Grooming Technical Managers

My manager mentioned a common difficulty to me at our last one-on-one meeting:

“You don’t want to make role of a manager appear too frustrating or you can’t find anybody willing to take it. And since senior developers can often make as much or more than their managers you have the problem that no one wants the job.”

He spent a good portion of his career at EDS so I often get good insights from his prior experiences.

This might explain why too often we see the case where a technical star takes on a management position in order to advance their career or sometimes for more money. They end up doing a poor job primarily because the managing part of the job never really interested them and they can easily fall back into coding and architecting and let the management part suffer.

I’m not sure how you make the concept of technical management appealing and draw more good candidates into the pool. I’ve known quite a few good friends who’ve stepped into a management role because they were asked or possibly for the money and found their lives a miserable mess. Going back to senior developer lowered their stress and made them effective again. They often point out they’d never want to do what I do now.

Leading a team and making them more successful is a special sort of reward, but it’s very different than being able to solve a particularly difficult coding problem in software. It’s really less about individual achievement and more about the team, much like a sports coach. At the end of the day your teams done great things, but if you’ve done your job well not of that code that is delivered is yours.

I suppose another fear of many developers is that if they commit to doing technical management, many of their coding skills will wither away. If the last time you did much coding was back in the days of client server you’re vulnerable to a downturn in a way none of your developers are. I avoid much of this dilemma myself by doing development in my spare time as a hobby, but that isn’t be an option for everyone.

I’ll continue to grapple with this, as you have to do some succession planning as a manager.