From developer to manager

3 minute read

Not everyone wants to be a manager, not everyone wants to be a developer. Finding someone who wants to be a development manager must be nearly impossible right?

I will admit, to this point I’ve only been a line manager. My feeling has always been that a development manager should fill the gaps on their team until they can hire someone to do it or make it not required. Sometimes this means automating a process to make life easier, reducing work in build/test/deploy pipelines, or in general handling the things the team doesn’t want to do.

Achievement, on

Because of this, I feel like the best development managers are the ones who have been through the development hell of bad projects. Long hours, inconsistent progress, poor requirements, and short deadlines. On top of that, experience with good projects. Helpful managers, knowledgeable technical leads, well-organized project managers, and ambitious developers.

Generally, there’s two ways to become a development manager:

  1. Get promoted within an organization
  2. Find a management job and switch to it

I’ll start with the latter as it is very tricky. Moving into a new organization as a manager is difficult enough, but doing it as your first time as a manager will be very trying. Of course it’s still possible, there are just a few extra things to deal with. You will need to learn how to make change happen within your new company. You will need to earn the trust and respect of your employees and peers. Since they are bringing in a new manager, they are most likely looking for new ideas and improvements. However, remember to respect the existing people and process. Your best bet is to fall in line with what the current situation is while learning about the products, people, tools, and customers. While you are learning be sure to reassure your staff that you are looking for the problems they are currently facing and how to help with them. A somewhat helpful thing to do is to ask each employee for the first thing you can do to make their life easier. Be sure to clearly state it won’t all happen immediately, but it will help to provide a clear set of goals for you as a manager.

Some of the above will help even if you are just changing companies after becoming a manager. I’ve found it very helpful to at least attempt the work your employees are doing to help be able to understand what they are going though. Granted, you may need them to help you understand how to do what they do, but then it’s still a great learning experience.

Now for getting promoted within an organization. My change from developer to manager happened from an internal promotion so I can speak directly to that. There are some interesting problems you can face with the change. Sometimes you will go from having coworkers to employees. Some people may resent you, others may be supportive. As always, frequent honest conversation is the best start to fixing the issue. You will already be familiar with some people and processes, but generally slightly different at a management level. There’s a whole new set of personnel policies, training, and endless meetings. Usually when being promoted from within, you will have a very hard time abandoning previous responsibilities. More often than not, you were doing a good job and that’s why they were looking to promote you. Since you were doing a good job, why would they want you to stop?

Something to try to remain cognizant of is the Peter principle. As you progress though titles, you should always evaluate if you’re willing and able to do what the new job requires. There’s no shame in admitting it or taking what might seem like a lesser title where you know that the responsibilities are what you want to do. Again, a balance; you should be challenging yourself, but now other people are directly depending on you. Welcome to management.