Fog Creek Software Management Training Program

Here’s how I learned to run the night shift at the Oranim bakery when I was a teenager.

First, you do an awful lot of cleaning. A few months of cleaning dough off of machines gives you a really good understanding of what the machines are and how they work and what parts matter.

Then you run the dough mixers for a few months until you get really good at that. Then you learn to make rolls. Then they let you run the computers that control the nightly bread production. If you’re lucky, the computer will break down once or twice, and you can learn how to do it manually. That’s really cool.

Finally, when you’re really really good, they let you hang around with Yussef on the ovens. Yussef was about 100 years old and so good at running the ovens it was scary. When Gabbi tried to show me how to solve the problem of bread sticking to the conveyer belts on the way out of the oven, he ran back and forth like a lunatic for ten minutes, turning knobs, pulling levers, redirecting heat, and burning a few hundred loaves while he struggled to get things under control. But Yussef, facing the same problem, turned one tiny knob on a seemingly-unrelated chimney about one degree to the right. It made no sense, he couldn’t explain why it worked, but it did: it solved the problem instantly and suddenly perfect loaves started popping out. It took me another couple of years to really understand the complex relationships between heat and humidity inside an 80 foot tunnel oven, but it would have taken ten more years before I could solve problems as well as Yussef did.

After a year or so doing every job in the bakery, you have credibility with the crew you’re leading because they all know you could do their job. You have a complete, holistic understanding of the bakery in a way that no individual does. You’ve had a chance to watch good managers and bad, you’ve experienced a lot of the things that can go wrong and seen how to fix them (and how not to fix them), and you can be trusted to drive a fifty million dollar factory that churns out hundreds of thousands of loaves every night.

So they put you in charge of the night shift.

Although Yussef will probably pretty much ignore you no matter how much you think you know.

I told you that so I can tell you this:

We’re planning to hire a new kind of employee at Fog Creek.

Until now, most of our hires have been programmers. That’s a start, but we need to start hiring the next generation of management too.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with promoting a programmer to management, but management is a different job and requires different skills from programming. Many people who are excellent developers are lousy managers, and promoting someone out of a job that they love doing and are good at doing into a job that they hate and are not good at doesn’t make sense. We plan to make sure that programmers have explicit career paths that do not require them to shift into management just to get the next raise in salary level or benefits.

Thus: how do we develop the next generation of managers? We don’t really want to hire MBAs, because there’s too much evidence that MBAs substitute book-learnin’ for common sense or experience. We’d much rather hire someone who created and ran a profitable lemonade stand than someone who has taken two years of finance courses at Harvard, especially since the Harvard MBA is going to think he knows a lot more than he really does.

Our latest thinking is just to train a new generation of leaders from the ground up.

To that end, today we’re launching an experimental new program, the Fog Creek Software Management Training Program. That’s a terrible name, but bear with me!

It’s an entry level program, meaning, significant work experience is not required. A college degree is a big plus. The program will last about three years. It will provide experience working in all aspects of software development except for the actual coding itself, along with some formal training.

It’s a job. It includes a great starting salary, restricted stock in Fog Creek Software, and the full raft of benefits, from Aeron chairs to free lunch. You don’t have to be a programmer or a CS major, although you do have to be ridiculously smart and you have to be the kind of person who gets things done.

The key component of this program is rotating through just about every job at Fog Creek Software. We’ll rotate trainees through about ten different jobs over the course of three years:

  • Project Management
  • Tech Support
  • Inside Sales
  • Software Testing
  • Usability Testing
  • Software Design
  • Program Management
  • Beta Management
  • Marketing
  • Build Management

…sometimes all on the same day! The theory is that nothing can better prepare you for leading a high tech company than gaining significant, substantial experience with everything a high tech company does, under the mentorship of experienced veterans.

To supplement that, we’ll add a component of formal training. There will be some coursework at nearby colleges, long lists of reading material, intensive offsite training programs, and we’ll send you to industry conferences that we think are particularly valuable.

Unlike full-time MBA programs, you won’t have to pay $120,000 in tuition and $200,000 in foregone salary. You’ll be earning money and if Fog Creek does well your stock may be worth something. Unlike management consulting, you won’t have to work 18 hour days and fly to some small town in the midwest every Monday morning and live out of a suitcase in a hotel.

The idea of this program is to develop a new generation of leaders for Fog Creek, but we think that it will be great preparation for a career leading, running, or starting any kind of high-tech company or team. If the program is successful we expect, in the long run, to churn out about twice as many graduates as we need for our own purposes, so many will tend to head off to start their own companies, take a high-level position elsewhere in the industry, or go back to graduate school. Either way we think it’s a fantastic opportunity for ambitious, smart geeks who don’t see themselves as programmers.

We’re taking applications now for the first round of Fog Creek Management Trainees, most of whom will start work in summer 2006. To apply, send a letter explaining why you’re a good fit, a resume, and any standardized test scores to

Small print: We can only accept applicants who have the permanent legal right to work in the United States and are available for an interview in New York. Fog Creek Software, Inc. does not discriminate in employment matters on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, military service eligibility, veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, or any other protected class. We support workplace diversity.

About the author.

I'm Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Trello and Fog Creek Software, and CEO of Stack Overflow. More about me.