ll have more to add later, but am still in the “hmmmmm….” mode of reading this and thinking about it. As for #8 though, I remember a time back before the Internet was a thing where I knew a number of people who ran fairly successful independent record labels. Some were less so, but I remember the advice I was given by one owner was that the labels that failed tended to be ones started because someone inherited a great sum of money and was able to invest a lot right off and all at once. They were usually broke in a year.Report

    • @rufus-f

      My rule #8 is probably the one I’m least proud of. I believe it, but yes, your example–and possibly other examples someone might raise–can make it go the other way.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Rufus F. says:

      Sort of like the USFL, which at first was a low-budget springtime league not trying to compete directly with the NFL. Then deep-pocketed dufuses like Donald Trump bought teams, paid through the nose to sign big stars, and convinced the other owners that the smart play was to move to the fall and force the NFL to demand a merger. That worked about as well as you’d have expected.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


    Rule #7: Having a job to fall back on can be limiting because it can discourage people from taking the risks necessary to lead fulfilling lives.

    I have some serious problems with this one. I’m a big believer that your day job funds your dreams. For example, if I work my 9-5 and have the money to pay my mortgage then I have the margin in my life to spend time on my dream of becoming a professional writer for a couple of hours every evening. If I quit that day job so I can ‘take risks’ then during the time when I could be perfecting my craft I am going to be hustling for any work that pays.

    And I certainly don’t think my life is unfulfilling because I have a day job. My life is a work in progress and it’s going to be until my last breath. ‘Fulfillment’ is a mental state, like being bored. It’s a choice. I find my current life, leisure time and the resources to pursue my passions, far more fulfilling than my 20s when I was working two jobs, going to school and trying to maintain something resembling a social life.Report

    • @mike-dwyer

      My inclination is to agree with you. I’m the type of guy who is probably pretty much disposed to wanting a day job so he can do what he wishes, etc. In may case, that means reading and blogging. It’s a dream of sorts. I used to do open-mic poetry, another dream that I pursued while having a druge-laden (but still good) day job.

      Still, I think Saul has a point. It sounds incredibly condescending coming from someone who doesn’t have to fall back on a job, and that’s why I reacted as punchily as I did the first time he uttered it. But the point, as a point, probably has validity, which is why I said that he was right.Report

  8. I know this is an old piece, Gabriel, but I stumbled onto it and really liked it.Report