The content of this blog is my personal opinion only. Although I am an employee - currently of Nvidia, in the past of other companies such as Iagination Technologies, MIPS, Intellectual Ventures, Intel, AMD, Motorola, and Gould - I reveal this only so that the reader may account for any possible bias I may have towards my employer's products. The statements I make here in no way represent my employer's position, nor am I authorized to speak on behalf of my employer. In fact, this posting may not even represent my personal opinion, since occasionally I play devil's advocate.

See http://docs.google.com/View?id=dcxddbtr_23cg5thdfj for photo credits.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Poor Manager of Engineers...

I once asked manager 1 at company 1 about manager 2 at company 2, who had worked for manager 1 at company 3.  Manager 1 said "manager 2 is a good engineer, but a poor manager of engineers".

I didn't think much more on this topic until recently, when I wondered "Wait, manager 2 is managing a team of engineers at a VLSI engineering driven company.  How can it be that he is a poor manager of engineers?"

And then I realized: at companies like Intel, most VLSI engineers' first experience of management and team leadership is (or at least was, until recently) NOT managing other engineers.  It is managing technicians, specifically a team of layout, physical design, specialists.  Amazing as it sounds, 20 years after silicon compilers, Intel still largely accomplished chip layout by hand.

I posit that managing a team of mask designers is different from managing a team of design engineers.  In the former the tasks are supposedly known: convert schematics into layout. In the latter, there is more backing up and retrying, more experimentation.  More and more so as the level of abstraction rises, through microarchitecture and architecture.