Publish and pull managers

@kwugirl has done some great work around ask culture and guess culture (, and how frustrating it can be when you are framing communication the wrong way so that you are constantly rubbing on someone. 

Ask culture says that it’s ok for someone to make a direct request for a favor, and it’s equally ok to tell them no. Guess culture is more face-saving. A request in guess culture would look like a hint or ignorable indirection when translated to ask culture. Corporate America tends to default to ask culture because of… a lot of reasons.

But ask and guess culture are about making requests of someone who has power to grant them. How do we want to talk about this when we are dealing with our managers? They want things from us, we may or may not have the ability to grant them, but the power differential is all different. 

 I think of this in terms of internet architecture – publish vs. pull. 

Some people work best for managers who provide regular feedback and consistent updates on what’s going on in the manager/employee relationship, the project, the company as a whole. The publish manager will tell you regularly how you’re doing without needing any prompting.

Some people work better for pull managers. When they have a question, they can ask and get an instant answer on how things are, but on the whole, the relationship is much less focused on status updates either direction, and much more on blocking disruption. The manager exists to protect the time and autonomy of the employee, and the employee doesn’t get much direction unless they ask for it.

Of course, neither of the methods is bad or good, they just are. The problem is when you have a mismatch between the method a manager uses and what the employee uses or is comfortable with. 

For example, if you’re a pull person, all that feedback and mentoring and goal-setting and communication feels like noise or even micromanaging. Getting status updates all the time feels like an expectation that you should be doing more. And on the flip side, your non-communication feels to a publish manager like you’re not doing anything, or worst-case, that you are deliberately concealing problems. Why won’t you disclose, why do they have to pry your status reports out every week?

If you’re a publish person, and your manager only talks to you when you ask a direct question, and they put off status meetings if there’s nothing really important to talk about, you get kind of paranoid. What terrible things are they hiding? Are they angry with you? You sent in a report and you didn’t get any feedback on it, was it bad? What’s going on up there? A pull manager with a publish report will appreciate that they know what’s going on, but they consistently forget that their taciturn default causes actual anxiety in this person. Everything’s fine until you say otherwise, so what is this about?

Ok, so it’s yet another binary to divide the world into, like the introvert/extrovert oversimplification. What does it mean for your actual life?

Now that I’ve realized this, it’s changed the way I interview. Of course, we don’t always get to pick our managers, but at the moment when you do, ask the questions. 

  • “Do you prefer to update people on a schedule or when they ask?”
  • “How does your most successful report communicate with you?”
  • “What’s your favorite kind of update meeting?”

You don’t want it to be too leading, because when someone is interviewing you to be their report, they really want it to work out, at least if they are the kind of person you want to work for. When they are in the room with you, they are thinking how to work you into their team, their workflow. They’re trying you on, including your communication style. And it’s their job to work with you, so they might unconsciously bend to meet your preference if you make it too obvious.

If you’re a manager, the same thing applies. A candidate might be perfect in every other way, but if it seems like you’re going to have to ask them every week for their updated status report, or if they are going to want a ton of feedback from you and you’re a more hands-off person, you may want to add that to your decision matrix and decide if that’s an amount of effort you’re willing to expend on negotiating your natural communication style.

We can all work with people who have different communication styles. We do it all the time without thinking about it. The best plan is to do it mindfully and patiently, realizing that most people are not actually trying to make you irritated or confused with their style, and that your style may be hard for some people.

Guest Post on

I was supposed to be at SeaGL this weekend for an awesome conference with the opensource world. Sadly, I fell in the garage and dislocated my shoulder, so I can’t attend. On the bright side, the post I wrote to promote my talk at the conference is available!

Four Steps to Better Documentation

In it, I talk about a few simple steps to making sure you are writing the documentation that people need, and making it as relevant and accurate as possible.


Tech events and alcohol: a proposal

I was just at a conference, which was much like any other conference in their after-hours events. The food was pretty good, the beer and wine flowed freely, and the mixers were Coke, Diet Coke, and sparkling water.

There’s a lot of complicated parts of throwing a conference, especially in a hotel, and each of the events had professional bartenders. This means the conference is not devoting someone to handing out alcohol, the hotel has some belief people will get cut off, and it all works great. If you want to drink.

But more and more, as I go to these things, I wonder why we want to drink. I mean, seriously. We are here to have high-level conversations with the leaders and up-and-comers in our fields. That is not improved by artifically lowering our IQ or our inhibitions. As a woman, I am especially sensitive to the fact that it is extra dangerous for me to appear drunk, when statistically, at least one of the men eating cheese and wine in this room has not been great about consent with an intoxicated partner. As a person with migraines caused by time-shifting, lack of sleep, and sulfites, alcohol is not a great idea if I want to keep performing at peak efficiency.

What could the conference spend this money on instead?

  • Paying for more under-indexed people to attend.
  • Paying speakers
  • Providing childcare
  • Paying open-source maintainers
  • Really excellent pop selections (Mmm, Fentiman’s)
  • Space for other organizations that can’t afford it
  • Community support/outreach

I want to be clear that this is not about any one conference. In fact, the one I went to, I didn’t see any sign of misbehavior. I just think that the economics of it are counter-productive and reinforce existing power structures. I hope that in 20 years, we will feel about the open bar at tech events the way we feel about the smoke-filled room today. It’s a thing people can do, but it’s not a requirement to network.

What is the advantage of providing free alcohol?

  • People who care about free alcohol are happy

They are a big demographic, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think that anyone who would refuse to go to a dry conference because it was dry is someone who is likely to be in a position to add a lot to the conference. That’s a pretty hard line to take when you can always buy a cocktail in the hotel bar 50 steps away.

For more on this topic, read:

Model View Culture: Planning Tech Events with Non-Alcoholic Options

Let’s Talk About Alcohol At Tech Events

Does Our Industry Have A Drinking Problem?