& more

Episode 60

Tales From The Database | Bad Bosses

Compiler hero art

Episode 47

Legacies | Hardy Hardware


legacies hero art

Show Notes

Everyone wants to work for a good boss. That’s not always possible. Sometimes, a bad boss is easy to spot. Sometimes, a boss who’s been great will say something devastating. They’ll make you want to move on. 

We hear stories about managers who stalled their employees’ careers—and how those workers found a way to thrive in spite of those bad bosses.


00:01 — Ryan Roberts
It's a scary feeling sometimes, especially if you're comfortable where you're at, you know the people, what the work is, and all of a sudden you hit a wall and it's just like, all right, now I got to put myself back out there.

00:12 — Johan Philippine
Hitting a wall could mean a great many things. In this context, our friend Ryan's wall was the person who was supposed to be helping him grow and learn. It was his manager. But instead of providing him with opportunities, he was being told to stay in his box. That was a wake-up call for Ryan.

00:30 — Ryan Roberts
At the end of the day, and this is a statement that I really hold true to, the only person who's really going to look out for your career is you.

00:38 — Johan Philippine
Even a good boss can only do so much for your career. Your future is in your own hands.

00:45 — Johan Philippine
Today, we're going to hear about a couple of ways poor management can really set you back and how you can recover and overcome the barriers in your way.

00:58 — Angela Andrews
This is Compiler, an original podcast from Red Hat. I'm Angela Andrews.

01:04 — Johan Philippine
And I'm Johan Philippine.

01:06 — Angela Andrews
We go beyond the buzzwords and jargon and simplify tech topics.

01:10 — Johan Philippine
We're sharing stories from industry veterans about how they found their footing in the tech industry.

01:16 — Angela Andrews
Today we're hearing about how to deal with bad managers.

01:24 — Johan Philippine
Today we're talking about bad managers. Bad managers come to you in a whole slew of different ways. Angela, did you ever have a manager who meant well but ended up doing more harm than good?

01:38 — Angela Andrews
Yes, and I think that is very easy to do, because most folks are very well-meaning, but if you're not used to managing or have the acumen to manage, you can wind up doing more harm than good. Only because that's not your jam. That's not what you're good at. You were probably the technical lead and you're super smart and you've been elevated into management, and now you're dealing with humans. They mean well, but sometimes, yeah, in my experience, they can do more harm than good.

02:16 — Johan Philippine
Sometimes you end up with a Michael Scott kind of experience where they think they're a good manager, they think they're doing well and it's not helping anyone out.

02:25 — Angela Andrews

02:26 — Johan Philippine
All right.

02:28 — Johan Philippine
For our first story, we're bringing back Jennifer Scalf from an earlier episode. She's a people manager of technical account managers here at Red Hat, and if you missed that episode, she told us about a time when she was asked to work on a project that wasn't supposed to succeed. Not knowing it was supposed to be impossible, she got it to work.

02:48 — Johan Philippine
Today's story takes place a little bit later in her career, where a boss with allegedly good intentions ended up making a great situation kind of messed up. For a little bit of context, Jennifer started using Red Hat Linux in the 90's, early days. She was a computer science student messing around with servers and most people were using Windows or some version of Mac.

03:11 — Jennifer Scalf
If you wanted to really learn the guts from the hardware all the way up to the operating system and beyond, Linux was the best thing at the time. And so all the kids at the time in college, 18, 19, 20 year olds, that's what we were playing with at universities and we were installing it on anything we could find to install it on. I felt like it would really round out my computer science experience as an undergrad.

03:33 — Johan Philippine
That's a good way to get started, just kind of messing around with Linux and learning how everything comes together?

03:39 — Angela Andrews
Yeah, I recommend it.

03:40 — Johan Philippine
Well, she went beyond reading the documentation and the textbooks. She went even beyond playing around with computers in her spare time. She was helping to run her university's Linux user groups, and that experience led to a job.

03:54 — Jennifer Scalf
I got a job, again, it was early aughts as a student worker, and then that transitioned into a full-time position at the university. And then I was there for nine-ish years, running everything hardware all the way up to the student applications, so I got to learn what it is to literally take the rec out of the box and pop it into the systems that we had that had everything: load balancers, the databases... everything; which is great. I hope folks still have that opportunity these days. If they have to do it on their own, I highly recommend it.

04:24 — Johan Philippine
It sounds like Jennifer really knew her stuff. She spent years building her skills as a student, and then in her first job. She's what I'd imagine a hiring manager would see as a dream candidate. It turns out, when she was hired for her next job, her technical skills were not the deciding factor.

04:45 — Jennifer Scalf
I'm going to try to protect the innocent. Well, they thought they were innocent. They still think they're innocent. Because other people will experience this. It will probably be very different in 2023 than it was in 2000, whenever that was back then, but I was hired without knowing because of certain attributes, mainly that I was one of the only women at the time, and I think the only one this person had ever met that knew anything about UNIX, about Linux. Again, this was in the aughts, right after the dot com, but not too much further. I wasn't told that explicitly at the time, just like folks aren't usually told that explicitly, even probably today.

05:31 — Johan Philippine
She thought she was hired because of her merits and she did really well in her new role, oblivious to the other considerations. But those considerations didn't stay hidden forever.

05:42 — Jennifer Scalf
But a few years later, I was told that, and the person was very proud that they used that as one of the reasons to hire me. They thought that was a very good thing, and then I proved myself. They hired me for that reason. They told me that they could have hired other people without the same attributes as myself that might've been more skilled at the UNIX and the Linux, as we used to call it.

06:03 — Johan Philippine
To be told that she was hired despite there being more qualified candidates because she's a woman, and then that she ended up proving herself, that didn't feel so great.

06:14 — Jennifer Scalf
I'm saying all these things very sarcastically. It's very awkward and uncomfortable to this day, but it really hurt me when I was in my 20's to hear that I was hired for those reasons. At that point, I felt that I had almost already proven myself, but I wasn't quite there. I did not have the self-confidence to handle that well.

06:32 — Johan Philippine
There's an expectation that if you've been hired, you've already convinced your new manager that you can do the job. After a few years of success in that position, she had the rug pulled out from under her. No, actually we didn't think you were qualified, but you turned out great anyways. While Jennifer's able to talk about it now, that wasn't always the case.

06:56 — Jennifer Scalf
Every time adversity hits us, we--in a very cheese ball corny way--try to use it for good. So I look back on it, because for self preservation, mental preservation, you have to look back on things kind of positively. You do. I do, anyway. So I look back on it as a turning point that I decided, oh, maybe I'm not as good at the technical aspects of this, so maybe I will get a degree in something else.

07:25 — Johan Philippine
That's a tough kind of reaction to have.

07:27 — Angela Andrews
It is.

07:28 — Johan Philippine
We've talked about this in the past where you get that doubt kind of instilled from someone else when you're seeking advice and it leads you down a different path. She planned to leave tech and pursued an MBA in supply chain management. She's continued to work in the UNIX and the Linux because she was good at it, but she thought she wasn't great at it, and that's the kind of influence bad management can have on people. Now, she ended up doing both, staying in tech and getting her MBA.

07:59 — Angela Andrews
I can see that type of comment having effect on you no matter your age. When you think you've earned your right and someone says, "No, you didn't." Shrug. That does not feel good, like you said.

08:16 — Johan Philippine
Yeah, it's a particular kind of damaging, because it's we didn't think you were necessarily the best person for this job, but we hired you and wished for the best and hope for the best. You're able to actually do the job and then they end up being happy with it. That's not something you want to tell someone.

08:32 — Angela Andrews

08:33 — Johan Philippine
Because that can be just a huge, huge hit to your self-esteem.

08:38 — Johan Philippine
Jennifer's saying that it's probably less likely that people would still say this in this year, but I imagine people still do. Too many people still feel imposter syndrome. Jennifer isn't saying that diversity isn't an important consideration when hiring, but being told she was hired despite being allegedly less qualified because she's a woman, made her reevaluate how skilled she thought she was.

09:02 — Angela Andrews
And that's the problem. She really second-guessed herself when she knew she was confident in her abilities. She knew it, and there wasn't anything you can tell her otherwise, but this came along.

09:14 — Johan Philippine
That's right.

09:14 — Angela Andrews
She questioned herself. Not the fact that the person questioned her, but she questioned herself. That is the most damaging part of this.

09:25 — Johan Philippine
She had all those years of experience in the school, all those extracurriculars, she had those years of experience in her first few jobs, and still-

09:34 — Angela Andrews
She was owning it, and then here comes that rug.

09:38 — Johan Philippine
But Jennifer kept going.

09:42 — Jennifer Scalf
Now, I don't mind it as much. Because I like to think now that I can be a role model. I do completely believe that theory that if we have folks with certain attributes represented, that that will contribute to more folks with those attributes being hired or being interested in that particular role, and now I'm trying to embrace that. It's taken me a long time, y'all. It's taken me a long time to get to that point. This is not something that came easy.

10:14 — Johan Philippine
Now, I imagine she'd be a fantastic role model either way. It's just a huge shame that she had to have that experience, and it tainted her consideration of new opportunities. A friend of hers mentioned a job opening she should apply for. Jennifer demurred at first worried about not having enough technical expertise, but her friend convinced her to apply anyways. And in the end, Jennifer got the job.

10:39 — Jennifer Scalf
I didn't give up. My friends propped me up and cheered me on. So have your star players, have your friends there, join the user groups and get on with it. Because it had been years before that they had crushed me with the, you were hired because you were a woman who knew Linux. I didn't want that to happen again, obviously, so my friends were very good about encouraging me and letting me know "that's not the reason we're hiring you, lady." I'm going to get a little choked up about it. That's it. So I jumped in and they were thrilled to have somebody who had had this business degree for the account management part of it.

11:14 — Johan Philippine
In the end, her detour worked for her and helped her get ahead, but in all too many cases, the detour becomes an off ramp that never leads back to the tech industry.

11:24 — Angela Andrews
Things like that tend to make you think you don't belong, and you will pack up your laptop and find something else and go somewhere else where you feel that you're valued and where you can have that empowerment. In her case, she felt that empowerment and just one person was able to take that away from her. Albeit for a very short time, she questioned herself. I see it a lot myself in this industry where something bad happens to someone and they're really ready to say, "I don't think I can do this anymore." I see this more than I care to admit. It's heartbreaking, because we all belong here.

12:14 — Johan Philippine
Do you see any improvement? Did it used to be worse than it is now? Has it been about the same or, God forbid, is it getting worse?

12:21 — Angela Andrews
I can't really tell because of social media. And now it's so prevalent. You hear these comments and you see these comments, I do, in my timeline just enough to make me wonder, have things really changed? We're still at this point where folks are doubting their abilities. They got here, they worked hard, and something comes along and makes them question that. It can be a bad project. It could be a bad manager, a bad experience, it can be a number of things, but when anything comes up that makes you question, if you belong somewhere, that's a red flag. And that's when we need to take a step back because if you made it here, this is where you belong. And it's only up to you to decide if you're going to leave. That's your decision always, but not based off of something terrible happening to you or someone saying something terrible to you. We work hard to get here. We deserve to be here.

13:31 — Johan Philippine
Now, we've mentioned this before, but we're going to say it again. Find the people who are going to support you and cheer you on and hold onto them. They'll help you go beyond the detractors, even the well-intentioned ones.

13:43 — Johan Philippine
When we get back from the break, we'll hear from Ryan again and his manager who was decidedly not well intentioned.

13:54 — Johan Philippine
Okay, so now we get to the real doozy: managers who actively stifle growth.

14:01 — Angela Andrews
Mm mm. Mm mm. I'm getting nervous.

14:05 — Johan Philippine
You're getting nervous. Oh, no.

14:07 — Angela Andrews
I'm getting nervous.

14:09 — Johan Philippine
Well, is it based on personal experience?

14:12 — Angela Andrews
No, I've heard these stories and... Yeah, let's see what Ryan has to share with us.

14:19 — Johan Philippine
Well, for this story, we're going back to Ryan Roberts. He's an infrastructure engineer at JP Morgan Chase, and in his last episode, he told us about his cursed internship, the one where he was advised to just read the docs. Remember that one?

14:38 — Angela Andrews
I do. Boy, do I.

14:39 — Johan Philippine
Well, it turns out there was a little bit more behind that piece of advice. He also wanted a little bit more responsibility so that he could help the team clear the quick and easy help desk tickets.

14:54 — Ryan Roberts
I don't know if it was because I was an intern or, I think, if I remember correctly, his exact words are, "I have enough people doing that." And I actually remember the exact conversation. I was just like, "Can I reset a password?" Because there'd be times where I'd be manning the help desk phone, somebody call in and says like, "Hey, I locked myself out. I need you to unlock my account or reset my password." And the team would be preoccupied. So I was just like, well, I can slip in there, help out. At least that way, we don't have that downtime between me having to wait for somebody else to come in. I could just unlock the account, reset it, hey, we're done. He just wasn't for that at all.

15:37 — Johan Philippine
All he wanted to do was to help with resetting passwords because he could see that the full-time employees were swamped with other stuff. It's kind of the cliche help desk ticket request. Right, Angela?

15:48 — Angela Andrews
It is. Low hanging fruit, as they say.

15:52 — Johan Philippine
And it's not exactly rocket science to get it done. But his boss wasn't having it.

15:57 — Ryan Roberts
I truly believe it was he just didn't trust me enough. I knew how to do it. I knew how to do it. I just needed my account to have the proper privileges to do it. That remaining piece of it is still a mystery, but from what I gather, he didn't trust the interns enough to do it.

16:15 — Johan Philippine
I kind of see where his manager's coming from. I don't agree with it, but I understand it, right? No.

16:24 — Angela Andrews
Okay, so there are guardrails that can always be put in place so you only have permission to do just the thing that you need permissions to do. You don't have to give him the keys to the kingdom or the administrative or root password. No, you can give him just enough so he can reset a password, unlock an account. Easy peasy. So I think this was probably something more than that.

16:57 — Johan Philippine
Yeah, I don't know, and I guess we'll never know.

17:00 — Angela Andrews
We'll never know.

17:02 — Johan Philippine
I mean, my take is if you're worried about them messing up, why hire them in the first place. Interns, they're there to learn, and if you don't give them anything even remotely difficult to do, what are they going to learn? Why are they there? At some point, you're going to have to trust them to, at the very least, reset a password and hopefully later on do something of lasting value.

17:31 — Angela Andrews
I agree. That was an easy one though. They could have handed him a little something.

17:35 — Johan Philippine
Now, this situation, it might not seem like the biggest setback, but in general, that lack of trust can have an outsize effect on people starting out in their careers.

17:46 — Angela Andrews
And throughout. Let's not limit it to people starting out, because there are roles out there now where you're moving into a role and you know things are your responsibility, and it's like, I don't know. We'll ease into that. This is happening to folks throughout their careers and for a myriad of reasons. We're not going to assume why it happens, but not being trusted is definitely a buzzkill, and it can have some lasting effects on you.

18:21 — Johan Philippine
It can really sap your motivation to do a good job and push to do more than what you've been assigned and to get ahead.

18:29 — Angela Andrews
I agree.

18:30 — Johan Philippine
Well, although his boss wasn't very helpful, Ryan was able to learn from his mentor. And he learned a lot more than the technical skills he wanted to.

18:41 — Ryan Roberts
I mean, general advice, the one he gave me was, never let anybody put out your fire. If you're truly determined to learn something, go after something, don't let somebody try and stop you and put you down. If somebody's putting up a wall, find a way around that wall and you'll continue to push on and push forward.

19:01 — Angela Andrews
Great advice.

19:03 — Johan Philippine
Don't let anyone tell you what you can't learn or practice. I'd hope that doesn't happen too often, but apparently it does happen.

19:11 — Johan Philippine
If you find yourself in a similar position where your boss doesn't trust you to do something or even to teach you how to do the next logical step, it's a good idea to find a way around that. If you're not learning and growing in an internship, let alone in your job, what are you gaining beyond the paycheck and the line on the resume? Ryan suggests doing what he did, finding another mentor.

19:35 — Ryan Roberts
It's a harsh reality that in some cases you have somebody who's trying to learn the trade and really grow their career, and then you just have somebody who just brick walls them right there. I mean, in that case, if the company is big enough and has the resources, try and find somebody maybe outside of the department who's willing to spend some time with you to show you this new concept that you have an interest in. The one thing you don't want somebody to do is just to stop you right in your tracks, right when you got the momentum going, because it can really take a long time to get that momentum back up and running.

20:11 — Johan Philippine
A stalled career can take a lot of effort to get back on track. A mentor can help you continue to develop your skills to prepare you for that next job, but not everyone has access to a mentor in their own company.

20:24 — Ryan Roberts
If you can't get it where you're immediately at, you really have to start looking. All right, let me think outside the box. Let me look outside of my circle and see where I can get what I need.

20:35 — Johan Philippine
Look outside your company, make your own options, meet other people.

20:40 — Angela Andrews
Network, network, network.

20:42 — Johan Philippine
Say it again.

20:44 — Angela Andrews

20:45 — Johan Philippine
And scour the internet.

20:48 — Ryan Roberts
I mean, YouTube, might as well just call it an online university at this point. Yep, YouTube University. I mean, you can truly learn just about anything there, and that's usually the first place I'll go is like, Hey, I want to hear about some of these topics, maybe get a day in the life of somebody in this career.

21:08 — Johan Philippine
For people looking into development, Ryan also suggested checking out online code camps and coding courses as well. Even though his boss didn't give him an opportunity to grow, his mentor and the resources he found online helped him get past the boss fight and on to bigger and better things.

21:26 — Angela Andrews
Great story.

21:29 — Johan Philippine
All right, so this episode we heard about misguided, mistrusting and malicious management and how they can really get in the way of your career, either by causing emotional damage or by restricting your growth and opportunities for advancement. The key is finding the people who will support you and help you get past those barriers.

21:49 — Angela Andrews
It's all about your community and the people you surround yourself with. Those are the ones that get you through those hard times.

21:56 — Johan Philippine
Next time on Compiler, we're going to hear some more stories about people who had unorthodox paths into the tech industry.

22:03 — Angela Andrews
Oo, I can't wait for that one. What about this episode? I hope you loved it. I mean, we talked about bad managers and we heard two very interesting stories. You have to share your thoughts with us. Share your stories with us. Hit us up on socials @RedHat using the hashtag #CompilerPodcast. Have you had a bad manager in your career? And what did that do for you? We'd love to hear more about it, so make sure you tag us, okay?

22:37 — Johan Philippine
And that does it for this episode of Compiler.

22:40 — Angela Andrews
Today's episode was produced by Johan Philippine, Kim Huang and Caroline Creaghead

22:46 — Johan Philippine
Victoria Lawton has never seen a wall she couldn't get around.

22:50 — Angela Andrews
Our audio engineer is Mark Angley. Special thanks to Brittany Duggan. Our theme song was composed by Mary Ancheta.

22:58 — Johan Philippine
Our audio team includes Brent Simoneaux, Leigh Day, Stephanie Wonderlick, Mike Esser, Nick Burns, Aaron Williamson, Karen King, Jared Oates, Rachel Ertel, Devin Pope, Mike Compton, Ocean Matthews, Paige Johnson, Alex Traboulsi, and Mira Cyril.

23:18 — Angela Andrews
If you liked today's episode and we hope you did, please follow the show, rate the show, leave us a review and share it with someone you know. It will really help the show.

23:30 — Johan Philippine
It really does. All right, goodbye everyone.

23:33 — Angela Andrews
Take care, until next time.


Featured guests

Jennifer Scalf
Ryan Roberts

re-role graphic


This limited series features technologists sharing what they do and how their roles fit into a growing organization.

Explore Re:Role