Yes, engineering managers absolutely should understand how to code, and understanding concepts like technical debt, unreliability of estimation, etc. goes without saying. And it's awesome for a manager to be familiar enough with the tools and work to be able to implement a quick critical bugfix or similar when unexpectedly necessary.
But if they're a good manager, it's far better for the organization for them to be spending their full time managing. Let coders code and managers manage, as long as they're both good at their jobs. The author's argument makes as much sense as saying a professional baseball coach should be spending 30% of his game time actually playing with his team.
And honestly, this is just BS:
> Once a person stops coding for a significant portion of time, critical connections to the concerns of developers atrophy.
Citation needed. It sounds as fake as supposed facts like we only use 10 percent of our brains, or other hogwash.
Before my start-up, I was a dev manager. And a damn good developer. I knew what technical difficulties my team had, and understood them, because I was the first place they came for an extra set of eyes. I ran defense from upper management because I knew the concerns, and I was the one with the voice. Because I'm also an open-book style manager I didn't play the "they don't need to know" card, but I could handle those things without them first having to mount a case to me every time.
I've watched A LOT of "I used to code" managers, and almost to a man, they are a disasters.
A manager is responsible for controlling, administering and maintaining the work being done by their subordinates. A big chunk of that is determining what work is yet to be done, if it's on time, what needs to be done to support the existing work, communicating with other teams, doing research, quashing harmful discourse and building morale. They organize, prioritize and double-check the tasks assigned and meet with their subordinates to ensure everything is going smoothly. They plan, develop, monitor, communicate, and assess their employees and their work. And of course they attend countless, constant meetings.
If as a manager you can do all that and then have 2.5-3.5 hours a day left to write code, bravo.
A baseball coach knows if the pitcher isn't doing so well, because he's watched the games. How does a manager know if the new API is unwieldy, or if errors in one component are causing serious grief?
I mean, you can ask employees to blame their peers, but some won't want to, and some will be a little too eager.
Even in my own life, I was a developer from 10 to 18 (working 14 to 18, school 10-14) then I took about 7 years off to go do physical sciences. While I retained the basics like for loops and function calls, I totally lost a good portion of the rest of it.
However, the situation was VERY different from a Silicon Valley startup, it was for a credit rating company with very stable systems.
I might agree with the assertion that the manager must keep up with tech for a startup or fast-paced Silicon Valley company. 30%, 20% or whatever.
I like this idea that there are no managers who manage and engineers who engineer. Instead, there's maybe one person who takes the responsibility of managing work, but does programming or other non-managing work the rest of the time. The engineers can also do a bit of managing, but they'll focus on the engineering.
The assumption is of course, that managing work can be automated away sufficiently and the team is a not huge. These are realistic assumptions, but are often untrue because of organizatonal flaws (or flaws with the manager).
The baseball coach argument doesn't really fit here, because baseball is not reinvented every 5 years. Programming quite often is. A C++ systems programmer probably can't understand much about HTML5 frontend programming. But a manager with C++ background can learn.
The actual fix might be small (changing one line), but the real effort to:
1) Make sure there's unit-test, integration-test
2) Make sure nothing breaks
3) Maybe test the deployment script
4) Maybe test the database migration
is rather involved. If the dev-manager knows all of these steps then sure, why not. But that's like saying that QA should be able to do the same thing too (after all, QA should be a little bit more technical and more in-depth than the dev-manager).
While these are nice, I rarely see them work like that.
I'm not against it, but I just don't think that there is "simple fix" when a dev-manager present (because it implies the size of the project and the size of the software).
"Oh that's 5 minutes." You forgot logging in, powering on the computer, searching for the particular lines of code, a quick test that the fix didn't break anything, and then [if applicable] shunting over to version control.
And when you have 50 small things? Or when the one small thing turns out to have been bigger than you thought, and you waste time trying to do the work that the engineers are probably more familiar with because one of them has been working on the same thing for months? Or when you have managing to do?
> Or situations where the manager slowly loses touch with technology
This is what design reviews are for.
> It's not likely someone will "understand" programming over the years without doing it constantly
I don't necessarily ride bikes over the years. But I understand it well enough to look at a bike and see how it works, or tell someone else where to go and how to ride it.
> Instead, there's maybe one person who takes the responsibility of managing work,
Like a manager?
> but does programming or other non-managing work the rest of the time
What 'rest of the time'? You mean when they're not fulfilling the first obligation you gave to them, which is managing work?
> The engineers can also do a bit of managing, but they'll focus on the engineering.
Why not just let them focus on the engineering? Why give them extra crap to do when somebody else was already tasked with managing the work?
> The assumption is of course, that managing work can be automated away sufficiently
You can't automate managing work. That's why it's called "management". Because you have to do work to manage it.
> and the team is a not huge. These are realistic assumptions, but are often untrue because of organizatonal flaws (or flaws with the manager).
Or because the organization is just big and the workload is high.
> baseball is not reinvented every 5 years. Programming quite often is.
Programming has not been "reinvented" in the last 40 years. It's pretty much the same, with some languages and tools re-addressing the same issues that were seen decades ago. Programming evolves, but so far it has never changed so much that an old programmer can't figure out what's going on with a new language or tool or system after looking at it for a while.
When you're a manager, you don't sit in an ivory tower and stick your fingers in your ears and expect to know what the hell is going on. You are constantly reading documentation released from teams within the company and become aware of changes between releases, hopefully well before they come into effect. You can even set up and maintain a development environment to run unit tests to verify your application works, reviewing build reports, and so on.
I think the reason so many people underestimate what takes up a manager's time is mostly they're people who never learned how to be a manager; they're often glorified team leads with the privilege to fire someone. It does a disservice to the people who have skills that don't apply to programming.
This is why I sincerely believe secretaries are important. Managers... do the managing. Secretaries... take care of the administrative. Life is so much better when this stuff "just works".
What I've noticed with technical people who come into a management role, is that they're either able to put down the tools, or they aren't. If they aren't able to step away, they're functionally useless as a manager, because they spend all their time down squirrel holes, ignoring the management stuff.
Management is an art, and the benefits a good manager provides often seem intangible, but are nevertheless extremely valuable. I still miss the leadership and people management skills of that good manager today, and it hurts to think we traded everything he provided for the assumption that he should have spent x hours doing technical work, much less efficiently than the people he was managing. Sigh...
Well, of course a manager shouldn't make a small fix is managing work takes all the time. And the manager would make better time estimates and be familiar with the code if he actually did code 30% of the time.
>This is what design reviews are for.
I don't think they're sufficient, but do help. Kinda like reading code from a keynote describing a new language doesn't really make you learn it, it'll give an overview to 99% of people.
>I don't necessarily ride bikes over the years. But I understand it well enough to look at a bike and see how it works, or tell someone else where to go and how to ride it.
I agree with you. Note that if that bike is transformed into an airplane in five years, knowing how bikes work doesn't help much explaining how airplanes work.
>Like a manager?
Yes, I'm not against a person who is named 'manager' (titles don't really matter), but I think the manager should do some coding on the project.
>What 'rest of the time'? You mean when they're not fulfilling the first obligation you gave to them, which is managing work?
Yes, I mean that. A good manager will not micro-manager, and if the team is not huge and the organization is not flawed, there will be time for some coding.
>Why not just let them focus on the engineering? Why give them extra crap to do when somebody else was already tasked with managing the work?
It can be efficient. Often an engineer knows some managing work to do. If the engineer won't do the managing, he has to communicate the work to the manager. This communication takes time, which could be used to quickly do the small managing job.
>You can't automate managing work. That's why it's called "management". Because you have to do work to manage it.
Of course you can. Managing work has been automated a lot. Just because not all managing work has been automated doesn't mean it hasn't been automated. A lot of things that managers did 50 years ago are now automated. Hell, most experts had a personal secretary working under them just to make things work, because everything had to be done manually.
>Or because the organization is just big and the workload is high.
Yes, situations differ.
>Programming has not been "reinvented" in the last 40 years. It's pretty much the same, with some languages and tools re-addressing the same issues that were seen decades ago. Programming evolves, but so far it has never changed so much that an old programmer can't figure out what's going on with a new language or tool or system after looking at it for a while.
This is just arguing against rhetoric.
>When you're a manager, you don't sit in an ivory tower and stick your fingers in your ears and expect to know what the hell is going on. You are constantly reading documentation released from teams within the company and become aware of changes between releases, hopefully well before they come into effect. You can even set up and maintain a development environment to run unit tests to verify your application works, reviewing build reports, and so on.
Good. That may not be optimal.
>I think the reason so many people underestimate what takes up a manager's time is mostly they're people who never learned how to be a manager; they're often glorified team leads with the privilege to fire someone. It does a disservice to the people who have skills that don't apply to programming.
Your argument is "you're wrong because you're bad".
Once they quit programming back in the 2000 and they did not learn the newer techniques, they're out of touch.
A simple example would be when it comes to test automation. Back in the 2000, automating GUI tests with _high_ coverage might be acceptable. Fast forward to today, we all learned that there is a very high cost on end-to-end functional testing that involves complex UI so we tend to write 10% of UI test automation, 20-30% of integration tests, and the rest falls into the unit-testing bucket.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. Other areas of improvement ever since: dealing with build, dealing with continuous integration, continuous deployment, source control, etc.
Gimme a break.
Just because it says "manager" on my business card doesn't mean I had my head stuck up my arse since. It may no longer be my job to do, but it's still my job to know.
By learning, I'm referring to reading, go through some of the examples a little bit, but does not necessary practice the tools.
I'm merely agreeing with the parent that there are cases where managers stop reading the tech side and focus solely on the management aspect (risk management vs JS frameworks).
If the manager still hold on the traditional approaches, he/she would insist to have more UI test automation as opposed to spend time and invest more on unit-test.
It's not like build systems and source control were invented after 2000. Or basic CI/CD practices for that matter (though perhaps not as automated as today).
However, in the case of build systems, they have been reinvented a dozen times annually since then (mostly make clones).
> Citation needed. It sounds as fake as supposed facts like we only use 10 percent of our brains, or other hogwash.
I don't have a citation, but this seems obvious to me. It also bears out in my own experiences. Delivering great software requires deep thought and long, uninterrupted periods of concentration , and managing requires rapid context switching.
When I was lead developer at a web consultancy in Austin, I mostly attended meetings and context-switched between one of dozens of projects. I never had uninterrupted blocks of time to analyze problems deeply. When I left, it took me a good six weeks of coding before I felt I could really push on hard problems again.
I had trained my brain to context switch every 5 minutes, and so it expected to keep doing so. I still knew all the syntax, and remembered how everything played together, but breaking business stories down into their component parts was difficult. I couldn't hold the program in my head.
[This bears out in the physical world, too: we would not expect a 100-yard sprinter to necessarily be able to run marathons.]
 Holding a Program in One's Head | http://paulgraham.com/head.html
This is a bad comparison because baseball hasn't significantly changed in the last 100 years, but software development changes significantly every 5 year to 10 years.
Over a 40 year career in software development, a typical person will see major fundamental shifts at least 4-5 times.
So yes, if you are directly managing engineers, you should be coding at least some of the time.
If you can't or don't want to contribute code, you should quickly move into upper management and focus on coaching middle managers.
But the way software gets built, deployed, and used has changed a lot.
Very, very little in the 2010's is "new", it's just abit shinier this time 'round.
Spending 30% of my time coding is just self-indulgent. My team knows I can code, knows I understand their work, and they need me to do the crap they can't afford to deal with, so they can focus on coding.
Also, I'm way to unreliable as a coder because my work can be interrupted at any time. Time blocking a few hours doesn't work, because being a developer is not just writing code for a few hours.
If I want to code in production, I have to participate in code reviews, handle pull request, take part in ad hoc discussions. Otherwise I'm just a tourist getting in the way. If I want to code as a hobby, I should just do it in my own time.
That's where managers often go wrong; they think a team of developers is something to be shaped. It's more like a movie director and his or her team, and the manager is a producer, providing resources and clearing away obstacles. In a well-functioning team there may be little need for active "managing," and when a manager takes it upon himself to do this, he can get in the way.
I remember a specific example of a manager I had (great Guy) who wanted to build a searchable database of public certificates. When he asked me about what we should build, I said -- Just make one search box (like Google) and allow them to type in whatever they want and we can do the parsing on the backend. He counters saying, well I think we should go with the 50+ input form (That's what he was used to building on all of his old projects). If it was now, I would definitely be more vocal about his software design decisions because he was just rusty and not in touch with the current state of design/dev. I actually got permission to build both interfaces, since it wasn't really much work to build the single search box, and 95% of the usage came though the single search box.
I don't think managers need to program, but they need to be doing the equivalent of watching tape, studying other teams, understanding new/changing game rules, learning tradeoffs of different equipment, and keeping up with their domain. All of my experiences with managers that are active in the development community have been amazing. Managers that weren't have always been terrible.
Watching? perhaps. Coaching? No. And that is why I don't think the analogy is weak.
I'm very familiar with two sports, basketball and football. I'm intimately familiar with football. The subtle changes that most fans, particularly casual fans, don't see is what makes coaches who they are and what makes great coaches worth their weight in gold. Not to mention coaches that can get the most out of specific skillsets of players.
As just one example. The pistol became all the rage last year with several running QBs running it for their teams. The good teams could, for the most part, coach their players on this style of offense and how to counter it. It was a different style of offense that wasn't used in the NFL and the teams and players had to react...the coaches had to to actually coach them on how to play the zone reads etc etc.
Even further, a coach has to be ready to adapt mid-game, mid-drive and in situations. Game conditions dictate them be ready for quite a bit and ready to coach up their players at an instant...or better still...have previously coached them on such a situation. The game, to the fan, might look the same, but not to the coaches.
This is why for people who are familiar with coaching and managing software, they do hold up. Both are at their core about leading a group of people to a common goal, articulating the goal, the way and (sometimes) the how.
So, in summation, you still don't want your coach running routes. You want your coach getting ready for the game and coaching everyone in that manner.
 - I mentioned specific skillsets of players. The pistol was an example of this. You have young, inexperienced mobile QBs who can do a few things well. You adapt to their skills b/c you know, while they have potential, they don't have Peyton Manning's situational football IQ yet (if ever) and ability to read defenses. So you simplify, mold the system around their skills. Good managers do this with developers as well. A manager is not going to just "off you go" to a developer. They need to know strengths and weaknesses. Even with my experienced managers, directors and such, I have a firm grasp on personalities, trigger points, strengths and weaknesses.
* Don't code 20% of a full solution with your 30% time and expect the other engineers to pick up your work and finish the other 80% to make it production ready. If you can't cross the halfway point with a task, don't take it on.
* If you do need an engineer to make your code production ready or fix a bug in it, don't act like you did him/her a favor by "getting it off the ground". They are doing YOU a favor by finishing your work for you!
* Be humble and expect to take massive amounts of criticism from engineers who take a lot of pride in their code and spend their careers perfecting it.
* Avoid becoming overly defensive and asking engineers to relax their established code quality guidelines or test coverage to accommodate your compressed schedule.
* Spend some time on bug fixes and paying down technical debt. You'll get a better understanding of the challenges your team deals with day-to-day.
I didn't write production code. I fixed bugs or refactored...
That said, I totally get the angst over managers who have never been coders. Sort of like Scully relating the sale of computers to being similar to selling 'colored water' (Pepsi vs Coke). Not so much in my experience.
There is also the question of scale, if you're a 20 person company I can easily see everyone writing code as well as doing other things, 50, 100, 2000 person company? Not so much.
And there is the question of perspective, a solid engineer is there to make the best thing they can, within the constraints of available CPU, memory, and storage resources. A solid manager is there to take a limited amount of money and time and ship the best thing their team can make within those constraints. So sometimes managers decide things one way, and engineers argue for a different way, it's always helpful to be able to see the problem from the other person's shoes. And yet my experience is that line managers, often drawn from the ranks of engineers, are more able to see the constraints the engineer is working under than the engineer is able to see the constraints the manager is working under.
I don't know if there is a 'right' way to blend those two roles. I suspect that if you're in a large company as a manager and spending a third of your time coding, you might want to check with your manager on how they perceive your performance. If you're in a small company and write no code you might want to check with your team to see if they feel they have it covered or not. But I can't imagine there being a 'blanket rule' like spend X% of your time coding that would have anything close to universal applicability.
As a lifelong programmer who only reluctantly does management, I have to say that it sometimes seems just as hard for an engineer to understand what a good manager does as it is for a manager to understand what an engineer does. It's easy to make fun of a non-technical person because the terminology they don't understand is concrete but people management is every bit as difficult.
Perhaps the problem is that it's relatively easy to weed out an incompetent programmer, but bad middle managers can often blend in or otherwise find ways to make themselves look good to upper management. In that sense a manager who codes is at least some kind of positive signal.
But as a pure programmer I have to say this: two of the best managers I've had were not technical in any way shape or form. It's a mistake to think a good manager has to be technical in all cases. Good managers can add value in invisible ways dealing with the higher ups and shielding the team from politics and distraction. If the technical team is good and the manager has the appropriate level of trust then lack of specific technical knowledge need not always be a problem.
As you say, it varies according to circumstance, but a lot of commenters here seem ignorant to the fact that there's more to the job than simply understanding the programmers world.
I have a couple of quibbles
> spending 30% on something that isn't making you a better manager would seem to be counter productive.
You're assuming coding doesn't make you a better manager... what if it does?
>There is also the question of scale, if you're a 20 person company I can easily see everyone writing code as well as doing other things, 50, 100, 2000 person company? Not so much.
Bill Gates shipped code up until 1989 . Microsoft was between 3000 and 4000 employees at the time. Sure, he may be the exception that proves the rule, but maybe there's something to the notion that coding managers have a better sense of the technical market... of course, it depends on what market you are in.
I've spent most of my time as a coder, but have managed from 1-12 people from time to time.
But I must say if you are presented with a tough technical problem, and human resources to solve it, but you fail to comprehend the problem and how you should direct your resources in solving it, it's going to be a tough cookie to make any impact other than wasting your time, and precious developer hours trying to do something you can't.
The best one I've had I worked with for a long time as a colleague freelancer, and 0 hour contract directly under him until we expanded to a 15-20 workforce.
He was an experienced PHP'er, and would argue even a better salesman and networker.
He would almost never write any code, but when push came to shove he would provide the fix within minutes time after a client made an upset call after hours.
Most importantly: Other than being able to point out strength and weaknesses of his employee's, he was never afraid to acknowledge his own, and always assumed our expertise over his. ( unless someone really f'd up of course :) )
I want my manager to have a great engineering background, but not be interested in the actual engineering except for purposes of helping the engineers get their jobs done. In other words, build a good team, remove obstacles and get the heck out of the way.
A good people manager works to keep their employees comfortable, aims to avoid conflicts (and resolves them if they arise despite these efforts), mentors and coaches people to develop new skills, and shields them from politics. Doing the work of an individual contributor just gets in the way of that. The manager should be familiar with and understand what their people do, but leave the actual performing of that work up to them.
Today, I quit my team because of the manager. Nice guy, but zero knowledge of our code base, no interest to learn it, and no connection to what the problems we, as developers, were encountering. He didn't know, and didn't want to know.
With each proposal to address major technical debt issues, he had no context, no understanding, and would only reply with demands that we prove to him that our projects were impossible without addressing technical debt. (Side note: nothing is impossible, as long as you're willing to add more technical debt).
Between this, and other major problems, I'd had enough. I needed out.
I told him that I was taking vacation for the rest of the week (5 day weekend, wooo) and when I come back Monday, his manager and HR are going to help me find a new team (as they had previous agreed to). I'm fortunate to work for a company where that is possible.
Having a manager who codes 30% of their time might be asking too much, but having a manager working with developers who does not even read the code is not enough.
Is it always bad? Hell no. When you need something right now, then you take a loan from the ol' technical debt bank. You get your product today instead of in a week. That can make or break a product.
But failure to acknowledge what it is, debt which you pay interest on in terms of time and effort, is a recipe for doom.
There's just too much other stuff that's more important.
This might work for some snazzy valley startup with 16 people all working on the same code base, but this is just completely, shall I say, naive and shortsighted. It smacks of someone who hasn't been involved in anything big, complex or been in the industry for any length of time.
Some people don't like to use sports analogies, but I do so I will.
An NFL team typically has a head coach, an offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator, a special teams coach, QB/WR/RB/DB/LB/Oline/Dline coach as well as a strength coach, among some more in certain cases. Then there are the players. Offensive, defensive, special teams.
Imagine you are the head coach. Should you spend 30% of your time doing ANYTHING any of the players are doing? Should the OC or DC being doing the drills or what not? Maybe, maybe working out, but probably not like the players.
My position is akin to the OC on an NFL team. I'm in charge of teams of teams of people. Developers (in different areas/focuses), QA, infra, release, ops etc etc. This is LOTS of people. So, if I'm "coding" 30% of my time, I'm effectively looking at only one area. Should I be spending 30% (or some % number) of my time doing jobs in those other areas? And do I want my managers in those areas to do those things? Well, probably not. I want them to understand them, yes, have done that job previously, yes. More over, I want someone who can 1. engage the team 2. direct the team 3. hold the team responsible 4. tell me (or others) "no" and intelligently show the way for their area and 5. lead up and down. Coding is literally so far down the list it isn't funny.
So, no, a manager shouldn't be coding 30% of their time. If they want to and it doesn't get in the way of their actual job, fine, but that is not their job. Their job is to set or enact direction, lead and protect their team.
To go back to the NFL example. If I'm the head coach, I want the OC to know exactly the type of offense I want to run, put in the system in place, coach the coaches on that system and make sure everyone is on the same page. I don't want them running routes with the WR or practicing blocking drills with the linemen.
Why do you think he said that?
Some people say they need dual 30" monitors to code, I'm not going to disagree with their personal preferences. But other people (like myself) see zero difference in productivity between that and a 13" Macbook Air screen, which I've been coding on for years.
The whole "real machine" thing is just ridiculous cowboy posturing, unless you're doing video game development or something. A Macbook Air is just fine for web development.
If you code all day, you will probably develop back problems if you don't sit with good posture.
You need to sit straight in a good chair, and look at a monitor at eye level about 2 arms lengths away. You need to type on a keyboard with good typing posture.
If you don't, then you will be okay for a few years, and then you won't.
I've seen RSI write off good programmers. It's pretty horrible - they build their lives and self esteem around a job, and then they can't do it. Bad RSI means that you can't touch a keyboard.
Also, I suspect that this is a problem if 80% of your time you are at a desk typing, but if you move around a lot, it's not going to be such a problem.
That said, if you are coding at a desk all the time, a quick google finds research that backs up the posture -> injury thing.
I have both a Macbook Air and Macbook Retina - I have to say, I much more enjoy the Retina - more RAM (16Gb) and it feels snappier to multi-task.
I also tend to have a fair amount of browser tabs open (docs and stuff), so personal usage will influence things.
The author is the CTO of MongoDB - which is written in C++ - so speculation - maybe waiting 3x longer for a compile (or whatever the multiple is) is annoying?
Why then is it the norm that so many developers who move into management do so to "get away from developing"?
It seems unique to development, or maybe just uniquely easy to see when someone is clueless about technical matters.
Anecdotally, all my worst managers were "out of touch" but thought they still were hot stuff technically. My best were either completely non-technical and trusted their team, or were developing at least 1/4 of the time (and he worked mostly automating all the crap work we hated and fixing bugs).
There are too many people who are completely incompetent in management positions who effectively hide their lack of knowledge and skills because they are never put to the test. Moreover one shouldn't want to completely lose touch with the processes and techniques of development and design of software. How much involvement in code is required to be effective is perhaps debatable, but that you should be involved definitely shouldn't be.
If Elliott wasn't involved in the coding I doubt he would understand the pressure the team deals with, and how realistically would his explanations to say $150 million investors be (not disregarding that Dan and other team leaders would provide details status reports)? Of course this is a grand assumption, but when I read his article last week, I came to agree with it. In my field of work, I see it all the time, over time a lot of managers lose respect from us subordinates. They no longer make accurate project estimates, their staff planning is unrealistic, they lose some of the peronism solving skills that got them there, etc. I don't expect them to go down and do the dirty work, but I acknowledge that sometimes if such was possible in our line of work, they would benefit a lot in keeping in up with us subordinates
They would listen to advises/opinions, they would try to diffuse stressful situation, they would try to communicate what's necessary, they do negotiation fairly (got to give something to get something back).
As a result, I would give more to them (within limits, of course). At the end of the day, it's a win-win situation: I make them look good, they make sure I'm happy and not burn-out.
Background: both managers code before, one has MSc in Quantum Computing, the other does a lot of infrastructure/big-enterprise system (batch processing) so their backgrounds varies with the only commonality between them is that they both come from *NIX background and understand DB/Infrastructure rather quite well.
It's very hard to be an engineering manager (lots of examples in this threads why they don't like their managers or their previous bad experiences) and if you found a "matching" one with you, priceless. Of course, nothing is forever...
I seem comments here that "used to code" managers were either the worst or the best manager they ever had. However, it's the job of the Senior Developer to represent the engineering concerns of the team. It's the job of the Manager type to sit between the Engineering Team and the Senior Management, deal with paperwork nightmares, prioritize major work units, set deadlines and manage both up and down.
The Senior Dev should sit at a high level of the actual business of the engineering, dip down from time to time to spot shoot thorny issues, but they should prioritize the specific engineering items and keep the team well fed with work. It is a management function, with expertise in very hard engineering problems.
Sometimes the Senior Developer might represent that some work item is problematic for whatever reason and try and keep the team off of it. The manager, knowing the strategic priorities of the upper management, can either chose to manage this up, or override the Senior Dev and manage this down depending on the situation.
This is something that Senior developers aren't in a position to understand. Representing only engineering up means that unpleasant shit work is often just not done. It sucks, but needing to press your team into doing work they don't want to do is how things get done.
It may sound like overspecialization, and on small teams it is. But with large engineering groups, you don't want to tie up the Senior Dev, who's basically the guy who beats the drum on a slave ship, with being the ship captain.
This is really hard to understand until you've been in a medium to large sized organization and had to manage there. Managing takes an incredible amount of time. Most managers don't stop working when they leave work. Hell putting together a decent proposal might take 2 or 3 months of 50-60 hour weeks.
Ideally I want managers who can code / have coded for a long time in their history so that they understand the software development world. But I actually want them to do time management, people management, expectations management, customer co-ordination, issue prioritization etc.
IOW - Engineers can code. Engineers usually can't do those other things without flinching. Leave engineering to the Engineers and management to the Managers.
After all, if all you're doing is checking in bug fixes occasionally, how are you really going to know the advantages and disadvantages of redis or puppet or any of the other tools used on a daily basis on engineering teams.
"At Microsoft, management was extremely hands-off. In general, everybody was given some area to own, and they owned it. Managers made no attempt to tell people what to do, in fact, they saw their role as running around, moving the furniture out of the way, so their reports could get things done. "
Code 30% of time? You know nothing of coding. Can't be done.
There is also a risk in being in a position of power and being seen to assign yourself the most interesting work. I have seen this happen in one team, our manager was a good guy, but somehow he always used to get the sexy work like playing with new kit, and the team got the gruntwork. It led to resentment and undermined his authority (tho' because he was a good guy, as soon as he became aware he was doing this, he stopped).
I'd argue that your job is to teach others how they can best manage the unexpected. Then you should only be involved in the really exceptional circumstances, allowing you more time to tend to your (metaphorical) garden at work. If writing code is part of that, so be it. But the bulk of time, I'd argue, ought to be in mentoring others.
The best managers I've worked with don't run around like chickens with their heads cut off, constantly responding to fires.
Basically a manager's role includes being the interface between his team and the outside world, and the outside world is by its very nature chaotic.
The problem is more that, to get something done while working 30% of the time, the CTO has to cherry-pick the fun projects where things can be accomplished quickly without the time-consuming slogs. That can cause morale problems if the rest of the team is spending a lot of time on slogs. One might argue that that's a sign of a deeper problem, but few companies have figured out how not to generate drudge work when at significant scale.
"It's not what you don't know that hurts you. It's what you know that just ain't so." - Satchel Paige
When the fates of a whole team of individuals rest on your judgement, it's best if it is grounded empirically or at least humble enough to account for the possibility that you could be mistaken.
Regrettably, the facile access to information by the current crop of practitioners of this craft has blinded the clearly novice to the necessity of donning the disciple's apron.
(*: there is very little science and engineering in the practice of software development.)
I have had good politician-managers who were excellent in corporate politics, but that is not the same as having an eng-manager.
So 30% is rather high. A manager is not a coding position. If you are either you need to hire more people, or its not actually a manager role.
If you are not allowed to hire more people, its not a manager role. If you can, do so now.
FWIW, I spend probably 30% of my time coding, I manage 13 developers, and I'm capable of hiring more people. If you're not good at pushing autonomy down on your team, you'll make yourself a bottleneck and have no time left to code. If you hire great people, and trust them to make the right decisions, a lot of traditional management overhead vanishes.
If I am going to give myself wriggle room, its that the vast majority of problems I have seen in poor software management have not come from a ex-Developer who has lost touch with the codebase, but from the other issues you / OP make - delegation, focus on team growth, structure and process improvement etc.
If someone is self-diagnosing and saying "aha the reason this is all falling apart is because I am not coding more" its unlikely to be the correct answer.
My job was not to do code review - we had a good process in place for that. It was always important to understand what is the internal state of the machine we are building/maintaining. So that I can answer to VP or PM team when they asks "we need to so X".
On the opposite site, development managers who do no technical work quickly lose the respect of their team as being out of touch.
It is a very fine line to balance. 0-10% is too little. After 50%, you're no longer a manager.
Perhaps so, but it's even more true that many developers don't understand (or respect) what managers do.