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Warning ... cynical, pessimistic viewpoint coming.

Here is a pattern that I've observed over a few jobs that I've held as a developer at different companies. Wondering if anyone has any similar experience.

The first line manager (only manages individual contributors) exhibits these characteristics.

1.)He used to be a coder, but that was a long time ago. SQL hasn't changed, so that's the bit he's drawn to when he feels like he needs to roll up his sleeves and contribute.

2.)He has some form of attention deficit, demonstrated by the fact that he can't hold down a conversation really well. Especially if it gets technical.

3.)He really overplays the busy body persona. Always checking phone, always late for a meeting.

4.)He's really insecure in his position within the company, always fearful that he's going to be cut loose. This is extremely amplified when he gets a new manager himself.

5.)He has very little influence over direction. He's really just a proxy mouthpiece for higher level management. And he loves to have status update meetings where he informs the team of all the important updates he received in the big important meeting he attended with other big important people.

6.)Instead of being someone who is respected by the team, he becomes more of someone you have sympathy for.

7.)You wonder why he never asks the real questions, like "are you happy with your role?". And you realize it's because he doesn't really want to hear the answer. He couldn't really do anything about it anyway. See point #5.

8.) He's way too preoccupied worrying about his own safety to nurture the team.

9.) As a developer, you have the safety net of knowing that in the worst case scenario (terminated) you could find another job fairly quickly with pay parody. As a manager, you don't have that comfort blanket. So you cling on to your current job no matter how badly you are abused. And people lose more respect for you because you look pathetic without a backbone.

10.) As a cynical developer in his 40's, you realize that you don't observe many 50+ developers in the wild, and you bemoan the idea that you're going to have to suck it up and play manager eventually.

Anxiety and existential crisis is built into the tech career trajectory, and I feel like the only winning strategy is to be ok with moving backward income wise at various points in your timeline.






Ditto (almost verbatim to what you wrote). I've been meditating on a few reasons for it:

1) I was given a few opportunities by the partners to step up into a management role, but in hindsight, I was too knee-deep in code to see what was happening, so I doubled down on keeping my nose to the grindstone rather than stepping back and thinking more about how to change the workflow so that others could come in and contribute. The symptoms of this were things like: I never got invited to any public-facing events, team building exercises or drinks with the partners when they were in town. I think they viewed me as a big fish in a small pond, someone to be utilized but not groomed. They came from a big city hustle mindset whereas I came from small town America. So different value systems, not necessarily superior or inferior, but at high risk of miscommunication.

2) When they finally promoted the other guy to a management role, he fell into the exact sequence you enumerated. He was highly disciplined and methodical, but sometimes had blind spots about different local maximums in the search space (had trouble seeing the forest for the trees) and was a bit too focused on maintaining the hierarchy since he came from a military background. I admired his tenacity, but truthfully, it had a tendency to wear on the developers (several of which had an antiauthoritarian mindset like many in tech).

3) When he moved on, a void was left that was never filled. We ended up changing over to nontechnical project managers, which worked well for about a year, but inevitably the agency drifted towards enterprise work, which is not my cup of tea. We had a bit of a falling out and I moved on. I still wonder to this day how things might have ended up differently if I had stepped up and basically listened to the universe and manifested whatever the next chapter of my life as a team lead or manager was going to be. I would have been a highly egalitarian manager, working for the team as much as for the partners and clients. Now, I dunno, I'm not sure that my heart is in software engineering anymore. I'm focusing on the gig economy and attaining some financial independence outside of hierarchy so I can finally work on projects within my own calling. As a 40-something this is scary but rejuvenating.


I get that you were being deliberately a wee bit provocative, but If you honestly believed that of every manager you had, you would have been a horrible co-worker.

Without commenting on the specifics on your comment: what does this have to do with the OP's book? If anything, writing a book with ideas, experiences, and techniques aimed at helping people be better at this job is responsive to all the problems you identify.

It speaks to a real predicament that the OP is aiming to solve with techniques and ideas. BTW, If you are interested in techniques and ideas do us a favor and become a scientist.

Just commentary on the engineer turned manager narrative. Please forgive if it is out of place. Should I delete it?

Nah sorry for calling you out like that, it's slightly off topic but a fine rant. For what it's worth, I agree with many of your points, but hope we can do better as the profession continues to mature.

Yes, and delete Dilbert too as it makes this engineering approach to management seem more complex than we'd like it to be.

Your description resonates quite well with my own experience. I've seen this over and over again in different (mostly large) enterprises. Peter principle at its best where someone with solid engineering skills gets promoted to become mediocre manager to the detriment of the rest of the team.

I think for someone considering engineering manager track your point #9 is really something to keep in mind. Many managers I've met are well aware of the fact that they're simply unemployable outside of their current company, which essentially becomes a "prison" for them.


That sounds like managers who haven't been trained.

Leadership is a skill like any other. You can't just promote someone into it. They have to be trained for it.


This gave me a laugh

> pay parody

Definitely at a startup.

Most of us would be looking for pay _parity_ :)


You need to work for better organisations with better people. Which you definitely will not be hired into without a major attitude adjustment.



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