Giving good report, or, I keep doing work, why do they keep yelling at me?

Lots of techies give really lousy progress reports, and are basically hell on their managers for no good reason. This is particularly bad for sysadmin types, systems programmers, and other people who love math too much. I spent several hours with a coworker last week discussing 'how not to be an employee of doom,' and these are my notes from that conversation.

First an aside - these notes offer advice both for techies in general, who often have a pretty sucky model for the pressures on, and motivations of, their management, and advice for systems and math people in particular. Math people have two classes of problems: trivial problems, which merely need typing at, or the identification of the existing solution; and unsolved problems, which require thinking, hypothesis, and potentially experimentation. This leads them to often front-load their work, going through the list of their tasks and performing the 'hard' tasks first because the others are 'just work.' Systems people have a strong tendency to be moderately ADD as well, because its a *really* useful trait in a high-interrupt environment where you need to context-switch pretty completely. Unfortunately, it leads to some work habits which make their behavior (our behavior) *really* unpredictable. Management can tell how often they're getting complained to about things we haven't gotten done, and how often you're reporting finishing tasks which they cared a lot about personally, and that's about it. This makes writing job req justifications basically impossible. And that sucks, because it means you get fewer raises and spend all of your time being overworked. It also means that development managers basically can't deal with you in any constructive way, because your behavior is inexplicable and unpredictable. Finally, this document is designed for people who have a soft handle on how much time they spend on tasks, because they think about tasks from the perspective of difficulty rather than from the perspective of expected time-to-accomplish.

So, some rules for being easier to manage:

Yours in service, RichardT