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What's the big deal?

At most of the job websites I visit, it seems that everyone seeks advice on how to be a manager.  What gives?  I don't see the reason for it...why do so many people technical background want to move away from that into management?  Is this something that changes as you get older?  I'm only 23, and I am about go get a MS in HCI, but after working for a year and a half, I really don't have any long term desire to be a manager...am I missing the big picture?  Are there no decent upper-level jobs that are technical?

OzzieGT
Wednesday, June 26, 2002

In some companies the only career path available is to go into management.  Other companies have done a good job of providing an alternative career path for individuals that have no desire to go into management, but such companies are rare. 

anonymous
Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Also, SOME people may opt for a mgmt positions b/c they tend to pay better, unless you're hourly.  As you get older, your financial burdens tend to increase (if you let them, mind you)

But there's more to it....I think....Often, as people get older, SOME are unable to maintain their skills.  SOME lives require attention that detracts from those all nighter coding sessions they did in their 20's....  SOME older workers often are unable and/or unwilling, to put in the time...both in and out of the office...SOME coast for years on outdated unmarketable skills ....When they are obsolete, and facing a dead end, or layoff, SOME may turn to management as an alternative to learning the latest and greatest.  If they've languished long enough, the leap is just too much...

Also, management skills can be 'faked'.  (Disclaimer: I think a good technical manager is the make or break of any serious project)

Management skills have a much longer half life than programming skills.  I feel it requires much less skills maintenance outside the office....I may be wrong, I've always avoided managing like the plague...

Lastly, I don't buy into the myth that people are "forced" into management.  I've never seen it.  If anything, I've sen smart guys who would make great managers, but they weren't tall, blonde, or fat enough to be taken seriously as a manager.  If you want to stay a coder, so be it.  Just carry your weight.  If you're good, you will be implicitly exercising your mgmt skills, like it or not.

Bella
Wednesday, June 26, 2002

In addition I would say yes, your attitude does change once you get older.  I've only been doing this for about 7 years now, but I'm feeling severe burn-out.  The only thing that keeps me here is that I know I couldn't make this type of money in another career without some serious retraining.  Right now I'm too lazy to get retraining, so I figure I'll wait for a layoff.  Its bound to happen sooner or later.  I don't want to go into management either - they have a harder time finding jobs than we do, and I don't have the stomach to play corporate politics.

What the hell's wrong with me?  I used to program during the day and then go home at night and program some more.  I just don't have the energy for it anymore.  Maybe I'm getting too old (+30).  Maybe I've developed too many other, more interesting, hobbies. 

I feel like I'm on track to becoming a world class maintenance programmer - I don't have the energy or desire to learn new skills at home and I don't have time during work.  Not only that, but I don't want to learn any new skills.  I've been using C just fine all these years, thank you very much.  Now I know how those old dbase programmers must have felt.

anonymous
Wednesday, June 26, 2002


I think "money" it's a strong motivator to get into management.

Leonardo Herrera
Wednesday, June 26, 2002

I transitioned into a technical management position about three years ago.  Although the money was slightly better, the main reason I chose to take that path was to take on bigger and more diverse problems.  I had been coding professionally for about ten years when I made the switch, and it was seeming very repetitive. 

In my current position, I still apply the problem solving skills I gained as a developer.  I'm still breaking down big problems into smaller problems.  I'm still defining effective interfaces to modules (teams).  I'm still trying to do time and resource optimizations.  I'm still puzzling out efficient ways to move information from places where it's produced to places where it's consumed. 

The big difference is really the kinds of tools I can bring to bear on the problems I'm tasked with solving,  technology being just one of them.  A nice side effect is that I've learned some stuff from more mature disciplines that I have be able to effectively work into the development team that I am responsible for.

As an aside, the part of my job that typically brings me the most stress are those areas where I have to do "people management."  For a long analysis of why this is, just consult any of a number of recent threads in this forum ;)

Management Material
Wednesday, June 26, 2002

I'm skeptical of this 'common knowledge' that developers lose their edge and don't keep up with the latest technologies and so 'have' to go into management. First, I have NEVER met a developer who was 'once competant' but 'just couldn't keep up. Doctors and teachers also have continuing education requirements & they manage to keep up. Why are developers unable to keep up, unlike the rest of the professional world?

I keep hearing about these supposed hordes of COBOL developers that are looking for work in COBOL since they can't understand C or VB or HTML -- it's completely beyond their abilities, it seems. Where exactly ARE these theoretical unemployed? COBOL was such a lame language that it seems to me that if you could write anything serious in that old mule, C or BASIC would be a piece of cake and sweet relief after years of frustration. I've met some people who USED to do COBOL and are now doing other stuff. They didn't have a problem with this! These guys are typically smart enough to write huge database applications from scratch in COBOL, assembling a business app using the resources available nowadays is something they could to in their sleep blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs.

Again, are there really tons of developers who just are 'unable' to comprehend the supposed vast complexity and subtlety of basic and html that the young hotshots have mastered?

Skeptical Inquirer
Wednesday, June 26, 2002

I could only take grunt programming (I mean that in a good way) for 4 years, and managing programers for 5 more.

The career path in most companies like mine was and still is through management.  Few firms have a technical career path.  If you are good at managing people and projects, you can have many more career choices.  If you master the schmoozing/political skills, all the better for your earning potential.

If as you progress in responsibilty, you can maintain your techncal roots, you might get the opportunity to create or manage a productive and "happy" IT department or company.  Most of us agree that these are all too rare.  You might be able to make it so in your company.

tk
Wednesday, June 26, 2002

>>>I'm only 23, and I am about go get a MS in HCI, but after working for a year and a half, I really don't have any long term desire to be a manager...am I missing the big picture? Are there no decent upper-level jobs that are technical?<<<

You've been working for 1.5 years out of a career lifetime of 40+ years.  You probably are missing the big picture.  Both the software development industry and your interests are going to evolve over the next few decades.

I have been doing development for years.  But I am basically a techno-nerd type with none of those social skills managers need.  I'll stick with development, but others may decide  that after a few years they just aren't interested anymore.

Are there any decent high-level technical jobs?  Well, maybe a few dozen, but not enough to go around.  As far as most employers are concerned software developers are just expensive typists.  In that environment what would a "high-level technical job" be?

mackinac
Thursday, June 27, 2002

At the two companies that I've worked at, the managers had much more difficult jobs that the programmers. It's a lot easier to write clean functioning code than to competently lead a team of programmers of varying ability while dealing with upper management, other teams, and customers.

The managers receive more money and status, but have to deal with more challenges and stress. I'd rather remain a grunt for a while and only be responsible for my own tasks.

Jared Levy
Thursday, June 27, 2002

"The managers receive more money and status, but have to deal with more challenges and stress."

I have been in projects where this is untrue. Because of
management cluelessness they have agreed to changes
that are huge, and promised them to be delivered on totally
unrealistic schedules. Now I am the one with the challange
and stress I did not ask for, while management plays golf.

Patrik
Thursday, June 27, 2002

Thanks for the replies...but it brings up some more questions.  First off, is management really the only way to go if you want to make that kind of money?  I know that expenses increase quite a bit as we get older, but is it really necessary to go into management to meet those needs?

Second, I understand that being a 'grunt programmer' would get boring.  I don't have a desire to be a 'grunt programmer' who doesn't get to solve larger issues.  I would like to keep my hands in technical things whlie at the same time solving larger problems.  People management doesn't bother me either because I'm a pretty patient guy and I think I can handle people.  The only thing that I really don't want to deal with is politics.  From what my managers tell me, I am very technically competenent and I have the potential to become a good technical lead/manager.  They already have me in a lead-type position, and they say they have (had) plans to move me up the ladder pretty quickly.  So I agree that my desires will change with time, but I don't really know if I would ever want to get caught up in all the corporate politics that managers deal with.

From what I've read here the problem seems to be what mackinac said: software developers are just expensive typists...perhaps one day the structure will change and people will realize that good programmers are also good problem solvers?

I guess that's why I am really interested in doing R&D than anything else; it lets me utilize my brain to the utmost without having to deal with all the other stuff to go with it.

OzzieGT
Thursday, June 27, 2002

OzzieGT, if you prefer development, stay with it. There are lots of companies with career streams for developers and engineers, and this will increase. A nice way to guarantee this type of work is to do a PhD, but that's not essential.

The idea that "managers" sit at the top of a hierarchical tree is old-fashioned. I know many situations where developers are paid more than their managers.

Also, management really consists of two different roles - administration, and strategy setting. It's possible for senior engineers to have a hand in the strategy setting, while letting general-manager types handle the administration type stuff. The senior engineers then continue to do the work they love, and which may have built the company.

At the project level, I actually think development projects are a bit like movies and similar projects, which have dual managers, one for business, and one for the product. In movies, the producer handles the business, while the director makes the movie.

In software projects, the project manager often has a producer-like role, while an architect has a director-like role. The fat that these roles are dual and complementary is not well recognised yet, but will be, I predict.

Hugh Wells
Thursday, June 27, 2002

My personal pursuit to enter the management ranks comes from my frustration in the past with projects or companies that tanked because of bad management decisions. Not to say they were idiots, but signs of trouble where ignored and it eventually led to bad products, slipped schedules, and budget problems. This is not always true, some managers are excellent and can make a project go very smoothly with both the developers, clients, and their superiors happy. I want to be one of the later. Hopefully, I can bring what I've learned in the development trenches and apply it successfully to management.

Although it's a split in the road where you choose one direction or the other, the end goal is actually the same - to create applications on time, within budget, that meet the customer's needs. This drives more work, more innovation, more ca$h. And it goes on and on.

But I don't intend to stop coding anytime soon. I still go home and crank out personal apps and love it. Maybe one day I will loathe it, who knows.

Ian Stallings
Thursday, June 27, 2002

Personally, I want to be a manager for a number of reasons: one is that it's the only way I'll get a pay raise, because junior developers don't get pay raises. It's the only way I'll get to have actual input on a project because when junior programmers (even junior programmers who've been junior programmers for 8 years) say things like "that's not a good tool to use" a management opinion gets to overrule it, and somehow it's never management's fault when the project then fails, and thirdly, it's the bloody way I'm ever going to get an office. As a junior programmer, I spend my whole day with a headache from the mobile bloody phones bloody well ringing in the bear-pit of an environment everyone thinks is a good place to put think-workers.

Meanwhile I'm watching managers get handed cars, expense accounts, phones, flexible hours...
Frankly, given the number of times management have royally rogered projects I've worked on and I get laid off and they don't, it's fairly damn obvious I shouldn't be this side of the fence.

I might actually be able to do some good when I get there, but since the perks don't seem dependent on that, things should be peachy either way.
Why do I want to be a manager? Because companies consistently treat developers so badly and management so well...

Katie Lucas
Thursday, June 27, 2002

I'm close to Ian's experience.  I became a manager because I couldn't keep my mouth shut when I saw mistakes happening that I had a better solution to (or at least thought I did).  Then team1 and team2 were screwing up the product because they were too busy doing their own thing and not communicating.  The only solution I saw was to become the boss of team1 and team2 so I'd have a position to get them to work together.
Yeah, my skills are faded, though I've always kept a small (token?) amount of programming assignments for myself.  Being a middle manager can be frustrating, going back to being a programmer seems more difficult that heading up the chain further.  And it can be really good to help pull a group of teams together and get something made, even if I didn't craft it with my own hands.

wasProgrammer_nowManager
Thursday, June 27, 2002

Katie,

You've coded for a while, correct? I recall you being experienced.  Have you tried consulting?  It pays a lot more than most run of the mill mgmt positions.  That's your goal, right?  And you still get to code. 

And you don't need to care about others' incompetence as much.  The worse the project is run, the more you work, and the more $$$ you make.  Makers it easier to deal with sometimes.

Sad, and best avoided if possible, but the reality.  That said, I've always been explicit in my intent to MINIMIZE my hours, as I always bring a good faith honest attitude towards my clients. 

Keep in mind, when managers get laid off, they are often SCREWED bigtime.  Half a mgrs value may be his business knowledge, which usually isnt transferrable elsewhere.

Bella
Friday, June 28, 2002

I must admit, I am quite taken aback when I see programmers who a) claim to be talented and b) complain about pay rates.  I dont know what planet some of these people have been on, but we've just experienced as big a boom as ANY profession ever has.  Yes, the market has slowed, but how on earth were these people not making money hand over fist for the past 5 years, IF that was their goal?  Any decent programmer with a couple years experience had contract offers being thrown at him daily.  There was 10x more money to be made than hours in the day.  And if you subcontracted work and took a reasonable cut, like the body shops do, you could have cleared 7 figures the last few years, IF that's your style.

Bella
Friday, June 28, 2002

Bella,

if that was their style they would probably be in sales or marketing, not in development ;-).

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, June 28, 2002

Consulting. Ahahahahahaha. The consulting industry in the UK has vanished. Pretty much overnight. Agencies are closing their consulting branches and rates seem to have passed permanent salaries on the way down as people fight for the scraps of work there is.

In the end, it'll hurt the customers because they're destroying their ability to get hold of skilled staff REALLY FAST. But currently they're so busy focussing on firing everyone in sight in order to prop up share prices, they don't care about the long term damage done to their own companies, never mind a company landscape.
I don't know quite how consulting works in the US, but in the UK consultancies take two forms. One is the large house. They are typically attached to large accountancies and operate in much the same way. Wonder how the auditors missed the holes in the Enron books? I can guess. The IT staff that come from those places are fresh out of university, have been taught the buzzwords and can't build software to save someone else's life. They're cheap to pay, but can be rented out at high rates. I'm told the same technique is applied to the auditing market. Reap what ye shall sow.

The other way is the independent contractor. These are the people hired by non-technical managers from lists provided by non-technical staff agency workers from CVs they've run keyword matches against. And then the hiring company pickes by the lowest bidder. The ways to work in this market are to work very cheaply or to lie very well. Technical ability is something only discovered by the next contractor who arrives to carry on the work. Typically, contractors of this ilk form the extra manpower that managers pour onto their troubled projects...

Companies are loath to hire contract staff in the current market because they cost money they've convinced themselves they don't have, the agencies annoy the crap out of them by costing vast amounts of money and not actually providing any value-add and anyway, it doesn't matter how many staff they hire the walking-dead projects still always end up dead-dead...

I'm actually developing a deep hatred of the IT industry. There are so stormingly few people who actually want to be any good at it. As far as I can tell, you do better running a project into the ground but being good at buzzwords than you do making something work by being a good developer. Developers just are not valued. At all. The only reason we get paid as much is that projects need us and we're rare. But we're valued in the same way as the inspirational posters on the wall or the cubical walls. Because without them the project doesn't look proper enough. We're like fashion accessories for managers who can't tell if what we're doing is right or not. And worse DON'T CARE. If our actual output was worth paying for, it would be worth paying for us to have offices...

Katie Lucas
Sunday, June 30, 2002

what's your plans, Katie?

those who know me have no need of my name
Monday, July 01, 2002

A standing ovation for Ms Lucas please for telling it like it is.

Walter Rumsby
Monday, July 01, 2002

I wish Katie had her own blog.

those who know me have no need of my name
Tuesday, July 02, 2002

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