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I am a software engineer. My boss, let's call him "Bob", was a DBA prior to his promotion into management.

Because Bob has some prior programming experience, he has taken it upon himself to be intimately involved in making decisions in the development process - down to the tiniest details at times. Bob's involvement became too much for me to deal with when he asked me to rename a class in an application I am currently working on. His argument for the name change was "I don't like [the name]."

Is there a polite way to tell my supervisor to "butt out"?

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There are different approaches that might yield the desired result, depending on what kind of person your manager is:

Ask for clarification

Ask him why renaming the class is nessecary, what advantages it would have for the future of the code and the product, why it cannot stay the way it is.

If his answer is "because I said so", give him your reasons and justifications why the code is the way it is.

Bad reasons:

  • It's always been like that
  • But I like it this way better

Good reasons:

  • It's best practice to call it "whatever"
  • It's called that name in virtually every software, manual or school book available (the current name is conform to people's expectations)
  • It's a representation of a "whatever thing" that is called "whatever thing" in all of our documentations, so the class should be called "WhateverThing" as well
  • It was decided by the whole team

Ask him to follow the rules

Things like renamings are usually decided during code reviews. If the respective code has been reviewed, the current name was agreed on by several team members.

If your manager is not currently reviewing your code, ask him to create an issue or change request in your bug tracking system. These have the tendency to be delayed forever.

Cost-Benefit-Calculation

If deadlines are always approaching too fast and there is never time for a breather, ask him what the benefits of his change would be.

Any refactoring costs time. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do refactorings at all, but if you do one, the benefit for future developments should overwheight the time you invest into the refactoring.

If one name is as good as the other, changing it would be wasted time. If one name improves the understandability of the code, it would be a beneficial refactoring.

Tell him to stick to his role

I do not advice this one unless you have a very good standing in your job and your manager is not the type to take criticism personally.

In my experiences, micro-managers often cannot keep up with the actual managing tasks they're supposed to do because they're micro-managing too much. You could tell him (friendly) that he would help you more if he took care of his tasks while letting you take care of your tasks.

A more unfriendly (and risky!) approach is to tell him that as a manager it's not his job to code anymore.

Again: I do not advice this! Use this approach at your own risk (and involve your brain).

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  • Great reply. Unfortunately my reasoning for the name is lackluster. The application is one that's been done a million times before, and two of the largest (and very well known) off-the-shelf solutions use this name. "Cost-Benefit analysis" is where my head was going. Yes it's a single class, but the name corresponds to table names, column names, properties and attributes in other classes, as well as UI components. – Strikegently Oct 1 '18 at 14:49
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Possibly if you just ask something along the lines of

Hi Bob, You have been pointing out changes as I've been developing. Could you either wait till the final product before making minor changes such as name changes as it's distracting or let me use the names I have chosen (assuming appropriate)

Obviously with larger changes he's going to need to talk about it but in terms of micromanaging he's your boss at the end of the day and if he wants to be involved. He's going to be involved, if it's not affecting the results and you're getting annoyed by the fact that he's giving his input you should probably just brush it aside.

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Is there a polite way to tell my supervisor to "butt out"?

Probably not.

You can however ask questions for understanding so that you can get an idea of his reasoning behind his decisions. You may be able to get to the point where you can anticipate how he would decide and go in that direction in the beginning. This could preempt his need to interfere all the time.

For example, when he indicated that he didn't like your class name, you could have said something like "Interesting. Tell me what you didn't like about it so that I can do better next time."

But there's no good way to tell your boss (particularly when he is new at management and you've only been with the company a few months) to "butt out".

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