A Difficult Software Developer who has decided that to escape the difficulties having to code, their career path should be one of management.
- Can mutate into: “The Formerly Technical” or “The Ladder Climber” Difficult Development Manager
- Dangerous when coupled with: “The Statistician” or “The Meeting Scheduler” Difficult Project Manager
- Likelihood of fixing: None
- Danger to project: Low
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.
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.
9 thoughts on “The Aspiring Manager”
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!
Yeah, this is me. But I used to be an adequate developer. Before I realised being a good coder was irrelevant to my promotion prospects, I worked quite hard. Now that I’m nearly 40 and no pathway out of development has opened up, I’m completely useless at coding, being too depressed to reach the keyboard. Really, this is causing clinical depression. And after 15 years of hating development I am nearing the end of my rope. I’m much better with people than I could ever be with code and yet there has never been an opening for me. I guess I’m saying… you should have a little more compassion for people like me, who’s talents like outside of programming but have no means of escape.
Of the 12 difficult developer archetypes, there are only 2 that I believe I haven’t been: The Soldier (I am generally bad at doing what I’m told) and The Legacy Maintainer (I get bored too easily to maintain legacy software). When I was The Aspiring Manager I was exactly as you describe – complete with Major Depression (i.e., not just clinically diagnosed depression). I was looking for a way out, as my ability to code was shot, which had a negative feedback loop with my depression: the more depressed I was, the less I could code; the less I could code, the more depressed I got.
To effectively run a software project, you need to understand which one of your people can do what. If I’ve got a developer who doesn’t want to write code – no matter what the reason – they have got to be mitigated one way or the next. This means that I have to put aside my concerns for an individual and focus instead on the success of the project as a whole. “Success” can have many definitions, but on a software development project, “Success” most definitely requires software developers develop software. Through that lens, there is no place for compassion. If there is a model for this attitude it would be Jack Welch – notorious for closing entire factories and devastating small towns who depended on that factory if that business was not performing well. It is capitalistic survival-of-the-fittest at it’s most extreme: people are fungible and only profit matters. I am able to function in this mode, and it is in this mode that “How to Deal with Difficult People on Software Projects” was written.
This then left me with a serious personal conundrum: Having personally been 10 of the 12 difficult software developers (including this one), what am I doing to help someone who was in my shoes? The challenge is the one you are describing: compassion. There comes a point where all the profit in the world won’t allow you to look at yourself in the mirror. While I am a capitalist, I am also a human – and specifically a human who has been in this situation and dealt with mental health issues while on the jobs – and only got them resolved after I got fired. What am I offering to those people who were just like me? This work is great for people in managerial roles to know how to deal with difficult people, but what about helping these difficult people deal with themselves? My conclusion: I needed an entirely different piece of work – one that is focused on helping the individual difficult developer help themselves. So that’s what I’ve done for the last 6 months, and I am tracking to be launched in the next few weeks.
I am curious to learn a bit more Neil. I am currently in this phase, I actually reluctantly became a manager 2 years ago and found it to be the most enjoyable job of my entire career. Unfortunately, due to a merger and org shuffling, I find myself back in an IC role. For the last year I have dug deep for motivation but it’s been a roller coasting ending in a deeper and deeper trough (not to mention all the covid pains).
I just have a complete lack of motivation to do IC work and truly miss a year ago when I had my team and we were getting things done.
I feel depressed and stuck in the negative feedback loop. I’m thinking about quitting and taking some time for myself for a while. I wanted to get a bit more information on how to get out of this negative feedback loop from you. Thanks.
Funnily enough, I did take your test and got 100% Shapeshifter. Your note on the aspiring manager is very interesting and actually made me feel better, I appreciate that at least you value that role. I’m used to the startup environment where everyone is working collectively towards a common goal, ready to put on a different hat if necessary.
I’m now surrounded by specialists in a very large org and unfortunately, the mechanisms for measuring “collective” work or helping each other out is quite poor. I think not being properly valued, has led to some of my current feelings.
My 2 cents: there’s nothing wrong in enjoying being a manager more than being a dev . I think that what the article is describing is someone that’s not that great at coding, so they want to succeed by following the management path – regardless if they have what it takes to be a manager.
I am a manager myself. I didn’t become a manager because I wanted to escape coding, but because I’ve found it way more interesting. It’s not easy at all and it takes a lot on you. You have huge responsibilities and often have to deal with the unimaginable. It takes nerves. If someone is trying the management path in order to escape from coding, they’d better be ready to deal with a lot of madness.
One thing the article author seems to miss is that development and management require different skills. You don’t have to be an excellent developer to be a good manager. But you do need to have a whole set of skills related to communication, analytical thinking, stakeholders management, problem solving attitude, dealing with people and nerves….
The author didn’t miss it, but it’s not on this page, as this page is about one specific difficult archetype. Head over to my “12 Types” or “Soft Skills” sections, where I talk more extensively about the topics you mention.