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+ Linux kernel management style
+This is a short document describing the preferred (or made up, depending
+on who you ask) management style for the linux kernel. It's meant to
+mirror the CodingStyle document to some degree, and mainly written to
+avoid answering (*) the same (or similar) questions over and over again.
+Management style is very personal and much harder to quantify than
+simple coding style rules, so this document may or may not have anything
+to do with reality. It started as a lark, but that doesn't mean that it
+might not actually be true. You'll have to decide for yourself.
+Btw, when talking about "kernel manager", it's all about the technical
+lead persons, not the people who do traditional management inside
+companies. If you sign purchase orders or you have any clue about the
+budget of your group, you're almost certainly not a kernel manager.
+These suggestions may or may not apply to you.
+First off, I'd suggest buying "Seven Habits of Highly Successful
+People", and NOT read it. Burn it, it's a great symbolic gesture.
+(*) This document does so not so much by answering the question, but by
+making it painfully obvious to the questioner that we don't have a clue
+to what the answer is.
+Anyway, here goes:
+ Chapter 1: Decisions
+Everybody thinks managers make decisions, and that decision-making is
+important. The bigger and more painful the decision, the bigger the
+manager must be to make it. That's very deep and obvious, but it's not
+The name of the game is to _avoid_ having to make a decision. In
+particular, if somebody tells you "choose (a) or (b), we really need you
+to decide on this", you're in trouble as a manager. The people you
+manage had better know the details better than you, so if they come to
+you for a technical decision, you're screwed. You're clearly not
+competent to make that decision for them.
+(Corollary:if the people you manage don't know the details better than
+you, you're also screwed, although for a totally different reason.
+Namely that you are in the wrong job, and that _they_ should be managing
+your brilliance instead).
+So the name of the game is to _avoid_ decisions, at least the big and
+painful ones. Making small and non-consequential decisions is fine, and
+makes you look like you know what you're doing, so what a kernel manager
+needs to do is to turn the big and painful ones into small things where
+nobody really cares.
+It helps to realize that the key difference between a big decision and a
+small one is whether you can fix your decision afterwards. Any decision
+can be made small by just always making sure that if you were wrong (and
+you _will_ be wrong), you can always undo the damage later by
+backtracking. Suddenly, you get to be doubly managerial for making
+_two_ inconsequential decisions - the wrong one _and_ the right one.
+And people will even see that as true leadership (*cough* bullshit
+Thus the key to avoiding big decisions becomes to just avoiding to do
+things that can't be undone. Don't get ushered into a corner from which
+you cannot escape. A cornered rat may be dangerous - a cornered manager
+is just pitiful.
+It turns out that since nobody would be stupid enough to ever really let
+a kernel manager have huge fiscal responsibility _anyway_, it's usually
+fairly easy to backtrack. Since you're not going to be able to waste
+huge amounts of money that you might not be able to repay, the only
+thing you can backtrack on is a technical decision, and there
+back-tracking is very easy: just tell everybody that you were an
+incompetent nincompoop, say you're sorry, and undo all the worthless
+work you had people work on for the last year. Suddenly the decision
+you made a year ago wasn't a big decision after all, since it could be
+It turns out that some people have trouble with this approach, for two
+ - admitting you were an idiot is harder than it looks. We all like to
+ maintain appearances, and coming out in public to say that you were
+ wrong is sometimes very hard indeed.
+ - having somebody tell you that what you worked on for the last year
+ wasn't worthwhile after all can be hard on the poor lowly engineers
+ too, and while the actual _work_ was easy enough to undo by just
+ deleting it, you may have irrevocably lost the trust of that
+ engineer. And remember: "irrevocable" was what we tried to avoid in
+ the first place, and your decision ended up being a big one after
+Happily, both of these reasons can be mitigated effectively by just
+admitting up-front that you don't have a friggin' clue, and telling
+people ahead of the fact that your decision is purely preliminary, and
+might be the wrong thing. You should always reserve the right to change
+your mind, and make people very _aware_ of that. And it's much easier
+to admit that you are stupid when you haven't _yet_ done the really
+Then, when it really does turn out to be stupid, people just roll their
+eyes and say "Oops, he did it again".
+This preemptive admission of incompetence might also make the people who
+actually do the work also think twice about whether it's worth doing or
+not. After all, if _they_ aren't certain whether it's a good idea, you
+sure as hell shouldn't encourage them by promising them that what they
+work on will be included. Make them at least think twice before they
+embark on a big endeavor.
+Remember: they'd better know more about the details than you do, and
+they usually already think they have the answer to everything. The best
+thing you can do as a manager is not to instill confidence, but rather a
+healthy dose of critical thinking on what they do.
+Btw, another way to avoid a decision is to plaintively just whine "can't
+we just do both?" and look pitiful. Trust me, it works. If it's not
+clear which approach is better, they'll eventually figure it out. The
+answer may end up being that both teams get so frustrated by the
+situation that they just give up.
+That may sound like a failure, but it's usually a sign that there was
+something wrong with both projects, and the reason the people involved
+couldn't decide was that they were both wrong. You end up coming up
+smelling like roses, and you avoided yet another decision that you could
+have screwed up on.
+ Chapter 2: People
+Most people are idiots, and being a manager means you'll have to deal
+with it, and perhaps more importantly, that _they_ have to deal with
+It turns out that while it's easy to undo technical mistakes, it's not
+as easy to undo personality disorders. You just have to live with
+theirs - and yours.
+However, in order to prepare yourself as a kernel manager, it's best to
+remember not to burn any bridges, bomb any innocent villagers, or
+alienate too many kernel developers. It turns out that alienating people
+is fairly easy, and un-alienating them is hard. Thus "alienating"
+immediately falls under the heading of "not reversible", and becomes a
+no-no according to Chapter 1.
+There's just a few simple rules here:
+ (1) don't call people d*ckheads (at least not in public)
+ (2) learn how to apologize when you forgot rule (1)
+The problem with #1 is that it's very easy to do, since you can say
+"you're a d*ckhead" in millions of different ways (*), sometimes without
+even realizing it, and almost always with a white-hot conviction that
+you are right.
+And the more convinced you are that you are right (and let's face it,
+you can call just about _anybody_ a d*ckhead, and you often _will_ be
+right), the harder it ends up being to apologize afterwards.
+To solve this problem, you really only have two options:
+ - get really good at apologies
+ - spread the "love" out so evenly that nobody really ends up feeling
+ like they get unfairly targeted. Make it inventive enough, and they
+ might even be amused.
+The option of being unfailingly polite really doesn't exist. Nobody will
+trust somebody who is so clearly hiding his true character.
+(*) Paul Simon sang "Fifty Ways to Lose Your Lover", because quite
+frankly, "A Million Ways to Tell a Developer He Is a D*ckhead" doesn't
+scan nearly as well. But I'm sure he thought about it.
+ Chapter 3: People II - the Good Kind
+While it turns out that most people are idiots, the corollary to that is
+sadly that you are one too, and that while we can all bask in the secure
+knowledge that we're better than the average person (let's face it,
+nobody ever believes that they're average or below-average), we should
+also admit that we're not the sharpest knife around, and there will be
+other people that are less of an idiot that you are.
+Some people react badly to smart people. Others take advantage of them.
+Make sure that you, as a kernel maintainer, are in the second group.
+Suck up to them, because they are the people who will make your job
+easier. In particular, they'll be able to make your decisions for you,
+which is what the game is all about.
+So when you find somebody smarter than you are, just coast along. Your
+management responsibilities largely become ones of saying "Sounds like a
+good idea - go wild", or "That sounds good, but what about xxx?". The
+second version in particular is a great way to either learn something
+new about "xxx" or seem _extra_ managerial by pointing out something the
+smarter person hadn't thought about. In either case, you win.
+One thing to look out for is to realize that greatness in one area does
+not necessarily translate to other areas. So you might prod people in
+specific directions, but let's face it, they might be good at what they
+do, and suck at everything else. The good news is that people tend to
+naturally gravitate back to what they are good at, so it's not like you
+are doing something irreversible when you _do_ prod them in some
+direction, just don't push too hard.
+ Chapter 4: Placing blame
+Things will go wrong, and people want somebody to blame. Tag, you're it.
+It's not actually that hard to accept the blame, especially if people
+kind of realize that it wasn't _all_ your fault. Which brings us to the
+best way of taking the blame: do it for another guy. You'll feel good
+for taking the fall, he'll feel good about not getting blamed, and the
+guy who lost his whole 36GB porn-collection because of your incompetence
+will grudgingly admit that you at least didn't try to weasel out of it.
+Then make the developer who really screwed up (if you can find him) know
+_in_private_ that he screwed up. Not just so he can avoid it in the
+future, but so that he knows he owes you one. And, perhaps even more
+importantly, he's also likely the person who can fix it. Because, let's
+face it, it sure ain't you.
+Taking the blame is also why you get to be manager in the first place.
+It's part of what makes people trust you, and allow you the potential
+glory, because you're the one who gets to say "I screwed up". And if
+you've followed the previous rules, you'll be pretty good at saying that
+ Chapter 5: Things to avoid
+There's one thing people hate even more than being called "d*ckhead",
+and that is being called a "d*ckhead" in a sanctimonious voice. The
+first you can apologize for, the second one you won't really get the
+chance. They likely will no longer be listening even if you otherwise
+do a good job.
+We all think we're better than anybody else, which means that when
+somebody else puts on airs, it _really_ rubs us the wrong way. You may
+be morally and intellectually superior to everybody around you, but
+don't try to make it too obvious unless you really _intend_ to irritate
+Similarly, don't be too polite or subtle about things. Politeness easily
+ends up going overboard and hiding the problem, and as they say, "On the
+internet, nobody can hear you being subtle". Use a big blunt object to
+hammer the point in, because you can't really depend on people getting
+your point otherwise.
+Some humor can help pad both the bluntness and the moralizing. Going
+overboard to the point of being ridiculous can drive a point home
+without making it painful to the recipient, who just thinks you're being
+silly. It can thus help get through the personal mental block we all
+have about criticism.
+(*) Hint: internet newsgroups that are not directly related to your work
+are great ways to take out your frustrations at other people. Write
+insulting posts with a sneer just to get into a good flame every once in
+a while, and you'll feel cleansed. Just don't crap too close to home.
+ Chapter 6: Why me?
+Since your main responsibility seems to be to take the blame for other
+peoples mistakes, and make it painfully obvious to everybody else that
+you're incompetent, the obvious question becomes one of why do it in the
+First off, while you may or may not get screaming teenage girls (or
+boys, let's not be judgmental or sexist here) knocking on your dressing
+room door, you _will_ get an immense feeling of personal accomplishment
+for being "in charge". Never mind the fact that you're really leading
+by trying to keep up with everybody else and running after them as fast
+as you can. Everybody will still think you're the person in charge.
+It's a great job if you can hack it.