The Wants-to-be-Technical

A Development Manager who wishes to return to the life of coding, after discovering that the life of a development manager is not for them.

  • Can mutate into: “The Incompetent” Developer
  • Dangerous when coupled with: “The Statistician” Project Manager
  • Likelihood of fixing: Low
  • Danger to project: Low


Every software developer is faced with only two choices for career advancement:

  1. Management, hopefully one day leading to an executive position.
  2. Technical Leadership, hopefully one day leading to a Lead or Principal Architect

For those who choose management, they may be in for a rude awakening when they finally come to grips with what management truly entails:

  • Having to constantly interview and hire developers to compensate for the natural staff turnover endemic to the software development industry.
  • Being held responsible for the actions of developers they cannot control.
  • Dealing with constantly disgruntled developers who demand more entitlements.
  • Sitting in endless meetings where their contribution is either not needed or not wanted.
  • Writing performance reviews and other unwanted administrative tasks.
  • Never having the opportunity to code, and therefore feeling their technical skills atrophy.

When the development manager finally realizes that they have had enough of the life of a manager, and wishes to return to being a software developer, The Wants-to-be-Technical Development Manager will seek an opportunity to slip back into the role of coding. Considering that the best development managers do also code, this should be a good thing, but all too often their time away from coding has left them with inadequate skills to resume their former career path.

The problem occurs when the development team catches wind of this change in their manager’s career objective. Developers will often conclude that their manager abandoned being a software developer because they felt it was too difficult, then failed at being a manager, and now lacks the qualifications to be a software developer, but wishes to do so while retaining their managerial authority and compensation. To put it simply, they are not doing their job as a development manager, and are instead an incompetent developer.


If The Wants-to-be-Technical Development Manager can quickly re-learn the skills required to be a software developer, a lack of competence will no longer be an issue. Indeed, this is entirely possible provided that technologies have not differed too drastically from when they last developed software. This then results in a development manager who is now competent at coding, and provided they can be convinced to live with their managerial responsibilities can be a far more effective development manager than they were before.

Unfortunately, if a development manager has waited too long to reverse their career path, they may find themselves having to start from ground zero and slowly work their way back up. Most companies will not be supportive of this re-training, and most certainly not at the pay scale of a development manager. This creates an awkward situation for everyone involved, as there is no clear cause for termination, yet there is no incentive for The Wants-to-be-Technical Development Manager to leave.

The only option then is to give them an ultimatum:

  1. Remain focused on their duties as a Development Manager, at the risk of being terminated for not doing their job
  2. Gain the required technical skill to be a software developer on their own time, at which point the organization will consider if they are qualified for any open software development slots.

The first solution will result in an unhappy and unproductive employee, which is in no one’s best interest. The second is much more desirable, but the reality is few organizations will support an employee taking on less responsibility unless it is also associated with reduced compensation.

4 thoughts on “The Wants-to-be-Technical

  1. I find myself identifying with many of these “personalities”, but have been in a constant state of extreme self-doubt and over-confidence my entire career. I was promoted to a “managerial” position shortly after getting my degree in a theoretical focus, and was hired beforehand.

    This “personality”, however, directly applies to my current point in time.

    I got in early at the company; got promoted because I worked my ass off with an average of 70+ hours per week for years; and, constantly saved the product from at-the-time lead devs. Got burned out and disenfranchised for both personal and monetary reasons (lied to egregiously up front), but recovered too slowly.

    I gave my life to the company, and they thank me for it, but: I feel/am out of touch with current development; am actively shunned by current, (rightfully?) jealous devs; not skilled enough to fulfill the roles I want; another has risen to the challenge of ***much*** more sensible manager duties; and, well, I couldn’t take proper care of myself the past couple years until very recently. In cruel irony, I now find myself capable of and up for the responsibilities of a product manager.

    Multiple life changing events every single year atop my “professional” work are my excuse, but no one wants to hear those.

    I just wanted my old job back: interpreting, defining, and solving puzzles.

    I just wanted my old job back, but I feel I’m no longer qualified.

    I am scared and want something familiar, but I don’t see that tree on my horizon.

    Where is that branch I’m reaching for?

    How do I find it?

    Am I even looking for the right one?

    “My” company has grown, but I don’t think I have. I covered all the weak points until someone actually qualified could.

    There is obviously more to this story and many other perspectives. This post is mostly a venting, seeking of catharsis, an unheard apology, and ultimately focused on me. I want to improve, but wasn’t fully aware of my self-sabotage until recently. I failed my company, but feel they failed me first. We’ve both remembered to “turn back” in love/respect for another, but can we get those “turn back”s to happen at the same time?

  2. This can happen in organization that promote internally but do not give enough training to new managers. I think many of this instances are just a knowledge gap between how this job looks like and what its actully is.

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