If you are lucky in your career, you will have a few good bosses. They are people who inspire you and teach you how to be a better developer, manager, or person.
Manny Vellon was my first boss at Microsoft. Since leaving college, I had a string of good jobs, but not the best managers. I was a bit raw and somewhat guarded by my experiences.
I was the third person to join the team. There was our Director, Manny as Development Manager and me, so for the first few years, I got to work very closely with him. He had already been at Microsoft for several years in the Developer Tools team, so he had survived and thrived in a callous and competitive culture.
At first, I just respected his programming skill and knowledge. We were building the initial code together. I was amazed at the effortless way he would jump down into the assembly when he needed to understand why some bug was happening.
Once we started making more progress and started meeting with other teams, I was blown away by how he handled the often-tense situations.
Microsoft in the mid-90s was still in its heyday of competitive culture. Disagreements were handled by being louder, making threats, or sneaky political moves to undercut other teams.
In these settings, Manny was the vision of calm confidence, transparency, and good humor. If this didn’t diffuse the situation, he would calmly take apart whatever PM or DM was threatening our team or pounding their fist on the table. They would be left trying to maintain their dignity and backtrack as quickly as they could. He wasn’t cruel or mean. He was firm, he was interested in what was right and would accept no less.
As soon as one of these meetings ended, Manny would be right back to his jovial, wise self.
He was transparent, but not in an obvious way. It was just who he was. He didn’t feel the need to guard information. He knew that I could do my job better if I had the complete picture.
He pushed me to be better, to be more ambitious in my goals. He modeled those expectations himself. If we had a deadline, he was always there, with the rest of the team. Doing whatever he could to push us to hit our commitment. If I got something done but could have done it better, he would challenge me to take it to the next level. Always with humor. He made me feel like it was important to him that I grow. He considered that responsibility as my manager seriously.
A lot of who I am as a leader today comes from the lessons he taught me and what I learned from watching him work. Anyone that has worked with me since then has heard me tell a Manny story or three.
Manny Vellon died on May 27th while hiking.
I had lunch with him a couple of years ago, and I told him how much he meant to me. I am very grateful that I did that. I wish I had kept in better touch with him over the years. I know that there was a lot more I could have learned from him as he moved from Microsoft into starting his own companies and being a CTO.
My deepest condolences go out to his family and friends. There has been a massive outpouring of stories and emotions from the people he touched over the years. My own experience is hardly unique.
In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, he asks you to imagine your funeral. What will people say about you? What would you hope that they would say? I hope that Manny would see how he positively touched the lives of so many and be content.
My intent with writing this is not just to tell you about a beautiful and inspiring person but also to charge you with that kind of influence on others.
If you are a manager or leader, the behavior you model, and the lessons you impart can change the direction of the people around you. Positively and negatively. What are you modeling? What are you teaching?
If there was someone like this in your life, a teacher, manager, mentor, or friend, tell them. You will be glad you did, and it will mean a lot to them.