Are You a Software Developer -- or a Leader?

Managing a software development team is about more than technical expertise.
Posted September 19, 2011

Eric Spiegel

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“You want me to do what?”

I was flabbergasted. My manager Daryl was looking at me with a slight smile and nodding his head.

“I want you to lead the team,” he said. “The team has grown too big for me, so management has decided that you would be a solid fit to take over as project manager. “

This couldn’t be true. I had only been on the project for a year and there were eight other developers on team.

And I was the youngest – by far.

“Why me?”

Daryl uncrossed his legs and leaned forward a bit.

“Because you are the best person for the job.”

Still not convinced, I said, “Yeah, but most of the others on the team can code circles around me. Why not pick one of them.”

Not to mention they were older and more experienced.

He leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Listen, you will learn that leadership isn’t about how technically proficient someone is. Notice I didn’t say you were the ‘best developer,’ I said you were the ‘best person’ for the job. Now let’s go tell the team.”

As Daryl and I walked down the hall to the conference room where the team was waiting for our weekly status meeting, I became a little less nervous. Perhaps he saw something in me that wasn’t just about writing code.

But I was very concerned about how the team would take it.

Everyone sitting around the big conference room table seemed to take extra notice that Daryl and I walked in together. As he announced my new role as project manager, I glanced at the faces around the room.

Some seemed indifferent. Others smiled and nodded. And one guy just crossed his arms and frowned.

After the meeting most of the team congratulated me yet one did not. Yep, Mr. Frown Face. And it just so happened that he was the oldest one with many more years of experience.

As the weeks went by it became apparent that although I enjoyed being the team’s project manager, it was a very challenging role with more responsibility. I still had code to write and now had the pleasure of being responsible for everyone else’s code.

It was also up to me to lead meetings, interface with our business users, manage project plans and make sure the team delivered quality code on time and within budget.

That wasn’t all too bad. The most challenging change was in how the team interacted with me because I had to be concerned with people not doing their jobs.

I was aware of various issues with the team but as a peer, they were an annoyance, but not my responsibility. For example, one “couple” spent a lot of time openly flirting with each other to the point it was becoming a distraction. And another team member showed up late, took two-hour lunches and promptly exited at 5 PM on the dot.

The worst situation I had to deal with was the older developer who had been walking around with the perpetual frown since my promoted. His last code integration deliverable ran very slowly and had bugs he should have caught with unit testing.

Dealing With It

I took on each of the various issues one by one, each with a bit of a knot in my stomach.

First, I individually explained to the flirtatious duo that they needed to cool it in the office. They both denied anything inappropriate was occurring, but the behavior improved.

Then I chatted with the fellow not putting in the hours and found out he just didn’t have enough to do. With a little more workload, his attendance improved.

As for Mr. Frown Face, he didn’t take to my suggested code improvements so well. He was very combative and had excuses for all the problems – none of which were satisfactory to me.

When I was simply writing code these were not my concerns. Now they were and the team knew it too. I’d pop into a cube and the developers sitting there chatting would stop talking and disperse.

I figured they were complaining about me.

I’ll admit, I had talked negatively about my manager in the past. I have found that developers can be cynical about management because of poor decisions that put developers in difficult situations.

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Tags: developer, programmers, IT management, software developer, programmer salary

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