If Your Boss Could Do Your Job, You’re More Likely to Be Happy at Work

If Your Boss Could Do Your Job, You’re More Likely to Be Happy at Work

Studies of leaders often focus on their style or charisma, but we wanted to look at how workers are affected by their boss’s technical competence. That is, is the boss is a real expert in the core business of the organization? How much expertise does he or she have? Boss competence is, admittedly, a multifaceted concept. Hence we measured it in three different ways:

  • Whether the supervisor could, if necessary, do the employee’s job.
  • Whether the supervisor worked his or her way up inside the company.
  • The supervisor’s level of technical competence as assessed by a worker.

Using these three measures of supervisor competence, we found that employees are far happier when they are led by people with deep expertise in the core activity of the business. This suggests that received wisdom about what makes a good boss may need some rethinking. It’s not uncommon to hear people assert that it’s a bad idea to promote an engineer to lead other engineers, or an editor to lead other editors. A good manager doesn’t need technical expertise, this argument goes, but rather, a mix of qualities like charisma, organizational skills, and emotional intelligence. Those qualities do matter, but what our research suggests is that the oft-overlooked quality of having technical expertise also matters enormously.

I have mostly worked with technical leaders. I’ve found that the more aligned my job is with their experience and the core business, the happier I am.

The lesson seems to be to actively grow leaders in your core business area. And, if you want to change your core business area, to devote time towards growing leaders in that new area.

Mythical Man Month draws an interesting lesson from this idea:

I have earlier argued that the sheer number of minds to be coordinated affects the cost of the effort, for a major part of the cost is communication and correcting the ill effects of miscommunication (system debugging). This, too, suggests that one wants the system to be built by as few minds as possible.

The conclusion is simple: if a 200-man project has 25 managers who are the most competent and experienced programmers, fire the 175 troops and put the managers back to programming.

Brooks goes on to conclude that is not realistic, and the real solution is to break up systems to reduce communication overhead. But, when they read “put the managers back to programming,” I know some pretty great leaders who get excited at the prospect.


I’m trying on a new birthday tradition. Walk in nature, alone, for a couple hours. This is my first year in but so far I recommend it. Even if your birthday is in January.

Panoramas and [vr]

Automattic, the company I work for, has released Jetpack 4.5. It includes the [vr] shortcode that my team mates worked on. The extent of my effort was modeling for some 360º shots so here is my contribution: panoramas!

First we have my favorite panorama. It’s a little lower res – shot with Dermandar on an iPhone 4 – but it’s the subject matter I love. The Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum:

Jenny and I stopped at a rest stop on our drive home from North Carolina and found this magnificent display purely by chance.

Next is an abandoned-ish building on the Belle Isle disc golf course:

The Belle Isle Conservancy. Also on Belle Isle but less abandoned and less tolerant of flying discs:

Finally, a panoselfie with my brother on Sugarloaf Mountain in Marquette:

Ultimately this post has been an excuse to brag to everyone. Yes, I’ve visited the Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum. Keep sharp, be sharp, act sharp, stay sharp, look sharp.

Detroit Tourism Roundup

2017 seems to be the year to visit Detroit.

New York Times puts Detroit as #9 on its list of places to visit. The QLine streetcar seems to have been part of that decision, so maybe there’s hope yet for a regional transit authority. Maybe…

National Geographic made Detroit their North American pick for Unexpected Cities for the Food Lover. They pick up on a few of the standard restaurants (I’m post-post-Slows hype) but miss out on a gaggle of favorites. I don’t miss the commute downtown but I do miss the options at lunch time.

There’s so much good food downtown, I wish I had more opportunities to explore them. My personal list of Detroit dining this weekend consists of Buddy’s Pizza (no, Little Caesar’s doesn’t count as Detroit-style), Tubby’s Submarines and maybe Gold Cash Gold. I should figure out a way to sneak a coney dog in there.

One final word of warning. If you do come to visit Detroit, don’t come here during the winter…

Emergency Fun

…d. Sorry, that title is supposed to be “Emergency Fund”. Now that I reread that headline, it is a little misleading.

In addition to the advice in my last post, here’s something think about: 63% of Americans Can’t Afford $500 Car Repair or $1,000 Emergency Room Visit.

I used to think that paying off debt was more important than establishing savings. After seeing people using emergency funds to smooth out rough spots in life, I’m convinced that having a small emergency fund is a top priority.

One of the easiest ways to get savings started is to automate it. Set a recurring transfer at your bank to put 10% of every paycheck into savings. 10% is usually small enough to stomach, but you’ll have deposited 3 months of paychecks in 2 1/2 years. After that, you just need to make sure it stays topped off.

An emergency fund is a kind of self-care. You can rest a bit easier and you can have money set aside for when disaster strikes. It’s a lot easier to live life in the moment when you have that little bit of piece of mind.

If you still need some emergency fun, check out the best media corrections of 2016.

Photo Credit: (CC-BY) Kevin Dooley

What To Do With Money by /r/PersonalFinance

I love this guide on what to do with money from /r/PersonalFinance. Money is complicated so it’s nice that they lay out each step in order. Top priority is to have an emergency fund, then getting 401k match, and so on.

They have flowcharts too for the more visually inclined too. Here’s the simple version: (there’s a detailed one in the linked page)


Entrepeneurs on Obamacare

If you aren’t aware of how the Affordable Care Act makes small business and startups possible, you might want to read these testimonials from Y Combinator startups. The ACA makes entrepeneurship easier. It is a job creator.

Our tax dollars should go to healthcare not just because it is the compassionate thing to do, but also because it is cheaper and more efficient than medical bankruptcies (which we wind up paying more for).

Even if you don’t have a marketplace insurance plan, the ACA has provided some important benefits.

If you oppose the repeal of the ACA, please call your representative and make your voice heard.

If you are indifferent, ask your friends and family whether any of them are at risk of dying or bankruptcy if the ACA is repealed. You may be surprised to learn how important it is to those with pre-existing conditions. I can name a handful off the top of my head that are at risk of never having health insurance again due to pre-existing conditions.

The ACA isn’t perfect (or even that great, compared to most first world countries), but it is better than the Make America Sick Again plan of repeal. Let’s improve it instead of turning back the clock. After all, isn’t iterating & improving what great entrepeneurs do?

My Home Automation Rules

In my last post about smart homes, I promised to outline what I have automated. A lot of home automation talk is about the gizmos and I don’t think enough is about the actual automation. These are actual automations; things a computer does to my house for me.

Our front porch light turns on at sunset. It turns off when we go to bed – I don’t want to contribute too much to light pollution by leaving it on all night. We manually hit a “Good Night” widget in iOS’s Notification Center to trigger this.

We also have interior lights come on at sunset if no one is home, as determined by the location of our phones, so that the dogs don’t get stuck alone in the dark. They don’t seem to mind the darkness but I feel bad enough to have created a rule to automate this.

We do not turn on the lights automatically when we are home. Sometimes it’s dark before sunset, sometimes it’s light after.  It’s less weird to manually turn on the lights. I might try to use some luminescence sensors to do this in the future.

The thermostat goes into energy saving mode when we are away from the house. High temperature in the summer, low in the winter. It uses less energy to return the house to normal temperature than it does to maintain normal temperature when no one is home. If you are going to do this, be sure to create a “Guest” mode for when you have a babysitter / houseguest.

The thermostat also changes to cooler temperatures when we go to sleep. It’s like having a programmable thermostat that is based around us instead of a clock.

I have an app that turns the furnace fan on for 10 minutes every hour, to even out the temperatures in the house. Our bedroom is closed off during the day so it’s extra warm in the summer and extra cool in the winter. It’s nice to come to bed and have the bedroom a normal temperature.

Our door from our house to our garage (as opposed to garage door) unlocks when we arrive home. This is awesome because we have an RFID key on our Honda, which means you can get in the house without ever having to take your keys out of your purse or pocket.

If the garage door is open when we go to bed, we get a push notification. It’s a handy reminder for when we accidentally leave it open.

If the smoke alarm goes off, all the smart lights in the house come on.

I’ve been purposefully vague about how I set all this up. Partly its because its in SmartThings and my goal is to move to Home Assistant. Partly its because you can do this stuff with most smart home systems.

I’m happy to answer questions in the comments if anyone wants to know how I did something. I’d also love to hear other automation rules that you love.