The Aspiring Manager

A Developer who has decided that to escape the difficulties having to code, their career path should be one of management.

Problem

Software engineering is a difficult skill to master. It requires quick problem solving skills, a large amount of knowledge, and an even larger amount of real-world experience. Unlike comparable professional fields, this knowledge and experience becomes obsolete over much shorter periods of time (sometimes months), which requires a constant uptake of new techniques, technologies and tools. The Aspiring Manager wants to escape this grind, and they see management as the way out.

Generally, the coding requirements of a development manager are less than that of a full-time developer. Time is spent in meetings, sending emails, or generally walking around and talking to other people. Managers also tend to make more salary than coders, and management comes with authority. It is an obvious choice for developers looking to get out of writing software.

The problem with a developer who is The Aspiring Manager is that they are working to demonstrate their management skills in hope of a promotion, rather than focusing on writing software. In order to practice their management skills, The Aspiring Manager attempts to manage their peer developers by assigning work, being vocal in meetings, and generally pushing to be involved in more strategic decision making. This makes them disliked equally by their fellow developers as well as by other managers who view The Aspiring Manager as threatening their job security.

Solution

It is impossible to solve The Aspiring Manager, as they have already made a clear career choice. Once that decision is made there is no going back. You cannot make them re-like writing software. Even if you force them back into a full time coding role, you will discover the reason why they are The Aspiring Manager: they are not very good at writing software. The intractability of this situation is why so many Aspiring Managers get what they want, and are promoted into management, provided a slot is available.

Generally, Developers in this position are of little damage to a project because their productivity is so low, and they tend not to have very much credibility among developers or management. Often, these individuals spend their careers being shuffled around an organization, as upper management struggles to find a use for them. In this capacity, they can become a danger if a mission critical task is assigned to them, but as this is entirely avoidable, they can safely remain no more than a minor annoyance.

3 thoughts on “The Aspiring Manager

  1. Are there really no developers who aspire to be managers who are competent at software development? While many of these articles give solid practical advice, this one gives none, and seems to indulge in lazy broad-brush generalization rather than the kind of sharp analysis seen in the other articles.

    • This profile has a naming problem that others do (e.g., “The Rockstar”, “The Scientist”, “The Cheerleader”) as these name are generally considered good attributes for people to have. If I were to think of a different name for this profile it might be “The Promotion Obsessed”, as the general thesis of the problem is they no longer care about doing their current job because they want another job that they perceive to be easier. Note that this is different from a software developer whose path to management is to be the best software developer then can be up until the day they are promoted into a different role, and are no longer a software developer. Unfortunately, in both cases the person may have aspired to management, hence the weakness of the name. The reason I stuck with this name, however, was because it immediately explained the nature of the problem, and I rely on the fact that these are all “difficult people” to nudge the reader towards the conclusion that “this specific brand of managerial aspiration is a bad thing.”

      Regarding lack of specifics on a solution for this archetype, consider this: All of the 48 personality profiles are based on at least 3 different individuals (in this specific case, I encountered far more than 3) I have worked upon whom the archetypes are based. When I encountered my real-world “Aspiring Managers” I did try quite a bit in order to get them to care about writing software again, but my conclusion was that they had made their decision and either they were either going to get promoted, they would leave, or I would have to fire them. Had I seen this behavior just once I might consider this to be an anomaly, but there does seem to be a switch of some kind that is flipped in a software developer’s head that says, “As of today, I am no longer a software developer – today I am a manager-in-training.” Coding all but stops, they start calling meetings, and dominating conversations commences. I assure you that if I did have a workable strategy, I would have posted it.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I may be a bit defensive because I am a developer and aspiring manager, so excuse the hard challenge. I do still enjoy writing software and care deeply about team success and doing a good job on the way to career advancement!

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