Today, for reader question Tuesday, let’s consider the idea of the coding dev manager. In my experience, most companies draw a fairly sharp line between individual contributors (they code) and managers (they don’t). But in startups and Enterprise Silicon Valley companies, you’ll have additional rungs of the corporate pyramid where people still write code.
Who is right? Well, in my estimation, startups and Enterprise Silicon Valley. Er, at least, they’re less wrong. (Let’s talk “right” when we stop modeling our corporate structure after ancient militaries.)
But, as the asker of today’s reader question points out, this still-technical manager struggles to spend much time writing code. (When he refers to “the book” he’s referring to my book, Developer Hegemony.)
The Reader Question about the Coding Dev Manager
I really enjoyed the book. One question I have regarding the efficiencier/partnership model for developers.
In my last job at [redacted], I was leading a large team working with [redacted]. We followed a similar model where we worked with customers on business problems, and then designed the technical solution ourselves (obviously updating them along the way), and then delivered it. As the team lead of the initial project (and eventually the overall engagement lead of 3 projects), I found myself spending less and less time programming. Towards the end it was < 10%.
In your book, you mention that it is possible to still be programming yet work on these other areas, but in my experience the “other” areas end up taking so much time I ended up not really coding. Sure if we have a team full of “T-shaped” people everyone can share various burdens, but from the client’s perspective they typically want 1 counterpart who they can go to to make the final calls. Is this an inevitable fate, similar to section 3 of your book that as the person’s value increases they go further and further away from coding?
Also, a Tweet on the Subject
For a bit of additional background on the subject, check out this tweet from last week. More interesting than my tweet is the responses, in the context of this discussion. (None of which I replied to — apologies, folks, I’m terrible at Twitter.)
There are a lot of technically talented people that start successful businesses and remain deeply involved in the development of that tech. The idea that you can’t run the show and be at the top of your code writing game is both counterproductive and nonsensical.
— Erik Dietrich (@daedtech) March 13, 2018
The doubts in the responses to my tweet are important. People see the following failure patterns for the coding dev manager.
- You don’t actually wind up coding (as expressed in the reader question).
- You kinda do both things, manage and code, and both kinda suffer (Doug).
- You don’t actually wind up leading (Grant).
And then there are a couple of points that maybe staying “at the top of” one’s tech game isn’t that hard or even necessary. (I’m inclined to agree with both ideas.)
So overall, what we’ve got is the million dollar question — how can you be both a programmer and a leader?