Rachit Nigam

The Stateless Manager

PhD student is not forgetful; just sage

July 15, 2023

I find myself repeating the following advice to my mentees: Assume your manager (advisor) remembers nothing about your previous meeting. Start from the top and build back the context of your discussion before you dive into technical details.

I have dubbed this the “stateless manager model” after functional programming paradigms where the program uses no state and instead acts only upon the inputs provided to it. There’s a couple of reasons why this advice makes sense:

  • Your manager/advisor probably has dozens of technical meetings in a week and a million other things they are working on. It is quite hard for them to remember all the details of your previous conversation.
  • Even if they remembered what the details were, you could’ve come up with a new way to think about the problem and building context from the ground up will reveal those to your manager.

The latter skill is quite important for junior developers and researchers. The ability to effectively and concisely articulate what the problem is is just as important, if not more important, than what the solution is. In fact, a great many researchers are famous not for their ability to come up with a solution but their ability to articulate problems. The Stateless Manager model is a particularly good way to practice this art.

Disclaimer: This post is not a subtweet of my current or past advisors, all of whom are blessed far better memory than me. The point of the post is that even if your manager remembers each conversation exactly, this is still a good way to structure your approach to meetings.

Have comments? Email or tweet at me.