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Herding Cats: A Primer for Programmers Who Lead Programmers 1st Edition

12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1590590171
ISBN-10: 1590590171
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Editorial Reviews Review

Geared to the software developer newly promoted to manage other developers, Herding Cats: A Primer for Programmers Who Lead Programmers distills the author's several decades of project management experience into a worthwhile tour of some best practices for those making the transition. Written in a lively style that doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the hard realities of leading technical teams, this book offers plenty of practical advice and will be worth it for any IT manager who wants a veteran's perspective on the battle to create great software on-budget and on-time.

While many titles on software engineering and management lean toward the theoretical, this book’s candid and practical focus help distinguish it from the crowd. It also helps that the author is a good writer and mixes quotes from a variety of sources (including Jack Welch and Andy Grove). This is one of the few titles to concentrate on the all-too-common problem of good programmers promoted to project leads, where management and people skills, rather than raw programming chops, will often determine success.

Early sections outline the basic personality types that the author has encountered in software. Ranging from the gifted "architects" and "constructionists" to "magicians" and "slobs" and "salad chefs," this taxonomy is as good as any, and any reader will recognize many types encountered in any career in IT. Basic tips include mixing team personality types effectively and getting started with managing programmers, from philosophical ideas about what constitutes leadership to practical suggestions for hiring and firing, running meetings, and working as manager to improve your company's bottom line.

Noteworthy sections here on design philosophy outline the importance of thinking about architecture and reuse as you build software. Techniques like adhering to programming standards throughout your shop and designing objects with good cohesion and loose coupling are advocated here. A section on anti-patterns in management outlines the management styles that lead to trouble. (Tips for overcoming micromanagement, do-it-all/know-it-all managing, and improving communication will help you defeat these tendencies, both in yourself and others.)

Later sections survey the basics of software engineering and software process, including the Microsoft Solution Frameworks and Extreme Programming (XP) as ideas to check out. Final sections look at the author's own software for managing projects (the executable and code are downloadable). An annotated bibliography of books can provide a start for any new manager's shelf. In all, this title can be a source of comfort and advice for those taking on new leadership positions on technical teams with its wide-ranging perspective on what it takes to lead other programmers successfully. --Richard Dragan

Topics covered: Management techniques for programmers promoted to leadership positions, assessing your level of technical "cool," positive and negative programmer personalities (including architects, constructionists, speed demons, magicians, minimalists, analogists), trouble types (including slobs, amateurs, salad chefs), tips for new managers (including adapting to changes), dealing with project feature creep, dealing with ineffective programmers, tips for hiring and firing, promotions, organizing for success (using paper and e-mail effectively), the author's custom Administrative Director program (for organizing project tasks), corporate goals, product and project management, managing change throughout the project lifecycle, tips for running staff, design, and other meetings, effective technical leadership (designing with architecture and reuse in mind), design hints (programming standards, strong object cohesion and low coupling between objects), reviewing code, anti-patterns in management (including micromanagement, unfocused management, and misapplied genius), hints for overcoming bad management styles, leadership principles (fostering effective communication, delegating, and participating), techniques for mentoring and rewarding employees, fostering employee loyalty, leadership for different generations, case studies of several tech leaders (Andy Grove and Bill Gates), how to work with your boss (communicating deadlines and limits, overcoming inertia), techniques for managing a distributed workforce, multicultural factors in management, intro to software engineering and process (overview of the Microsoft Solutions Framework, Extreme Programming--XP--and Agile Development), craftsmanship in software, dealing with technology change and economic downturn, appendices for the author's Administrative Director software (including a code review), case studies of effective and ineffective management techniques from the field.


From the reviews:

"The book deals with the difficulties of making a number of independently minded programmers work together as a team - a task that has been likened to herding cats. … This is a very readable textbook and touches on many aspects of management. Once you’ve read it you should feel better equipped to cope with all those cats … . If you happen to hate cats, keep an open mind and just accept the phrase as the amusing analogy it is intended to be." (LINUX Magazine, Issue 21, 2002)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Apress; 1 edition (March 3, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590590171
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590590171
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #893,933 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By J. Fristrom on April 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
So I got this book: Herding Cats: A Primer For Programmers Who Lead Programmers, by J. Hank Rainwater. When the programmers I manage came into my office they'd see it and they'd say, "We're cats?!" "Better than being sheep," I answered.
Although I was put off by the author's photos in the introduction, and he quotes Steven Covey, it actually turned out to be quite good: it crystallized my thoughts in some areas and gave me brand new thoughts in others. And when you mostly agree with someone, maybe you should give those items you don't agree with, or rarely think about, another look.
The points I agreed with: avoid unnecessary meetings; leads can't be programmers anymore, but leads have to still code; hiring people you can't communicate with is no good, even if they're superstars; keep track of the tasks people are working on (duh); software development is more like gardening than construction (watching Greenfingers the other night I discovered that gardeners go through a design phase too); micromanagement is bad; geniuses shouldn't be made managers; borrow from software methodologies, don't accept one as a whole package.
And the points I realized where I had room for improvement: delegate, inspect, organize, and manage meetings. Since I read the book, about a year ago, I've tried to follow some of his advice in these areas. Some of it has worked, some hasn't, but I don't regret experimenting with any of it.
If you're like me, and you read almost every software management book you can get your hands on, this should be in your collection too.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Martin S. Stoller on March 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
Actually, I bought this book as a gift for my boss, but as I'm often called upon to mentor small groups myself (being the dinosaur of our department), I decided to read Rainwater's work over the weekend (being careful not to ear-mark it). As the book's introduction says, the first three chapters themselves are worth the money. Of course, this book isn't really for those lucky enough to have studied management (though even those would profit from the programmer "type" descriptions). But for all the other programmers destined to lead programmers, this is exactly what we need; the chapter about managing oneself is especially insightful. All common sense stuff, really, but sometimes a good spec (and this book can be seen as such) is needed even for things we already know, but don't practice. Rainwater's English is a joy to read, though I guess some of the in-jokes (given only as footnotes, so as not to disturb the flow of the otherwise serious text) are only understandable the "old" school programmers (yes, such as myself...).
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Will on January 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
I really wanted to like this book. The first half of the book is well-written, and brings up good points. But the second half of the book is very light on substance and uses clichés everywhere one can see. I was also embarassed to read about the cross-national case study, as it hinted at xenophobia.
The one rather good aspect of the book is its bibliography, since it provides narratives along with the books.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 13, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Don't confuse this book with the classic, "Managing people is like herding cats" by Warren Bennis.

This book is well-intentioned, but I feel sincere pity for anyone who works at a company where these are the right rules. Here are some random bits of 'wisdom' from the book:

= The deadline is everything; people should be fired for missing deadlines
= If the VP of sales asks for something stupid, your job is to deliver it as quickly as possible
= Software developers can be stereotyped to make it easier to manage them - stereotypes like "slob", "magician", etc.

As other reviewers have noted, there's a constant and useless intrusion of quotes from Star Wars, poetry, and other sources, intended to support the simplistic conclusions of the author. Do not read this book; choose "Peopleware", as others have suggested, or the Bennis book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 30, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are a few bright spots, but for the most part this book is just plain common sense. The guy does seem to know what he is talking about, but doesn't do a great job conveying that to the reader. The writing style was just plain annoying and the book constantly went off on tangents (ex: "The philosophy of da Vinci", "Why you should read classical literature", "Anti-patterns").
At one point after reading an entire paragraph explaining why he used the word "forecaster" rather than "prognosticator", I put this book on the shelf in disgust. The author obviously has a thesaurus and a copy of Barons and uses them liberally. The theme of the book seems to be "look how smart I am". What I equally annoying is that this book is written like an informal e-mail at times, for example he inserts "just kidding" and personal annecdotes completely unrelated to the topic throughout the text. Overall there was a heck of a lot of filler in this book.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Adi Oltean on October 31, 2004
Format: Paperback
The good part is that I got lots of good stuff from this book. I started viewing leadership differently and some paragraphs were quite a revelation.

The bad part is that the book is somewhat hard to assimilate. Some issues:

1) From a high-level the book is well structured. But when you dive into the small and little details, the information looks a little disorganised. The contents of some chapters left me with the impression that they are not finished.

2) The author is very good in presenting his own past experience but the book doesn't go too far beyond that. On one side, this strategy is right - you can't go wrong if you speak from experience! On the other side, I see his approach somewhat limiting - a book about management and leadership should go beyond the experience of a certain individual...

3) The style assumes probably too much the "geeky factor".

4) The author lacks completeness in many of the topics. For example, I think a lot more can be said about process management.

Anyway, probably there is a "perfect treaty on management" somewhere. This book is the opposite of that other "perfect" book. You find here fun-to-read sets of advices and stories on management, focused more on the author's personal experience.
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